Prejudice and bigotry in the maritime world

One would think that there would be less prejudice and bigotry in shipping than in other sectors because of its international character. After all, merchant mariners travel a great deal. So do many maritime executives. Exposed to different cultures, they should be more open-minded, more cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Intolerance once stared me in the face on LinkedIn, the business-oriented social networking service. I have a keen interest in culture and psychology. So I weighed in when the subject of cross-cultural training and crew harmony was discussed in one LinkedIn maritime group. I quoted part of a verse from the 43rd chapter (surah) of the Holy Qur’an. I thought it beautifully stated the rationale for cultural understanding from the perspective of a major religion which many in the West think is intolerant:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other)… [Surah al-Hujurat (49:13) as translated from Arabic by Yusuf Ali]

The quotation drew an instant and ferocious response from one member of the group. “No discussing religion on LinkedIn!” he wrote. I was reminded of a big ape bristling with anger. Would the fellow have reacted the same way if I had quoted from the Buddhist scripture, The Dhammapada, or the Bible? I doubt it. I realised right then that it was the mere mention of the Holy Qur’an which triggered his outburst. With no one coming to my defence, I decided to quit the group immediately although I continue to use the LinkedIn service.

Thankfully, members of LinkedIn are mostly professionals and entrepreneurs who are preoccupied with career and business opportunities. They are, on the whole, a very civil lot. One can read posts from Arab members about Shariah and Islamic finance. But snide or scornful remarks about Islam, usually from Westerners who are ignorant of the subject, are rare.

Even so, Islamophobia is widespread on social media. One comes across it often on Twitter and occasionally on Facebook. If it is not hatred against Muslims, it is strong derision of Christianity or religion in general from self-declared atheists. I have had to block one British chap on Facebook because he was continually attacking Pope Francis and some practices of Filipino Catholics. His display of bigotry was particularly dismaying as he happens to be a maritime executive who has had dealings with Filipinos.

There is intolerance as well outside cyberspace. Shortly after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on 26th December 2004, a Filipino ship captain said casually that the affected nations suffered their fate because they were not Christian. It was a heartless remark, to say the least. The tsunami had killed up to 280,000 people in 14 countries. Prejudice and intolerance, however, are not confined to matters of religion. I once interviewed a Danish maritime executive who said everyone in Manila seemed to be lying. That was clearly a racial slur on Filipinos.

Perhaps I should take it all in stride. Prejudice and bigotry have no borders. They have a way of creeping into everyday conversations, whether online or in the real world. They take root and spread out their branches in myriads of places. Having a master’s degree or a fancy title is not enough to stamp them out. Still, I find it hard to believe that there is a clash of civilisations. There is only a clash of intolerant minds. ~Barista Uno

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3 comments

  • It appears bigotry rears its dirty head when religion and politics are discussed. Oftentimes heard from people whom we respect as learned. What a letdown!

  • Dear B.U. –

    Well said – it’s a basic human failing! This is also shown in the political trend toward tribalism, a tide running strongly even in sophisticated, so-called ‘1st world’ nations at present. Human progress is *not* continuous, and certainly not linear – we readily fall back into our worst natures, especially when feeling angry or vulnerable.

    Although faith can be misused or manipulated, at its best it has been the source of moral standards in a world without any other compass. People who condemn religion as the cause of wars, etc., are in reality pointing to instances of religion’s egregious misuse! That includes not only modern terrorist activity, but much of human history; the idea of ‘divine right’ comes to mind. Throwing out faith because of human failings is throwing out the baby with the bath, leaving us only our bare, and desperately inadequate, human nature. Better to search our hearts and search for God!

    I think seamen are basically a more tolerant lot, though not all of course… and such bigoted outbursts tell vastly more about the bigot than about the subject of his criticism!

  • Thanks for your perspective, Reid. I’m not sure that it’s a basic human failing to be prejudiced and bigoted. Muslims and Christians used to live together in peace in many countries, including Iraq and Egypt. Outside of the religious or sectarian sphere, it is fair to say that people used to be more respectful to one another. Children used to know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. What has changed? I honestly do not know the full answer.

    I do agree with your point that “throwing out faith because of human failings is throwing out the baby with the bath.” I have seen the best of human nature in people who have faith, even though they may not outwardly display their religious affiliation. “To believe in something and not practise it is dishonest,” Mahatma Gandhi said. I think it is a wonderful reminder to all of us in the 21st century.

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