x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The story of a year of small power

The common thread that links many stories this year has been the abuse of power by those who have little over those who have less

For me, 2012 has many stories, but one story whose dots have not been joined is the story of small power: the abuse of power by those who have little, over those who have even less. These are the tales of hatred of the other, of lack of tolerance of other beliefs, and social structures built on the abuse of women.

With Greece bankrupt, there has been a marked rise in racist violence fuelled by anti-immigration rhetoric from the country's politicians and its far-right groups.

Populations angry at their predicament turn on vulnerable minorities, encouraged by irresponsible, even hateful leaders.

For a country such as Greece, for whom the horrific events of the Second World War are still within living memory, it is mind boggling that the connection is not made to the scapegoating of the "other" 70 years ago.

Those who have little power are trying to abuse those who have even less, in shops, in the streets, in their places of worship. I pray that the austerity of 2012 does not lead to the horrors that followed the depression of the 1920s and 1930s.

Across the other side of the world in Myanmar, the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims continues. As the country enters the embrace of the international community, instead of protecting all of its own, it is turning ever more viciously against its Muslim minority, claiming they are not part of the nation.

What is most heartbreaking is that Aung San Suu Kyi has not championed rights for the Rohingya Muslims. Instead, her lack of leadership has provided the opportunity for continued persecution. Those with just a little power abuse the most vulnerable, despite finally having an opportunity for them all to improve their situation.

In Indonesia, Shia Muslims have had their homes and villages burnt down by the local Muslim authorities, then have been forced to sign documents that they will convert to the "right" form of Islam.

This horrific devastation is not enough for the "right" Muslims; aid and protection is also denied them. These so-called leaders assert authority by abusing others.

Fresh in our minds is the horrific gang rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old woman. The story is one that brings together class as well as gender in a country that is plagued with the horrors of higher classes perpetuating abuse of power against lower classes, of men abusing women as a result of the power that society grants them. This case pits lower-class men against middle-class women, and men finding the smallest chink of power available to them in this grotesque act.

These are all stories about the assertion of power over those who are even weaker, stories as old as humanity itself.

But this year was one in which the world offered glimmers of hope, and these stories were all the more heartbreaking. The first step is to recognise those who are committing the abuse.

In the case of Delhi this has been quick, for the Rohingya Muslims it has been slower. For the Shia of Indonesia and the immigrants of Greece, it is slower still.

But we must understand that by highlighting these abuses of power, the ones that wreck people's lives, we may be able to erase the entrenched structures and attitudes that allow them to continue; at least that is my hope for the coming year.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk