The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy
328 pp., 6 x 9 in, None
- Published: September 15, 2017
- Published: September 30, 2016
- Published: September 23, 2016
How right-wing political entrepreneurs around the world use religious offense—both given and taken—to mobilize supporters and marginalize opponents.
In the United States, elements of the religious right fuel fears of an existential Islamic threat, spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric into mainstream politics. In Indonesia, Muslim absolutists urge suppression of churches and minority sects, fostering a climate of rising intolerance. In India, Narendra Modi's radical supporters instigate communal riots and academic censorship in pursuit of their Hindu nationalist vision. Outbreaks of religious intolerance are usually assumed to be visceral and spontaneous. But in Hate Spin, Cherian George shows that they often involve sophisticated campaigns manufactured by political opportunists to mobilize supporters and marginalize opponents. Right-wing networks orchestrate the giving of offense and the taking of offense as instruments of identity politics, exploiting democratic space to promote agendas that undermine democratic values.
George calls this strategy “hate spin”—a double-sided technique that combines hate speech (incitement through vilification) with manufactured offense-taking (the performing of righteous indignation). It is deployed in societies as diverse as Buddhist Myanmar and Orthodox Christian Russia. George looks at the world's three largest democracies, where intolerant groups within India's Hindu right, America's Christian right, and Indonesia's Muslim right are all accomplished users of hate spin. He also shows how the Internet and Google have opened up new opportunities for cross-border hate spin.
George argues that governments must protect vulnerable communities by prohibiting calls to action that lead directly to discrimination and violence. But laws that try to protect believers' feelings against all provocative expression invariably backfire. They arm hate spin agents' offense-taking campaigns with legal ammunition. Anti-discrimination laws and a commitment to religious equality will protect communities more meaningfully than misguided attempts to insulate them from insult.
Hate speech: Scholars have documented it. Politicians have tried to legislate it. And activists have sought meaningful ways to counter hate speech without violating freedom of speech. But only Cherian George has provided a deep, theoretical approach that connects the nuance of the debates in ways that are translatable across cultural, religious, and political lines. Hate Spin goes beyond easy labels to understanding the way media are misappropriated to fuel hatred and violence, impinging on democracy along the way. Unlike other scholars, George expands beyond a single religious tradition or medium. This book can help scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups understand not just how the media feed sectarian conflict, but also how to create and measure effective strategies for change.
Debra Mason, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Missouri
In the era of Donald Trump and the rise of manufactured outrage, Hate Spin provides an important contribution. Cherian George sheds new light on a politics of grievance and the intentional targeting of minorities through hate speech, and does so through a narrative structure that moves seamlessly across several continents. The book deserves close attention from scholars and practitioners in fields from political science to communications studies.
Michael Signer, Lecturer, University of Virginia, author of Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies
This timely work provides an essential warning against the misuse of perceived religious-based bias and an unmasking of the real motives of those who incite manufactured offense.