Rising incidence of racism is not caused by just those on the right

The arrival of new people disturbing existing patterns of community is as old as humanity, writes Gerard Howlin

Rising incidence of racism is not caused by just those on the right

RAISING public anxiety to the point that ‘we’ must win this election or lose our country is the closing argument of Donald Trump’s campaign.

Citing a system that is so stacked against ‘real’ people that ‘crooked’ Hilary is set to win, only because the system is rigged, is prelude to withdrawing the consent of the losers from the eventual outcome.

And democracy does depend on the consent of losers, as well as the magnanimity of winners to avoid a tyranny of the majority. It puts into context the generosity of Al Gore in conceding to George W Bush.

In a sense, that was Gore’s finest hour.

Looking afar at the coliseum of American politics, a bloodletting for public entertainment, we see mockery of the founding fathers’ pretensions to re-emulate the Roman republic.

The neo-classical buildings which house the president and legislature in Washington and legislatures and governors across the country, are not simply a statement of fashion, though they are partly that. They are a statement of republican values.

Nearly 100 years after the American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln standing for those same values at Gettysburg, declared that: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty…”.

In terms of current values, Trump Tower seems a citadel for the enemy within.

There is nothing in the New World that doesn’t emulate the old. After all, where else did it come from?

If the technicolour of events is less intense, there is, nonetheless, an insidious playing out here of much that propels Trump there. Racist abuse is on the rise in our own country. Across Europe there is a wholesale ‘othering’ of people who are different.

The ancient virus of anti-Semitism is unleashed as a new strain of anti-Zionism.

And the strains of public speech that now pass as acceptable and commonplace, have mutated over years from an increasing shrillness in print, to open, hate-filled ranting online and back to a new crudity on mainstream radio.

Now, after the internet, there is no localism in discourse.

No culture or country is an island. There is no single place on which the Ark can safely rest, above the rising waters of vituperative comment or allegation.

All limits are surpassed, and in the simultaneous democratisation and un-editing of comment there is a levelling down of discourse into exchanges that have more in common with our excrement than our ideals.

You can literally say anything and present it as ‘opinion’.

Fear and inadequacy, or the channelling of either for personal pleasure or political purpose, are always ripe pickings in unsettled times.

The arrival of new people disturbing existing patterns of community is as old as humanity.

It is hardly surprising, if even in our astonishingly underpopulated country, that new arrivals should displace old tropes just a little as preferred objects of abuse.

But this is precisely what is happening. It is what I can see and hear in Dublin’s north inner city where I live on a continuing basis.

It is also evident on the basis of figures for hate crimes, especially on the basis of race and ethnicity. Here ‘hate’ is a description of motive and not a legal category.

The figures referenced are small, and still partial for the year as a whole, so the percentage increases must be read in context.

But as against a total of 159 such crimes reported last year, 151 were reported by mid-2016.

In this centenary year of 1916, it seems the virus of racism is increasingly poisonous in Ireland.

Based on those figures, compared to my own life experience, I believe there must be enormous under-reporting.

After all, if you are called a horrible racist name, what is there to report? Well, the answer is everything and nothing.

Across Dublin 1 and Dublin 7 there is a seemingly astonishing concentration of convenience shops in which very significant numbers of foreign nationals work.

Those people, working and paying taxes, are a recurring target for the throw-away remarks that come from deep within the inadequacy of their authors.

Trump, Brexit, the closing of borders within Europe, and the contrasting attitudes of Angeal Merkel and Theresa May are all of a continuum. It is the re-emergence of the tribe in opposition to the citizen.

In the 21st century, nationalism is an impossibility. Companies are more powerful than countries. Technology is levelling borders, thence the race to build walls.

Globalisation is creating vast new wealth in other parts of the world, and for a plutocratic elite. So for the fearful and the left-behind, there is an urge to pull up the drawbridge and expel interlopers from the tribe.

The notions of Irish or English being denominations of nationality were contentious at best. Hence the spectacle of those so insecure that they periodically need to wrap a flag around themselves.

For some, it is men who are fearful of women arriving at influence and power. For others it is women and men resentful that their skills or expectations are outpaced by more educated or energetic new arrivals.

For others, it is a primeval, curmudgeonly resentment of anything or anyone that reminds them of their own inadequacy.

From this fetidness comes some of the least attractive, unedifying politics and public discourse in our lifetime. And it is not just there — it is here. It is not just of the political right, it is a feature of the political left.

The all-party report of the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons last week cited an 11% rise in anti-Semitic incidents. In London, there was an increase of 62% with 54% in Manchester.

In 68% of cases, comments had been encountered on the internet. Anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel are different things and the latter is legitimate.

But a feral, continuous and exceptional criticism of Israel especially on the left, has enabled a resurgence of anti-Semitism where the age-old singling out of the Jew, or a Jewish population in the community, becomes a globalised, interchangeable deployment of abuse for a specific state, with an entire group of people.

In its exceptionalism and virulence it’s about where the association of treasonous Irish Catholics was with the papacy, in the seventeenth century. It’s old and it is also the preferred prototype of Trump-ism for the Irish Left as well as the British.

IT IS that binary choice where we must win the election or lose our country. Maybe as in Trump’s America, it is literally the country of those who imagine that is their choice. Maybe in a Centra in Dublin 7 you would like a Donald Trump to stop ‘them’ taking ‘our’ jobs.

Maybe you are above such squalidness; and instead go on all the correct marches, and sublimate your inadequacy and anger about change in your own country with a curious but intense focus on one single state in the Middle East.

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