In 2004, I was touring Germany with ‘Death of a Salesman’. During the course of the run, I had the good fortune to bump into an old friend in Munich, who happened to be in the audience. As it happened, he lived in the town of Dachau, and since I’d long had an interest in the Third Reich and their Final Solution, we arranged for him to be my tour guide in the former concentration camp.
It’s very hard to describe how I felt when seeing the notorious camp. People always say that birds no longer sing at these sites; and for me, on that day, it was true. There was, for me, a sort of numbness that took over, as my brain tried to process what my eyes were seeing. One could say so many things, but what would be the point? The banality of evil hung like a cold, damp cloud in the air.
After the visit, during which we spoke little, my friend broke the silence. ‘If I’d lived then, I would have been part of the Resistance’. I just looked at him and said ‘How do you know?’ He insisted he would have, but the more I saw of Germany, the more I visited its museums, the more I saw the many memorials there are to the genocide of WW2, the more certain I grew that this was not a decision to be made until one was in the situation.
Even more than over 70 years ago, Westerners are primed to see themselves as the ‘good guys’. We can possibly blame this on the stories we tell ourselves, either verbally or through our media. Never more has this been apparent to me than in the language used post-9/11 by Bush and Blair: Bush’s comment that he took his advice from God to justify ‘shock and awe’; Blair’s constant assertion, through policy and spin, that Islam was ‘incompatible’ with the West. Not so incompatible that it was beneath him to personally profit from this seeming incompatibility.
The narrative of the ‘good’ Muslim versus the ‘terrorist’ Muslim took root. We had a Muslim senior politician resign in Baroness Warsi, because of rampant anti-Islam policy in her cabinet under David Cameron. Islamophobia, even in so-called liberal circles, became rife. Atheists like Sam Harris, who is clearly Islamophobic, have become worshipped (in an ironic turn of events, for those who profess a dislike of cults, neo-atheism seems to me to be cultish in the extreme) by legions of followers. Crusader-style language has been employed, with little prevarication, in our newspapers and by our politicians. Extra restrictions through the reintroduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been placed on Muslims, but what of it? The vast majority of society has, directly and/or indirectly, been drip-fed the fallacy of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy. And now we’re here.
I’ve been, in my posts on social media, been talking about the dangers of the rise of white supremacy for most of the past decade. It has been pretty obvious to me that once one goes down the road of ‘otherising’ a community (as was done to the Irish in the 1970s), it is a slippery slope. A documentary that made an impression on me was ‘5 Steps to Tyranny’, an old BBC Panorama programme that a kind soul has uploaded to YouTube. For anyone looking to acquire a basic understanding of how psychologically human beings are primed to be seduced by tyrants, it’s worth a viewing.
I also recommend ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl, a book that made a huge impression on me in my twenties. Having re-read it recently, I noted with some amusement and a little shock something that had escaped me on my initial reading of it. That the Jews in the concentration camps, as starved and reduced as they were, still held a certain contempt for those deemed lower than them. One of the groups listed was ‘Moslems’. Frankl also noted that survivors either went on to do great good in the world as a result of their experiences, or bullies. The element involved was choice.
One of my lifelong obsessions that led to an interest in the Holocaust is human nature. The potential of human beings. Their capability for greatness or destructiveness. Having observed the rise of white supremacy so consciously, I must confess a personal interest. Two of my nieces are Muslim.
Something happens to you when you see a next generation of your flesh and blood come into the world. You want the world to be a better place for them. My brother converted to Islam around 2002. He married a Moroccan Muslima. My two Muslim nieces are a light in my life, my mother’s life, my brother their uncle’s life. But I cannot remember a time since they were born that I did not fear for them, based on their religion and the acceptable onslaught of everyday prejudice.
One story that illustrates how far this prejudice can spiral out of control. My brother and his wife, now resident in the UK, had neighbours who went on holiday to Spain. Another neighbour, out of prejudice, hadn’t seen said neighbours for some time. She called the police, claiming that my brother and wife had murdered them. They were brought to the local police station and interrogated until the police located the holidaying couple. This happened only a couple of years ago.
The rise of neo-fascists and their advisers and followers is no accident. On one level, it speaks to the ability of sociopaths (which I believe Farage, Trump et al to be) to easily manipulate our worst natures. It speaks to political ignorance, which even many of my university-educated British friends have hitherto worn as a badge of honour, and are now desperately scrambling to understand how what has happened, could have happened. It speaks to an ignorance by white people of the difference between equality being in law, and in practice. It speaks to a childish quality of following the herd and of blaming the other for our own lives’ ills. That childish quality was also in evidence during the Brexit vote, when people blamed immigrants for a lack in their own lives, without taking into account that the UK had opted out, voluntarily, of taking control of migration when given the chance by the EU. The fact that obvious economic lies were swallowed (the £350m savings on the NHS being only one of many lies, or should I say #alternativefacts spewed like so much rancid spume by the Leavers) shows how ripe the UK was for being overtaken by white supremacists dressed in wolf’s tweeds like Farage. The acceptable face of racism, succeeding where Mosley and his Blackshirts couldn’t, in dressing up fascism in a hail-fellow-well-met bon viveur façade. Repugnant, but effective.
Being so easily fooled by the white supremacist in our own backyard, and the Crusader-like views by mainstream politicians and media that led to his success, is it any wonder that we are witnessing a Muslim ‘ban’ in the USA, the supposed torchbearer of Freedom and Democracy Inc? Is it a ruse by Trump & Co to turn it into a profitable war, thus giving a boost to munitions, big Pharma, oil and consequently the banks? (If it is, I suggest all GOP politicians, including Trump, and any collaborators be forced to conscript their own offspring first, as a sign of good faith). In this political atmosphere of night-time raids and smoke and mirrors, it is hard to tell.
What is clear is this: we now are all faced with a choice. Resist or collaborate. There are no other options available. We will have the answer to that generations-old question. And as we judged others over 70 years ago, so will we too be judged.