Extremism struck again this week as Muslims at prayer were targeted in Christchurch, New Zealand. The perpetrator, nay the fundamentalist terrorist – let’s give him his proper name, cited numerous influences from Anders Brevik to Brexit in his manifesto of hate. His anti-invader/immigrant mythology also appears in ‘softer’ form in everything from ‘Make America Great Again’ to anti-migrant and refugee sentiment, the bolstering of borders and building of walls. How are we to instead build bridges between those that disagree and resort to extremism to put down their perceived enemies of the state – whether one that is built upon religion or race?
Invasion – ‘The Great Replacement’
The ideological language of the Christchurch killer conjures up the false idea of a Muslim invasion targeting the white Christian majority. Immigration is seen as “invasion”, as a “swarm“, “plague”, “flood“, “army”, the language of infestation and threat, when the majority are refugees and migrant peoples armed with nothing more than a determination to survive.
Who can forget the Twin Towers? The 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Everyone remembers where they were on that day. I was watching television as the channel interrupted to show near-live footage of the terrorist atrocity. The prominent and powerful symbols of freedom, capitalism, the US (the ‘Great Satan‘), and the West itself, disintegrated in mere minutes as if they were the parabled house built upon sand and not rock.
Since then, and perhaps before, we have seen twin evils arise. Each blaming the other for their existence. Committing revenge attacks in response to real and imagined threats to their Caliphate or Caucasian identity. Claiming religious or racial purity as justification. Collecting new followers by radicalising susceptible minds wanting a cause. Creating separatist and supremacist ideologies and utopian or dystopian society worldviews, depending upon your point of view.
“The threat our societies face is so great, however, because it is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism….Our twin enemies are not madmen. They are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves and ideas that we must not underestimate.” – Ed Husain, Daily Telegraph, author of The House of Islam: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2018) and a senior fellow at Civitas: Institute or the Study of Civil Society
The language of their recruiting, whether via brazen extremist preaching or hidden on message boards and the dark web, seeks to blame the ‘other’ and boast of themselves as the answer to prevent a perceived threat to their existence.
Chicken or Egg?
When summoned to the headteacher’s office after a fight, schoolkids would usually be challenged, “Who started it?” or was it “Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other”? How far back should we go – 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the betrayal of the Arabs after the First World War, imperialism and empires, caliphates and crusades?
Whatever the origins the outcomes are clear, mutual radicalisation by further atrocity and response. Islamic State is all but decimated but it creates a power if not a revenge vacuum for disaffected and disillusioned fighters who are not deradicalised and rehabilitated. Out of Al Qaeda (1988) and its ideology has grown Al Shabab and others affiliating or aligning such as Boko Haram.
With the far right, when the BNP faded the EDL arose. From Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s to modern extreme nationalist movements, one fades and another arises, phoenix-like from its ashes. The UK-specific extremist right-wing parties have in common an ethnocentric identity as English or British and a xenophobic focus, often including Islamophobia, to their rhetoric – although, perhaps, rhetoric is too high-minded a phrase to describe an ancient art of discourse and persuasion.
Racism and Ostracism
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and descendants vaunt the removal of all Western (and/or Judeo-Christian) foreign influences in Islamic countries leading to the creation of a new caliphate ruling over the entire Muslim world.
The hard and far-right similarly want the removal of all Middle Eastern influence (Jewish or Muslim) and an end to the immigration that, in their view, dilutes racial purity and an oppressed white-majority society.
Both extremisms promote a purity of religion or race as their fundamentalist base. They are similarly xenophobic – the hatred and ostracising of the ‘other’, whether the non-white or the non-Muslim. We’ve been there before with the Crusades and later Roman Empire in their attitudes to barbarians and infidels, essentially non-Romans and non-Christians.
Our liberal open societies – argues Ed Husain, are under threat. The moderate middle ground is being squeezed not only by radical and extreme left calls for revolution and far right wings threatening riots but by twin forces of ultra-conservatism and archaic-traditionalism that have become extreme and radicalised. They see each other as inherent evils in society and refuse to engage with each other. Liberal and centre which used to be harmonising language are now seen as the new elites and the ultimate compromisers of more radical solutions to society’s ills.
Brexit has created a new divide, over Europe, not simply Left or Right. Europe is seen as another liberal elite con creating a federalised coalition and increasingly common policies on finance, defence and foreign policy. These frustrate the feelings of independence that exist alike on the nationalist right and anarchist or anti-fa left.
Community and Cohesion
Without arguing for a lacklustre liberal middle-ground, since I am more on the Left myself, we must pursue greater community and cohesion, internationalism and inclusion. To avoid the scapegoating of the ‘other’ we must engage with each other – not platforming extremisms (although putting the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time worked quite well to expose the flaws in his ideologies) but exploring the ideas and issues that may lead to radicalisation.
The reasons why people become disenfranchised, embittered and emboldened, and seek out cultish groups must be examined and policies put in place to re-engage with them and the causes that lead to their extremist leanings.
A former-EDL regional organiser I know challenged his own beliefs by visiting open mosques and engaging with difference. I was a religious fundamentalist (fortunately more charismatic creationist than militant apocalypsist) and right-winger in my now thankfully distant past but keeping an open mind eventually created one.
In my experience, at least, conversation and dialogue, opening lines of communication – with those willing to discuss issues in respectful ways, can ensure that moderates don’t drift to the extremes.
We need to challenge the real fascists and not just call everyone who disagrees with us one. The number of times I have heard “Nazi” and “Fascist” bandied around to simply describe all Leavers, or those that have economic objections to immigration, or that don’t support Muslims’ right to express their faith, or even those that critique transgender rights.
Sometimes, people seem beyond reach though, and our focus among them should be on countering all forms of hate-based violence and vitriol – online and in public – especially and particularly that which targets others based upon their religion or race, ethnicity and nationality.
We cease othering and ostracising best by encounter and engagement, meeting the human behind the label, discovering their difference but also realising our common humanity, emphasising that which unites and not that which divides.
Trump’s improving national 41-47% and among Republicans 90% approval ratings suggest he may even get a second term! Right now, he is comparable to Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama in his ratings and that’s with what ought to be a ratings-dive-inducing separation of children from their parents at immigration assessment and removal centres, and being hapless in their attempts to reunite those families.
Shockingly, many people agreed with him. It’s not just Trump we’re dealing with, he’s tuned in to a generally right-wing working class feeling among many that they are losing their white culture, that their jobs and housing are under threat from immigration. I mean 53% of US women voted for a misogynist President.
That Donald Trump chose to do an interview with Britain’s leading political media, sorry, I mean the Sun, shows the level he is at and aiming at – and sadly it works, that’s why he got elected. Instead of appealing to people’s higher instincts, he’s appealed to the lowest base instincts of fear and self-serving protectionism. That was how Hitler got elected – democratically. Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times calls it a “trial run for fascism”. It’s happening in Italy with its Roma census and in Hungary criminalising aid to migrants, testing the market to see how much xenophobia they can get away with.
Now I’m not really comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, however, my issues with Trump are that he is part of the past. He is a throwback, part of the resistance to progressive social and global change. He has halted and, in some instances, rolled back LGBT rights in the US, he is anti-environmental protections, he has stereotyped, ostracised and scapegoated everyone from Mexicans to Muslims. He has joked about pussy-grabbing, and dating his own daughter. He wants to make abortion illegal and to punish the women having them. If this man is the so-called Western “Leader of the Free World” then it’s a different century he’s living in, rebooting a cold war and the language of nuclear war, including the sexist values of the 1940s and 50s.
He has taken America back decades in terms of internal and external foreign relations, with Muslims in general, and people who are or were immigrants. Whilst Trump, Putin and Kim Jong Un may appear to be friends now, his Twitter foreign policy pronouncements that involve bragging about the size of his… erm, nuclear button, are lunacy not diplomacy. This is not the Obama and West Wing White House we grew to love but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
A friend pointed out that in psychology terms a cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect, where people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is, seems to be affecting Trump’s beliefs in his own genius, something he reiterated this week: “I am a very stable genius”… “I am more popular than Abraham Lincoln” (there wasn’t polling in his day!), “I feel unwelcome in London” but “the people of the UK love me“… His favourite words this week are “Very”, “Amazing”, “Strong”, and especially “Great”.
Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology, at the University of St Andrews says:
“To be contemptuous of Trump denies his power and diminishes him. Contempt and derision are excellent mobilisers of collective action. So… use satire and wit… Create a carnival of resistance. Reaffirm core values of humanity over inhumanity, inclusion over exclusion, hope over hate”
It’s time to dump the Trump before Western diplomacy and values retreat any further into the dark ages where hate and lies are legitimised, Islamophobia is rife, racism and xenophobic nationalism become ingrained once again.
“the toxic ideologies of ‘Trumpism’ are flourishing around the world” – Caroline Lucas
He has bragged that he has property everywhere in UK, that people love him and think him great. That an “honest” UK poll would show that Brits love him. The pro-Trump demo, not surprisingly being co-promoted with “Free Tommy Robinson”, had 700 down to go, compared to the 70,000 for the anti-Trump one, at which three times that showed up, whereas pro-Trump saw just a few dozen!
The level of Donald’s denial is despotic and delusional. For him MAGA is more like Make Trump Great Again – the alternative reality TV show. Better to see him as a participant on The Apprentice – special President’s edition, and collectively say “You’re FIRED!”
2. Marching against multiculturalism (EDL & Britain First) and not getting the irony of bemoaning Halal ingredient sourcing in Tikka Masala – seeing curry as British and Christian!
Following a recital of the Lord’s prayer, Golding warned his audience about east London’s Brick Lane and its apparent “mobs”, telling supporters he was also finding it impossible to eat tikka masala now because of the preponderance of halal meat. Golding added: “We are the face of the future.” – The Guardian
5. Demanding the right for the UK to leave the EU but not for Scotland to leave the UK.
6. Wanting cheap food (Aldi and Lidl – German supermarkets), wine (usually French, Italian and Spanish) and clothes, yet not acknowledging the labour and sources that go into making them, whether in Lincolnshire fields at 5am, Eastern Europe, or further afield.
7. Loving foreign holidays in countries whose nationalities you spew at when back home, and expecting them to speak English in England, AND English when you visit them as a tourist abroad.
8. Wanting more money and jobs but not the endeavour, hours, productivity and wages that go into building a business. Immigrants are more likely to start self-employed businesses, contribute more to the economy, create employment than nationals.
9. Opposing immigration but not one’s own genes and forebears who are probably part Norman French, German Saxon, Norse Viking, Flemish-Dutch, Irish etc.
10. Add your own – the list could go on…
It’s an imperialistic (Great) Britain First attitude that takes what it wants from the world but does not give back or support the world from which it has taken. That, to me, is not Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but Lesser Britain and the Broken Kingdom.
We need to remember our roots, celebrate cooperation and community, discover disparate cultures and diverse expressions, and learn to share our resources with our European and global neighbours. Not to mention stamping out hate, xenophobia and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.
December 18 is International Migrants Day, falling in the middle of yet another broken ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria. The combination of 4.5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people means that half of Syria‘s 22m population are technically migrants, making it the biggest humanitarian refugee crisis and migration exodus since the Nazi era. Half-a-million have been killed in the civil war/uprising and there are few signs of an end in sight.
Dignity for all migrants
Two years ago, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said in hope:
“On International Migrants Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to shape diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2014
“the carnage in Syria” as “a gaping hole in the global conscience” and Aleppo as “a synonym for hell”. “We have collectively failed the people of Syria. Peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2016
Over a quarter-of-a-billion of the world’s population are migrants – people who have changed country because of war, disaster or famine, and the poverty or threat to life brought on by them. Globalisation and the resultant increased geographical mobility, not to mention trafficking and exploitation mean that some nations have seen 8-fold increases in net migration since the 1990s. If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too.
If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too. Who is truly British or English when we are part Roman, part Saxon, part Viking, part Norman, part Dutch and many more besides.
Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies.
Around 53,000 migrants have died since 2000 just attempting to reach the shores of more free, safe, developed nations, over half trying to get to Europe – some 6,000+ each year, most recently. Hundreds die every year attempting to enter America, similarly with Australia. Even if they make it, hundreds of thousands end up detained (350,000pa in the US) and returned, or imprisoned.
Sadly, the escalation of migrant deaths means that on average 20 die each day, with 2016 the worst on record at 7,200 deaths with 2 weeks left to run. It represents a 50% increase since 2014 which itself was double the figure for 2013. Some 4,800 deaths in the Meditteranean also represent a 33% increase over 2015, despite a 60% reduction in arrivals to Europe’s southern coasts.
Back in 1990, on 18 December, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In 1997, some Asian migrant organisations began to commemorate 18 December as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. In 2000, the UN proclaimed that date, henceforward, to be International Migrants Day.
“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.”
Resolutions but no Resolution
At a high-level meeting on migration at the United Nations in New York, 3-4 October 2014, Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration calling for “respect of human rights and international labour standards”, “commitment to fight human trafficking” and strongly condemning “manifestations of racism and intolerance.”
The declaration set out to “Strongly condemn the acts, manifestations and expressions of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against migrants and the stereotypes often applied to them, including on the basis of religion or belief.”
The need to “improve public perceptions of migrants and migration” was also stressed.
It further recognised, in the same declaration document, that “human mobility is a key factor for sustainable development”, something which many immigration reactive nations are seeking to restrict.
In 2016, September 19, the UN General Assembly held its first ever summit on large movements of refugees and migrants to enhance their protections. The resultant commitments, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (NY Declaration), reaffirm present international protections and pave the way for forthcoming new global compacts in 2018.
Political Breaking Point
In the UK, all the main parties bar the Greens at the last election in 2015 were in a race to the bottom to prevent economic migration, restrict benefits for 2-4 years, and tighten borders – despite the economic case for immigration. The EU Referendum in June 2016 saw migrant peoples both demonised and topping some people’s fears and reasons for voting. In the US, the Republicans and Donald Trump have lionised migrants and Muslims especially. Meanwhile, the city of New York, with its large immigrant communities has vowed to oppose any anti-migrant or Muslim registers or laws.
An issue for the world
It is not just Europe and America that are primary destinations, though. For instance, in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is made up of about 84% immigrants – millions from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, among others. The population has grown by some 500% since 1990. Some of the UAE migrant workers end up being “beaten, exploited and trapped into forced labour, according to an October 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.”
Migrant workers have also suffered greatly in Qatar during the building work of the 2022 World Cup football stadium with the tacit sanction of UEFA whilst it turns a blind eye to the poor human rights record on its immigrant workforce.
Amnesty International‘s Head of Refugee and Migrants Rights says:
“Political decision-makers need to show leadership by ensuring the human rights of migrants are protected, instead of taking cheap shots through scaremongering tactics. Poor migrants are the perfect political scapegoats – they have no money, no influence and they can’t vote. So if you’re a government whose policies are letting people down, you can blame it all on immigration.” – Amnesty International
Allowing and welcoming immigration is part of international development, yet we prefer to give aid and then say, “stay away”, cementing our “me first” attitudes and protectionist economic policies that are counter free market and prevent natural third world development. The longer we artificially maintain the global haves vs have-nots the more we encourage “desperation migration”. We need generous global action on poverty and economic opportunity, not selfish states. Anyone willing to risk life and limb to reach your borders is probably the kind of driven committed person who would be an asset to your country, community, and workforce.
A day of beauty and soul, World Poetry Day, falls on the same day as the South Africa’s Human Rights Day, which remembers the fight against Apartheid and particularly the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of 69 black South African demonstrators and further killing of another 21 on the 25th anniversary of that day in 1985. It also became the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966 and today still says, “We need to fight racism everywhere, every day”. It is fitting that we celebrate human writes and rights together. Whether it’s the campaigning of organisations like the United Nations and Amnesty International, or the placards of activists, or poems of voices of discontent and history, we cannot be silent to ongoing racism, its history, and its continued scourge.
Yes we need action more than just words, but 15 years ago, at a World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, the Durban Declaration sought to combine words with action:
“People of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights… they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind.” – Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, 2001
“Fifteen years after the Durban Conference very little progress has been made in tackling racism, afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Maya Angelou – be part of “the possible”
Maya Angelou died in 2014 but 45 years before that, in a decade of American civil rights activism, she wrote the first of her autobiographical books, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book describes her early years including racism, and a rape which led to a traumatised silence for 6 years, it goes on to document her rise from child victim to young woman, mother and adult voice.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”
She has become renowned as a woman full of inspiration, and love not hate, reminding us how to be better humans through her best-loved poems which she would write from a motel with, nearby, “a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room”.
Watch Maya Angelou read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth“ which she wrote for the United Nations 50th anniversary in 1995, here is a section of it:
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness …
… We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
It would be great if we, “the possible, the miraculous, the true wonder of this world”, would stop hating and discriminating.
Maya Angelou – Still I Rise
In Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”, are the words: “Out of the huts of history’s shame”. She’s said before, the truth is that:
“A person who does not have a clue to his or her history stands a very poor chance of mapping out a future.” – Maya Angelou interview (1m40s)
She was not one to be cowed or subjugated, instead, she found her voice and gave hope to others.
The full text of her poem, “Still I Rise”:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Be amazing, A rainbow in someone else’s cloud
Maya Angelou also said, echoing a similar sentiment of Albert Camus:
“If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”
Perhaps, we could also paraphrase that, if you are always following the crowd, buying into cheap national and racial stereotypes you will never discover not only how amazing you could be but also how amazing others are, irrespective of the colour of their skin or some other characteristic of difference. “Human beings are more alike than unalike”, she has said.
“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to
prepare yourself so you can be a
rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.
Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you
call God – if they call God at all. I may
not dance your dances or speak your
language. But be a blessing to somebody.” – Maya Angelou
She wasn’t all “turn the other cheek” love, she also saw humour as a defence, and since “life’s a bitch”, the need to “go out and kick ass”.
Tonight (9 Nov), around 10:30pm, begins the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of crystal/broken glass”. People have termed the current “migrant crisis” the worst in Europe since the Holocaust. Hungary and other countries are reacting to the influx of mostly Syrian and Afghan refugees. How will Europe integrate and accept them all? Will far-Right groups grow stronger in response? 1930s Nazi Germany emerging from a background of economic austerity saw blame and scapegoating of Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies and more besides. Kristallnacht is a demonstration of orchestrated violence by a people that a decade before had been one of the most forward thinking nations on Earth, who had allowed Berlin to become a popular city of jazz and queer expression, a place where Jews were once proud to be German.
A British diplomat in Germany, Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, at the time, wired home a prophetic warning the year before the outbreak of World War 2:
“I can find no words strong enough in condemnation of the disgusting treatment of so many innocent people, and the civilized world is faced with the appalling sight of 500,000 people about to rot away in starvation.”
This underestimate might have been an upper limit had nations reacted differently and earlier to Hitler’s atrocities. How we react to the modern European refugee crisis is the moral barometer of our generation. Germany is of course now leading the nations of Europe in taking in asylum seekers.
Nazi Mob Rule
Back in 1938, however, Germany witnessed an “orgy of destruction” as the then Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Greene, wrote of what transpired in Berlin that night:
“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun’.” – Hugh Carleton Greene, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1938
The downward rush to mob mentality was not universal and many were deeply ashamed of the pogrom, and some tried to help. The son of a US consular official heard the janitor of his apartment block cry:
“They must have emptied the insane asylums and penitentiaries to find people who’d do things like that!”
Sadly, the majority were quite sane. Inured by scapegoating hatred to a point of passive and then active involvement.
Kristallnacht destruction of Jewish property
Although it was the killing of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew in Paris that sparked the raids and riots on Jewish interests, that was just an excuse that the various Nazi factions had been waiting for.
All across Austria and Germany thousands of shops, businesses, and half of all synagogues were torched and trashed. Around a 100 people were killed. Jews were arrested, 30,000 shipped to concentration camps, and even blamed and fined for setting it off, being charged a billion Reichsmark (circa £250 million then) for “property damaged in the rioting.”
The sacrilege of the attack, including the destruction of 18 of Vienna’s 21 synagogues and nearly all the 200 or so in Germany, meant that it was an all out assault on not only the commercial but also the spiritual lives of Jews. Their national identity as Germans had already been stripped in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws when their German citizenship had been removed.
Anti-Semitism and European History
This level of anti-Semitism had not been seen since 12th-13th century UK and Europe when the blood libel allegations first triggered anti-Jewish violence, theft, murder and expulsion – mostly initiated in Norwich, England.
A less well-known massacre of about 100,000 Jews took place in 1648-49, in the Ukraine, when Cossacks rose up against the Jews blaming them for their Polish oppression.
A 2008 study on current anti-Semitic feeling in Europe, published in 2011, concluded that:
“The significantly strongest agreement with anti-Semitic prejudices is found in Poland and Hungary. In Portugal, followed closely by Germany, anti-Semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries. In Italy and France, anti-Semitic attitudes as a whole are less widespread than the European average, while the extent of anti-Semitism is least in Great Britain and the Netherlands”.
In all the countries studied apart from Italy, a majority answered that “Jews enrich our culture”. In Germany, nearly 70% said so, about the same as in Britain.
But nearly half of German respondents said that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. That’s compared to 22% for Britain, 32% for France, 40% for Italy, 68% for Hungary and 72% for Poland.
A separate study published by the German parliament in 2012 concluded that 20% of Germans held at least “latent anti-Semitism” – some sort of quiet, unspoken antipathy towards Jews.
History Repeats Itself as we do not learn
Sadly, as Churchill said, “history does nothing but repeat itself” and never learns from it. Similarly, as Santayana never said (he actually said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”), we are condemned to repeat it unless we teach and learn, and so tonight we remember. Something Judaism is good at doing.
Whilst the socio-political and economic ingredients may have similarities with the 1930s we now have the EU, instant media, stronger safeguards, and hopefully memory – bad memories at that, to remind us never to go there again. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “Memory is more significant than history” in an article in 2012 about the need for leaders to be great teachers.
Back in 2003, Sacks had delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge on “Power and Responsibility”, in the subsequent discussion he drew attention to:
“the distinction between memory and history is crucial to Judaism. Three-quarters of the Hebrew bible is historical. Jews were, in Baruch Halpern’s phrase, “the first historians”. They were as J.H. Plum says in The Death of the Past the first people to see meaning in history, history as a narrative. Yet it’s very interesting to ask what the biblical word for history is and there isn’t one. When Hebrew was revived for the modern state of Israel and they wanted a word for history, they came up with historic, they chose the Greek word. Instead the bible uses a quite different word which appears 169 times, zachor: remember. There is a difference between history and memory; to be very crude, history is his story – it happened some time else to someone else. Memory is my story.”
Shifts in Society grow slowly at first then explode
It is sobering to note that 10 years before Kristallnacht the Nazi NSDAP gained just 2.6% of the vote in the 1928 German Reichstag elections, 2 years later that was 18% and after 2 further years the Nazis were the largest party and Hitler had 37% of the vote in the Presidential election. By 1933 Hitler was in coalition with Hindenburg’s DNVP and it took just months to suspend civil liberties in the name of protecting the people, ban trade unions – who were heavily “associated” with Communism, open Dachau – at first for just political prisoners, and on April 1 to initiate a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. Within less than 6 months Hitler banned all democratic opposition and declared the Nazis “the only political party in Germany.” By 1934, in just 18 months, Hitler’s coup received 90% support in a public plebiscite.
It took only six-and-a-half years for Hitler’s support to rise 40-fold from a small far right protest group to absolute dictatorial control. One would hope that it should be impossible now? Yet far-right groups have grown in influence again, as in 1930s Germany, on the back of high unemployment, austerity and spreading fear about difference, security and xenophobia.
A 2013 Guardianarticle, argued that we do not need to fear a European lurch to the far-Right whilst a 2014 article elsewhere and on Al Jazeera said the opposite after the far-Right did gain significant seats. The Guardian had played down any extremist showings of 7-21% in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Greece, among far-right parties and then enumerates the more limited 1-5% polled elsewhere. Quoting another report the writer dismissed “the far right [being] on course to gain 34 to 50 seats in the European Parliament, which is roughly 4% to 7% of the total”. In fact, the National Front is leading the pre-European election polls in France with 24%, a four-fold increase in just 4 years. UKIP has made not insignificant gains in the UK polls and potentially in the European elections.
Left Foot Forward (LFF) quotes Le Nouvel Observateur columnist Jean-Gabriel Fredet’s comment that, “Fear of immigration, crises of identity and recession combined have created a climate propitious to ultranationalist, anti-European ideology”. LFF comments: “Ironically, France’s [Front Nationale] FN has grown in popularity as the party has combined anti-immigrant sentiment with the sort of anti-globalisation, anti-market rhetoric that is usually the preserve of the left. This explains why the French Socialist Party is losing just as many voters to Len Pen as the centre-right UMP.”
Far-Left parties, for example the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, Syriza in Greece and in Germany, Die Linke, are also making gains at the expense of centrist parties of all flavours.
End Scapegoating of Migrants, Jews, Muslims…
Hermann Göring met with other Nazi leaders barely days after Kristallnacht on 12 November to build on what had happened:
“I have received a letter written on the Führer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another… I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy…”
It comes as no surprise that the Daily Mail, in 1938 was complaining about the “German Jews Pouring into this country by the back door” and reporting a magistrate as saying how the law would be enforced “to the fullest” to eject them. Echoes of attitudes to the Calais migrant crisis?
Similarly, in December 1938, the Netherlands closed their borders to Jewish refugees arguing that it would cause economic pressures and would only “further fan the flames of anti-Semitism“. Despite SDAP pressure the then Dutch government opposed letting in more “undesirable” Jews to its “already densely overcrowded territory” as that would change the character of the Dutch “tribe”.
Party politics and economics aside, what we should be aware of from the lessons of history is the scapegoating of any minority, race, nation, diversity, disability etc., in the name of blame for current economic troubles. What we need is more immigration, greater integration and further interfaith understanding. Only then can we learn from each other and hopefully consign extremism, fear and terror to history.
[An older version of this article was published here in 2013 and on facebook.]
IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
May 17, each year, is IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, since 2009 called IDAHOT to fully incorporate Trans people. I’ve always prefered the longer IDAHOBIT to include Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia, not to mention the little people with hairy feet from Middle Earth!
May 17 was the day that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990. IDAHO day first took place in 2005 with activities taking place around the world including the first ever LGBT events to take place in the Congo, China, and Bulgaria.
In 2009 Transphobia was added to the day’s remembrance and activism although, unlike homosexuality, trans activists are still campaigning to have Gender Dysphoria removed from the various mental health classifications (ICD10/11, DSM-IV/V), though France was the first country to do so that same year. In May 2012 Argentina passed a radical groundbreaking Gender Identity Law depathologising trans and providing medical access for all without psychiatric hoop-jumping. Argentina should be watched and observed to see if its model becomes one that could be followed by other nations and allow for the safe and full depathologisation of transsexuality.
ILGA LGBTI Report
Times have changed and things improved since the removal of the criminal threat and mental health stigma from homosexuality, at least. If a recent ILGA LGTBI report is to be believed, Britain is the best place to live if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex.
Launched to mark IDAHOT day, the ILGA Rainbow Europe Map “reviews the standing of European countries against essential legal benchmarks for LGBTI equality, while the Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe 2014 provides an analysis of trends and an overview of key political and social developments country-by-country.”
For many there were improvements, such as same-sex marriage (although not in Northern Ireland) and for some to the East of Europe, such as Russia, a deteriorating situation of LGBTI freedoms and protections.
Apparently, the UK has the best laws (the 2010 Equality Act was pretty groundbreaking), rights and freedoms, even better than the Netherlands, Spain, or Scandinavia. This is partly down to some nations being gay and lesbian positive but then failing on trans and/or intersex, and usually totally ignoring and hence erasing bisexuals.
Homophobic & Transphobic Hate Crime
Here in the UK, homophobic and transphobic crime seems to be on the rise, although this may just be perception and/or data inflation, since increased numbers may just be better victim reporting and police recording, rather than increased incidence of hate crimes or incidents. We’ve been tackling racism for decades and it doesn’t go away over night. Just ponder the upcoming European elections and the 30% vote share that UKIP the party of xenophobia are likely to gain. Fear of difference is still endemic everywhere.
A recent NUS report into the experience of gay and trans students demonstrates that schools and colleges are still not safe places for LGBTI people. Only 20% of trans students feel safe or accepted in higher education. 20% of LGB+ students and 33% of trans respondents experienced at least one form of bullying or harassment on their campus, making them 2-3 times more likely to drop out of education, affecting future job prospects, and mental health and wellbeing.
Trans students are 2.5 times more likely to have a disability in addition to being transgender. They are, furthermore, the group at the greatest risk of suicide with 34% attempting it and up to 80% considering it. Thankfully, the UK is better than many other places and these figures are greatly increased elsewhere, e.g., the USA, Eastern Europe, etc.
Other Rights Still Not Equal
The right to bodily integrity of people with Intersex conditions (people with differences of sexual development, sometimes unhelpfully termed “disorders”, DSD) is an issue still being fought for. Just because gay rights are seemingly “in the bag”, same-sex weddings won, does not mean trans or intersex people have the same or equal benefits, nor does it mean that any LGBTI person is free from bullying, hate crime or prejudice in the workplace.
Equality itself is not yet equal, either between different strands of the diversity umbrella of protected characteristics nor across different countries in the EU, Commonwealth, or world. Some 80 nations have laws that still criminalise homosexuality, some with the death penalty. Just because a civil rights battle is part-won in one country does not mean that is everyone’s experience, either at home or abroad. So days like IDAHOBIT, regional and national LGBTIQ Prides, are still needed to remind us of how far we have come, and… how far we still have to go to achieve equality, acceptance and freedom for all.