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The death of 27-year-old Muhammad Fayaaz Kazi is a sharp, tragic reminder to society of the constant effort that is required in overcoming stereotypical views of one another that make us think differently about, and act differently towards, people we perceive to be “different”.
There are limited inferences to be drawn at this early stage from this particular case, but it has been reported that Kazi and his friend, Anser Mahmood, were attacked at a fast food outlet in Magaliesburg last Monday.
It is thought that one or both of their attackers had made fun of Kazi’s beard, sparking a fight. Kazi died in hospital the next day. Did he die because his beard made him seem different? The court will have to try to determine this as it hears two suspects who appeared in the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court this week in connection with the killing.
Let justice take its course. While it does, the general challenge for the rest of us is to consider the risks of behaving differently towards those who look different from us.
Part of this is to be always conscious of how our human wiring – for want of a better analogy – can trick us into seeing, thinking and acting differently. In every encounter, and even the most mundane of exchanges, we make a range of what seem barely conscious judgements of the person before us.
Some of these views will seem – and may even be – quite rational. There are instances where our personal safety depends on them, or, less critically, our social standing. In others, our genuine worth as human beings will depend on such split-second assessments of strangers.
Stereotypes are, often, useful in helping us to make sense of the world and navigating our way through it. But being conscious of them, and of our own responses to them, is the first step towards grasping that most essential truth: whatever the degrees of difference our eyes and our acculturated minds discern, we are all human.