by Saad Hafiz
As was the case in the 1930s, the global forces of reaction are emerging with populist appeals directed against immigrants, ethnic and sectarian minorities. Society’s seemingly permanent infatuation with xenophobic demagogy is alive and well. It is a conducive environment for the most reactionary and chauvinistic elements in society to prosper. They are egged on by opportunistic leaders who find a way to harness the smouldering anger and disenchantment of vulnerable sections of the population. Popular slogans speak of purity, discipline, sacrifice and mounting anger. Michel Foucault very eloquently described the fascist condition: “The strategic adversary is fascism…the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
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Fascism was a generic term designating regimes such as Nazi Germany that were single-party militaristic dictatorships usually dominated by charismatic leaders. Later, during World War II, such policies were used as a basis for the unprecedented genocide that was finally to make the term fascism synonymous with barbarism and the collapse of civilisation. Italian fascism was not based on the genocide of subjugated nations but presented the Italian race as a “custodian and bearer of superior civilisation” whose mission was to export the fascist revolution and “civilise” the territories conquered. The defeated nations would be subjected to Roman rule and protection but were to keep their own languages and cultures. Fascist ideologist Giuseppe Bottai likened this historic mission to the deeds of the ancient Romans, stating that the new Italians would “illuminate the world with their art, educate it with their knowledge, and give robust structure to their new territories with their administrative technique and ability”.
Fascism’s many faces continue to threaten societies by dividing the people into “we” and “they” and by implanting a sense of historic wrong waiting for the mass upsurge to right them. Unlike earlier fascists, there is no stated policy to kill, deport or enslave entire races and populations that are considered inferior, and to repopulate the land with superior people. But the same desired result of a racially homogeneous society that avoids the intermixing of superior peoples and those deemed to be part of inferior races is still sought. The holy men representing religious fundamentalism appear more zealous than extreme far-right parties.
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In Pakistan, revolting prejudice in the name of religion, ethnicity and pride has been reared, preserved and justified. Tall claims are made to being proponents of a peaceful religion and seeking respect for it. However, there are no qualms about subjecting the beliefs of others to hate speech. It is argued that the state nurtures no bias but there is unhesitating acceptance and preservation of prejudice in the name of belief, pride or patriotism. This is inhibiting society’s ability to distinguish right from wrong.
Though Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, all religious minorities in the country face daily reminders of their plight, including discriminatory laws, forced conversions, bombs and shootings aimed at religious and sectarian minorities. Public school textbooks regularly demonise minorities and emphasise the nation’s Islamic roots over contributions from people of other faiths. Pakistan is reaping the results from the earlier push to convert secular laws into religious ones, installing sharia courts and enacting anti-blasphemy statutes. Through the 1990s and 2000s, conservative Islamic movements gained cultural and political sway, subverting the region’s historically more open approach to faith, including non-Islamic traditions.
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In India, we have witnessed the onslaught of senseless communal hatred, couched in self-righteous slogans and aimed at the destruction of all that stands for sane and sound places of worship of those having a different religious identity. Sadly, extremist Hindu forces want to establish a totalitarian regime and impose a religious uniformity on India. Some are committed to the annihilation of India’s Muslims in the Hindu rashtra (nation) of the future. The slogan of “a Hindu society is an invincible society” is being raised. This pursuit of a tyranny of the majority represents a challenge for secular and democratic India.
Generally speaking, fascism thrives on ignorance, lack of economic progress, poverty with no prospect of upward social mobility, political dis-empowerment, total absence of governance and a capitulated state that survives by appeasing the monsters it has reared. To add to this toxic mix is a ruling elite that refuses to accept responsibility that comes along with power. Bad choices, failed policies and disastrous decisions add to the general malaise.
It is true that we are living in dangerous times. Organised resistance by democratic forces against fascism will require that we stop pretending that all citizens are being treated equally. Majorities in particular have to learn to respect and treat the rest of the population as equals. We have to focus on deeply held social and institutional prejudices that continue to undermine equality in all realms: social, political and economic. Democracies must demand equality, respect and freedom from state oppression. So long as we remain in a state of denial, hateful ideologies and their purveyors will only continue to proliferate.