Thursday 27 November 2014

Extreme intolerance is spreading across the globe

Increasingly, bigots and hate mongers are moving into the mainstream, writes Carol Hunt

Published 22/12/2013 | 02:30

Stephen Fry

Song of 2013 must go to Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. His powerful debut video Take Me to Church follows the relationship between two gay men and the obscene violence which erupts when it is discovered. It's a vomit-inducing commentary on the atrocities being committed in Russia and elsewhere against gay people, evoking medieval pogroms, Nazi intolerance and state- sponsored hatred.

Last June Russia passed a totalitarian law that bans words or actions considered remotely positive about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. So, we'll have to keep our fingers crossed for tennis legend Billie Jean King and US ice hockey star Caitlin Cahow. Barack Obama is making a "statement" by sending these openly gay women into the homophobic furore that surrounds Russia's hosting of the Winter Olympics next February.

The new law is all in the name of "protecting the children" and "traditional marriage" -- the usual excuses that bigots think up when they want to discriminate against people or practices they fear.

Stephen Fry, in an open letter to David Cameron and members of the International Olympic Committee asking for the Olympics to be taken away from Russia, has compared it to the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

He said: "Putin is making a scapegoat of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it ... I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler's anti-Semitism."

Meanwhile, this month's edition of India Today shows a desperate Vikram Seth in arrested prisoner pose, holding a sign which says "Not a Criminal" and underneath: "To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away." Earlier this month the Supreme Court of India reversed a law decriminalising homosexuality. Same- sex relations are once again deemed "unnatural" and punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

And Europe is not immune to the rise in intolerance which -- statistics show -- is spreading the globe.

Last month's Fundamental Rights (Agency FRA) Conference chose "Combating Hate Crime in the EU" as its topic of 2013. It had good cause. A new FRA survey on European anti-Semitism showed that "anti-Semitism is ... shockingly widespread and that Europe has failed to take action to prevent another alarming escalation in levels of hate crimes against the Jews". It also found that "over the past five years, around one in four lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex people have been attacked or threatened with violence".

Last January, at an informal EU Council in Dublin, the discussion was all about the need to combat intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.

And last month, in Brussels, Alan Shatter made a passionate speech ("Towards a New Rule of Law Mechanism") beginning: "Contemporary Europe needs to reflect carefully on where we are in the second decade of the 21st Century and about the real problems we face. We need to have a real debate with ourselves about the re-emergence of extreme forms of intolerance."

Shatter himself has been a victim of such intolerance at home in Ireland. Last month posters in Limerick read: "Shatter has learned from his homeland how to crucify the little people," and "Jewish influence in our dictatorship has brought Palestinian devastation to Ireland". Back in June the building that was to be the Anglo Irish headquarters in Dublin was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti which included the slogans "Zionist engineered global financial holocaust" and "Jewish supremacist destruction of indigenous Europeans".

And despite our legalisation of homosexuality -- by European demand in 1993 -- it's still evident that certain elements of society in Ireland still believe that to be gay is to be unnatural. In Galway last week we saw the Legion of Mary get their wrists slapped for disseminating leaflets which read, "I'm a child of God. Don't call me gay," as they appealed to those with same-sex attractions to "move beyond the confines of homosexuality" and develop an "interior life of chastity".

So, we should hardly be surprised when research shows that homophobia is endemic in Irish schools -- a result, as one expert said, "of a heavy, almost oppressive culture that requires people to conform".

There have always been bigots, fundamentalists and hate-mongers on the edges of political and social life, but increasingly in Europe they are moving into the mainstream. In France, Marine Le Pen's Front National -- joining forces with the Netherlands' Geert Wilders ahead of next year's Euro elections, in a bid to exploit the anti-EU sentiment and increase in nationalist fervour. In Greece, the crimes of the popular Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party continue to be exposed. In Hungary, the third largest political party holds rallies in Roma neighbourhoods screaming "You will die here!" at the terrified locals.

Intolerance is not just confined to political parties. On Europe's soccer pitches a Greek player is suspended for giving a Nazi salute, Ukrainian fans wave Nazi flags, Polish fans chant "Jews to the gas", and last week a Croatian defender was barred from playing in the World Cup in Brazil for leading a Nazi era chant.

And all too often politicians use intolerant populist language to target vulnerable groups or minorities. It's an easy thing to do when countries are going through times of turmoil and scarcity -- point to The Other and blame them. It happened in the Thirties and it seems to be occurring again today.

And though Europe is a different place now than it was during those inter-war years, we would still do well to remember the words of Martin Niemoller which begin: "First they came for the communists but I did not speak out because I was not a communist ... " They end: "Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."

Stephen Fry echoed these lines in his letter to Cameron when he said: "Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian 'correctively' raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself."

Irish Independent

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