Rise of the Internet Fanatic – Religion and Hate in the Cyber Era

The internet has changed our lives in ways we could not even imagine. The way we book our tickets, the way we prepare for our examinations and the way we watch movies. Netflix and Amazon Prime have modified our living rooms. It has been years since I have actually approached a travel agent to book tickets for me. The rise of internet has also had many darker effects. Cyber sex and hacking were words unknown to our parents. Pornography has influenced the sex lives of so many millennials. The late nineties saw the rise of the internet generation – Liberal, impatient and ambitious. We craved speed – faster networks and instant gratification. But a very decidedly different group of young men and women arose.

What was confined to the Wahabbi madrasas of Saudi Arabia could pervade the mobile phones of young Muslim boys in Tirunelveli. The xenophobia of the saffron fringe could infiltrate the living rooms of the Indian middle class. The fundamentalist Christianity of Billy Graham in the United States was in our fingertips.

A new sub-generation arose. Radical, opinionated and doggedly religious. The phenomenon started about 15 years ago. The Stonebench team approached Dr Akbaruddin ( names changed ) a general practioner in a southern district of Tamil Nadu. His family of devout Muslims was prominent in the nearby few villages. Dr Akbaruddin was a senior doctor who catered to the medical needs of many local villagers. The changes were subtle in the beginning. Dr Akbar’s nephew started growing a beard and Zakir Naik’s sermons started to inspire him. He refused to attend the Muharram festivities in the village because it was allegedly ‘shirk’ (prohibited). Dr Akbar and his family initially enthused by his new found devotion were shocked. One day he asked his own aunt to cover up and wear a hijab. Dr Akbar practiced a moderate and tolerant version of Islam that was suddenly being questioned by his own nephew. The inclusive Islam that his family had practiced for centuries was not similar to the new version. The final straw was when he told his own father not to vote for a friend in the local panchayat elections because he was a kafir. Anwaruddin all of 19 years then left home 7 years ago and joined a radical Islamic evangelist outfit which now proselytises all over Tamil Nadu. He is active on Facebook and frequently quotes radical preachers.

We approached Anwaruddin on Facebook and met Rajiv , a fervent internet Hindu through Anwar. Rajiv and Anwar had spent half a day trolling each other on a Facebook post about Modi. Abuses such as “cow-piss drinkers” and “porkistani” were exchanged liberally between themselves. Rajiv was an fervent internet hindutva warrior. He held beliefs that are incompatible with modern morality along with a masters degree in computer science. He spoke about how Hindus were being “ outnumbered and ill treated “ in our nation. A religion which had survived 3000 years was suddenly under threat. During the day he worked at a corporate office in an IT park. Evenings were spent spilling vitriol over the so called secularists and liberals. He spent hours justifying lynch mobs and cow-protectors. His knowledge about Hindu scriptures was limited but spent evening scourging for phrases in the Quran and the Bible to justify his anger against Muslims and Christians. The Facebook groups of which he was a member fed his fears and fuelled the hate. Violence in the name of a temple was justified. He told me unapologetically how he had once asked his father to stop doing business with Muslims.

It has been difficult being devoid of belief. The first time I encountered it was in school, when a Christian friend offered to ‘save me’. I had to politely refuse the offer. Offers to save me from mathematics classes were more welcome. College was not much different. I met young men and women who were more internet-savvy and more religious than their parents. They were educated and yet were ready to accept the non -scientific beliefs of their religions. I spent hours debating with colleagues about evolution – a concept my religious doctor friends could not accept despite immense proof. LGBT rights were an area when all the bigots of varying denominations agreed upon. “Homosexuality is a sin “they boomed. Babas, maulvis and pastors jointly agreed upon it and their online followers thundered their approval with clicks and likes.

It has become morally acceptable to tell women to stop wearing short skirts. Unsolicited advice is the norm on Facebook. It has also become mainstream to use your office internet connection to abuse a person who disagrees with your views. Bigotry spreads exponentially with every retweet. When I was a teenager, my father was more worried about pornography on the internet. It won’t be the same for my son. I would be more worried about grown men preaching from studios with scriptures in their hands. Drinking chocolate milkshake on Wednesday might be forbidden in your religion. Just don’t ask me not to drink it. Concept of God is a very private thing and is best left confined to the prayer rooms of your homes. Internet is not the place for it.

Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai who writes on socio-political issues and technology. He is interested in public health and using technology to solve public health problems. He sometimes forgets his wallet at home and doesn’t keep his room neat.

5 thoughts on “Rise of the Internet Fanatic – Religion and Hate in the Cyber Era

  1. Thought provoking
    Nice
    Well-done
    More people like you is required to spread the message of love,harmony and inclusiveness

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  2. Yes. I agree with you sir. This very concept of internet warrior is being greatly misused nowadays. I have to admit even I’m one of them.( Its a different kind of warrior. I troll both parties).
    He who fights in the name of religion is literally ignorant of his faith. Faiths were there for helping man find out his ‘Way of Life’ . Not to be a cause to fight. Whats even more pitiful is that there are some ppl (those WARRIORS) don’t realise that they are being used by these fraudulent politicians .😔 . Misery to be continued…..

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  3. Very well-written!

    As you pointed out, polarization always existed and not until the late internet Era (as I call it), such forces were negligible. Who knew that bigotry and fanaticism will grow to become an ominous force?

    Most obvious anticipation must have been that the people would be encouraged to seek truth with the power of internet at fingertips. Who knew that there will be an emergence of convenient “truth” seekers?

    Not long ago, I believed that everyone should have an opinion (not just entitled to an opinion) as I thought this would push one to question and analyze available information before taking a stand. Social media is churning out premature opinion babies before they completely develop. Except that premature babies die early, whereas premature polarizing opinions grow up to produce more babies. Suddenly, it feels like the ignorant world was blissful – Miserable!

    I share your fear, parenting just got tougher! The worst part is I don’t really see light at the end of the the tunnel. I just hope that everybody will take a scientific approach to thought process as we grow as a society. A darker reality awaits, but I hope not!

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  4. Hey, cleverly written. I’m surprised that you want to class all people who hold on to conservative faith on the same plane as terrorists. Even across faith groups the type of ‘fundamentalism’ is very different my friend. E.g. Muslim fundamentalists who are regularly known to murder and assassinate on the basis of religion, likewise Hindu fundamentalists who lynched in retaliation (although it was after decades of violence from Islamists), although for political conquest, and are appealing on the platform of religion to political power (such includes the suppression of muslim/Christian ways of life as eating beef, or renaming old cities, mob violence and now the building of a temple in a disputed site!!)…And along with that you want to put Christianity with no organized violence?!! Don’t you think it is is hypocritical and raw overkill? How ridiculous is that?! For your kind information homosexuality is seen as ‘not the norm’ not just in Christianity, but also in Hinduism and even Islam and even among non-faith people (so that’s like 80+ % of the world)…so demonizing Christianity based on that reason is simply wrong. The reason is obvious…Only ultra-liberals, even they, primarily to push their ideology – not that they actually either are convinced or believe in it- (exactly the same thing you’re talking about – fundamentalism, of the ‘liberal’ kind – so turns out to be anything but liberal!) without negotiation immediately get into the branding game (as you) that conservatism is wrong based on such flimsy accusations. Now get this straight: this is fairly a new recent thing to normalize a lot of behaviours that have been known to be abnormal (in fact even science had also classified it as abnormal until the liberal activists came and had it removed)…I must admit today’s science has added a lot of light on the area of homosexuality (for which the earlier phobias around it were fairly sobered down, n I appreciate it! but that’s not a problem with religion, but the general lack of science/knowledge/technology/academics that prevailed in the days when what was merely passed on of what was known until then, what we call tradition – not all wrong! In fact it was post-Protestantism, that is Christianity for you, that allowed for literacy when the Bible which was up until then prevented from common men was translated against the brutal suppression of the church order and then it gave rise to challenging establishment in even other spheres as scientific temper etc. So you’re wrong, it was not the absence of religion that afforded science, but faith itself that did!) so getting back, recent science’s partial discoveries into abnormal behaviours doesn’t solve the problems around it altogether but have merely thrown light into some areas of it. So that’s not the whole truth my friend, there is much more that remains to be known. You are trying to draw far too much applications out of a half-truth…e.g. the acceptability of something that is universally agreed to be unnatural, even by highly educated, scientific people. Today it has gone so far as to entrust poor orphan children into same-sex couples’ hands which may not be healthy for all you know! Just because science stamps everything, it doesn’t become true. As for the Christian message of resurrection of the dead and an accountability of deeds done in this life is not a lie, it should be true even from common sense. Besides it is irrefutable that what Jesus did in his life, works and teachings is the most well documented event in history (I’m talking at the level of manuscripts and extra-biblical corroborations – plz read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobbel an earlier skeptic who put the resurrection claims to a normal legal examination as today, and came to be convinced based on what he found). ‘To be saved’ is an invitation to quit from one’s irrepressible tendency to reject a deep innate desire to do good but inability to do so but overcome it and do the right thing. This is a universal problem (for if ‘scientific’ atheism allowed for a higher moral ground of truth, then scientists shouldn’t be underhandedly pushing their political/social agendas!! goes to show there’s a deeper problem than just academic ignorance, for knowledge hasn’t fixed the basic tendency for evil!)…It is here where Christ and his teachings come. And it is totally justifiable to teach or preach this message. There is no violence in it. If you don’t want it, don’t take it, what’s wrong?! However, I agree that the way Christianity is being lived out, there are plenty who may not be the ideal representatives of it, however that doesn’t prevent them from participating in organizing society in some ways that might be helpful for them. In fact that’s what democracy is all about! Today the liberals have gone so far to push their agendas that the entire Western media has become the cronies of the liberal side, further they have infected the court/justice systems where they are determined to push their atheist ideology upon those who hold on to conservatism…SO it is not Christianity (I’m talking about the Western context here!) that is fundamentalist here as you’re wrongly misrepresenting but libtards who are the ones oppressing. I can list out tons of other examples, recently to stop a conservative justice Kavenaugh, the left went so far as to spin outrageous lies, after losing elections they have started to mob conservative Congress people and even conservative views are all completely banned by the big tech, so much so conservative pages have to be reached after one ‘proves’ he is not a bot and all ultra liberal results show up for a simple google search…So please quit this limp attempt at pushing your liberal agenda by demonizing Christianity along with other phenomena that are patently wrong (or at least extreme, although with a reason, by this I refer to the Hindu/Buddhist backlash for decades of Islamic terror – Islamist fundamentalism is of a different category, can’t be classed with he rest)…Three words for this write-up: convenient libtard hypocrisy!

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