Jonathan Steinberg

Look back in anger | 19 January 2017

Does our present climate of violence date back to the 18th century? Or has America’s global hegemony been largely to blame?

Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger wants to explain how we got to a world in ‘a pervasive panic… that anything can happen anywhere to anybody at any time’. Everything seems to be spinning out of control, and hatred, racism, violence and lies have become common currency everywhere. Facts have become irrelevant and ‘individuals with very different pasts find themselves herded by capitalism and technology into a common present’.

Mishra, an accomplished and well known Indian/English writer, comes from semi-rural India. He is ‘a late comer to modernisation… a step-child of the West’. He explains to his readers the less familiar crisis of ideas in non-western states. He argues that Ayatollah Khomeini was an entirely modern leader. His Iranian nation was ‘derived from God’s mind’ as interpreted by the Ayatollah, for which no parallel exists in historic Shiite piety. In India a violent Hindu extremism led to Hindutva (Hinduness), founded by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883–1966), a political movement which preached violence against Muslims and women and one of whose fanatics murdered Gandhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which inherits many aspects of Hindu extremism.

Mishra argues that Islamic terrorism has little contact with traditional Islam. ‘It is made and unmade by globalisation, unmoored to any specific causes, but full of dreams of spectacular violence.’ He comments that the contemporary terrorist moves

through the mundane places and practices of everyday life — motels, bars, gyms, internet chat rooms, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Twitter timelines and private car rentals…. Global jihadists as well as ‘domestic’ terrorists are unmistakable products of the modern era.

How has this terrible violence arisen? Mishra argues that

in advanced democracies a managerial form of politics and neo-liberal economics had torn up the social contract. In the regime of privatisation, commodification, deregulation and militarisation, it is barely possible to speak without inviting sarcasm about those qualities that distinguish humans —trust, cooperation, community, dialogue and solidarity.

Those values have given way to a world-wide resentment felt by those excluded, cheated, threatened and deceived.

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