By Sharan Saikumar Jun. 30, 2016
The Brits aren’t the only ones coasting along on the fear of outsiders and loss of identity. The world is swiftly taking a turn right.
rexit is done with, jokes have been cracked, magazine covers with obligatory Monty Python references launched, and I have a rash – that’s somehow gotten worse ever since I heard that Brits are frantically Googling “What is the EU?” after having voted themselves out of it. The legacy we’re left grappling with is a phrase that I think will be the end of us.
“Take Our Country Back.”
Brexit, a decision that should have been made after taking a balanced view of trade and fiscal policies, was predicated on this ambiguous phrase that combined two fears that the Brits harboured: fear of outsiders and loss of identity.
This historic divorce, touted by Charles Kaiser as the “worst step backward for Europe since the end of World War II”, has swiftly turned into a hall pass for at least some English people to continue behaving like racist, xenophobic arseholes. And unfortunately for all of us, the Brits aren’t the only ones coasting along on these fears – the world is swiftly taking a turn right.
There have been shockwaves throughout the continent. In Austria, The Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis and Teutonic nationalists in the 1950s, came close to gaining 50 per cent of the popular vote for the first time. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is blazing a trail of increasingly authoritarian rule – and earlier this year, he “constitutionally banned” Islamisation in his country. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s agenda sends chills down my spine.
The far-right Sweden Democrats party, which has disavowed its roots in the white-supremacist movement, won about 13 per cent of the vote in elections in September 2014, which gave it 49 of the 349 seats in Parliament. In Greece, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which became the Hellenic Parliament’s third-largest party last year, has been linked to violence against immigrants, as have far-right extremists in Germany.
In the US, we’re no longer laughing at the antics of Donald Trump. The presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party is a man who advocates walls and believes that free trade and globalisation have contributed to the loss of jobs in his fair country. He preaches “drink from the fountain of nationalism, you shall reach the Promised Land”, as he speaks to the hillbillies in Tennessee while they load their Ford flatbeds with their pitchforks and shotguns and yell, “We gonna get us some liberals tonight.” And that’s a refrain that has been echoing in India over the last couple of years.
Suddenly, this shit has become real. Very real. Every day as I go to bed, I can’t help but think of these men as the Beast that the Bible alluded to, the one that will destroy the world and all its inhabitants. It’s clear to everyone, except the supporters of all these men, that they are being fed an ancient tonic labelled “Us Versus Them”, which researchers have called one of our “oldest psychological tendencies”. The difference is that in prehistoric times, the fear of the outsider kept us safe, and now it nudges us toward bigotry and a rabid form of nationalism.
We live in astonishing times. What if someone told you two years ago that Anupam Kher would be the certifier-in-chief of your patriotism?
But hey, no surprises here, really. This form of “nationalism” is a historical inevitability. The world over, the right and their anti-immigrant/racist sentiments have always had a handmaiden: economic stagnation. We need to only look at the economic and political atmosphere before our own historic general elections of 2014.
Two years later, along with “achhe din” has come a wave of rabid nationalism where we’re asked to bleed orange, ban beef, or take the train to Pakistan. Nationalism, the shrewd ones have realised, is the path to victory. Forget class, religion, age divide, they know that the one question which will always, always get you a resounding 100 per cent affirmative answer is: Do you love your country?
We live in astonishing times. What if someone told you two years ago that Anupam Kher would be the certifier-in-chief of your patriotism? That your seemingly rational friends would be ready to rip your head off if you even questioned Modiji’s policies or his foreign tours? The conversation no longer revolves around economics, GDP, fiscal discipline – instead, we see a flattening of the discourse that boils down to a Twitter troll flinging “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” in your face.
I admit I am not inured to this sentiment – my current barometer to measure patriotism is the national anthem in movie halls. I am the first one off my arse when the opening strains begin to play. Yet, instead of standing and saluting the bravehearts who laid down their lives so that we may have a better future, I am busy scanning the audience to spot who is not standing ramrod straight, or who is peeping into their phones. All for the satisfaction of whispering to my movie companion (usually the empty seat next to me), “Saala chutiya, respect hi nahin hai.”
When did I become this person? When did I begin to judge strangers, based on the display of an entirely forced gesture of patriotism? When did I become a right-winger? Let’s Take Our Country Back. From whom and to what end?
So I’ve come to the conclusion that politics is a lot like cooking: Throw in the promise of better days, a dash of “hate thy neighbour”, a sprinkle of communal hatred, and you have yourself a goon squad. We’ve allowed it to happen, we have allowed ourselves to be pitted against each other. And now we have no choice, but to watch in revered silence as the world turns right and skids toward an apocalypse.
Sharan can usually be found chasing down stories about blackmarket baby-sellers and reformed cocaine carriers. She makes up for her dark side by writing feel-good, puppy-driven prose in her free time.