“Racism is a poison. Hate is a poison and this poison exists in our society and is already to blame for many crimes.” Responding to the murders of at least nine people in Hanau, Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said there were clear signs that the killer had been motivated by racism.
Merkel, of the centre-right CDU party, has been described by some as the new ‘leader of the free world’ because of her strong stance against the sinister ideology espoused by those such as the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Echoing Russia’s Vladimir Putin, he has declared “the age of liberal democracy is at an end” on the grounds that it is no longer able to “provide freedom, guarantee physical security or maintain Christian culture”. Normally the US President is the unofficial leader of the free world, but Donald Trump, quite accurately, views Orban as “probably like me”.
For Orban, the Christian culture of Europe is under threat from “Muslim invaders” and there is, and always will be, a great dividing line between these two religions. He is right about one thing, but wrong about everything else.
There is indeed a dividing line that separates human beings, not just in Europe, but all over the world. On one side of this line are groups like Isis but also far-right killers such as one in Hanau; another who massacred 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year; and the man who killed 77 people in attacks in Oslo and the island of Utoya in Norway in 2011.
The fascists may view the ‘Islamofascists’ as their deadly enemies, but they are fundamentally the same. Disagree with them too much and they will kill you; belong to the wrong group and they will kill you.
On the other side are the vast majority of people – of all religions and none – who are decent, peace-loving and respectful of others’ basic right to exist.
Racism and other forms of bigotry are ideological mechanisms, societal poisons, that can persuade people to cross this line into a life of violence, murder and death.
So if, on playing a word association game, you say “terrorist” on hearing “Muslim”, beware, because you are heading in a dangerous direction.
The basic premise of liberalism – the prevailing philosophy of all true democracies – is that each and every one of us is an individual. It is, therefore, the antidote to the poison of prejudice.