At the end of last term I talked to my Year 13 Social Science class about polarisation. The idea that people can think different things but respect each other and that some kind of middle course can be achieved through compromise is not a popular one. Vital for society, but not popular.
America appears to be polarising terribly. You can’t go on a news site now without seeing another Black person being shot or violently assaulted by the police no matter what they are doing. A care worker with an autistic man gets shot in the leg even though he is on the ground with his hands up? Then they cuff him? An elementary school teacher is violently assaulted by a police officer for a speeding ticket. In some respect the shooting of police officers in Dallas should be surprising only because it took so long for something like that to happen. The whole Black Lives Movement and then the shooting in Dallas begins to seem more and more like the splintering in the 1960s of SNCC away from SCLC towards Stokley Carmichael’s Black Power, and the violent radicalism of groups like the Black Panthers.
The Republican Convention also tells a story of polarisation. When you have people there selling T-shirts that have Bill Clinton’s face on it with the word RAPE underneath it, or a whole line in products where Hillary is just referred to as a bitch, then it’s got to be no surprise that even if Clinton wins their will be a huge number of people already conditioned to use the most vitriolic language about her for her whole term. It’s like if your team doesn’t win then you’re going to poison the well for the opposition too.
Although it’s “old” news let’s not forget Jo Cox in Britain.
Even though it’s not being covered anymore by mainstream media in New Zealand, let’s also not forget Turkey. What appears to be happening now is a purge and the language around that is not encouraging; anyone giving themselves extra powers to reduce accountability and uses language like “virus” to describe their enemies needs to be flagged as a tyrant. Imprisoning soldiers seemed reasonable; imprisoning police maybe ok; imprisoning judges? imprisoning teachers? Calling them terrorists? Not to mention the long running campaign against the media. Erdogan says everyone needs to respect the voice of democracy in this, but I don’t recall reading that anyone voted to purge the justice and education systems. Anyway, lest we forget, Hitler came to power in a democracy, and democracy is not some magic word that means everything done in its name is a good decision.
I watched some documentaries about Gaza the other day. It’s two years since Israel leveled large parts of that territory and two years later, if the world cared to pay attention, not much has changed. Israel restricts the importing of construction material to Gaza so rebuilding has hardly happened. Schools are still shut or badly damaged. One of the videos I watched was about the murder of Palestinian journalists and paramedics during the assault on Gaza. Watching the cameraman and ambulance officers being shot at and then hit by missiles was sickening. Both men in this case had children. Little children. And wives of course. And parents. The ripple of pain from a single death rolls out into the pool of suffering far.
Whenever I see the children of the victims of war crimes like these I remember this speech by Tony Benn when Britain was voting to go to war in Iraq. There is a remarkable moment in this speech (and, yes, that is Corbyn sitting behind Benn). He begins in a slightly jocular way, but then Benn links his experience of the Blitz with the bombing of Iraq and he suddenly ignites in anger.
It moves me every time, and makes me hang my head in shame as a member of the western world.
The last time I felt a surge of visceral anger when I read something was when I saw Tony Blair’s response to the Chilcot report. His notion that his decision was right and that the world is “better and safer” as a result makes me angry every time I think of it. Nothing is right that increases by factors of thousands the amount of suffering in the world. It is not right to send bombs against civilians, to fly drones over their heads all day and night, it is not right to fire missiles into cities and murder people be they children, mothers, fathers, teachers or doctors. It is not right to violently assault people and put them in chains, or shoot them when they are helping their patients or reaching into their pocket with their wife and kid in the car. It’s not right to sell things that espouse hate, or vilify others. People who do those things should be punished. You cannot demand the punishment of others and exempt yourself. That is called hypocrisy and it corrodes and rots out a civil society. It has citizens turn their guns on the police. It has governments conduct purges using the word “democracy” as its shield.
What rights are we prepared to shed to be safe? What rights are we prepared to take from others in other lands so that we feel safe? Hundreds a month die fleeing societies that the west have had more than a hand in plunging into chaos and then we shut our doors and turn our backs? Are we brothers and sisters or not? Don’t think you’re not involved. You are. I’m going back to school on Monday to try and do my bit. To try and shape a society that is actually worth having. You do the same everyday in the way you act with others, the way you try to be respectful and polite but still express your ideas, the way you give people the benefit of the doubt, and are patient and generous with the outsider and the person at the margins (or the person in the centre). Can’t we do that? Or is that too much effort? Is it just easier to think you’re right all the time, and that people who are wrong are idiots, or bitches, or dangerous?
The hardest thing must be to show love in the face of hate.