By Nadia Kabir Barb
Dec 31 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
If 2016 has reminded us of anything, it is that not only do we not learn from our mistakes but we keep repeating them. For a species that is constantly challenging scientific, medical and technological boundaries, we seem incapable of moving forward on a social and moral level. ‘Never again’ is a phrase we use to appease ourselves, showing that we have acknowledged or condemned an incident, a group of people or whatever the latest outrage or media sensation might be. But here we are witnessing countries being ravaged by war, cities decimated, millions displaced and killed – in the name of religion and in service of greed and political ambition. To commit an act of evil, as they say, only requires good people to do nothing. Whether it is at the level of governments or wider society, we need both to understand and to take responsibility for the consequences of our (in)actions. In a world where truth and accountability have taken a backseat, however, this seems highly unlikely.
It may be argued that the term fascism is used far too frequently and easily these days. The term is bandied about in a way which some find historically inaccurate and others disrespectful of the crimes committed by the fascists of World War II. But “fascism” today carries enough of the hallmarks to be worthy of the title without being the exact fascism of Mussolini and Hitler. There has been a rising tide of nationalism that is being used by some as a platform from which to express a form of legitimised racism. According to the United Nations, “The rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists, meeting in ill-lit clubs or on the ‘deep net’…It is becoming part of normal daily discourse.” Human rights are at risk of “unravelling” under unprecedented pressure and the “rhetoric of fascism is being normalised.” (Independent)
We are witnessing the results of a constellation of multiple phenomena. A prolonged economic recession which has seen the wealthy few prosper but failed to deliver economic benefit to the wider population, has rewritten the political norms and economies of the West. At the same time the brutal war in Syria and ongoing destabilisation of the Middle East has contributed to a humanitarian and refugee crisis of epic proportions. In difficult times, it is understandable that people would be protective of what they have, but in today’s Western world this is giving rise to blatant racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, nationalism, white supremacy, fascist groups and a resurgence of the far right(and far left i.e. Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos, Bernie Saunders) in Europe and the US.
In the UK post Brexit, emboldened by populist anti-immigrant sentiment there has been a spike in both xenophobic and racist attacks. Brexit has given a voice to the hitherto latent resentment and bigotry bubbling under the surface of political correctness, which is now directed towards foreigners and immigrants. There is an economically disenfranchised element of the population which represents an easy target for the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric of irresponsible politicians who are able to market soundbites without having to worry about consistency of logic or even truth.
In June this year, a week before the EU referendum, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and repeatedly stabbed to death by white supremacist Thomas Mair who was heard saying “This is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent” and “Britain first” during the attack. Subsequently, the far right and fascist group National Action came out in support of Jo Cox’s killer praising and glorifying him for her murder. They even posted a tweet stating “Vote Leave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!” In an unprecedented move, Home Secretary Amber Rudd approved the order for the group to be proscribed – a first time that a far-right organisation in the UK has been banned and labelled a terrorist group. Similarly, in the US, far right groups advocating white supremacy. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and anti-feminism, such as the Alt-Right group have come into focus. Their leader Richard Spencer was heard saying at a celebratory conference “Hail, Trump, hail our people, hail victory” reminiscent of the Nazi slogan Sieg Heil.
Over the past decade, whether it is France, Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands, there has been a re-emergence and rise of right wing (and, to a lesser extent, far left) political parties in Europe and a rejection of the centrist globalising liberal “elite”. Far from being relegated to political fringe players and outsiders they are firmly established within mainstream politics, garnering increasing support from the general population. Leader of the Front National Party Marine Le Pen is now one of the main contenders for next year’s presidential elections in France. According to her, poverty, insecurity and unemployment in France can be attributed to globalisation, immigration and the failure of the European Union.Not an advocate of multiculturalism, Le Pen states that those who come to France should accept and submit themselves to French culture and the French way of life–“Come as you are, keep living like you do, keep your culture and we will add all that together, doesn’t work. Multicultural societies are multi-conflict societies” (CNN). This kind of rhetoric, suggests assimilation over integration and inclusiveness. Having seen the victory of the divisive Brexit campaign in Britainwhich relied on emotive but empty slogans such as “Make Britain Great Again” opting for sovereignty over globalisation and Donald Trump being elected US President based on his campaign of populism, soundbites, inconsistency, hate speech, racism and misogyny there is a widespread concern that Marine Le Pen might actually win the French presidential elections in 2017.
In an article written by Robert Cagan for the Washington Post, he states that “fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him”.
As we go into 2017 we need to be alert to the mistakes made in 2016. This time rectifying rather than repeating them yet again by acting with wisdom, statesmanship and integrity.
The writer is fiction writer and contributor to The Daily Star, based in UK.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh