Former US president Barack Obama’s statement following shootings in Ohio and El Paso that left more than 30 people dead, was directed at Americans, but it has far wider relevance.
Obama warned that Americans must “soundly reject language” from any leader who “feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalises racist sentiments”. He told Americans that “we are not helpless ... and until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening”.
Pointing out that the El Paso shooting followed a trend of “troubled individuals who ... see themselves obligated to act violently to preserve white supremacy”, he urged Americans to denounce the language of “leaders who demonise those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as subhuman”.
It would be dangerous to pretend that those warnings are not applicable right across a world slipping towards an aggressive nationalism and hostility-to-the-other not seen for 80 years.
As if on cue, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, announced legislation to shield from prosecution security forces or citizens who shoot suspected criminals.
Suggesting he believed Dirty Harry was a philosopher rather than a reactionary fantasy, he trumpeted that he hopes criminals will “die in the streets like cockroaches”.
It would also be dangerous to imagine that civilised, enlightened Europe is immune to Dirty Harry fantasies. Austria, France, Italy, Sweden, and Britain all flirt, to one degree or another, with the ideology of intolerance that destroyed Europe less than a century ago. Poland’s official encouragement of homophobia is an odious example of this return to our darker instincts.
This inhumanity seems an opportunity to heed Obama’s we-are-not-helpless advice. Two years ago, the EU spent €11.921bn in Poland, while Poland contributed €3.048bn to the EU. This four-to-one imbalance offers real leverage and it should be used ruthlessly to champion the tolerant, liberal values at the heart of the European project.
It is, from an Irish perspective, tempting to dismiss these developments as far away. That may not be wise. Just as Patrick Crusius, 21, the only suspect in the El Paso slaughter, published his online, Trump-inspired rant — “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” — the president of Fine Gael’s youth wing was at a right-wing youth conference in America.
YFG president Killian Foley-Walsh attended the Young America’s Foundation conference in Washington DC, along with YFG’s social media officer, Chloe Kennedy.
It is disproportionate to compare that conference visit with events in El Paso and Ohio, but there is a commonality. Those events are manifestations of growing intolerance morphing into hate.
Foley-Walsh and Kennedy said they attended in a private capacity. That hardly cuts the muster; were they not FG officers, they would not have been there or funded by the right-wing Edmund Burke Foundation.
Unfortunately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must again explain why members of his party made such poor decisions.