Sunday, 23 October 2016

Disturbia

It seems to be based on what is left of a bombed out building as you can see what is left of some of the floors of what was once, I guess, a tower block. Now, destroyed, a Syrian artist by the name of Tammam Azzam has, with the addition of some other bits of rubble, turned it into a forlorn version of the Statue of Liberty. A statue of liberty in war torn Aleppo, Syria. Who knows what liberty there is there as people use weaponry against each other fighting for... well, I'm not sure what they are fighting for. Power? Land? Resources? Ideology? Does anyone actually know?


                                           Tammam Azzam's Statue of Liberty


Meanwhile, in Calais, France, a migrant (or refugee) camp known locally as "The Jungle" is about to be broken up and got rid of by French authorities who have tolerated its existence for well over a year now. Many in this camp are from Syria. Others are from Afghanistan or other places. They want to get to the UK. Who knows why? Maybe they have family or friends there. Maybe the UK's historical influence in their homelands makes it a natural magnet for those seeking escape from their own private hells. I would be surprised if many of them realized the country they were coming to though. It is a place lately marked out by hatred, division, rhetoric and ugliness. I admit, though, that it has not yet turned into Aleppo although, as I emerged from my sleep last night into a waking state once again, I had a half awake, half asleep dream in which people showing compassion for foreigners were sentenced to death and shot. 

You might find this idea a bit extreme. But I think its a logical conclusion from some of the thinking I am seeing now openly spoken, thinking which, in more restrained times, was whispered amongst like minds or spoken of only under rocks. Lately, though, those with such views have become emboldened. They have found leaders who at least wear the veneer of respectability even if it doesn't go very far down. In the UK, Nigel Farage became the voice of several million closet racists with his advertisements which were barely disguised Nazi propaganda. His task was to blame everyone's problems on Johnny Foreigner and he seems to have surprised even himself that he did it. Before the Brexit result was announced he was already conceding defeat. But he won. There were more old folks with a fond remembrance of empire and younger people with nothing being rounded up by the vitriol of tabloids owned by billionaires than he had realized. Farage is a key player if you're American too. Donald Trump sees Brexit as the model for his own, very similar uprising and hosted Farage at one of his rallies. "The victory of the ordinary guy over the elites" they see it as.

Of course, its not this. Its the victory of hate over hope. Its the victory of division over unity. Its the victory of self over community. Its the victory of a few self-interested people over everybody else. Nigel Farage and Donald Trump don't care about the people who support them. They care about themselves. They care about living in the world they want in their heads. Everybody else, well, they are just those that can be used to hinder that ideal or bring it about. What Farage and Trump have shown, along with a compliant media especially in the UK where newspapers still hold some influence, is that hate for someone who doesn't look like you can indeed be nurtured and grown. A number of tabloids here in the UK have been consistently and often virulently anti-foreigner, anti-refugee, for years. Those chickens were always going to come home to roost. And they have. We see today in the UK white supremacist groups, defence leagues for Englishness (whatever that is) and an increasing number of incidents against people of other races and nationalities. This isn't coincidence. Its the pay off for the investment the hatemongers have made. This stuff doesn't exist in a vacuum. Nor does it just disappear.

Now in America, a land riven with racial angst and hatreds as far as I can tell from across the water, this is coming home to roost too. Trump has himself been sowing hate and discord during his campaign. He suggests the elites control everything and that they will rig things to fix the election. He says he might not accept the result unless he wins. He says there are more murders now than ever (a lie he continues to repeat). He demonizes non-Americans as reprobates looking for a free ride. Now Trump is characterized by many as a habitual liar with no concern for the truth at all. The message is what matters. For he knows that some already want to believe the things he says. So if he just repeats lies over and over again the effect of this will be to engrain these things in people's minds. Many of his supporters now see the press as the PR wing of the elites they've been taught to despise. They chant "L├╝genpresse" at the press corp, a chant that Hitler used against the German press in the 1930's. He boldly boasts in private of sexual assaults yet when women come forward to say he indeed sexually assaulted them he claims that everyone is a liar. Even though he has himself admitted he sexually assaults people. His supporters shrug it off, unable to link his own words to the accusations of others. Trump seems to threaten to sue someone else 10 times every day. It is a mentality in which Trump is always right and everyone else, especially the elites and foreigners, is out to get him. Trust no one but him is his campaign message. Yes, you should trust a habitual liar who is clearly one of the most irresponsible and self-serving people alive today.

The way these demagogues have risen to such dizzy heights is similar. Both have played off the powerful, who, of course, they are not in this rhetoric, against the little guy, the ordinary person with nothing. That is, the ordinary WHITE person with nothing. In the UK we might call this the working class. In America it seems slightly different in that it is the hard pressed blue collar guy who is the backbone of this body of resentment. In each case, however, these respective men sought to radicalize these naturally quiet people who, in normal times, would just struggle along with their daily lives with a grumble. What Farage, Trump and their media partners such as Rupert Murdoch have done, however, is play on the fears of people like this and tell them that everything they think is true. Other people are getting stuff for free. Other people are getting an easy ride. Other people want to kill you. Other people are making monkeys out of you. The rhetoric is constant and quite deliberate. But these people are being played. Would Trump, Farage or even Murdoch, given a chance, actually make the lives of these people better? No way. Its not even genuinely in their minds to do it. These people are entirely negative in their motivations, driven by what they are against as opposed to what they are for. And I genuinely believe these people are racist at their core. 

Sometimes the supporters of these people and the positions they espouse speak more clearly and sensibly than they do. After all, Trump and Farage must at least pretend to appeal to more moderate people. Farage cannot say he wants a white England. But some of those who support his views do. This week in the English press I've read quite genuine comments from people who want a white monoculture in the UK and who think compassion for refugees is "Anti-British". People talk of those wanting compassion for the refugees as "traitors" and as "treacherous". Some bright spark actually started a petition to make talk of wanting to stay in the EU or rejoin it again a matter of treason. Another, an MP, wanted refugees teeth pulled out and tested to determine if someone was under 18 and thus a child worthy of help as opposed to an adult not worthy of it. "The foreigner" has become a very contested notion in the UK. In America it is even more scary due to the gun laws there. I have read accounts of people who intend to intimidate people of other creeds and colors and it seems many are convinced that people of certain colors or who speak certain languages are out to kill them en masse, terrorists in waiting. Such is the rhetoric, for example, regarding "Islam". The situation in the USA is also more febrile because there is already a historic background of racial injustice deeply woven into the fabric of the country's history. The American Civil War may have sealed the fate of slavery but one hundred years later social justice causes were still being fought for and needing to be won by those like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Even 150 years after this war there is still need for campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and American police departments continue to gun down black individuals at a rate much higher than those of other ethnic groupings.

I have come to refer to this age we are now living in as "Disturbia". The world of my experience, white, English-speaking, does not seem safe anymore. The dissonance, anger and hate cannot be blocked out or ignored anymore. It is horrible to live in. It is deeply ugly and being made deliberately so by charlatans who want nothing more than their 15 minutes in the bright lights. These men are morons who just want to poke the wasp's nest with a big stick and say "Look at me!" They do not have the wit or intelligence to see what permanent damage they are doing or how their stupidity will change things for the worse for many years to come. They are men who have not recognized, as most sane observers have, that the post World War 2 prosperity that many have shared in was due to shared aims and common goals across nations. Trump, Farage, even Murdoch, are not internationalists. They are small-minded nationalists. They buy in totally to the Ayn Randian notion that for me to prosper and survive then you must not. For there can be only one winner, right? Look at how Trump avoids his civic responsibility by avoiding federal taxes and then laughs in his supporters' faces and suggests it just means he's smart. What if everyone decided to be "smart" like Donald? You see, its always the have nots or the can nots that will pay the price for this kind of self-seeking "smartness". The irresponsible will always be happy for the responsible to pay. And then call them dumb for doing it. By their actions they willfully seek to create disconnected people and disrupt both bonds of compassion between us and any ideas which encourage togetherness. In its place they create a white tribe of disaffection as if its somehow us who have been exploited.

I cannot foresee how any of this plays out. But I don't think it can be good. I live in a country now where a compassionate comment said in good faith about those with nothing leads to many days of press coverage calling for the speaker to be sacked from his job. (Google "Gary Lineker".) I live in a country where the compassionate tears of a singer (Lily Allen) for children living in squalor are mocked and vilified. I live in a country where if you are under 18 we might grudgingly help you but if you are so much as a minute older we will denounce you as a lying scrounger seeking to deceive and defraud us. I live in a world where people are denominated by nation and this label then determines whether they are worthy of help or not. (Although if you're not white you might need to go to the back of the queue.) I live in a world where "looking a bit foreign" is enough to regard you as a danger to me and as completely other. It didn't get to this by accident. Its been done on purpose. Its every bit as insidious and deliberate as was the agenda of the Nazis less than 100 years ago. Indeed, its telling that the overt Nazis and racists, so emboldened of late, openly support the Trumps and Farages of this world. I don't know about you but if it were me being supported by such people I'd want to take a look in the mirror and think again. 

Now I am a white man. I cannot help this for, like everyone, I was born what I was. Some may say that this shields me from the real horror of our current situation in the world. But I am not blind and, unlike many people of all colors, I do not simply accept the agendas I am handed. Neither should you either. I fear for those who are not white in the world that is before us. As the power and influence of the Trumps and Farages rises it changes things for the worse for those who are not white and for any who speak up for them who are. And it doesn't even matter if they win. Brexit has passed here in the UK and the future is uncertain. We have deliberately been goaded into an act of self-harm. In the USA, even if Trump loses, as is now increasingly predicted, the hate he has sown will remain. The lies he has sown will continue to bear fruit. And its not as if Obama himself was that concerned about droning random foreigners anyway. All this hate and division will play out in a thousand acts of unknown ugly consequence reported by victims and their families sporadically as the price is paid. The uglification of the world by small-minded people who cannot think past their own grievances will continue. And my problem is I cannot see how you stop it. "Where good people do nothing there evil will flourish" is how the saying goes. But as I think about this and survey the scene it seems to me as if it is a never-ending war. Victories are won for fairness, equality and justice but the war rumbles on anyway. You come to the conclusion that its perpetual war. 

So then you turn and you ask yourself whether what matters is not who wins but what you stood for. There are reasons to suggest this matters, not least that you can look yourself in a mirror. But is it enough? Anyone can only make a difference in the here and now, that is for sure. A worldwide peaceful co-existence has not yet been known on our planet and what reason do we think exists that there will ever be one whilst there are people in the world who actively define their success as someone else's failure? I guess those who fight social justice causes must have a reason why they do and maybe this is simply as simple as not wanting to accept the station others in life would give them, to live a life not dictated by others.

"People are people so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully?" sang Depeche Mode.

What's the answer?

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