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Get up, stand up: Extreme nationalists, racists and bigots enjoy a renaissance across the world

Saturday 10 June 2017, by siawi3

Source: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/just-graffiti/get-up-stand-up-extreme-nationalists-racists-and-bigots-enjoy-a-renaissance-across-the-world/

June 10, 2017 2 am

Get up, stand up: Extreme nationalists, racists and bigots enjoy a renaissance across the world

Gautam Adhikari

Washington: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights, sang the late Jamaican reggae master Bob Marley. Would he sing with the same verve if he were around today? He probably would since he’d have star power. But for ordinary folk everywhere, standing up can be a risky move.

Take what happened recently in Portland, Oregon, where two teen girls of colour, one wearing a hijab, were humiliated and asked to leave this country by a white nationalist aboard a local train. Three other passengers, who happened also to be white, got up, stood up, not for their own rights as much as the right of the threatened teenagers to respect and freedom. The nationalist man drew out a knife, killed two protesters and wounded the third. Standing up can cost lives.

You might ask, wasn’t it always so? Yes, but violent hatred in civil society outside the battlefield is, by all accounts, bursting out more and more frequently, most disturbingly in democratic societies. Democracy is civilisation’s best, if imperfect, foil to brute force. But when it’s untethered to the rule of law within a constitutional system devised and managed by pragmatic minds, it can degenerate into mob rule or tyranny, as Plato had feared. In a degenerate democracy, random or organised violence becomes the norm. Citizens cower in resignation.

I, along with my wife and two daughters, have been fortunate to live in a rather extraordinary segment of space-time. And we have been luckier still in spending these interesting times in the two largest democracies in the world, India and the United States. The second half of the 20th century has by and large been a period of peace and prosperity. Sure, there have been hot wars as well as a major cold war but no worldwide conflagration. Nuclear annihilation has so far been averted. Pestilence is under control and no major pandemic like bubonic plague or deadly influenza or small pox has broken out.

Medical breakthroughs unprecedented in history have lengthened lifespans across humanity. Famines have broken out in this period, mass murders of ethnic groups have happened. At the same time, scientific and technological advances have erupted at an unprecedented pace altering the way we live our lives for mostly the better though, in some cases, not so much.

The 21st century thus far has been less promising about our future. The rapid advance of liberal democracy evident in the last decade of the last century suddenly appears to be in retreat. I don’t want to sound alarmist but, in one respect at least, democracy is back to the wall in several countries. It’s the imperilled right to stand up for rights through the right of free speech.

Free speech is not without its downside, particularly in its hold-your-nose tolerance of verbal hatred and its consequent incitement to violence. As Voltaire said, perhaps apocryphally: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Marley urged us to stand up for our rights taking for granted that crucial right of democracy: the right to free speech.

Extreme nationalists, racists, bigots of all shades are having a renaissance across the world. They are encouraged by a type of leader who makes intolerance a legitimate political platform. Such leaders have always been there but on the fringes. They have now emerged in power around the world. Liberals, much reviled by the far right and far left, are on the defensive.

The right is currently leading the charge against free speech. But the extreme left is complicit. In campuses across the US, speakers are not being allowed to speak because they espouse causes that go against the narrative of the left. Worse, there is an alarming demand for ‘safe spaces’ for those who see themselves as victims of society and a growing movement against ‘cultural appropriation’, by which members of a minority culture should have sole rights to express themselves about their grievances and no one else should be allowed to do so.

Gandhi, King, and Mandela would have been aghast. But they are so 20th century, aren’t they?

Gautam Adhikari is a Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. He has been Executive Editor of The Times of India. He was the founding Editor of DNA (Daily News & Analysis), Mumbai, and has served in the World Bank in Washington DC as a Senior Consultant. His books include : The Intolerant Indian: Why We Must Rediscover A Liberal Space (2011) and Rolling Stones: Selected Writings (2009).