Friends, who happen to be respected left-field musicians, were invited to Austria to perform a couple of gigs and film some music videos paid for by an Austrian arts grant. The lovely hosts were welcoming as was the creative coterie circling them in Vienna – the city of perfect public facades veiling the multifaceted private lives within (I don’t use this phrase lightly having encountered Austrian ways whilst recording in Vienna in the early nineties). All was well for these two travellers until Graz, where our beautiful young African-American singer took to the stage with aplomb accompanied by his Middle Eastern producer set back on stage, before an inebriated North European crowd – amongst them a solitary man shouting animatedly. The singer and producer took this to be enthusiasm for the electronica rap, presuming he was saying ‘louder’ or ‘harder’… Only when the man aggressively reached for the singer’s foot when atop the monitors at the front of stage and seeing the two young girls trying to hush him, the artists realised that in fact this was a nutter of some kind. The guards stood by and watched with no attempt to intervene, it later transpired the man was shouting racist profanities. Is it just me or is this scene reminiscent of a nightmare from a racist past, which I thought we left behind with the fall of South African apartheid? Is it too much to expect that in a crowd of people, including big strapping male guards more than two young girls should have interceded!
Later that evening during a video shoot in the forest around Graz a disgruntled man in lederhosen and two accomplices arrived in a car shouting at the creative team and cowardly pushing over the weakest member of the crew causing her considerable physical injury. Visitors to this little corner of Europe seem to have suffered local expressions of racism and intolerance during this festival – which through bringing in multiracial unusual arty characters clearly heckled the right wing feathers of some living in and around this town.
The rise of fascism in Europe is as scary as it is predictable. The European Union opening up borders to the weaker members of the union, dubious expenditure of European funds by some member nations, instability in the Middle East and North Africa heightening security concerns and summoning boat loads of refugees, alongside greedy bankers and global business players wielding corrupt power over governments, altogether have crafted a poisonous brew. In Britain the rich became 64% wealthier and the poor 57% worse off during the most recent recession (Morris 2015) which seems to have been a boom for some, calling into scrutiny the unethical relationship between big business and white hall. The resultant hunger and desperation or indeed the need to preserve what good situation people think they have has led to resentment and fear generating a highly volatile social scene in these economically and politically uncertain times.
Around Europe deep-rooted fascist ideals are being offered as a panacea, shaping people’s minds and filling government seats. A few decades ago people were embarrassed to admit to, or support, La Pen’s party seen as French fascist fringe; yet more recently La Pen’s daughter Marine is lauded as ‘the star of France’s right-wing’ (Walt, 2014) and her party is gaining ground. A sorry success echoed in the rise of far right parties such as ‘Golden Dawn’ in Greece, ‘The Party for Freedom’ in the Netherlands and ‘Jobbik Party’ in Hungary to name a few (Elgot, 2014). Sadly this noticeable swing to the far right within European nations is reflected in the increase of Far Right representatives in the EU and compounded by recent news of the Far-right parties forming ‘A coalition in European Parliament’ (Rubin 2015). As for our artist friends performing in Austria whose concert was disrupted by a full on racist, the lack of audience or guard involvement in quietening the foolish xenophobe is clearly indicative of huge gains made by the far right Freedom Party in their country. Whilst the West has been busy conquering and dividing nations around the world, the multi-cultural nations they built for themselves are crumbling – albeit originally immigrants were low level workers or residents of former colonies, which lined the colonist’s purse and national coffers.
During these troubled times with the rise of the rightwing in ‘multi-cultural Europe’, across the Atlantic in the land of settlers from all corners of the globe ‘a series of police killings of unarmed black men has sparked a renewed civil rights movement under the “Black Lives Matter” banner’ (Mcleod 2015). Very timely when considering the heart-breaking massacre, on 17 June 2015, of nine innocent African-Americans during a church service in Charleston by a young boy who was handed the gun on his birthday by his father. Dylan Roof was apprehended and the kind Christian folk have since forgiven him, living testimony of turning the other cheek. I don’t know that I could. I may forgive the killer but not the arm manufacturers for the absurd influence they exert over the US government. What is also open to question is the fact that South Carolina where Root comes from is ‘one of just five U.S. states not to have a hate-crimes law’ meaning he cannot be charged ‘with a hate crime motivated by racial or other prejudice’ carrying higher sentences (ibid). The absence of ‘hate crime laws’ is a negative reflection of these states, maybe time for the good folk to gather and reconsider….
The ‘other’ can be conjured up and hated overnight, swiftly becoming a blood shedding reality, nowhere better illustrated than in former Yugoslavia where the brutality and ethnic cleansing during the early nineties had a long term social, psychological and geo political impact or indeed in Rwanda where seemingly overnight carnage divided once co-existing peoples, for centuries to come. And since the illegal invasion of Iraq we see unfolding before us seemingly insurmountable divisions appearing in the MENA regions, with terrorism tearing nations apart in the region and showing its ugly face all over the world. During June of 2015 tens of innocent tourists slaughtered on a beach in Tunisia, a young Saudi Arabian flying to Kuwait to blow himself up in a Shia mosque. The drunken man hurling racist abuse all the way to those who kill, are all expressions of prejudice and fanaticism – on a sliding scale but fundamentally rooted in the same unhealthy place. I fear that this bad feeling is gripping too many people, radical groups and nations all around the world. Not confined to the Euro/American world, in South Africa migrant workers fear for their lives, with decreasing employment causing them to be seen as a threat, around East Asia there has been a steady rise in ethnicity based battles. Prejudice be it born of hunger, ignorance or greed, is tragically on the rise.
I am this, you are the ‘other’, who you are depends on where I am, how you affect me and/or what I am told about you. In the west the ‘other’ can be the gypsy, the black, the Muslim and in some European nations ancient antagonism to Jewish People is being enflamed. It seems everywhere everyone is finding someone to hate. WWII and Hitler have been shoved down our throats for decades, yet what have we learned. The holocaust resulted in the annihilation of Jewish people, disabled people, gypsies, homosexuals and intellectuals. Over the past decades in the west disabled people have found a voice, the Jewish lobby has become incontrovertibly powerful, homosexuals have made many a stride in some parts of the world but are still met with mortal prejudice, the intellectuals operate in a freer world though they continue to be targeted in some countries where their ideas lead to incarceration and in extreme cases death, gypsies are the only ones that seem to have no representation anywhere. So what did we learn from WWII and the terror of Fascism? Not much it seems, we just added to who, why and how to hate.
In archaeology we learn that studies of a single community spread over long distances in ancient times reveals an interesting social feature – those who settled closest often developed the most differences, as compared to those furthest away. So is this a curse of the human condition? Do we find differences even when there are none? What accounts for the ebb and flow of intolerance – currently it seems no dam can stem the flood of bigotry drowning people around the world.
Roya Arab is a musician and archaeologist, currently Honorary Research Assistant at Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Her research is into the socio-political and economic uses and abuses of the past in the present. Her work is in promoting MENA region heritage.
Elgot Jessica 2014. ‘European Elections: 9 Scariest Far-Right Parties Now In The European Parliament’. The Huffington Post UK . Posted 26/05/2014 Updated: 28/05/2011
Mcleod. Harriet, ‘White suspect arrested in killing of nine at black U.S. church’. Charleston, S.C. Reuters online. Posted 18 June 2015
Morris. Nigel, 2015, ‘Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer’. The Independent. Tuesday 10 March 2015
Rubin. Alissa. J. 2015. ‘Far-Right Parties Form Coalition in European Parliament’. The New York Times. 16 June 2015