Vikram Buddhi could be anyone. He could be the mindful mathematician, eloquently solving world riddles. He could be the calculative genius on behalf of pacifist Einstein. He could have been framed as his family is pleading . He could have himself posted the messages as he is admitting.
I see two dimensions to it: one, the action itself (online participation) and two, the ideology, if any (the politics of it).
The question is what are the circumstances that might have led to his erratic and clearly unjustified postings? As an example, in a chatroom, any frequent visitor will notice the oh-so-frequent postings of hate lines all the time. Clueless people on both sides of political spectrum spit venoms at each other, initially beginning with racist comments like “you Indians always smell curry” or nationalist comments like “why do you all land up in my country” to personal assaults like “get the hell out of here, else we’ll bomb you like we do”.
None of the lines above are manufactured. As a researcher in digital media interactions, I frequent public chatrooms to sense the happenings and all the time face such ballistics. Considering my lifetime trysts with misdirected wraths from the conservatives and casteists, Hindu fanatics and average theists in India, I never ‘confront’ or ‘counter’ such irrational and outlandish racist comments. I fully empathize that the atomized people living in secluded apartment houses as individualistic wholes, without any interaction with neighbors, whom they do not know incidentally (since they speak different languages) or intentionally (since many are immigrants); where behaviors from both issues of immigration and language have been made suspect (how many television shows or films are produced to depict normal behavior from foreign language immigrants?), people then turn to online interactions as a good outlet. There, isolated individuals find others in a community. In America, the community that should be existing in the real neighborhoods actually exists in virtual world.
As an oasis in human society, people flock into bulletin boards to at least find people who can ‘talk’ to them, and not merely put up smileys on the roads. The chatrooms and bulletin boards are of course all moderated. And moderated by people who are political beings themselves. Where it’s the machine, there are words which are censored. Of course the words that are censored are themselves a limited list, and that list consists only of some English words that are recognized as offensive to one culture and omits all the hundreds of words that could be otherwise offensive to other cultures. Cultures here mean, not just countries, but also religions, non-religions, sexual orientation, gender issues in foreign countries, and political philosophies etc. Although everyone is allowed free entry into the boards, their freedom is clearly demarcated.
This is what makes the case of online interactions less interesting. A hegemonic set of rules determine what’s called a hate speech. Where ACLU might have got it right and the pro-rule advocates wrong is this fine line. Incidentally today’s world is not one singular nation. With several different cultural codes and the freedom for interaction among all cultures (anyone from Finland can be part of a chatroom of Seattle), that’s been provided by online forums, it’s virtually impossible to deconstruct every insults. And the rules will only help suppress the voices of the minorities whose words and intentions are more susceptible for charges.
Free speech has always worked in favor of those who are free to exercise them. That said, it has also been used to preclude the minority voices. Preclude them on several grounds. And there are several minorities in this country. This case pertains to political diversity.
Clearly, Buddhi is not a liberal or a guy on the left. His views have no consonance with the progressives. No person of any amount of critical thinking skill can even lend support to his words. Basic elementary understanding of the left is that sporadic violence does not lead to any solution. Elected presidents of any country or their party people are truly innocent. The guilty in an electoral democracy where ignorance about general knowledge of cultural history and political geography of the world is rife, are the larger gamut of voters who vote without slightest knowledge of their role in perpetuating an unjust political environment. What Buddhi announced on bulletin board shows either he was provoked into doing so (considering that he had apparently no criminal background), or he was having being completely naïve, stupid, and perhaps idiotic. People may also consider him anything else, and I shall not stand in the way.
However, I have been asked by some friends to take a stand on him. And I shall take one. Clearly I am not in favor of anything that he has said. If his act be considered political, then this is my view. People who want to change the world for the better do the basic minimum homeworks: they need to know a lot of history of all kinds of peoples, they need to organize people on common progressive causes, they need to educate others who could not afford to spend all that time on understanding differences. These steps need not be guided by principles of violence or non-violence. They need to be guided by purposes. And the purpose needs to be for overall betterment of the world, starting with the world’s poorest, the ones who have been historically deprived, the working class and the hungry mass. None of these involve any thoughts around mindless postings of a privileged nutcracker.
All that being said, I could be reading too much into Buddhi’s politics. He may not be a political guy at all. As Mahablog responds to a right-winger, “Hey, buddy, welcome to my world! Do you really think “your” side doesn’t send threats and obscenities to us?” The point is Buddhi episode is an excuse for the folks on the right to make merry and rejoice, by unnecessarily pulling the left into the discourse.
I do not agree that he had anything to do with politics, let alone American party politics. Buddhi has neither done anything which amounts to online political activism, or grassroots political activism or anything that’s worth considering when one looks at what political activism denotes. So I cannot support him on any political ground.
On principle, however, I will support ACLU if freedom of an individual to express something is concerned. This is a shady area, I know. There are all these people who are using homophobic languages and indeed murdering people merely based on their sexual orientations. When ACLU defends the gay activists, it is branded as supporting hate crimes (where speaking in favor of LGBT is considered as hate-speech…ouch!). The fine line between who propagates hate is just that: a fine line. Especially after 9/11, it is more so. And I am not sure if we can tolerate all hate-speeches and protect them under first amendment. Buddhi’s talks are cheap and hateful. He must face consequences. But let him not be singled out because he is a foreign national. For, before him, in recent many times, scores of hate speakers have been getting standing ovations. One in a responsible position of authority even went ahead to call for assassination of another elected leader. Many neo-nazi websites are daily preaching hates. And they are fine and running and getting great google ranks! On educational campuses including University of Maryland, one can see preachers all over. I have been stopped by in the campus and my apartment, where preachers come in fake identities to proclaim love and then soon say how all other religions are evil and there is no such thing as a God from other religion.
Buddhi is not an exception in the pool of hate-preachers. Indeed, he is only the most recent (well…almost). And possibly the most inconsequential. And possibly, the most rightist among them.