No such thing as premature antifascism
History has an unfortunate tendency of playing out as tragedy before it eventually comes to be understood as an ongoing morality tale.
The historical record is, in the main, a long, bleak account of man’s inhumanity to man. And even humankind’s darkest chapters usually only provide moral instruction and direction in hindsight; lessons tend to be learned retrospectively rather than when monstrous events are actually unfolding and monstrous figures are in the ascendancy.
There is, of course, no such thing as what’s been wryly called “premature antifascism” – the willingness to call out and challenge organised or systematised bigotry, intolerance and hatred even while it’s still emerging.
But there’s often been a shortage of principled individuals eager to do what is both right and necessary, to take up the gauntlet of righteousness in the face of mounting extremism and threats of violence.
We have routinely tolerated the intolerant, usually until it is too late. We have habitually excused the inexcusable out of laziness or negligence or, too often, moral cowardice. And a few among us even attempt to rationalise or justify the most venomous agendas – and words – out of a warped understanding of free speech or, perhaps, a certain sympathy for the paranoid fantasies peddled by demagogues and hatemongers.
Such a laissez-faire approach to hatred is always counterproductive in the long term. There are very real distinctions between free speech and hate speech, between freedom of thought and conscience and those who exploit such rights to deny the selfsame freedoms to their favourite designated targets of hate.
History is replete with examples of entire countries being persuaded to accept and act on even the most ludicrous accusations levelled against minority groups portrayed as threats to the majority.
Scapegoating is an age-old phenomenon, one that is as destructive as it is persistent and which tends to flourish in times of economic and social stress, dislocation and hardship.
Nothing, after all, is more effective in uniting a struggling, demoralised and divided community than a common enemy, a pariah group which can be painted as deliberately transgressing the accepted norms of human behaviour — and which can be blamed for weakening and corrupting a society from within.
Those who deliberately prey on paranoia, fear and ignorance, the demagogues, the fanatics and the out-and-out political opportunists, are not confined to any one time or place or people.
The current front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination in the United States, for instance, has built an entire platform and considerable momentum on what amounts to fear-mongering, race-baiting and unvarnished xenophobia.
His current success in the opinion polls is testament to the fact that crackpot fringe-players are still capable of taking centre stage, at least in the short run, even in this supposedly enlightened day and age by appealing to our worst instincts rather than our better natures.
But a growing counterreaction to his bombastic candidacy and offensive rhetoric also underscores the fact that reason and responsible thinking still do hold wide sway in human affairs, even if they are sometimes temporarily eclipsed by showy rabble-rousing.
There is certainly nothing premature about the opposition his tawdry brand of bigotry is generating.
Similarly, right in our own backyard, a snake-oil salesman peddling hate as the panacea to all that ails the black community both in America and, according to him, in Bermuda has been met by a loud and widespread chorus of disapproval.
There has been an almost universal backlash against this squalid little crank with a Messiah Complex who descended on Bermuda at the weekend to deliver an address at a Hamilton symposium.
Espousing views which are both obnoxious and absurd, his stock in trade is the demonisation and dehumanisation of those he deems pariahs – ranging from the President of the United States (“a mulatto faggot”) to homosexuals (“a deep-rooted cancer that needs to be cut out of society before it destroys us”) to whites en masse, mixed-race couples and those blacks he views as sell-outs (he has called on supporters to “kill a lot of whites” and to engage in the “ethnic cleansing” of “black-skinned Uncle Tom race traitors”, a group he claims includes everyone from General Colin Powell to Oprah Winfrey to Rev Al Sharpton).
In a commentary published this summer, Ebony magazine characterised this professionally unpleasant individual as trafficking in ideas which “boggle the mind and turn the stomach.”
The largest-circulation publication among African Americans accused him of pursuing a socially corrosive agenda and fomenting hatred by using “pseudoscience that dehumanises and pathologises entire swathes of black communities” as well as whites, Jews and gay people of all races and cultural backgrounds.
Quite why he was invited to Bermuda to address a forum supposedly centring around black history and culture – and what organisers hoped to achieve by bringing him here – is unclear.
But if his visit only served to publicly unite Bermudians in their revulsion to such disturbing and divisive ideas, then perhaps there were some unexpected and unanticipated benefits to him spending time here.
Bermudians in large numbers have demonstrated they understand that when demagogues attempt to divide the world into good and evil, into the sinned against and sinners, what happens to the designated sinners is usually appalling.
And Bermudians in large numbers have also demonstrated they don’t believe there is anything remotely premature about taking a stand against ugly, nihilistic drivel packaged as a coherent sociopolitical creed.