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September 29th, 2010, by Rene Guitton

Rene Guitton

Hearing certain political statements in recent months, one cannot help a feeling of malaise. It is as though Europe, specifically France, were ravaged by invading barbarian hordes, or struggling to preserve the last remnants of its civilization. As if we, heirs to Rome, Athens and Jerusalem, considered that this word could be written only in the singular.

According to popular belief, encouraged by some leaders, it is about rows of minarets looming on the horizon, threatening their clean white churches. It is still about processions of Roma abandoning their once beloved old poultry yards to engage in robberies. It is also about whole suburbs with concrete towers regarded as the strongholds of Great Swindle and a violent religious fundamentalism.

A whole world of dark fears, hatred, and immemorial prejudice is resurfacing before us! With the same trail of quack remedies, impressive police and paramilitary units are deployed to “restore” law in places that demand more humanity first. The law alone is insufficient to punish against troublemakers, but they are also threatened with a pseudo-civil death – the deprivation of their nationality. Even elected and other government officials are seen to engage in estimating errors blamed on a particular ethnic and religious group, as though each of these communities thus pilloried were doomed by nature to be the vehicle of evil and disorder.

Above all, the primacy of a “national identity” which is not considered to be a set of moral values, but a kind of immanent grace reserved for a few good individuals, is being constantly emphasized. It is this hazy identity that underpins an obsession with security grounded on irrational fears and a sense of constant inquietude.

Such behavior is both ridiculous and tragic. It is as though, faced with the globalization of trade, global standardization of lifestyles, increasing social diversity and the questioning of traditional beliefs and ideologies, society was seeking to invent new criteria to differentiate people. Such criteria could legitimize situations where ethnicity or religion are used to rank human beings as “good” and “bad”, designating their place on the social ladder.
Is this a reaction to the sudden acceleration of history? In the few decades since the end of World War II, the world has changed more than it did from antiquity to the Industrial Revolution. Our societies have become more urban than ever, causing the dilution of traditional lifestyles and beliefs. The disappearance of powerful checks on the free movement of people and goods has led to enormous migratory flows from South to North, and even within the developed North. These flows have allowed multiethnic multi-religious societies to become the rule, and the future.

The global rise of living standards, and development of new technologies have transformed our environment and relationship to the world while increasing the number of the excluded, unable – for various reasons – to adapt to such rapid changes, confining them in poverty and societal -sometimes defensive and aggressive – withdrawal. The fear of the Other is being revived, resulting in the resurgence of xenophobia, racism and intolerance vis-à-vis all that is different, and therefore threatening. It is as though hatred were the only language common to all geographical and cultural areas, exemplified by so many concurring events around the world.

France is no exception to the rule, which seems poised to become an experimental laboratory for this new questionable exploitation of otherness and identity.

Faced with an attractive policy of based on the stirring up of ethnic, cultural and religious tensions, and faced with the excesses of some rulers, let’s commend rather than blame those who are standing together in NGOs and the media to build a bulwark against the return of old hatreds. These voices, whose only religion is the primacy of the individual over the group, the preeminence of the human over political game, can build an identity strong enough to stop the gangrene of souls.

René Guitton, writer and essayist, has been awarded the 2009 Human Rights Prize.

View Rene Guitton’s GEF profile here.

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