Fascism is prevailing in Europe. What happened in Norway can not surprise if we know what kind of discourse people are presented with on daily base. The distance between rhetoric and reality can be very small.
Eighteen months ago I had a first interview in the weekly (Belgian) magazine Knack on youth in Brussels. Over 150 responses came in within a few hours after a shortened version had been published online. In many of these comments, I was called an imam, a Moroccan, an extremist and a fundamentalist. Someone even mentioned that I was thought to be a member of the Baath Party in Iraq.
In short, every naming was possible, as long as it fitted in with the dominant stereotypes about Muslims and Islam. In my interview I neither spoke of Islam, Muslims or Moroccans. This didn’t bother those people because the picture alongside the interview (the same can be found with this article) made it all clear. I looked like a ‘brown Muslim’.
What shocked me even more was the reaction of some people who openly called themselves neo-fascists. And as if this were not enough others in their reactions applauded the overt expression of the neo-fascists.
When I contacted the journalist who had interviewed me, asking him how this was possible, I was told that he was used to those kinds of reactions. It was all normal, but for the fact that my article attracted many more of those responses than usual. It got so out of hand that the editors office at Knack decided to have all comments removed.
But the thinking of the people will certainly not that simply be erased. Certainly not in today’s Flanders and today’s Europe.
Many of the people on this website I meet regularly on other news sites, like the ones of De Standaard, De Morgen, (Belgian newspapers) and Deredactie.be (news site) etc. Their responses may be regarded as miserable, while they are regarded as normal too. The fact that our media are less critical for a populist and exclusive discourse, makes that those people remain faithful to their fascist and racist ideas and that they take the propaganda of right-wing thinkers and politicians as inspiration and as confirmation of ‘their’ opinion.
And yet, I refer to what we call ‘quality newspapers’ only. I invite the reader to take a look at the website of Het Laatste Nieuws, Het Nieuwsblad and Gazet van Antwerpen (mainstream Belgian newspapers). For the courageous ones I can recommend the -dozens- racist forums on the World Wide Web. And not to forget: we read only those who make themselves heard, since not everyone wants to make his ideas known to the world. What we see and read is just the tip of the iceberg.
These are just examples, examples that are found disturbing and -even more so- are ignored. ‘Frustrated people’, ‘small group’, ‘marginal’, that’s what I hear left and right. Or even better: “It’s always been like this.” And: not to worry, this kind of people only speak such madness, safely hidden behind their computer screen.
I do worry. The last couple of weeks and before the event last weekend in Norway, I wrote two columns (“politically incorrect”, “one’s own wrong “) in which I pointed out the emergence and consolidation of the right-wing extremist discourse that is to demonize and to exclude the other who is not like me.
If you fill up a society with hate, someone will sooner or later bring that hate into practice. Most probably those who preach hate and exclusion will express their disgust of what happened in Norway. But they should realize that their words create followers who can be controlled neither in their thinking nor in their acting. Impossible to know what they make of a certain discourse and how they interprete those words and especially how they will act upon them. In other words, not only the executors (as Andres Breivik, Norway), but the preachers and even the silent carriers of the discourse (politicians, thinkers, media) andthe ‘passive’ followers are partly responsible.
In fact, today we are all responsible. Things that could not be said aloud yesterday are totally acceptable today. It’s time for this to halt. In this each of us has a role to play, now and in the future. We must fight the racist, discriminatory, exclusive, nationalistic, fascist discourse.
This is a fight that can not wait until next time. Breivik is not alone in Europe. There are many more people out there prepared to follow his example if we don’t fight the presently dominant discourse in Europe.
We must join forces to offer a different message, a message in which we commit ourselves to find an answer to the challenges of living together, a message in which all citizens are equal, a message in which joint efforts and commitment become the foundation of society. A commitment that is based on openness and on solidarity with the other.
Bleri Lleshi is political philosopher
Translated from Dutch to English by Lief Vandevoort