Sunday 29 January 2017

First, They Came For The Other

Jews will all have a personal Holocaust story to tell. Whether it is one of hope where relatives and/or friends escaped or one of tragedy where they did not; whether it is one of rebuilding in a new land or despair. We all have that story. For that reason, we lead the calls of never again. We all feel a personal connection to the Holocaust, it wiped out our people; it killed our Mothers, Sons, Husbands, Daughters, Sisters; it destroyed the hopes and dreams of so many. Who knows what they could have achieved, what they would have achieved. But never again must be an active remembrance. Jews, almost unique in their historic persecution, have a duty to speak louder than any in response to persecution. We know how it feels. We know what it is like to have everything taken away from us, our family, our belongings, our dreams, our dignity, even our names. Everything.

We know how it feels to be isolated and rejected. We know how it feels to see freedom but be betrayed by our sight. We learnt the hard way about humanity's capacity for utter inhumanity, whether at the hands of murderous regimes or the silence of everyone else. We should all, therefore, feel a personal connection, an empathy that perhaps no one else can feel, to every single person affected by Trump's immigration policy. And we have a responsibility to speak louder than everyone else, to fill the deafening silence with our voices. Never again is not just about Jews. It loses all meaning if it is about Jews. We may as well give up now. Never again is about everyone. It means never again will we stand by idly and allow entire nations to be destroyed by murderous dictators. It means never again will we be silent when hatred and fear of the Other allows those most in need to be turned away.

We have a chance to be on the right side of History. We have a chance to prove, unfortunately, it must be said, that when we, Jews, said never again, we meant it. That we appreciated what that meant. Our leaders lack moral courage and empathy but that does not mean we should. Our leaders disgrace the memory of never again, but we must uphold it. Recognising that what is happening in America right now has eerie similarities to Jews being turned away when we needed it most does not trivialise the Holocaust, it preserves its memory. The Holocaust demands that we act now. The Holocaust and the memory of all of its victims, not just Jews, demands that we give meaning to never again right now. Let us not betray their memory by standing by because it is not the Jews yet.

First, they came for 'the Other' and I spoke up because I remember being 'an Other'.

Friday 13 January 2017

No, I will not get over it

Democracy is a wonderful thing. It allows us, by various mechanisms, to pick those individuals who will govern us and everything that entails. There is profound disagreement across the democratic world on how exactly to do that, but the salient point remains the same: some pre-defined section of society is given an opportunity to, in some manner, select the individual(s) to the various elected positions, whether they be national, local or somewhere in-between. People were sent to fight and ultimately die to ensure our right to vote so it is no surprise we all take our democracy seriously.

For all its strengths and positives, there is a reason why Plato was so opposed to democracy, and it was not just because democracy had Socrates put to death (frankly, if anyone has read any Plato and disagrees with that decision, they have not been paying attention). The problem is that in a democracy, the average voter is neither swayed by the best argument nor convinced by the individual most able to do the job (we can ignore that Plato thought Philosophers were best placed to rule) but instead by the best rhetoricians. In short, we vote for people who say what we want to hear and who say it best. Ultimately, the emphasis democracies placed on freedom would inevitably lead to tyranny, Nazi Germany style. It is difficult to disagree with Plato when Trump and Farage, both wealthy, sexist, racist men, spent 2016 somehow successfully convincing people they were not members of the establishment whilst simultaneously posing for infuriatingly smug photographs in front of gold elevators.

These are two men, spearheading two campaigns that were widely dismissed as dangerous, ending 2016 having succeeded at convincing enough people to vote for them. Democracy, you might say and you would, of course, be correct. Which is all very well until you realise that democracy is not about winning in the same way as sport is. When Sir Andy Murray plans for Wimbledon 2017, he only needs to focus on winning the tournament. Without being rude, it makes absolutely no difference in the grand scheme of things if he wins and what he does after he wins. Winning a tennis tournament is an end in itself. Winning an election, however, is not. Wimbledon 2017 ends when the final is played, but Britain did not finish on June 23rd and America did not finish on November 8th - contrary to popular belief. And the problem appears to be that neither Trump nor Brexiteers (or indeed, anyone in the UK) had any idea what to do once they won. Which would be fine if politics were a tennis match.

Having successfully proved Plato essentially correct for all the wrong reasons, you could be forgiven for thinking that Trump and Farage would be perfectly happy to carry on as if nothing had happened. As if winning the election and referendum were mere items on their respective bucket lists and now that they have created an almighty mess, they want nothing to do with it except for telling everyone else to calm down and get over it. Brexit won, get over it. Trump won, get over it. Except, it is not something to 'get over'. Because this is not a game of tennis. This is real life, where decisions actually have an impact. And it's alright for Trump to tell us to get over it when he lives in some castle made of gold and unicorn horns. And it's alright for Trump and Brexit supporters who, for the obvious reason of being Trump and Brexit supporters, are not terrified by what that entails to tell the rest of us to get over it. But it is not good enough.

We have to live with this now. The minorities who feel threatened have to live with this now. Every single member of the LGBT community in America who is petrified by the prospect of Mike 'conversion therapy' Pence being their vice-president has to live with this now. The Poles in the UK who have been the target of racist attacks have to live with this now. The list goes on. And on. And on. If your instinct is to dismiss this and shout loudly about democracy, you are missing the very point about democracy. Plato feared democracy for precisely the reason we value it so highly: freedom. Yes, the freedom to vote. But democracy, which leads to the insatiable desire for freedom (as Plato puts it), entails so many more freedoms. The freedom to love whomever you like. The freedom to be Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Hindu or any other religion or, indeed, Atheist without any fear from, for example, American neo-Nazis that 'heil' Trump. The freedom to protest. The freedom to speak your mind.

So next time you have the audacity to tell someone to get over a democratic vote, as if democracy does not defend their right to protest, stop and think for a minute. Maybe they are Polish and have been subjected to racism in the wake of Brexit. Maybe they are gay and have experienced the conversion therapy championed by their new vice-president. Maybe they are a woman afraid of having a president who boasts about sexual assualt. Maybe they are Jewish and slightly concerned by the rise of neo-Nazis. Maybe they are Mexican and object to being called a rapist. Maybe they have a Spanish grandmother being told it is not guaranteed she can stay in the country. Maybe they work for a company whose business depends on membership of the single market. Maybe they are Muslim and their kids have been coming home from school in tears, slightly confused because they were born in the UK but are now being told to go back to where they came from. Maybe they depended upon Obamacare. Maybe they are a single mum whose son has just asked her about grabbing girls by the pussy. Maybe, just maybe, they feel threatened by these events in a way that you cannot even begin to imagine.

For as long as Trump and Brexit challenge the very basic democratic freedoms I hold so dear, I will not get over it. Nor should I - or anyone else for that matter.