One of the things that I fear today is the open resurgence of race hatred being preached by the nicely dressed “intellectual” Nazis of the self-named Alt-Right.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, and baring a miracle in the Electoral College, I expect the openly racist, anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT rhetoric to skyrocket. I also expect that attack on minorities will continue to increase.
But what I fear more than anything, that should there be a major terrorist attack, or a real or imagined national security crisis, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Muslims extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Muslims and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.
David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”
Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners“– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”
In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.
The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.
One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.
The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts, and Carson has been nominated to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Flynn, the soon to be National Security Adviser to the President called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “definitely hides behind being a religion.” Others in or close to the Trump transition team openly refer to Jews in a desultory manner and like the Nazis of old talk of a Jewish, Freemason conspiracy to rule the world.
But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.
This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”
Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:
“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”
Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”
But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Muslims. It is not the fact that some Muslims are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Muslims are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.