On this Gandhi Jayanti, reflecting on the ways in which Gandhi’s experiments with truth resist and challenge the communicative infrastructure of deception that forms the discursive basis of the fascist politics of Hindutva.
“As a fascist ideology, Hindutva thrives on the production and circulation of lies, continually at work to vilify India’s Muslim minorities.
This deception, communicating contradictory and conflicting messages internally and externally, actively producing misinformation, and mobilizing violence on the basis of the misinformation, lies at the crux of the organizing of hate as a technique for rule.
Deception forms the everyday habits of Hindutva, drawing from the Brahminical hierarchy that gives it its conceptual formation. Brahminism as the underlying feature of Hindutva mobilizes the practices of deception.
From the active production of disinformation in the form of conspiracy theories to practices based on lies in everyday life, the communicative infrastructure of Hindutva thrives on deception.”
This opinion piece is the fourth of a five-part series on the intertwined webs of the far-right mobilised to attack communication and media studies pedagogy. This piece is written in solidarity with other communication and media studies academics, researchers, and practitioners who have been targeted by the far-right.
The far-right’s reactionary culture war, cooked up by the Trump-Bannon-Infowars-Fox infrastructure, materialised by extremist groups such as Proud Boys, and legitimised by the right-wing political machinery, has been and will continue to be vigorously resisted by academia.
In three earlier essays crafted for this series, I have discussed exactly how the United States-far-right’s culture war is mimicked here in Aotearoa by the right-wing ecosystem working incessantly to pump out fear as an organising tool, as a photocopy of Bannon’s political strategy of deploying hate as a marketing tool. The manufacturing of a culture war as a strategic issue generates leverage, and more specifically votes, for right-wing political parties while simultaneously working to disenfranchise communities at the margins.
I have also outlined how these attacks are directed at silencing academic voices, particularly those working on issues of social justice, disinformation, and hate. Although academics are often the direct targets, the ultimate goal of the far-right is to silence the voices of the marginalised communities we partner with. The force of the attacks is particularly violent when directed at those of us in academia who engage in public scholarship.
In this piece, I will turn to strategies for countering the far-right and outline some of the powerful ways in which academics are resisting these targeted hate campaigns across the globe. Because the far-right’s cancel culture originates from the hate ecosystem linked with Donald Trump in the US, I will also draw upon US-based examples of academic resistance as instructive lessons.
The various pressures from these outside forces, mediated through the interference from the Regents, tampered with the university’s hiring process, resulting in Professor McElroy’s offer being altered, with multiple iterations walking back the tenured position initially offered.
The attacks were organised amidst the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signing a bill attacking DEI offices at public colleges, one among similar such concerted policies introduced by Republican lawmakers across the US. Note here that these fringe policies are built around the “Woke culture” and “Critical Race Theory (CRT)” frenzy that has been concocted by the far-right as political fodder, as a direct offshoot of Bannon’s political strategy of mobilising culture war as a campaign tool. As I have noted earlier, this hysteria around CRT is networked, traveling from the Trumpian ecosystem to the far-right ecosystem in Europe to Australia to Aotearoa.
The targeted campaign, materialised through the interference by the Regents and a timid administration lacking leadership, led to several institutional processes being violated.
A story published in the Texas Tribune first revealed these process violations and the change in the job offer to Professor McElroy. The story was picked up nationally, covered by major news media.
“How this University treated this respected, honored, qualified, experienced, successful, and tenured fellow Aggie is unacceptable and would have been unthinkable yet for her race and gender… The fact that this University outwardly promotes very laudable principles in the Aggie Core Values, yet you don’t have the character nor the courage to follow these Core Values as the leader of this University reveals the deep chasm between your words and your actions.”
The fiasco led to the president’s resignation. The university separately settled with Professor McElroy for US$1 million and she stayed in her position at the University of Texas, Austin. The Texas A&M leadership released a statement, apologising “for the way her employment application was handled.”
In the backdrop of the organised campaigns of the far-right, coupled with the large-scale neoliberal transformations of universities that have foisted an overarching professional-managerial-consultant ideology, it is vital that academics across institutions globally work to strengthen faculty governance and oversight over decision-making processes, attending closely to the threats to academic freedom externally and internally, anticipating them, and responding to them pro-actively. In the US, elected bodies such as faculty senates carry out this powerful role of holding university managers accountable.
It is also critical that academics work alongside university leadership in developing institutional pedagogies around the threats posed by the far-right, mapping the pathways and sites of attacks, and developing and institutionalising strategies for responding.
For instance, one of the core strategies of the far-right is to pose as aggrieved students and concerned community members to carry out attacks targeting academics, often operating through fake social media accounts, anonymous email addresses, fake websites, sock puppet accounts, automated bots, troll farms, and instant messaging apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp. Email campaigns and university complaint portals are co-opted as tools for carrying out such swarm attacks, with influencers manufacturing grievance to mobilise such campaigns and directing followers to lodge complaints, working alongside automated bots and troll farms.
Educating staff in front-facing roles in sifting through and identifying spurious complaints, in detecting far-right disinformation-based narratives in the complaints, in raising the appropriate security alarms, and adequately responding to these narratives, is critical. Similarly, given the deployment of Official Information Act (OIA) requests to feed far-right propaganda, responding proactively to the propaganda and debunking it is critical. Also crucial is building the capacity of university managers in detecting potential instances of foreign interference and raising these through appropriate channels within the university. Such pedagogy needs to be built preventively across institutions, given the message swarms that far-right campaigns build, often funded by powerful political and economic interests, including right-wing think tanks, lobbies, astroturfs, and foundations.
Moreover, relevant state structures and institutional processes ought to be able to support universities with addressing the concerns raised, given the threats to institutional processes and democracy, and critically in the context of foreign interference into academic freedom through organised campaigns.
Building legal infrastructures
In the case presented above, Texas A&M reached a $1 million settlement with Professor Kathleen McElroy. The report released by the University General Counsel demonstrated egregious process violations. During the hiring process, university officials initially pushed for a delay until after the state legislative session adjourned, anticipating potential backlash from conservative lawmakers. Following complaints about her hiring raised by university regents, officials changed the terms of her contract.
As the process unfolded, with the terms of her contract changing significantly, Professor McElroy responded to the university, asking it to communicate through her lawyers.
“Journalism schools reflect the same reality we see in the rest of the country…Why it’s especially troubling in journalism is that journalism is the firewall of our democracy. Journalism is what’s supposed to be exposing the way power is wielded. If that story is being filtered through an almost exclusively White lens, it’s not accurate. It’s not capable of helping us… understand the country we live in.”
The Hannah-Jones settlement is instructive because it includes several structural changes, proving the “correctness of critical race theory.” It outlines an inclusive search process for new employees in conjunction with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; mental health counselling placed within the Multicultural Health Programme, complemented by the hiring of an additional trauma-informed therapist; and a $5,000 annual funding to the Provost’s Office to coordinate meetings and events sponsored by the Carolina Black Caucus working alongside UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Provost.
The far-right often directs its attacks on academics identifying with diverse marginalised positions. For instance, as with the examples of the organised campaigns targeting Professor McElroy and Hannah-Jones, the far-right interferences into university processes are racist, violating the fundamental human rights of academics having a protected characteristic. Building legal infrastructures such as the NAACP is critical to resisting the interference of the far-right into university processes.
Seeing and materialising connections
The organising structure of far-right hate produces its effect through the creation and amplification of fear. The mobilisation of fear results in swarms that target and attack academics and universities. These swarm-based campaigns have chilling effects, threatening the livelihoods and lives of academics.
The effects of these campaigns are amplified by the individualising processes that often place the onus of securing safety on individual actions to be taken by those being targeted. Consider the targeting of the University of Auckland academics, Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles and Professor Shaun Hendy. The pair became the targets of attacks directed at their work explaining the science behind COVID-19. In a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), they noted the university had failed its duty of care to them.
Attacks such as these call for the allocation of institutional resources to support academic freedom for public scholarship.
However, amidst the ongoing cuts to university funding globally including here in Aotearoa, finding the resources and allocating them to security (including digital security), legal support, mental health support, and media support is a challenge for leaders. Making provisions for security on funding applications and allocating funding resources for security to universities are two policy responses that can offer meaningful safeguards. The inclusion of community and social impact in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) ought to be combined with funding allocated to building safeguards around public-facing impactful scholarship. To advocate for such policy-based support, it is important that academics, unions, students, university leaders and policymakers work together.
Academic solidarities globally have been crucial to challenging the attacks by far-right campaigns. Letter writing campaigns and petitions have been vital in both responding to and developing preventive infrastructures for addressing the threats posed by far-right campaigns targeting individual academics, programmes of research, and academic departments.
Academic organising across institutions is a critical resource in mapping and responding to the interplays between institutional racism and far-right attacks. Disciplinary associations here can play central roles in responding to the organised attacks, developing both preventive measures as well as effective responses. Responding to the far-right attacks on communication education and scholarship, my disciplinary association, the National Communication Association (NCA), issued the following statement:
“As the preeminent scholarly society devoted to the study and teaching of Communication, NCA recognizes that professional educators, including Communication scholars and teachers, are best equipped to determine what is appropriate for their classrooms and curricula. Among other theories that plainly acknowledge the histories and impacts of race, Critical race theory (CRT) is foundational to effective communication teaching, learning, and practice. Simply stated: Educators cannot effectively teach communication without teaching about systemic racism and its impact on our institutions and policies, including teaching about CRT and its principles. Students cannot adequately learn about effective communication without exploring systemic racism in the history of the United States. To restrict freedoms to engage in the teaching of, and communication about, CRT and other theories which examine the historical and current impact of their principles is inconsistent with the principles of democracy. NCA opposes legislation that would censor content within the curriculum or classroom based on political disagreement or contrived controversy, particularly when such legislation curtails or prohibits teaching about the role of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the United States historically and today.”
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is an example of an organisational structure that is critical to safeguarding academic freedom in the US. Tracking the far-right campaign attacking Critical Race Theory in the form of bills passed across various states to Trump and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign, noted the AAUP in its report:
“Language in these bills draws from Trump’s 2020 executive order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotypes and can be found in model legislation being pushed by MAGA lobbying arm Citizens for Renewing America. Both the executive order and model legislation are influenced by Russ Vought, Trump’s former budget director, who founded CRA. CRA is funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is an effort by Trump allies to formalize extremist, far-right politics in the think tank sphere. Other organizations included under the CPI umbrella are the American Accountability Foundation, which attacks President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and judicial appointees, and America First Legal, which is run by former Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller and focuses on litigation that “oppose[s] the radical left’s anti-jobs, anti-freedom, anti-faith, anti-borders, anti-police, and anti-American crusade.” According to 2021 tax filings, CPI had an annual budget of $17.1 million, and revenues of $45.7 million.”
“In the case of retention of faculty members and administrative officers of color, while the individual motivations for their departures may be unclear, what is clear is that in one way or another a culture of exclusion, a lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making, the chilling of academic freedom, discounting certain kinds of scholarship and teaching, and the constant threat of political interference have combined to fuel what some have called an “exodus” from the UNC system.”
Across global registers, it is critical to consider the possibilities for building academic associations committed to safeguarding scholarship. In Aotearoa for instance, such an organisation would among addressing other elements critical to academic freedom, track the funding flows of far-right hate and map potential foreign interference both discursively and materially, assess the risks to academia posed by disinformation campaigns, and respond robustly. Building partnerships with university leadership and relevant ministries are equally important in delineating the foreign interference at work (such as in the example of the “culture war” hysteria) and in developing preventive strategies to respond to it. Mobilising unions to address the threats to academic freedom is another potential avenue.
In addition, building solidarities with communities, civil society, and social movements is vital to resisting the forces of the far-right. The recognition that the attacks on universities are part of a broader pattern of attacks mobilised by the far-right ought to serve as the basis for crafting solidarities that witness and challenge the pernicious narratives and hate campaigns at societal levels. Connecting with activists and lending solidarity to those who are targeted by the far-right are critical to creating the broader infrastructure for resistance.
In the attacks I have experienced recently mobilised by the racist disinformation campaign launched by far-right networks here in Aotearoa, I have been humbled to be supported by collectives of activists, anchored in Māori leadership. When I discussed these targeted attacks with activists Tina Ngata and Sina Brown-Davis, they wrapped me up in a collective network of care. Within a few hours of our conversation, I had an email from The Manaaki Collective, offering a blanket of support, from security to legal assistance.
Te Tiriti and global leadership
The principles of Te Tiriti, foregrounding the values of participation, protection, and partnership offer powerful registers for resistance to white supremacy.
In Aotearoa, Māori have historically challenged racism and white supremacy in transformative ways, dismantling the hate politics of settler colonialism with the values of manaakitanga (caring about each other’s wellbeing, nurturing relationships, and engaging with one another) and whanaungatanga (forming, maintaining, and nurturing relationships and strengthening ties between kin and communities). Māori struggles for Te Tiriti justice have historically offered inspiration and hope to diverse struggles for social justice in Aotearoa and globally.
The sustained resistance to white supremacy offered by Māori activists and communities position Aotearoa as a leader for global progressive struggles against white supremacy, and for interconnected struggles for climate justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights and migrant rights. Amidst the disenfranchising effects of white supremacy that seek to silence activist and academic voices, the inspiring work of The Manaaki Collective offers a global model for Indigenous leadership in securing safe spaces for organising “for racial, social, environmental, and Te Tiriti justice.”
I wrap up this opinion piece by directly addressing the propaganda infrastructures of the far-right. Our message to the far-right reactionaries, in politics, in the media, on digital platforms, and in various hate formations, is loud and clear.
Backed by powerful economic forces, often hiding behind astroturfs, sock puppets, instant messaging apps, automated bots and fake websites, the far-right have launched propaganda campaigns that deliberately distort scholarship to suit the white supremacist agenda, confident that the targeted attacks can ban the teaching of critical concepts of social justice, and thus erase the powerful waves of voices emergent from the margins mobilising for transformational change.
And in spite of the economic power and political influence, replete with a digital infrastructure fuelling the dissemination of disinformation and hate, exponentially magnified by the globally linked hate networks, the far-right will continue to fail in securing hegemony.
The hate and divisive narratives that seed and propagate fear will fail because, as articulated forcefully by Martin Luther King, Jr, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The far-right threats to stalk us, get us fired, get us and our families deported, incarcerate us, rape us, dox our families on social hate platforms, and kill us will not silence the conviction of our scholarship, and the public impact this scholarship creates. We will continue to, along with the communities we partner with, carry out our research, generate empirical evidence that empowers communities in their struggles for justice, and transform the status quo.
Our public scholarship will continue to build registers for hope. Communities at the margins will continue to rise up, raise their voices and challenge the marginalising processes that seek to silence them.
In not cowering to the fear-based campaigns of the far-right, we will continue to be inspired by the words of Indigenous activists. In the words of activist Sina Brown-Davis, “Be unafraid, be powerful, we have everything to fight for and nothing to lose.”
Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.
This opinion piece is part of a five-part series on the organised attack of the far right on communication and media studies pedagogy. This ecosystem has picked me as a sample case for all that is wrong with the discipline as a propaganda instrument of what it terms the “Left Woke Agenda.”
I had not heard the name Karl du Fresne. Apparently he’s a New Zealand journalist and blogger writing opinion pieces for The Platform – an outlet that has in the past circulated misinformation, hosted conspiracy theories, and participated in practices that might be considered unethical by journalistic standards.
Earlier this month, a journalist reached out to me on Twitter, sharing that du Fresne had written a hit piece for The Platform targeting me. They commiserated with me, sharing how they were also the target of an attack carried out by du Fresne earlier, directed at their employer and attacking their livelihood.
Fairly certain what the attack might look like, given the organised campaign by the far-right infrastructure targeting the academic freedom of scholars writing on issues of social justice (particularly racial and gender justice) and challenges around the Sustainable Development Goals (specifically gender equality, reduced inequality and climate change) across the globe (largely imported from the US-Infowars-Bannon-Trump-DeSantis-Tucker-Carlson hate machinery), I was curious to explore what a New Zealand take on this ecosystem would look like.
Unfortunately, what I found when I dug up the article was a shabby hit piece, replete with its uninspiring tediousness, parroting the far-right conspiracy themes from the Infowars-Trump-Bannon universe, and demonstrative of the organised attack on critical literacy directed at silencing the questioning of entrenched forms of power in society.
The article begins with the title “A blank canvas for stokers of the culture wars.” The framing of the title, portraying Aotearoa as a blank canvas, juxtaposed against the “stokers of culture wars” phrase gives away the racist ideology that drives the article.
To frame Aotearoa as a blank canvas for supposedly imported conspiracists like me (more on this later), du Fresne has to erase tangata whenua and the history of Māori activism against colonisation, racism, and white supremacy. The suggestion that stokers of culture wars are bringing in our “outsider” and therefore, impure ideologies of social justice in Aotearoa is racist, both in erasing long-held Māori leadership in struggles for justice here and globally, and in marking me, an ethnic migrant, as the wrong kind of migrant bringing in dangerous ideas that are corrupting Aotearoa by “stoking culture wars.”
Du Fresne also strategically obfuscates his own familial history as Tangata Tiriti, as manuhiri (visitor or guest) to this land.
As the article rolls on with its rhetorical fallacies, it seems obvious that what du Fresne seems to have an issue with is the fact that I teach and research at a University in Aotearoa. As a way to set up his attack, he targets the language that describes my programme of research on the Massey University website, suggesting the language used on the website is part of a radical conspiracy. He copies and pastes extensively from the website, stating that the description is “written in a dialect that most people would find almost incomprehensible.”
In democracies, it is the work of journalists to do the critical work of translating scholarship for the public. Of course, for bloggers such as du Fresne speaking to a right-wing conspiracy web while posing as a journalist, that would be too much work. Such work would entail doing research and learning, calling on critical pedagogy that is cultivated through rigorous journalism education, grounded in communication and media theory, participating in critical analyses of power (especially when reporting on social science and humanities scholarship), and drawing on critical engagement with questions of ethics in reporting.
Suggesting that making the language incomprehensible is purposeful and part of a larger conspiracy, du Fresne then goes on to write:
“Elite groups have always used their own coded jargon to project (and protect) their power, to enhance their aura of exclusivity and to impress the impressionable. The object is not to explain, as most language strives to do, but to obscure, presumably in the hope that no one will detect its phony portentousness. No one does this stuff better than neo-Marxist academics.”
Note here the slippery slope du Fresne embarks on, placing me as part of an elite group and implying that this group is part of a global conspiracy web to uphold and perpetuate power. This elite group does so through propaganda. In the conspiracy web that du Fresne cooks up, this elite group seeks to establish a Marxist global order, and it does so through the use of “coded jargon.”
His conspiracy draws directly from the misinformation-based discursive frames weaved by the Alt-Right. In this conspiracy web woven together by white supremacists, a global Communist conspiracy is being ushered in by Marxists, working alongside and/or being funded by the Chinese Communist Party, and intertwined with the agendas of the World Economic Forum, United Nations etcetera to secretly rule the world.
For the far right, the framing of the teaching of theories of social justice in the academe as Marxist conspiracy works as a strategy for silencing the voices of Indigenous, Black, and migrants of colour communities. The white supremacist hegemony of the far-right sees the organising for justice from the margins as threatening to the status quo. Its conspiracy web therefore communicatively inverts materiality, inverting historic processes of racist marginalisation on their head to portray voices advocating for social justice as the elites occupying power.
Another communicative inversion performed here by du Fresne is the framing of social justice scholarship as an imported idea, all along inverting the direct replication of American far-right talking points in the article. The actual “culture wars” that are imported into Aotearoa are the far-right mobilisation of white supremacist cultural nationalism to attack academic freedom, in direct violation of the Education Act 1989, section 268 of the Education and Training Act 2020, and in continuity with the racist settler colonial infrastructure of Aotearoa.
Du Fresne then goes on – “The university system is awash with this gibberish – a fact that would be comical if we weren’t paying for it.”
Accountability to the taxpayer is one of the key resources in the mobilisation of the far-right. Designating themselves as gatekeepers, as representatives and advocates of the voices of the tax payer, far-right individuals and organisations launch their attacks on academic freedom by claiming that the research and teaching on questions of social justice are a waste of taxpayer money.
In portraying an entire body of scholarship (in this case, my research programme exploring the structural determinants of health inequalities and the communicative strategies for addressing these inequities) as gibberish, du Fresne demonstrates his lack of credibility as a journalist. He doesn’t really understand the scholarly process, much like other demagogues in this category who seek to find relevance through organised attacks based on heuristics.
The process of academic peer review, albeit with its multiple limitations, based on the participation in a rigorous peer review process by a community of scholars, establishes the credibility of knowledge. Within the academic community of experts, knowledge is contested, theories are offered and tested, and concepts subjected to empirical examination in an ongoing process of scholarly engagement. Any journalist writing about academic research programmes is expected to do the homework to understand how scholarly knowledge is produced, be ready to study the research programme, and equip oneself then to report on it. This process of engagement calls for deep reading, based on rigour. Of course, for bloggers such as du Fresne, this sort of painstaking and rigorous work is not conducive to generating superficial memes that speak to the conspiracy web.
Du Fresne cherry picks some examples from my research programme:
“The second conclusion we can reach on the basis of his profile is that Dutta is adept, like many of his ilk, at tapping into public funds – in this case from the AHRQ, which is part of the US Department of Health, and the National University of Singapore (NUS). The poor working schmucks whose taxes fund these institutions have no knowledge of, and even less control over, the radical agendas they enable.”
Once again, to comment upon specific research projects would call for actually educating oneself on the nuts and bolts of the research (not just google a webpage!). The US$1.5 million grant, funded by the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality that he refers to, built on my research programme on the culture-centered approach, a framework I have developed over two decades of community engaged-health communication research that is recognised as a significant programme of research that has shaped the discipline, was designed to co-create a framework for disseminating the evidence-based comparative effectiveness research on heart health medications among the underserved African American communities in Lake and Marion Counties of the US. African American communities in the US experience disproportionate burdens of heart disease.
In this backdrop, the community-led culture-centered intervention, co-created through partnership with a range of African American organisations, and evaluated through a quasi-experimental community-based design, was effective in building community knowledge of heart health prevention and treatment. This intervention is an example of the sort of social impact generated by theory-driven scholarship. It is therefore both ironic and absolutely reflective of the disenfranchising agenda of white supremacy that du Fresne would target the AHRQ funded programme, framing it as being driven by a radical agenda (more on this in a follow-up piece).
You might ask, ‘Why does du Fresne pick on the AHRQ-funded intervention?’ For propagandists in the Alt-Right ecosystem, community health initiatives led by racially marginalised and historically oppressed communities is radical agenda. For these propagandists, reducing inequities in health outcomes is radical agenda. For the propaganda infrastructure of hate, historically marginalised communities having a voice in decision-making is radical agenda. Because the social order they so miss and would like to continue perpetuating is one where white supremacy rules, uncontested and unchallenged.
As I noted earlier, such propaganda in Aotearoa also has to erase the history of organising against health inequalities by Māori and the extensive body of Kaupapa Māori-based literature challenging these health inequalities to somehow make up the propaganda narrative that such ideas of health justice are imported ideas from the US, all the while parroting the US-based white supremacist agenda.
Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. He is a member of the board of the International Communication Association.
CARE VISITING LECTURE SERIES: Traditional Children’s Games in India: Reviving and Renewing Precolonial Inclusive Practices with Prof. Tanmoy Bhattacharya, University of Delhi
Traditional Children’s Games in India: Reviving and Renewing Precolonial Inclusive Practices
In this talk I question the western disability studies theories of inclusion and show they can be unpacked and informed through simple notions of innovations through informality. Various traditional Indian children’s games are analysed to show how they teach us ways of including the disabled child in innovative ways. The talk addresses both the theory and politics of the condition of postcoloniality through an “attribute of subordination” reflected in the changing character of traditional children’s games in India.
DATE: 20th JUNE 2023 | TIME: 12:00 PM NZST
Venue: Second Floor, Palmerston North City Library-Central Library
ICA 23 Toronto Preconference: Ethics of Critically Interrogating and Reconceptualizing Culture Ethics of Critically Interrogating and Reconceptualizing Culture
Organized by: Sudeshna Roy, Stephen F. Austin State University, US Mohan Dutta, Massey University, New Zealand
We at CARE are delighted to support this keynote by Leena Manimekalai, Director of KAALI Filmmaker, poet, actor, and activist
The keynote “I make art to upwrite my cultural body” by Leena Manimekalai, Director of KAALI Filmmaker, poet, actor, and activist took place at the ICA pre conference on Thursday, 25 May 2023 after the screening of KAALI Film at Charbonnel Lounge in Elmsley Hall of University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto
This preconference is affiliated and sponsored by the following wonderful ICA Divisions and a fantastic research facility.
ICA: Intercultural Communication; Ethnicity and Race in Communication; Feminist Studies; Philosophy, Theory, and Critique
Research facilities: CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation, Massey University, New Zealand
Platform technologies are being introduced by health providers in Aotearoa New Zealand to mediate relationships between care recipients and Home Support Workers (HSWs). They have been publicized by those providers as a potential solution to these challenges of health sector strain and ageing population. Much like in other sectors, platform technology is represented as offering autonomy for clients and empowerment for workers. This report critically investigates these claims and the broader impact of the introduction of platform technologies on the working lives of HSWs and their ability to provide dignified care for their clients. Drawing on 16 in-depth Zoom interviews and 1 focus group with Aotearoa-based support workers, we argue that technologies as currently used are exasperating pre-existing systemic failures, which have also been severely exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Synopsis: Platform technologies are being introduced by health providers in Aotearoa New Zealand to mediate relationships between care recipients and Home Support Workers (HSWs). They have been publicised by those providers as a potential solution to these challenges of health sector strain and ageing population. Much like in other sectors, platform technology is represented as offering autonomy for clients and empowerment for workers. This report critically investigates these claims and the broader impact of the introduction of platform technologies on the working lives of HSWs and their ability to provide dignified care for their clients. Drawing on 16 in-depth Zoom interviews and 1 focus group with Aotearoa-based support workers, we argue that technologies as currently used are exasperating pre-existing systemic failures, which have also been severely exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the Panelists:
Jan Logie is a Green Party MP based in the Mana Electorate. Jan worked for Women’s Refuge, the New Zealand University Students’ Association, the YWCA and numerous other social causes before entering Parliament in 2011. She served as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice from 2017-2020 with a focus on sexual and domestic violence issues, and is Green Party spokesperson for Disability, ACC, Women, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Public Services, Children, and Workplace Relations.
Dr. Andrea Fromm is a policy advisor with the NZ Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (PSA). After receiving a PhD in political studies from the University of Otago, Andrea continued to focus on issues related to the decent work agenda. Her work has concentrated on labour markets and employment, working conditions and industrial relations and public and community services. Andrea worked with international organisations such as the ILO and Eurofound, as well as with Statistics NZ. Andrea started her career as a social worker.
The figure of the “Miya” forms the infrastructure of the anti-Muslim hate in Assam, the Northeast frontier of India.
In this essay, I will argue that the genocidal hate reflected in anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim public policies in Assam is mirrored in the ongoing production of the “Muslim other” in the infrastructure of the fascist National Register for Citizens (NRC) carried out by the Hindutva regime.
The rhetorical trope of the “Miya” depicts the power of cultural discourse in organizing violence through the turn to a monolithic cultural essence based on exclusion.
The construction of the “Miya” as the Muslim other lies at the core of the cultural chauvinism that has historically mobilized the middle-class, upper-caste cultural nationalist movement in Assam. Elsewhere, I have described the communicative tools that actively produce “the other” to organize cultural nationalism, constructing the nation on the basis of a monolithic cultural essence.
The term “Miya” is rife with the racist fear of the Muslim illegal immigrant taking over Assamese land and culture, mobilized to build a movement of cultural nationalism. It is often used to describe Muslim migrants from the Myemensingh region of neighboring Bangladesh (which was part of undivided Bengal) who migrated in the early twentieth century, encouraged and in many instances forcibly moved by the British imperialists, settling in the riverine islands of the Brahmaputra river.
The activist-scholar Sooraj Gogoi powerfully describes the ways in which the cultural revivalism that shaped the Assamese nationalism underlying the Assam movement in the 1980s created the discursive climate of fear and hate around the illegal Muslim immigrant, classified as the foreigner. He further describes the role of middle-class caste Assamese cultural workers, intellectuals including academics, poets, lyricists, performers etc. in constructing the discursive ecosystem of cultural nationalism.
The basis of the cultural turn underlying the Assam movement draws on an Assamese essence depicted in linguistic and cultural artifacts. Simultaneously, this cultural turn as cultural nationalism is deployed toward the production of hate through the circulation of the image of the foreigner. Through songs, poems, and graffiti, the foreigner is crafted as a perpetual threat to the cultural essence, as a danger to a monolithic Assamese cultural identity.
This discursive climate of hate is financialized by the political class, turning hate into the basis for mobilizing the movement and political participation. It is this ecosystem of hate seeded by caste Assamese political-cultural society that mobilized largely tribal and oppressed caste communities in participating in the violence at Nellie that resulted in the death of 3,300 Muslims. The Nellie massacre remains one of the most violent pogroms since World War 2.
The xenophobic anti-Muslim violence scripted into mainstream caste Assamese society as cultural nationalism flows seamlessly into the Islamophobic fascist laboratory of Hindutva.
The chauvinism of Assamese cultural nationalism feeds directly into the cultural nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The threat of the illegal foreigner in Assam is mobilized into the concept of the registry, crystallized in the National Register for Citizens (NRC), sending Muslims into detention centers, stripped of the “right to have rights.” The violence of the NRC process, marked by the haphazard implementation of documentation, the arbitrariness of the Assam foreigners tribunal, the disenfranchisement of Muslims who have lived in India across generations through incarceration in detention centers (locally referred to as concentration camps), and the absence of access to juridical processes, have resulted in plethora of health challenges, including challenges to mental health and suicides. In a period of five years between 2015 and 2020, between 38 and 42 individuals committed suicide in Assam in the context of the revocation of their own or a relative’s citizenship status.
The discursive construction of Muslims as foreign nationals is built on the ideology of border-making that catalyzes the material construction of the border as the basis for othering. This process of othering Muslims as the basis of cultural nationalism in Assam reflects the organizing role of cultural essence as the organizing ideology that drives hate, violence, and fascist politics.
The Christchurch terrorist attack is often individualized in mainstream public discourse as the act of an individual extremist.
This individualization of white supremacist violence is an essential feature of the whiteness of the settler colonial state.
In this individualizing ideology, violence is attributed to a lone extremist who has been radicalized.
The response then is an individualizing response, directed at the individual extremist with the justice system of the settler colonial state organized to respond to the extremist.
The intelligence-security apparatus of the settler colonial state is organized around techniques of surveillance and monitoring directed at identifying and containing individuals likely to be radicalized and turned into extremists.
The individualizing ideology on one hand places the cause of the violence in the actions of an individual who is portrayed to have been radicalized by an ideology. On the other hand, the individualization of the violence keeps intact the very structure of white supremacy that underpins the violence.
Moreover, the individualizing ideology conveniently erases the white supremacy that makes up the institutional structure of the intelligence-military-police infrastructure of the settler colonial state.
The Australian extremist who carried out the violence in Christchurch is an extension of the white supremacy that forms the settler colonial infrastructure of Australia. This settler colonial structure in Australia is scripted into its political, juridical, military, security, and intelligence institutions.
White supremacy is built into the structure of the Australian state that has historically been organized around violence directed toward aboriginal communities.On March 18, 2023, a few days after the four-year anniversary of the Christchurch terrorist attack, at an anti-transgender event hosted by the British anti-trans rights figure Kellie-Jay Keen who is currently touring Australia, Nazis dressed in black are seen taking the Nazi salute on the steps of the Victoria parliament.
As the Nazis march through the streets onto the steps of the parliament, the Australian police are seen protecting them. In powerful images that depict the interplays of white supremacy of the police and the Nazis, the police are shown lining up to safeguard the Nazis as they take the salute.
Anti-fascist activists challenging the Nazis document the violence carried out by the police directed at the anti-fascist activists protesting the Nazis.
Moreover, anti-fascist activists document an Australian police member who flashed a white power sign at an earlier protest. In another report, Australian activists document the presence of Nazis in the Australian military.
The institutionalization of white supremacist hate within the infrastructures of the police and military exists in continuity with the racist colonial structure of Australia.
Four years since the Christchurch terrorist attack and the Australian state has continued to let the white supremacy within its structures go unchallenged.
To address the white supremacist hate that led to the Christchurch terrorist attack is to first recognize the white supremacy that is embedded within the organizing logics of the state.
This recognition then can offer the starting point for undoing the racism and hate percolating through the cellular structures of Australian police, military, and related institutions.
I have been so looking forward to reading Byron Clark’s “Fear.”
Over the past three years, as I have read and watched Clark’s analyses of the far-right ecosystem in Aotearoa New Zealand, I have come to respect his evidence-based analytic work that is at the same time activist, directly responding to the threats to marginalized communities posed by far-right extremism.
His analytic work has been critical to the ongoing challenges to far-right extremism led by activists.
Byron’s knowledge of the hate ecosystem emerges directly from the empirically grounded challenge he has posed to this ecosystem by placing his body on the line. It is worth pointing out here, that like many other activists in this space, Byron mostly does this work as unpaid labor, and he sustains himself through his day job (I will return to this point toward the end of the article).
So, when some of my activist interlocutors whose work challenges Islamophobic hate in Aotearoa sent me a review of Byron’s book by Chris Wilson, I was disappointed to read it.
Let me note at the beginning that Wilson begins his review by praising Byron for his work exposing a range of what Wilson terms fringe political ideologies. He then goes on to point out places where the book could have been improved, specifically in its definition of terms and presentation of evidence.
I will focus here on a particular part of Wilson’s review, his suggestion that Clark presents no evidence of a Hindutva threat in Aotearoa.
What counts as evidence
In his review, writing about Hindutva, Wilson writes:
“For example, Hindutva is presented as present and threatening in New Zealand, but with little to no evidence. Because of a lack of demonstrable activity or presence here, the author uses the fact that the New Zealand Hindu Council is affiliated to the India-based nationalist organisation VHP, to discuss in much greater length the VHP’s extremist activity in India, even including a discussion of the riots in Gujarat in 2002.”
This paragraph is flawed in its argumentation.
It begins with the claim that Clark presents Hindutva as threatening in Aotearoa, “with little to no evidence.”
Note then the following sentence that points to Byron’s observation that the New Zealand Hindu Council is affiliated to the India-based nationalist organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
That Clark has established the link between the New Zealand Hindu Council and VHP is itself evidence of the threat to social cohesion in Aotearoa posed by Hindutva.
Also consider here that Wilson doesn’t operationalize the concept of threat; so what is he assessing Clark’s evidence on the basis of is largely unclear.
If we take social cohesion as the value to uphold (my insertion of a value), that the New Zealand Hindu Council is affiliated to the India-based nationalist organization VHP is of great concern here in Aotearoa. I have personally learned about the threat posed by Hindutva-aligned organizations such as the VHP to New Zealand democracy (including academic freedom) the hard way.
A number of Indian-origin community members, including Indian minorities and Indian activists in Aotearoa have documented the threat posed by Hindutva to democracy and social cohesion in Aotearoa. In March 2021, a Sikh youth had been attacked online in New Zealand.
Wilson then goes on to write:
“This history of violence and extremism in India will give many readers the impression that something similar is present in New Zealand, when no evidence has been provided for this inference.”
The sentence above is ambiguous and lacks clarity. The ambiguity itself is strategic, not naming Hindutva as the driver of the violence and omitting the robust body of evidence on the nature of the VHP and other affiliated Hindutva organizations as right-wing extremist groups and their roles in violence.
Wilson’s account bypasses this history of violence and extremism in India directly connected to the VHP, instead making a generic statement about the history of violence and extremism in India.
Consider here that the VHP has been linked with attacks on Muslims and Christians, organized attacks on mosques and churches, destruction of the Babri masjid, and various incidences of violence across regions.
Hindutva is a radicalizing force globally, leading to violence in the Indian diaspora across Western democracies. It has been linked with violence in United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
CARE’s research has documented the online infrastructure of Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand. The activist group Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (AAPI) has consistently and systematically highlighted the presence of Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand including the role of the New Zealand Hindu Council in spreading disinformation as an organization affiliated with Hindutva. AAPI has raised critical concerns of relationships between community leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand and Hindutva.
That the association of New Zealand Hindu Council with VHP doesn’t count as evidence of threats posed by Hindutva to Wilson is of concern, particularly given his expert role on countering violent extremism. Although Wilson is not discounting the presence of Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand, his argument about what counts as evidence for an organization to be counted as threat raises the question whether the incidences outlined above meet Wilson’s threshold of a threat. Alas, we wouldn’t know because Wilson doesn’t define the term threat within this context, something he accuses Clark of not doing adequately in his book.
By this logic, affiliation or association doesn’t count as evidence of the presence of a threat. Is the same definitional parameter used by the New Zealand security community when conceptualizing affiliations with organizations such as ISIS (Note here the similarities with ISIS shared by Hindutva).
Moreover, Wilson complains that Clark does not explain why Hindutva should be understood as “far right,” ignoring the evidence that Byron does present of Hindutva’s underlying fascist far-right ideology.
In fact, Byron is one of the few New Zealand-based activists that has engaged activists in the Indian diaspora in dialogue about the threats of Hindutva. One of his earliest analyses of the relationship between the Hindutva proponent Roy Kaunds, Kelvyn Alp and Counterspin media (Wilson does accept Alp and Counterspin as examples of the far-right) offered a conceptual framework for examining the discursive flows between the Islamophobia of Hindutva and the Islamophobia of white supremacy that I have discussed in my public writing.
Performative references to Christchurch
It is ironic that Wilson begins his opinion piece in Newsroom by referring to the Christchurch terrorist attack (that directly targets Muslims, with its attack on mosques).
Yet there is not a single reference to Islamophobia (the driving force behind the Chrictcurch attack and the underlying ideology that connects white supremacists with Hindutva) in Wilson’s essay.
The whiteness (referring to the hegemonic values of white culture, held up as universal) of the extremism industry that has flourished post-Christchurch is marked by similar ongoing gaslighting of the actually existing Islamophobia in Aotearoa New Zealand (including its casual omission).
There is no reference in Wilson’s review of the concerns regarding Hindutva extremism and Islamophobia in Aotearoa expressed by Muslim women activists.
These same activists had earlier raised multiple alarm bells about a potential extremist attack targeting Muslims and driven by Islamophobia. Here’s the noted activist Anjum Rahman speaking about Hindutva:
“It’s extreme hate…It’s dehumanising material, trying to dehumanise our community.”
The Stuff article citing Rahman goes on to note:
“Later, Rahman shares with Stuff social media posts containing abuse directed at Muslims. She’s right – it’s dehumanising and awful. Similar material has been cited in a report from Massey University researcher Mohan Dutta who has studied discrimination against minority groups in India and in the Indian diaspora.”
Context and structures matter
The systemic erasure of the voices of Muslim communities and activists post the Christchurch terrorist attack has been accompanied by the ongoing erasure of the evidence of Islamophobia presented by Muslims.
In our research carried out at CARE with Muslim communities experiencing hate, the ongoing erasure of accounts of evidence is part of the racist structure that upholds and perpetuates Islamophobia. Muslim communities and activists often ask, How much evidence on the drivers of violence is actually evidence that will count for security experts?
And more vitally, when will the accounting of this evidence actually lead to positive policy responses that do something about the drivers of hate.
This ongoing discounting of evidence is accompanied by the systemic individualization of the analytic framework imposed by the expert security community, shaped by the hegemonic values of whiteness.
As focus is turned on identifying, categorizing and surveilling violent individuals, the structural contexts and drivers of violence remain erased from mainstream analytic frameworks. It is this individualization within the security apparatus that fails to see Hindutva’s links to violence (after all, Hindutva supporters in the Indian diaspora are often professionals and members of the successful model minority business community).
Moreover, the absence of structural analysis means that security experts and bureaucrats conveniently turn a blind eye to the actually existing Islamophobia within the security community itself, which fundamentally underlies the perpetuation of Islamophobia.
Silence doesn’t make the problem go away
Toward the end of his review, Wilson suggests that we need to take care about how we describe the various groups under the umbrella of the far-right, conspiracy theorists, and anti-government movements. He suggests that not taking adequate care in defining these groups would likely push them together, generate misplaced fear, and contribute to rising polarization.
I agree with Wilson. We need to take great care in defining the various groups that threaten democracy and social cohesion and develop appropriate response strategies that are nuanced.
At the same time, digging our head in the sand and pretending these groups don’t exist or they don’t pose a threat to our social cohesion is not going to curb the rising polarization. In fact, doing so might fuel further polarization.
Not counting, categorizing and adequately responding to the threat posed by Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand is likely to further heighten the sense of marginalization felt by Indian minorities here. Moreover, such discounting of evidence is likely to empower Hindutva ideologues here in Aotearoa New Zealand to continue to target social cohesion and democracy.
Without adequate structural responses and frameworks for empowering communities at the margins in the Indian diaspora, the inter-communal threat posed by Hindutva is likely to go unchecked. We can’t wait for Hindutva violence to show itself for us to then respond to it post-hoc. Lessons learned from Christchurch, Australia, Leicester ought to offer us insights into strategies for countering Hindutva.
What qualifies you as an expert
Talking about credentials, historically, we have turned to academic expertise as the basis for generating knowledge. This knowledge then has shaped how we have historically crafted policies, developed interventions, and responded to these interventions.
Knowledge, therefore, is directly tied to policies.
Given the severe lack of diversity in academic disciplines, this has meant that academic knowledge informing policy formations is also severely limited. The absence of minority communities who are the targets of majoritarian hate and violence from decision-making spaces has meant that conceptual frameworks are largely absent in addressing the hate and violence.
Consider the area of terrorism and conflict studies and the ways in which this area has been shaped by academic expertise. That the area has been largely dominated by whiteness and imperial agenda has meant that what is operationalized as terror and therefore placed under surveillance has been grossly shaped by Islamophobia post-9/11. The prevailing ideology of the “War on Terror” has over-surveilled Muslims, mainstreamed the racist targeting of Muslims, and legitimized the terror narrative that drives Islamophobia. Ultimately, the mainstreaming of the Muslim terror narrative is directly tied to the accelerated growth of Islamophobic white supremacist and Hindutva hate post 9/11.
I have found my own knowledge of studying social change as constrained within the rules and norms of academia. These rules and norms themselves are often established within the structures of whiteness, the hegemonic values of white mainstream academic culture.
Working with activists in CARE’s activist-in-residence programming and learning from their knowledge I have found brings critical insights that shape the mobilization toward structural transformation. The ability to see broad linkages and to explore these linkages is vital to mapping the far-right threat to social cohesion and democracies globally. I am so glad that Byron has dedicated a Chapter on Hindutva in his book. For the Indian diaspora minority communities and activists who have witnessed the accelerated growth of Hindutva in Aotearoa over the past decade, Byron’s intervention is vital to placing in the mainstream their concerns about hate.
The Highbury Advisory Rōpū, built by tangata whenua community researchers at the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) in partnership with the community in Highbury, has been working hard over the last many months to put together the community-led culture-centered social cohesion intervention called Pā Tamariki. Drawing upon the Māori concept of Pā as a protective space that nurtures the community and supported by funding from the Lotteries Community Grant, the advisory Rōpū envision social cohesion as emergent from the everyday spaces of care, connection, and love in the community.
Pā Tamariki is built with the goal of bringing the whanau and the community together in Highbury to create and sustain a strong community that protects and safeguards the children and the youth.
According to Venessa Pokaia, lead community researcher and community organizer at CARE, “the idea of the Pā as a generative space in the community brings the community together to build positive pathways for the youth. In doing so, the Pā connects the many diverse groups in the community, creating dialogues between the groups and connecting them together in the work of creating a strong community that supports the youth.”
The opening event on Saturday, December 17, witnessed diverse communities in Highbury come together to build this space of dialogue, understanding, care and support, anchored in manaakitanga. Through sharing food, games, and community activities, Pā Tamariki offered a message of hope for Highbury, that positive transformations can come about when community members connect with each other.
The Pā Tamariki campaign builds on the earlier campaign “I Choose Highbury” that was designed by the Highbury Advisory Rōpū to challenge and shift the dominant deficit-based narrative around Highbury. It centered stories of Highbury as a space for positive community interactions, community support, and community mutual aid. The “I Choose Highbury” campaign was launched at a Matariki celebration event in 2020, and was accompanied by community-led community garden initiatives, community cupboards, and community-driven public education programmes on the prevention of violence.
The Pā Tamariki event showcased activities that connected them to culture, offered interactive games, and enabled intercultural interactions among diverse communities residing within Highbury. The hāngī put together by the community after three decades and the food prepared by the Afghan refugee community demonstrate the power of community sovereignty, when communities at diverse intersections come together to create spaces for love, care, and generosity. The organising power of the Highbury Advisory Rōpū demonstrates the effectiveness of culture-centered community-led interventions when power is transferred into the hands of communities as drivers of social change communication. Community sovereignty, the capacity of the community to make decisions and drive change, lies at the heart of positive transformations.
Massey News: Pā Tamariki event brings the communities of Highbury together