“History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page”: George Gordon Byron.
An age old adage: history repeats itself. Many a times we hear this maxim. But what exactly does this mean that history repeats itself? Why and how can one know that history is repeating itself? Are there any time capsules or signposts from history that enables us to make sense of our present?
Answers to these very specific questions are hard to be found. However, one thing is certain, whenever this adage is applied, it is a premonition to an imminent catastrophe, and an all hollow dystopia. In essence then, analysis of precedents set forth enables us to make sense of the events taking place in the current time. In short, this maxim is evoked when we attempt to make sense of some perplexing event shaping in our present.
In the wake of the current global political scenario the application of this maxim then will be no surprise. The social and political events shaping up the course of election year in US is one such example that merits an analysis from a historical lens. The one (defining) event of the history that draws parallels to the current election term in US is of the case of paranoia that engulfed the Weimar Republic in the 1930s. (Weimar Republic is an unofficial designation for the German state between 1919 and 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place.)
To this day, the fall of democratic Weimar Republic is considered an enigma in political science. Its fall led to subsequent rise of a fascist regime. The Republic was a parliamentary democracy, there was vibrant culture of voluntary associational life in the civil society, and furthermore political institutions enabled ordinary citizens (men and women) to participate in the electoral process. Governing institutions in Weimar Republic were both radical and democratic in their time.
However, the upshot of such democratic vibrancy led to the emergence of a fascist regime that not only changed the course of history but it remains to be one deadly chapter in the human history.
If one looks at the election campaign of Donald Trump, his emergence on the political landscape is indeed due to the guarantees of political and civil freedom provided by the American constitution. But one cannot ignore the fact that Trump’s rise is unmistakably fascistic.
His electoral rhetoric drives on megalomania and xenophobia; demonising foreigners, and creating paranoia in public towards domestic minorities (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan). And, above all, a surprising feature that defines his populist appeal among his supporters is his canny politically incorrect talk.
He believes verbal machismo makes him the strongest of the candidates. It is sad to note that the verbal violence that he unleashes resonates with the general public. The eviction of dissenting voices at his political rallies showcase that patience, and dialogue are unwanted virtues; these virtues make America appear weak, and thus are not politically instrumental. Apparently, it seems Trump has deep belief in violence and coercion — this approach he believes is politically [in]correct. In essence, however this is nothing but an electoral shenanigan and his political extremism.
And, this is the Weimar aspect of our current moment.
The scheme for being politically [in]correct runs through his campaign. In the first Republican debate last August, he said “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct” and he told the audience he has no “time for total political correctness.” Trump believes “politically correct” views are corrupting the US policy. And, his electoral approach, therefore, focuses on being politically incorrect.
In the aftermath of the attack in Orlando recently, he emphasised “the current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and think and act clearly.” What therefore is needed, according to him, is a politically [in]correct attitude. Trump’s politically [in]correct rhetoric aims to “Make America Great Again” by giving the American electorate the simple solutions: deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the US.
After the shootings at Orlando by a US born Muslim citizen, Donald Trump launched his vitriolic against Islam by saying that “radical Islamic terrorism” is the issue threatening the US security. The attacker Omar Mateen was a Muslim, but what he did was out of his personal volition – his faith was not the prime driving factor.
The many incidents of mass shooting in America have occurred not because perpetrators are driven by their respective faith(s) — religious faith is not the reason for them to inflict harm on others. However, when the attacker is white American, the perpetrator is labelled as someone struggling with mental issues. Adam Lanza, 20, killed more than 20 students, mostly children, and then shot himself in 2012; James Holmes, 24, killed more than 12 people at a theater in 2012; Dylann Roof, 21, killed 9 parishioners at a Church attended mostly by African Americans.
In the latest incident at Orlando, the attacker shot 49 people. He was born in US and had never travelled to any of the troubled regions of the world — he is no different than the other three attackers. But because Mateen is a Muslim, he is portrayed as being the most responsible and a devout loyalist to the religion. This kind of portrayal is absurd — it obscures attention from facts. Why not instead raise the issue with rather libertarian gun-laws in US? Even with the cases of mass shootings, the US Senate (last week), again rejected gun control proposals.
Furthermore, one could even raise the issue that in all the violent murdering incidents when Muslims were the attackers they were killed by the security forces and the incidents were termed acts of terrorism, but in other cases the killers are apprehended and brought to the court of justice (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted by the court and sentenced to death for Boston Marathon bombing).
Religion is not the issue. The issue is of the portrayal of the faith and exploitation of faith (by the followers of the faith and its adversaries) for political ends. Demonising or even aggrandising any faith for political scoring itself signifies extremism.
It is not that “radical Islam” is an issue that threatens the world peace. The problem runs more deep and extends far beyond faith — the issue is of extremism in all its forms.
There is but one threat that engulfs the world and that is of: extremism.
Dialogue is crucial for resolving the issues of common concern. The pugilistic language of extremism leads us to speak in the vocabulary of discord, hate and violence. The issue is that communication styles that build on taking an extreme position on issues of common concern lead us to become more inward and insular.
But sadly though, this inwardness now is termed the most authentic approach to resolve the issues of world peace. This approach might be savvy for a short time but is not politically correct, the effect in the long-run leads only to further discord.