THE BLOG

People Together: Against Fear and Bigotry

11/12/2015 17:23 GMT | Updated 11/12/2016 10:12 GMT

It is time to take a stand.

Against bigotry. Against fear. Against lies.

It is time to take a stand against those who seek to divide us and turn us against our neighbours. And to stand up to those who seek to terrorise us into submission.

From the moment when the first human beings huddled together in primitive agrarian communities, we have known that we are stronger together than apart. That is why the people whom we should fear most are those who seek to sow discord and division.

It is time to stand together: Muslim and non-Muslim, black and white, young and old. It is time to unite against the fanatics and the bigots. They want to turn us against each other, so our response - our only response - must be to come together.

Together against Donald Trump. Together against Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage. And together against Islamic State. The danger we face is not foreigners, or immigrants, Muslim or non-Muslim - it is fear. Fear born of ignorance, exploited by those who seek power. I'm not interested in labels, so I will not give them a label. But open a book of European history and you soon see where fear and ignorance can lead.

The opposite of ignorance is knowledge. So to answer those who fear the foreigners, let us point to all those (many of them Muslim, by the way) who staff our health services, serve in our armed forces and police services, care for our elderly and vulnerable, drive our buses and trains, own and run our corner shops, establish our small businesses and create jobs. In the US, we must point out - again - that more than half the chief executives in Silicon Valley are foreign-born.

How about a rallying cry? People Together. La Gente Unida. Le Peuple Ensemble. Das Volk Zusammen. Churches and mosques; towns and cities; leftwing and rightwing; trades unions and employers' organisations; celebrities, musicians, film stars and teachers, social workers and community activists; David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn; Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

And how about mass rallies in the New Year? Trafalgar Square in London, The Mall in Washington DC, the Place de la Republique in Paris, the Plaza del Sol in Madrid. Hundreds of thousands of people. Together. United against bigotry and fear.

Donald Trump calls his supporters 'the noisy majority'. Noisy they most certainly are, but to call them a majority is another of his lies. According to the latest opinion poll, fewer than half of American voters support his idea of banning all Muslim immigrants from the US. That means that he speaks for the minority, not the majority. Even if his ideas are backed by significant numbers of likely Republican voters, they are themselves a minority.

In France, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, the xenophobes and Islamophobes also claim to speak for the majority. They do not, but it is time to organise to confront them. We should not forget that in 1933, when the National Socialist German Workers Party, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power, it had won less than half the votes cast. Within months, Hitler had banned all other political parties.

The people who support Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage are not all bigots, but they are frightened - and they are angry. They are frightened by the changes they see around them, by the disappearance of secure jobs and affordable housing, and by the cultural and ethnic changes that they neither understand nor want. And they are angry at the political élites who have ushered in these changes and who have ignored their fears.

So how do the political élites respond? By redirecting the anger towards the traditional scapegoats: the foreigners, the migrants, the Muslims. In the days of strong trades unions and workers' education, there was at least a mechanism for pushing back against the lies. But those days have long gone, along with the coalmines, the steelworks and the shipyards.

The idea that a billionaire property developer (Trump) or a former stockbroker (Farage) can somehow claim to represent the interests of those who have been cast aside by the forces of globalisation and free market capitalism is frankly risible. As for the Front National in France, the French commentator Natalie Nougayrède wrote in The Guardian: 'France is a country that for three decades has suffered mass unemployment. It is a country where globalisation is widely perceived as something of an existential threat because it is associated with the loss of jobs and a national loss of status ... The fact is that France has failed to adapt to the challenges of globalisation.'

So who is going to point out that it wasn't immigrants or refugees who crashed the banking system, and it's not immigrants or refugees who benefit from a grotesquely unfair taxation system that sees those at the top of the pile rewarded with obscene wealth while those at the bottom are squeezed to within an inch of penury.

The trend towards populism and demagoguery is not a purely Western phenomenon. President Putin of Russia, President Erdoğan of Turkey and prime minister Modi of India all exploit the same fears as Trump, Le Pen and Farage. All know that in order to deflect popular anger at their own inadequacies as political leaders, they need to identify alternative culprits. So they point their fingers at the traditional suspects.

It is time to answer their lies. It is time to organise in defence of those who need defending, just as the people in communities devastated by the recent floods in northern England organised to defend themselves and their neighbours. I doubt that they checked first on their ethnic origin or religious faith.

It is a task perfectly suited to the newly-enrolled members of the newly-energised Labour party, if they can be persuaded to tear themselves away from tearing each other apart. Clicking on a petition calling for Trump to be banned from Britain won't quite do it, as well as being wrong in principle.

Yes, Trump is dangerous, but even more dangerous, as Franklin D Roosevelt pointed out more than 80 years ago, is fear itself. The columnist Simon Jenkins wrote this week: 'Fear is the most potent of political weapons. It is more deadly than greed, ambition or love of home. It is dangerous because it feeds on the irrational in human nature.'

The author and journalist Michael Goldfarb, author of Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews From the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance, asks in this week's Jewish Chronicle: 'Are Le Pen and Trump true fascists or simply nativist racists? Or are they just self-aggrandisers with an eye on the main chance? Does their demonising of Muslims remind you of the demonising of Jews back then? Is this really the return of fascism? Or something merely unpleasant but less threatening? And did you ever think "it" could happen again?'

So as an early Christmas wish, or an even earlier New Year resolution: no more fear, no more bigotry. People Together.