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The fear of the invisible

Against Hate
Forfatter: Carolin Emcke
Forlag: Polity Press (Storbritannien)
Behind both Islamic State and right-wing groups, exactly the same mechanisms act as a driving force, points out German author and journalist Carolin Emke. In her book, she draws on the great perspectives.


It was a cold evening in February 2016. About 70 people, most of them men, had set up to block the way for a bus that was on the way with a group of newly arrived refugees from the Syrian civil war. Many others showed up and gathered as spectators, and although police arrived on the scene, it all quickly turned into an unpleasant confrontation.

It all took place in the small German town of Clausnitz, which in this way received dull international attention. The German writer and journalist Carolin Emcke sees the affair as a school example of the nature of hate, and she uses it as a starting point in her book on the subject, which she wrote in the wake of the Clausnitz debate. It is now in English translation.

Emcke is adamant that the excited people throughout the resurrection kept shouting "Wir sind das Volk!" We are the people. Aside from the fact that the word itself gives her ants and reminders of the Nazi Germany, she sees it as both interesting and characteristic of the whole phenomenon that these people justified their behavior by claiming affiliation with a people. As she writes, the majority of participants were probably what we would refer to as normative citizens and solid family fathers who usually find no need to express themselves in such national trajectories. But here they got free run for their emotions by striking a supposed community, and it was probably more than anything an expression of insecurity and fear.

Caroline Emcke:
Carolin Emcke

Grotesque results

When the invisible becomes a threat. Fear of what? That explains the author by resorting to Ralph Ellison's classic 1952 novel, Invisible Man. It is a description of the life of the African American population in the southern states at that time. The blacks were there, they were present and joined the community, but to many whites they were invisible. They were different and strangers, and in particular, they could not be considered as a natural part of the adopted community. It is exactly the same function that is present in today's European society. The Muslims, the strangers, are not an integral part of society and therefore they are invisible. But when they suddenly become very visible, as if on arrival of a whole bus charge to a distant provincial valley, it is crazy. Then the emotions turn them into an imminent threat to the values ​​of society, and that requires immediate action.

Fanaticism cannot be combated with fanaticism.

The case of Eric Garner is a shining example of how this action can lead to grotesque results. He was a black man with petty crime past, who in 2014 perished during a brutal New York City police arrest. Garner had not violated any law in the current situation, but he had aroused the suspects. He had stepped out of the invisibility and had become a threat, and it is precisely in the space between these two seemingly contradictory contrasts that hate gets free play.

The foundation is usually thin. The relationship is nourished by nationalist parties, but also by detachment movements and by pseudoreligious fundamentalists. These superficially have little in common, but together they seek a quest for something original, pure and homogeneous, which has no place for the ethnic, religious or for that matter the sexual minorities. You have to fit into a common template to belong to, and that is exactly where all the talk about the people starts to tease. Because no homogeneous people have ever existed anywhere. Not even the French Revolution was quite as inclusive as we would like ourselves to believe, for the strangers and women were never seriously included in the idea of ​​freedom, equality and fraternity.

Mirror image

The book draws the broad perspective by looking at exactly the same mechanisms as the driving force behind Islamic State. This may seem a little surprising, but it makes a lot of sense. Ideologically, too, IS is a quest back to the original and to a homogeneous size, which is basically an illusion. But IS was nourished by the fact that Europeans reacted to roughly the same pattern, namely by making strangers a threat. It was the clear goal of the Islamists to promote the collective suspicion of Muslims in Europe, thus securing progress and new proselytes.

So we have a situation that in some ways appears as a mirror image. Both sides exclude groups that are not considered part of the community, and on both sides at least parts of the community have some illusory notions of the ideal goal. It is again that with the people, or umma, as it is called in Islamic thought. This puts all the disregarded, or the invisible groups, in a peculiar situation. As the philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote, it forces the marginalized person to defend himself as the one who has been portrayed as – thus, based on the attributes of hatred.

The marginalized person is forced to defend himself with the attributes of hatred as a starting point.

It is a vicious circle that is best broken by understanding that the ball is in the court's half of the majority. Here one must understand that fanaticism cannot be combated with fanaticism, but that one must – again in Hannah Arendt's words – recognize that we are all the same, namely human beings, but in such a way that no one is the same as anyone who have lived, are living or want to live. Arendt sees man as part of a universal "we", while being a unique individual in his own right.

As a reader, one might object that all this is just common sense. The whole thing has really been heard before… but then anyway. Carolin Emcke presents the pieces in a new and thought-provoking way, and when she writes that it is basically impossible to understand Islamic State, it also perspective the view of European right-wing nationalism. Although the premise is some other, it is at least as irrational, and we must remind ourselves that the next time xenophobia emerges in our own backyard.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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