I’ve been sitting on this one for a bit.
I awoke Easter morning to Breaking News on CNN. A small but formidable crowd of right wing protesters (you know the ones—primarily male, stout, short hair, adorned in various shades of black, terrifyingly aggressive and profane, angry) protested just outside the perimeter of mourners and sympathizers, paying respects to the dead victims of the Brussels bombings. Their mantra echoes those shouted at all points on the globe that suffer injustice as a result of perceived liberal vulnerabilities. It’s chanted with the same angry, reactionary, and myopic lexicon.
Instantly, I thought of the crowds of Golden Dawn sympathizers in Greece who rushed Syntagma during bailout talks (ironically, they complained about quite a bit, including immigration; kick ‘em while they’re down). I remember images from my school history classes of proto-fascists in early 20th Century Europe, frustrated with the cultural and economic climate, passionately (if irrationally) venting their vitriol. I recall the droves of angry, disenfranchised young men marching and screaming in lockstep against refugees (and against any immigration for that matter) throughout Europe today. And I think of people in our own nation calling for walls, profiling, and a revocation, for some, of civil liberties. Some adorn the trappings. Others project no defining features. They show no indication that they’re aligned with anything other than the latest fashions or anti-fashions. You see, the black clothes, shaven hair, and bitterness that woke me are just one projection—an outward manifestation of a set of feelings. They’re not a demarcation line separating competing ideologies. It could be a tattoo, a gun, camouflage, a jersey and athletic shorts. A business suit.
These people go by many names. Some have called these men in black hooligans. They’ve been called delinquents, gangs, goons, punks. They been branded. Most of the brands are based on the appearances. I think they’re disenfranchised, vulnerable, and angry; from a world view of chronic displeasure, they drip acrimony and venom. Some add verbal substance to their nebulous, ill-defined frustrations. And, let’s face it—fear, the ultimate goal of terror, is worse than conventional war, and it compels people to think and act irrationally. Many among us cling to those people that promise security, give voice to our rage, and make us feel part of something substantial and bigger than ourselves. We cling to a voice that places blame—that claims to “understand” while we and many others are mired in the quicksand of uncertainty. And clinging, without critical thinking, usually leads to terribly irrational, often violent, and typically divisive behaviors. And I bet many of those people are fundamentally decent; they’ve just been swept up by the collective rage. The Roman Colosseum revisited.
Here’s the rub. The Alphas that lead the packs aren’t driven by moral outrage. While the outrage may have sprung first, it's metamorphosed. Their interest is power. Those Alphas, with compelling gravitas, discourage thought and dissent. And their machinations for coercion are no more ethically acceptable than any terror organization. Almost inevitably, their tools are xenophobia and violence. And their affect is the same on any passerby. One may look at a darker-skinned man with suspicion and wonder. One walks away from the angry male clad in black—crosses the street or turns around entirely. This man appears more ostensibly threatening. Ironic, sure, because he should be standing for the values of the nation. But he’s acting out of fear, shallow thinking, self-interest, and power.
Whatever the goals of these angry men and women—their leaders’ agendas notwithstanding, they cause an equal amount of fear as those they loathe; their fear just manifests differently. And they have similar longevity. Like a slow parasite that vacillates between malignancy and dormancy. Their agendas may prey on the weak, ill-informed, and disenfranchised. They may gather tenuous support. But they’re ephemeral leaders pushing evanescent movements that always fail to hit mainstream. The fringes, the peripheries are their domain. The places devoid of dynamic, diverse interplay. Places that reflect the monochromatic trimmings they’ve adopted. They arise at the core of a city, wreak havoc, and then, after a time and often not-insignificant damage, they dissipate. Their influence rarely gains significant popular traction, and the men, angrily, are pushed back into society’s recesses, further disenfranchised, once again reduced to pure, visceral rage.
Actually, that’s no different from the men that they hate at all. Certain structures may differ, but the dynamic is the same. They’ve become what they hate.
Their flaws? They haven’t won over the masses with better ideas—more humane ideas. Fear works up to a point, but eventually one must prescribe a next step. Another flaw, an unwillingness to adapt to a world that is leaving them in its wake. Another, an unwillingness to coexist with diverse people. Another, poor education (which may or may not rest solely on their shoulders).
Another, external flaw? Systemic failures, at so many levels, of inclusion. On the fringes, education breaks down. There are fewer opportunities. Government policies seem anathema to micro-cultures that haven’t been embraced by or embraced the mainstream. And all of this leads to radicalization. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s as if the mechanisms are in place for perpetuating this cycle of alienation, desperation, radicalization, reaction, defeat, alienation, etc. The onus is on all of us to change it.
The solutions? This may sound trite, but it starts with the village. Parents, teachers, and schools have the power to affect the future by molding you minds early. Much research has proven that mindsets established by the end of the middle grades are what the individual will embody as an adult. There is a magic window! It also must include an economic system that gives a family the means to live above desperation. Desperation engenders fear and blind adherence to anything that promises to make alleviate it. And we need to redefine what we deem culturally acceptable. We desperately need a white paper on cultural mores that promote the general welfare for all—not just some.
The great irony of the protests is that they came on Easter. Easter—spring—is about rebirth, a fresh start imbued with hope and possibility. Open societies—at least in theory—allow us all more mulligans than we deserve! Open societies also allow the space for divergent sentiments to breed and fester. These sentiments, firmly rooted in outdated, untenable modes of living, are regressive and antithetical to change. Collectively, we need to quash any notion that our realities are fixed. We need to embrace seasons of change and opportunities to grow-out of cycles of loathing and violence and into branching trajectories of diversity and inclusion. We have a road map; we just need to take that journey. It starts in the home. It starts in the school.
Director of the Global Initiatives
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