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The State and the acts of Cultural Appropriation

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Is cultural appropriation a proper way of attaining harmony? This is somewhat a weird question to ask, given the widespread acceptance of cultural appropriation in societies. To those eyes that are trained in social sciences ‘cultural appropriation’ is pretty self-explanatory. However, to others particular, those who were saved from the excruciating pleasure of living in academia and university environment, these set of words might seem incomprehensive and to some extent irrelevant. Therefore, to define this complex term becomes an inevitability. So, what is cultural appropriation? The Cambridge dictionary describes it as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” What exactly does that mean then?

In laymen terms, it involves mimicking or copying acts, practices and language/literature of one culture into the other one without comprehending the culture correctly. The recent events in New Zealand particularly those that occurred just after the Christchurch attack fits the description of cultural appropriation. The whole acts of women covering their heads with headscarves, or the recitation of Qur’an verses in Parliament and live television is something one can argue is cultural appropriation. This article will examine various questions including the one posed at the beginning – Is cultural appropriation a proper way of attaining harmony? Should the government need to focus itself in showing solidarity or concentrate on understanding and battling the cause of such an attack? The case of New Zealand is undoubtedly a good case to examine the posed questions.

What happened?

On the afternoon of 15th March this year, there were two consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The attacks began at the Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton at 1:40 pm, and later at the Linwood Islamic Centre around 1:55 pm. The attacks killed 50 people and injured 50 others. The perpetrator of this attack was a 28-year-old Australian man, who has been linked to various right-wing extremism globally. The ferocity of this attack was compounded by multiple elements inter alia the first ever attack of such magnitude took place in mainland New Zealand, the attacker live-streamed the attack on Facebook, another violent reprisal by western against the rise of immigration.

The aftermath

The attacks and mayhem that ensued were followed by actions on three chief responses. One was the capturing of the perpetrator. Second, the dissemination of attacker by the media and finally the series of government responses in New Zealand. The government of Jacinda Ardern was praised for its prompt responses. Just under a week government banned all the military style semi-automatic (MSSA) weapons and assault rifles with which the attack was carried out. All the measures were anticipated (not within such sort time-frame) but the government responses were interesting particularly the actions that exhibited solidarity with the Muslim community.

The government’s fix

The notion of the welfare state has inevitably but incrementally added to state’s duties and responsibilities. The state and sovereign are anticipated to be more compassionate, understanding and emphatic towards citizens. The problem arises when this metastasizes into merely being compassionate and snubbing its primary responsibility of protecting its citizens. Therefore, the state when begin to act as “woke” person of the 21st century it should be questioned to whether these acts of conscious solidarity are complementary to state functions or center of its duties? The cultural appropriation the term so emphatically mentioned in the first paragraph is relevant here.

The state should not engage overtly in acts of cultural appropriation because like every act of individual has individual repercussions; the acts of the state are more complicated and far-reaching. This blurring of lines between individual and the state threatens the distinction between the two and shifts the responsibilities and accountabilities. For the sake of argument let’s take a hypothetical example – some attack takes place in NZ in which the attacker registers the acts of Jacinda’s government (let’s say recitation of Qur’an in Parliament) as principal cause of his motivation to carry out such terror attack. The question emerges – who will be accountable for such an attack? This whole scenario may seem grim but rise in nationalism and ethno-nationalistic sentiments around the globe, it do not appears implausible.

Now with that idea in mind one should look at terrorism. Any act of terrorism is troubling but what is so particular about terrorism that is distinguishable from other crimes. The other crimes ranging from white collar crimes to outright heinous act of murder all involve some degree of self-interest and element of personal in them. Terrorism, on the contrary, does not breed out of individual revulsions but from a much wider belief in a particular understanding of society and world. There have been immense developments in terrorist’s psychology. However, the states seem oblivious to use such developments in employing counter-measures. This hesitation is born out of a temporary and somewhat theatrical nature of terrorism. The government after an attack is under immense pressure to “do something about it.” In that inadvertent pressure what happens do not necessarily contribute to combat terrorism.

Now to circle back to where we started is cultural appropriation a proper way of attaining harmony? The answer is different for an individual and the state. For an individual it is apt to conform to various acts and practices to show solidarity and thereby achieving harmony in society; however, for a state to do the same is problematic. The state is responsible for many communities and people of various identities. Its actions may have numerous unintended consequences. What should a state do then? It should attempt to find what caused the problem in first place and follow it by discernible actions on the ground. The ideology or causes of terrorism are often complex and masqueraded by personal and organizational objectives. Nevertheless, the state should scrutinize the reasons for such ideologies.

In the case of New Zealand state have a good place to start – the manifesto that the attackers left. However, in the race of championing cultural appropriation states alike individuals should not be engaged in acts of impulse which in long-term do not serve the interests of the state. The prompt response by Wellington in terms of gun control is undoubtedly an intrepid and laudable move. The government should, however, be vigilant against acts of cultural appropriation.

The question however, remains do states have the temerity to take upon the task of protecting its citizens by cautiously examining the problem or do states want to engage in acts of cultural appropriation?

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