“Je pensais qu’un autre monde était possible, sans qu’on ait à mettre le feu partout. Maintenant je n’en suis plus sûr du tout.” (Raoul Peck, 2020: 34)(fn)

“When justice perishes, there is no longer any value in human beings living on earth.” (Immanuel Kant)

Introduction

Minna Elisabeth Wolter was born in May 1921. She was eighteen years old when the Second World War started. Her first husband died at the front one month after the wedding. In the following four years of the war, she was imprisoned twice; once for three months for refusing to work, which was a common form of resistance; second, for eight months for theft, which was most likely food or coal in the strong winter in 1943-1944. Five years after the war, she remarried and had children. But post-Nazi Germany was inching closer to becoming a divided state: a capitalist state in the West and a communist dictatorship in the East. In 1953, in the aftermath of the famous protests across East Germany for more freedom and democracy, she was imprisoned once more, this time for twelve months. Aged 40, having spend most of her life under dictatorships, she left everything behind, including her children, to live in the free West. But until her death, she had been a restless person. Every couple of years, she moved to another city. Today it looks to me as though she couldn’t find the peace she thought she would find in this land of freedom, democracy, wealth and abondance.

Minna Elisabeth Wolter is my grandmother and I would have never believed that, to a certain extend, our trajectories would become so similar.

I was born in 1988 in East Germany. The Berlin Wall came down when I was less than two years old. There is a stamp in my health pass dating from November 24, 1989. It was the date when my parents and I went to West Berlin for the first time, if only to pick up our so-called welcome money and then spend it all on amazing goods (and a lot of chocolate and sweets for us children!). I grew up in a strange in-between space-time-continuum. My home was no longer fully communist, but not yet fully capitalist either. The reunification of Germany brought a lot of changes. It created hopes, yet also destroyed a lot of them. It promised jobs, wealth, freedom of which many in Eastern Europe still dream of thirty years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. I wasn’t entirely conscious of it when I was a child but I learned and experienced that some people were more important than others. I would go as far as saying, more valuable than others. During my adolescence it dawned on me that my country may be reunited but remained divided. East Germans were second-class citizens. To this day, East Germans are largely absent from public discourse, from film and television, from university management, from politics; I could continue this list ad infinitum. I was always someone who strove towards making the most of my abilities. My key interest in everything was comprehension. I had to understand and comprehend everything that surrounded me. The combination of this character trait and the realization that I would end up becoming an invisible person in my own country, I extended my own boundaries and went abroad in August 2007 to study in Scotland.

It’s been almost fifteen years now that I have lived, studied and worked abroad. Seven of those years gave me the feeling of living my dream, a European and Western dream of democracy, freedom, easy access to everything. Retrospectively, the dark clouds arrived as early as 2008 on the heels of the banking crisis, which arrived in Europe around 2010. But the thunder and lightning started to arrive only in 2015 (for me personally) when Europe discussed the necessity, for lack of a better word, to save lives. In combination with terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, in the UK and Germany, the continent became hysterical and forgot everything it stood for.

It was around this time that I actively began thinking about who I was, because I had the feeling that my identity as an East German had so much in common with that of a migrant. I do not intend to equate war refugees, to take only one example, with my experience as an East German. Yet, I share so many similarities with migrants who struggle each and every day to survive in our society, and I’m speaking metaphorically because while migrants do live, work, marry, pay their taxes, have children abroad, they don’t exist for the majority of natives. They are invisible unless they’re needed, either for dirty cleaning jobs or as a scapegoat.

Did I not feel that I had to leave my country to avoid becoming a second-class citizen just because of who I am? Did I not go to the West to allow me the chance to become someone based on merit and not on origin? Did I not go to another country to have better prospects than I would have in my own? Did I not also go to the West because I was sure that I would have a better lifestyle and more money than if I were to stay locked up in East Germany?

And did I not end up being as invisible as all the other migrants? Did I not end up becoming a scapegoat for nationalists? Did I not end up being treated with contempt simply because I wasn’t ‘one of them’?

Don’t get me wrong, as a white European migrant my life is still a lot more bearable than the life of an Arab or Muslim migrant will ever be. But my own origin makes me acutely aware of the condition of minorities. When racism no longer occurred on a screen but sort of in my own front yard, I began to realize that the European dream I thought I was living was nothing but a smoke screen, and that I fell for it.

I realized that I had always thought of myself as being better, or perhaps not necessarily better. But I was aware that I had a certain privilege as a White person and a European. I expected to never encounter problems with discrimination and racism. I expected to be protected from this. An incredibly naive and ignorant thought, I realize today. I’m ashamed of this unconscious thinking albeit it’s something that grew in me quite naturally. What else should you think of when you see and hear that White people never seem to have an issue abroad? You take your supposed superiority for granted and live with it. Until the mirror breaks, that is.

The following thoughts on our (Western) societies are the result of a broken mirror and a disillusion with what I have always called my home: the West, in particular Europe. Having written those lines, I cannot but help wondering whether it was time for me to leave Europe and settle elsewhere. Wherever I went, I would perhaps not avoid discrimination, racism, sexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and what else not. But in other societies I could perhaps make a difference. Today, I’m in doubt whether there is something left for me to do in Europe after the publication of this essay.

Only time will tell.

I

May 2017. It’s election time in France. Jérémy and I are on the way to the poll station. We’re new in Rennes and not too sure where our designated poll station is. I’m not allowed to vote. I know that the stakes are high. The radical transformation of French society since the terrorist attacks has frightened me. But I don’t have control over anything. Hope is all there is. While walking around, we come across three young men. There are posters all around. As we always do, Jérémy and I converse in English. It’s our common language, it was when we met (because neither could speak the other’s native language when we met) and it always will be. The men heard us, one of them shouting after us: “We speak French here! France to the French!” I still hear it. It fit the overall atmosphere at the time.

April 2022. Five years later and I begin to realize that this is how it must have felt to people in the late 1920s. A quick radicalization on all sides. The centre and the right moved to the extremes; the left ceased to exist. But only on election day, the fear of eventually waking up under an extreme-right government appears in society. Prior to the election, the French love playing Russian Roulette. They love playing with fire. So many people comment that the French don’t know what they do. I, for my part, would say that they know exactly what they do and that they want this roulette because it gives them a rush of adrenaline. Someone with a bit of knowledge of German history cannot but be stunned by the parallels of what happened with the extreme right in the Weimar Republic and what is happening today in France. The dam of democracy will break eventually.

While I was scared in 2017, I’m completely resigned to my fate today. Just like the British (primarily the English) voted on the fate of three million Europeans and destroyed everything those people had built up over time, so France is now aiming for the same. To me, this electoral behaviour which we can witness in so many parts of the world, but specifically in the West, is, in parts, a question of responsibility.

The people are angry, very angry. No, it’s not going all too well. Three decades of economic boom ended in a crash landing. Today it seems as if we’re moving from one crisis to the next. The outlook for younger generations are terrible. Millennials, for example, are the first generation in history that has a worse outlook than their parents. Our life, compared to that of so many other people in the world, is still way better than some people can even imagine. What’s happening isn’t a French problem or a British problem. It is a global problem. The question is one of mentality: how do people respond to moments of crisis? To difficulties? To seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

When the Weimar Republic was crushed under the Allies’ demands for reparations, which led to hyperinflation (and people using their bank notes for firing the stove because they had no other use any more), there was no sense of responsibility in the population. They had been lied to. They were naive and ignorant. From 1914 to 1918, the Reich’s media created a fake universe in which the German Reich went from one success to another. The leaders at the time made sure that the population wouldn’t know about the disastrous losses of the army. The media became an effective arm for controlling reality. For four years, the German public thought that they would win the war because this was what they had been told. When the point came and the Reich’s leaders had to accept defeat, no one could believe it. Of course not. It’s like Russians today who refuse to accept what their children, living in Ukraine, tell them about the war: the Russians live in a propaganda bubble and have been for too long. Reality is no longer in their repertoire. The same thing happened in 1918. To explain this “strange defeat”, which didn’t make sense to anybody, politicians thought of another hideous lie to cover all the other lies: the famous “Dolchstoßlegende”. Someone had to be responsible for the defeat and it certainly wasn’t the Germans because they had won every single battle so far. It was, so the rumours went, a Jew who signed the German capitulation. It’s the Jews who were the origin of the reparations and therefore also of the hyperinflation.

The same strategy could be seen in the UK, specifically in England, during the Brexit campaign. While Scotland had several, well organized and rational public debates, England went straight for the lies. None of the problems in the country are British-made, it seemed. All problems had their starting point in Brussels and were exacerbated by European migrants. There was a great documentary called “Brexitania”, a fascinating film about Leave and Remain voters. I remember one line: “If we send those 3 million Europeans back home, we would have 3 million more jobs for us.” People cannot survive on the infamous zero-hour contracts, wages are low, more and more people have to use the food bank, children have to go without a hot meal a day — is all of this really the fault of Brussels or the EU migrants? No, it’s because in our age of peak capitalism we have greedy managers who need their millions every year. We have billionaires who compete in shooting the largest dick into space instead of solving the problems on Earth.

British politicians openly broke laws and fooled around the public. But strangely enough, the voting public didn’t hold them accountable. They still don’t. Instead, they followed the lies, paid for in parts by Russia (as had been suspected and then proven), and pointed the finger at migrants. The British are not and cannot be responsible for the terrible state their country is in. Someone else must be behind it: the EU and the European migrants. How many people lost their livelihood because of perfectly tuned media (and social media) that passed on lies? Many Europeans, who had no legal documents for their life in the UK because it had never been necessary, were deported. Think of that: deported. From one European country to another, only because they were migrants. Had I been in the country after Brexit, I would have become a possible target, too. I had no documents, and therefore no legal status. I would have been fair game. I escaped it. Just.

France doesn’t take responsibility for whatever it does or for whatever it has done, either. Maybe I’m particularly attuned to this because I come from a society where taking responsibility for your actions is deeply anchored in our genes. What had already struck me during my ERASMUS semester in 2010, became even clearer once I had moved to France: responsible for what goes wrong is always the other, whoever that may be.

Going into book shops, for example, is telling. Especially the history section says a lot about France’s mentality as a country. Raoul Peck, filmmaker from Haiti, writes in his angry letter to the French: “Oui, la France est dans le déni d’elle-même. Car la France se pense encore tout aussi glorieuse, tout aussi sereine, tout aussi vaillante que dans le passé qu’elle se raconte” (2020: 8-9). France was, historically, either a victim or a hero. Usually both. This, at least, is how the country represents itself. You have a hard time finding material on atrocities committed by the French. If you do find something then you tend to find it in the far back or at the bottom of the shelf. Highlighted is a glorious history, which is a lie, at best. When a supposedly centrist government takes issue with researchers in the field of ‘post-colonial studies’, you know that their official reason, namely that it’s an imported American thing and that it threatens to undermine ‘Republican values’, is only another lie that serves as a shield. They are fully aware that once researchers were allowed to dig freely into the archives of history, their long-held views of themselves would collapse like a house of cards. The entire identity is built on this lie, a lie that is present every day and therefore becomes reality. So if the French are always on the right side of history, if they’re always the victims and heroes, why is the country in such a bad shape? There must be someone behind this, and what the Jews were for the Nazis, what the European migrants and Brussels were to the UK, the non-French and Muslims are to the French: a wonderful and easy scapegoat to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, for their own mistakes, for their own errors in judgement.

One way they can do this is by keeping the public in the dark about what goes on outside their own country. French media hardly reports about Europe, let alone about the world. For as long as I can remember, I was told what happened in the world. Wherever I was, even on holiday, the entire world was on television. One had the feeling that global connections weren’t just some imaginary smokescreen. It was clear that if one country does x, then y would happen in another. Arriving in France stunned me because I was no longer part of the global world. I was imprisoned in a country that was itself imprisoned in its own country. There are no global domino chains any more, everything revolves around the French nation, the Republic, its values, its own problems. And of course, today, in our time and age, this cannot help any country to move forward. It is futile to even try bring progress because there is no progress nowadays if there is no connection to others. The issue France has is that it doesn’t care about the others and if they do, they focus on the disadvantages of dealing with others.

If the French government can tell lies about how bad the Covid-19 situation in Germany is, then they know that no one (except for bilingual foreigners) can call out their lies because the French media will definitely not report about Germany’s situation. But the French audience once again gets a feeling of being superior to others. The persecution of ‘the other’, especially of Muslims, shows signs of what we have seen throughout history. Certain arguments and the choice of words, on both left and right, show a clear copy of Nazi ideology on Jews. I had to analyse so many speeches by Hitler and Goebbels at school that I can see similarities from miles away. It is stunning how usual it has once again become to ostracize the other. Same rhetoric, different religious group. In many ways, I’m grateful for all of the in-depth study our German teacher did with us. On the other hand, it is extremely frustrating to see how no one in French society sees the dangerous radicalization and acts on it. The French protest against everything, just not against the extreme right, not enough: not often enough, not loud enough, not convincing enough. It’s like seeing a slow-motion car crash.

Around 5,000 young French joined ISIS. I remember the question that was asked on every channel: why? How could these people radicalize themselves so quickly? Ironically, they discussed this all the while the entire society radicalized itself. But as in so many Western countries, the radicalization of the white native is never considered a problem. It’s considered marginal, radicalized natives are ‘patriots’, or else ‘lone wolves’. How many attacks on migrants by white supremacists did we see in the US without journalists or politicians using the term ‘terrorism’? How many neo-Nazis with plans to overthrow the government have been discovered within the German police and the army without anyone speaking of the threat it poses to the entire country?

Taking responsibility for your actions is a sign of maturity and strength. It also paves the way for empathy. No empathy without a feeling of responsibility. Germans are born with a sense of responsibility. Some embrace it, others fight it. Most people aren’t aware of it at all, but it shows in the way the society has so far reacted to refugees. There is always a minority trying to get their way, so, of course, Germany, too, has its problem with the rise of the far right. If you take responsibility for your past actions, you develop empathy towards the people you have wronged. Not only to those, however.

The German Reich never took responsibility for its lies, for the war and its consequences on its own people. The politicians at the time were only interested in securing their power. They wasted no energy on their people. While so many of theirs died of hunger, the Kaiser had a good life in exile. Not taking responsibility and instead assigning the suffering, the economic and social catastrophe to a (Jewish) scapegoat led to the Second World War. The absence of responsibility with its inherent focus on a designated enemy is like a swing. Eventually it swings higher and higher, and you can no longer stop it. It becomes automatic, and it is this automatic phase which France is already in. Right-extreme ideas have become so normal that every party from Left to Centre to Right openly uses them. The normalization of pointing at ‘the other’, which we have seen especially in the last five years, is the very automation that the Weimar Republic had seen. Once hatred was sufficiently normalized, Hitler took power. He was shunned for his ideas in the early 1920s. His tendency to open violence led to a prison sentence. But he had time, and the poison he had injected into society spread on its own, not because it was poison and people just love hating others. No, anything you seed spreads slowly but gradually in society. Good or bad, eventually someone’s ideas will take over (cue social media algorithms). Because of the rampant inflation, the hunger, the daily violence and the unemployment, the poison Hitler had seeded became a perfect accelerator of the swing. Remember, the Germans never took responsibility for World War I, and they even went so far as to start a second one to escape their responsibility. This is the problem with lies: you start with a small lie, but this lie alters reality already, so you need to continue to lie in order to create a coherent (fake) reality for those who are willing to listen. The lie, too, becomes a swing (and then reality becomes completely absurd, as is the case today, when Russia invades the country of a Jewish president, who lost family in the Holocaust, to ‘denazify’ the area and prevent a genocide).

What Jean-Marie Le Pen had started in 2002 is today successfully employed by his daughter. The hatred, the scapegoating that was, on top of it, built on the ideology of a heroic nation that seeks equality for all, has today become part of the country’s fabric. And because it has become normal, the radicalization of society, which we can witness, can no longer be stopped. It’s on autopilot. The discriminatory laws against Muslims by a so-called centrist party are part and parcel of it. The almost complete absence of foreign news, the absence of clear foreign policy directions, the transformation of news channels into channels of ideological opinion-based megaphones, as we can see in the US, too, the persistent reminder of the grandeur of the nation and its people — all of this is evidence of where France is headed. I would also say, where it wants to go, because the abyss seems tempting if it can help the white population to avoid taking the responsibility for colonial violence, imperialistic exploitation, brutal massacres and mass rapes in countries that sought independence, collaborating with the Nazis, discriminating people based on their skin colour and their religion. The abyss won’t hit the natives at first, just like the abyss the Nazis unleashed wasn’t aimed at the Germans for several years.

But here is the catch: every dictatorship or autocracy, every society built on hatred (even if that society considers itself a democracy) needs a constant influx of enemies. Once the main enemies of France — the Muslims and Arabs — are dealt with, who will be next? Because the automation will not stop with one enemy group, it never has in the past and it never will in future. Societies based on hatred are self-devouring, which is what makes them so dangerous, not only for the officially designated enemies. They’re the first ones to feel the brunt of it. But they are also dangerous for the natives, who think that no one will ever touch them simply because they’re natives. Besides, they have brought this or that politician to power, so they should be safe, no?

And this is where political education comes in because people, who have a tendency to vote extreme right, must learn that they’re shooting themselves in the foot. They think they get rid of their enemies, but they also vote to put themselves into the permanent danger of being the next enemy on the list. Is this a mature way of dealing with problems?

Taking responsibility and developing empathy for others is a major part of becoming a mature person. The same goes for societies, for countries. Those who create scapegoats remain in the phase of a stubborn child not willing to grow up.

The truth is that the danger doesn’t come from without, it doesn’t come from ‘the other’. It comes from within, it comes from the people who seek scapegoats, who want to believe in the lies they are being told, in an identity that has been carefully constructed, and who are willing to dig their own graves if it means that they wouldn’t have to face their own responsibility for their actions.

II

Sometimes I think that this is perhaps my fate.

One evening, three or four years ago, I said to Jérémy that I was confused about where my home was. I knew that I didn’t belong to Germany. It was a splintered country that still tried to come to terms with its past. On the morning after the Brexit vote — I was already in France — I had a whisky for breakfast. I knew there and then that the door back to a place I had called ‘home’ slammed shut. All of a sudden I felt trapped. I didn’t want to return to Germany; I couldn’t return to Scotland; I didn’t want to stay in France. I didn’t feel safe. It was a period in which I felt extremely vulnerable as a migrant. I had read so many reports of deportations, EU citizens who had spent so many years in the UK, who had a job, a family, everything, but who had to leave because they didn’t have legal documents. I had heard of the (British) husband of a former (Belgian) colleague of mine who was deported from Belgium to the UK for no reason other than that he was a full-time writer and not a full-time employee somewhere. I knew of an Italian friend who had a hard time getting a residence permit in Belgium to be with his (Belgian) partner. With France continuously radicalizing itself and shooting against migrants, I was sure that it was only a matter of time before I was on a train home. We’ve seen it before: being married to a national means nothing. What frightened me at the time, makes me paralysed today. Perhaps not so much paralysed. But I have resigned to the fact that I now live in danger. The noose of having to leave a country just because I’m not a native is tightening around my neck. I’m awaiting my turn. I left Germany to feel free, and I did feel free. Since 2015, migrants — every migrant — has become fair game.

At the time, Jérémy responded: Home is where you are a native. No one can deport you because of your citizenship.

Lately, I have thought that this is perhaps all written somewhere. Maybe I do have to see the rise of the far right. Maybe I do have to watch how people just stand by and let it happen to explain to myself just what went wrong almost 100 years ago. Maybe I do need to live in fear, maybe I do need to watch in horror the repetition of the persecution of religious minorities. Maybe I do have to see and experience all of this. This is everything I read about, everything I learned. Everything that I have always wondered about: just how was all of that possible? It feels like I can live it today and experience it first-hand, and yes: when people at the time said that they didn’t see it coming, I can now understand it. There are always some people who see the danger, who warn others, but for the general public, the real catastrophe came slowly. It’s like the frog in the hot water. France is increasing the temperature a little more every year.

If France can avert the catastrophe this year, it’s not because the people think that they’d better not vote for the extreme right. It’s because the time is not yet ripe for the take-over. The extreme-right will arrive in power once the poison has successfully infected every single layer of society. If the French think that something like in 1930s Germany wouldn’t be able to happen to them — well, no one had thought it possible at the time either. Germany had an incredible culture, it was leading in so many areas of science, art and education. And yet, and yet. The higher you climb, the lower you can fall. No country, no society is immune from lies and hatred, and what is happening in France should worry everyone: the migrants, the foreigners, and, above all, the French themselves.

My perspective has shifted drastically in the last two to three years. In 2017, I was worried about the arrival of the extreme right because I did not want to live in an autocratic system that enforces state-sponsored persecution of people based on their beliefs, their skin colour, their sexual orientation. To me, a democracy is a gift that we should not take for granted and it is the only form of government that allows us to live together as human beings, and not as enemies of one another. But democratic rights can be used to end democracy. We have seen this before in Poland and Hungary. Especially the latter has for long hollowed out every single democratic institution there is. Poland is on the same route. In the US, so-called gerrymandering is perfectly normal: you redraw the lines of your conscription in such a way that you only include people who would definitely vote for your party next time. Most often, the Republicans redraw the lines to exclude Hispanics and African-Americans, mostly voters of the Democrats.

But here in France, there is irony at play. Have they not changed the electoral system to prevent the extreme right from ever coming to power? Was the idea not that in a run-off, the people would always vote against the extreme right? This very system comes back as a boomerang because the country will soon be set check mate. If the extreme right cannot come to power through elections, then they can normalize hatred and discrimination. This is what has happened in the last 20 years, all with the help of the media. France becomes a mirror of the United States, which I find paradoxical as the country has always fought against Anglo-Saxon and American influences. But here, too, the boomerang returns to them. The society is deeply polarized. Most people vote for the extremes, regardless of whether its left or right.

III

(25.04.2022)

It is like waking up with a hangover. Sure, it is less worse than the post-Brexit or post-Trump hangover. But it’s a hangover nevertheless. Last night, I could hear protesters coming towards our quarter, pursued by the police. I was frightened, even though I expected violent protests. Until midnight, the police combed the quarter several times with their torches in the hope of finding those who attended the illegal protest. This morning, I went for a run and I was as if in a daze. I saw the barricades, I saw the graffitis on the walls; the remnants of last nights expression of frustration. I ran past a bus stop where I could read “Vive Le Communisme”. I have always felt deeply uncomfortable when I saw (especially young) people marching through the streets of Rennes with the iconic Communist flag and chanting the Internationale. I get goosebumps every single time, not out of joy but out of fear. Is this really what they imagine as an alternative? Do they not want to see what communism means or do they honestly believe that it’ll bring change? Are they blind or uneducated?

The scapegoats within society are different, but Nazism and Communism have one and the same result: the deaths of tens of millions of people; the persecution of intellectuals, religious minorities, artists; a vast camp system (see China for a contemporary example); persistent fear and no freedom of thought, speech, expression, and religion. That Hitler and Stalin shook hands should have been a wake-up call for everyone. The problem is that we’re not allowed to draw parallels to that specific past. We’re not allowed to compare what happens today in a certain country to Nazi Germany either because what happened there and then has supposedly a special status and needs to be seen as an extraordinary succession of events. But if we cannot draw parallels to the worst of what a voting public can cause, how can we then learn from the past? People who reject the parallels often only think about the extermination of the Jews and no, I don’t think this will happen again. Not in this form. But Nazism was so much more, and this is what we must talk about. If people think they fight Nazism by advocating Communism, they merely replace one repressive system by another. They replace one authoritarian state by another. No one can deny that Communist theories are, in principle, good. But so are the original ideas of capitalism and we all know where it has led us.

Even if we were to ignore the approximately 94 million people who died under Communism in the past, even if we were to ignore the widespread persecution, it would remain a fact that our lives would change drastically. The young who demand a change from capitalism to communism have, I would think, an iPhone in their pockets. And if not an iPhone, then some other smartphone from abroad that costs somewhere around 700€. Does this make sense? The lifestyle we have isn’t sustainable, but a communist life has nothing enviable. As ridiculous as our huge supermarkets are, would everyone be aware that we would have no product choice anymore? You would have to start buying what’s available, not what you wanted. This is one thing. You’d be on the waiting list for a flat and a car. If you got both within ten years, you could count yourself lucky. As communist countries have always strived for self-sustainability, people died of hunger because the plans failed. A planned economy was the norm which prescribed quotas in the production sector. You have a strict hierarchy in a communist society, not with the rich on top and the poor at the bottom, as is the case in a capitalist society, but with the Party elite at the top and everyone else at the bottom. Is this more enviable? Communist countries are almost always agrarian states because the main goal is self-sufficiency of food. The GDR was literally called the ‘state of farmers and workers’. A farmer had a higher position in the hierarchy than a doctor, and also a higher salary. A shift to Communism would render millions of people unemployed because the focus of the economy would shift from ‘desire’ to ‘basic necessity’. All the different clothes’ shops, the car retailers, the electronics’ shops, the small boutiques, the big shopping centres — all of it would be gone or drastically reduced. Communism doesn’t create wealth, it tries to sustain itself. The Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia is a perfect example of this. Entire cities disappeared and their citizens were sent to the fields because the country needed food more than wealth. And unless you’re a doctor or have an economics degree, your university degree will turn you into fair game because intellectuals have no place in a Communist society. Of course, it’s possible to say that Communist societies have so far failed to realise their real potential and that we have to learn from previous mistakes. But this is to deny the fact that Man always seeks to exploit and to dominate. Every political system is bound to fail, is bound to create the same detrimental living conditions. The only aspect that is different is who is at the top (NB: Xi Jinping’s combination of surveillance capitalism and communism should, in theory, scare the shit out of the young people who dream of a communist society.)

What France is moving towards is a standoff between those two extremes and in either case society will stand to lose. The extreme right reached 42% in yesterday’s election. And even the 58% for the centrist president was a vote for the normalization of discrimination, exclusion, and racism given Macron’s government’s laws and ideas on security, migration, asylum seekers, refugees, Muslims, and freedom and independence of research. To me, the point of no return has arrived. Hatred has become so normal that one of the most viewed news channels in France can announce that the lack of sunflower oil is due to Ramadan (and not due to the Russian-Ukraine war, which is the real reason). At the same time, on another major channel, you hear the theory that the high rate of suicides amongst French farmers is also down to Muslims stealing sheep from farmers during Ramadan. All of it with impunity. That the incumbent president debates an extreme-right candidate as normally as friends would do over coffee is only the tip of the iceberg. Every single fabric of society has been infested with this hatred, with this ignorance and neglect of the other. The only two possible options the French voting public seem to see — Fascism/Nazism and Communism — show nothing else.

France needs a coalition system in order to save its democracy. Anything else will be the nail in the coffin.

IV

When I could hear the protesters coming towards us, I was reminded of the major protests in Budapest in 2006. We were on a class trip and got caught up in the protest over austerity measures. The school tried to get us home, but our teacher decided that we would see this out. During the day, everything was fine. The nights, on the other hand, were scary. Our hostel wasn’t in the city centre, but a bit outside. I’ll never forget the sounds that came from afar.

In 2005, I was in England. In 2004, I was in Prague. Every year, each school class in Germany takes a one-week trip to a city in Germany or abroad (the latter once you’re at least 14 years old, but they mostly start this when you’re 16). Students go to Italy, to Ireland, to the UK, to Poland, any European country possible (interestingly enough for me, I also come across German school classes here in Rennes). For a week, you immerse in the national culture. Perhaps Germans are much more pro-European thanks to those trips because from an early age we are put in touch with other cultures. When I was 14, I had to visit a concentration camp to see the results of what hatred of the other (regardless of who a government and its people designate as one) can lead to. As a contrast, we were taken to foreign countries. No one told us that this was what democracy and freedom were about, but this is what I consider it today. It was a contrast that left a mark on me.

If the French consider the vote for the extreme right a protest vote, then they haven’t understood that this is not about them, even if this is what they believe. France must wake up. Their problems must be solved, no doubt about it. But we’re in the 21st century. This is no longer just about France. France is part of a larger community and it has to think this way. A victory for the extreme-right means the collapse of the EU. Like the British a few years ago, the French don’t think further than their own doorstep. The extreme right tempts them with a carrot, the non-natives get the stick. The French run after the carrot and put the livelihood of 447 million people at risk, especially that of the around 20 million Europeans who do not live and work in their own country; those Europeans, like me, who are married to other Europeans; those Europeans who have kids who grow up and go to school in a country other than the native country of their parents.

V

Reading the news today and hearing opinions on yesterday’s election is like living in a surreal world. People haven’t understood anything at all and celebrate the victory against the extreme right.

Even after the massacres, the war crimes of Boutcha we could all see, 42% of the French voting public were willing to choose a Putin-friendly candidate to become their next president. This should be a huge wake-up call to everyone, especially to the media who helped normalize the RN (and who do the same with Zemmour’s movement). France is a key pawn in Putin’s game, and the people either don’t want to see it or they’re quite happy to give Putin a massive victory. As Christian Bangel wrote for Die Zeit, if Putin would ever win against the West, it wouldn’t be thanks to his tanks. No, it would be through elections. He’s got his marionettes everywhere.

America and France — Trump and Le Pen — are King and Queen on his chessboard. If the French elected the extreme right in 2027 or even in 2032, Putin would win. With a single democratic election, he brings down the EU. If he could bring Trump and Le Pen in at the same time, NATO and the EU would be history. Putin has carefully prepared this for two decades, and this presidential election was not a vote on French issues. This is what the entire propaganda machinery on television and social media made people believe. It was a marionette election headed by Putin, and the West’s belief that their democracy was safe from influences led to one of the two EU lungs with its back against the wall. Putin had two options to bring down the EU: France and Germany. He knows that, while not immune, Germany has a much stronger resilience to the extreme right. Its electoral system is also relatively difficult to crack because of the presence of party coalitions. It would take much longer to bring down German democracy than it would take to take down the French system, which is fairly easy to torpedo. It’s as vulnerable as the US electoral system.

So, we have two main elements that are currently pushing France to the brink. First, its impossibility to accept its past, to take responsibility for its errors, for its misjudgements. It prefers to shroud its population in lies and creates easy-to-find scapegoats instead of facing the reality of a changing landscape of a nation state that was imagined and created when populations were a homogeneous mass. France isn’t the only country facing this challenge, which can be a positive boost for our democracies, but France is the only country that ascribes to this change such a huge factor in its own insecurity. Second, France is one of the key pawns in Putin’s war against the West and the French population is not aware of it, or not willing to believe it, to see it, to accept it. This should scare the shit out of people, and once they wake up, they will be scared out of their mind.

The next five years are not only dangerous because Macron has to walk a tightrope and, my guess is, that he loses regardless of what he does. But it’s so much more dangerous to think of the home and origin of our human rights to become Putin’s weapon in a brutal stealth war against the West, against everything that we stand for, against our democracies, our freedom, our rights, and, yes, our future.

VI

One other element that shouldn’t be disregarded is the colonial history of both the UK and France. Both had a a vast empire that spanned the entire world, which collapsed in the middle of the 20th century. Both countries struggle enormously with coming to terms with their loss of power. Whereas they quite literally ruled the world just 150 years ago, they are today one country of many. They’re no longer the reigning countries, but have instead become part of a group of powerful countries. This literal loss of territory and the perceived loss of power results in an inferiority complex, which, in both countries, leads to the nostalgia of the past and a desire to become as powerful as they used to be in the past. The two countries used to have power over millions of ‘subordinates’ and now they see that those very subordinates arrive in their countries, while it loses more and more in influence in the world. The French government’s repeated desires that France should again ‘become a great nation’ is a response to this inferiority complex. They want to take over control again (the British quite literally made this their Brexit slogan), not realizing that the more them stem themselves against this development, the more they lose power and influence. In his book La Grande Expérience, Yascha Mounk speaks about the opportunities and the challenges of the increasing diversity in our Western societies. What needs to be remembered is that both France and the UK are as diverse as they are precisely because of their colonial past and having a daily encounter with their former ‘subordinates’ is a reminder of everything they have lost. This, too, plays a role in a society’s voting behaviour. This, too, plays a role in people adhering to the theory of The Great Replacement. This, too, explains that France is focused more inwards, fighting its inferiority because this is where their trauma sits, than looking outwards and willing to embrace the diversity of their country.

J’ai vu des soleils fous
Que les gens croyaient jour —
Mais leur lumière était plus trouble
Que la nuit —(fn)

This is what Sayd Bahodine Majrouh writes in his book Le voyageur de minuit. In a hypnotic and poetic language, Majrouh’s traveler warns the people of the coming danger (emitted by ‘a sun’) of a leader, who promises necessary revolt and ensuing paradise. People take the new leader, the sun, as the arrival of a new day, a day full of light (happiness), but truth is that the coming sun is darker than the night.

Majrouh wrote his books (the second part is titled Le rire des Amants) before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But it is difficult to find a better allegory for the rise of extreme ideologies in our democracies, including France.

VII

(29.04.2022)

France isn’t a pluralistic democracy. It forces its voting public to make immoral choices. For twenty years, the people had to choose the lesser evil. They were not able to vote for who they really wanted. The two-tour system is working to the detriment of the people and undermines democracy. This year’s election showed it most drastically. On the one side, like in 2017, there was the extreme right, a party that has demonized foreigners, Muslims and the EU, a party that seeks to leave the EU (although they still refuse to call it a Frexit). On the other, there was a self-proclaimed centrist party that, over the last five years, demonized Muslims, leftists and researchers/academics. This isn’t a choice which a democracy should have to face. But the French electoral system is a system that favours radicalization. A vote for Macron was surely a vote against the extreme right, but it was also a vote for the normalization of hatred. It cannot be described in any other way. To survive the centrist party had to move to the right and they did it quickly and without even trying to hide it. Today, in spring 2022, five years ahead of the next presidential election, French society has been put with its back against the wall because the persistent vote against but not for is backfiring.

I find it incomprehensible that there is a presidential election with only twelve candidates in the first round. If it is a matter of money – running for president can cost up to ten million euros – then this is a guarantee that only the elite can run for president. Something else that aligns France much closer to America than to the rest of Europe. I’m not advocating for non-experienced people to run for office. Four years of Donald Trump were a perfect illustration of what this could potentially mean. Regardless, twelve candidates cannot be enough. It cannot be the goal of a well-functioning democracy to offer its voting public so little choice, especially given that so many parties are now so similar to one another (I’m speaking specifically of the right). Yes, it means to get engaged in the election, to read twelve programmes, minus those you wouldn’t even vote for in your wildest dreams. For some voters this is already too much. The second tour with only two candidates is so much easier. Not much choice. But this lack of choice is exactly what has pushed France to the extremes.

For German elections, including for the General Election, we can have a long, a truly long list of candidates. Depending on where you live, the list of candidates can consist of up to 35 people/parties. One could laugh about it but this is what a pluralistic democracy is about: choice. You don’t have to abstain (even though many people still do), you don’t have to invalidate your vote. There is always something or someone that you can vote for, and if it’s the party for grannies and grandpas (it does exist, this isn’t a joke), or the party for the protection of animals. These parties will never play a role in national politics, but they offer voters a way out of radicalization. They offer people to vote for whatever they believe in without selling their soul to the devil of fascism, Nazism, communism, or any other -ism. It is those parties, this choice that represents the bulwark against political extremism. It is this plurality that makes it much more difficult (but not impossible) to undermine our democracy.

And it is this lack of choice, this minimalist and elite selection of candidates that makes France so vulnerable to external and internal radicalization, just like the US. To bring down a system like this is fairly easy. This is why France needs a coalition system. The longer it keeps the current system alive, the more likely it is that France will turn into an authoritarian system if it isn’t already. The stakes are immense and I doubt that the French are aware of this. But who would take on an electoral reform, except for the extreme right, which seeks to cement its power?

VIII

The French Left is divided, splintered actually. It’s in a thousand pieces and it seems impossible to bring them back together.

The Right has a much easier job in attracting voters. Society has changed drastically over the last thirty to fifty years. Globalization has solved a lot of problems, and it created others. The Left was traditionally the harbour for workers, especially miners. The mines are closed. The workers are now others and in so many Western societies, the Left has collaborated with the Liberals to aggravate the suffering of workers, who can now be freely and easily exploited for the sake of the market economy. The Left has sold its values.

The Right has only one job to do: playing on fear. The Right uses psychology to a much more effective extent than the Left ever could. For the Left, it is about class, and this no longer has any meaning. Even if we do see the decline of the middle class, and a greater gap between the poor and the rich, the truth is that Western societies have become societies of individuals. This was the promise, and we’re here today. Even the market economy is today aimed at the individual. The internet is aimed at the individual. Everything has become individualistic, and during the pandemic we could witness in real time that this is what people thought about most: about themselves. The Left, the classical Left, cannot defend individuals. It has missed the train. It is still running after a class system that is splintering into more and more fragments. What’s left for the Left is social cohesion, but if everyone thinks only about himself, there is no social cohesion to even think about.

The Right can tell people that their very existence is being threatened. It doesn’t matter by whom. History has shown that the enemy could be anyone. The fear of being replaced, the fear of extinction hits something much more primal in people. Even if it does sound abstract from the outside, the theory of the Great Replacement, for example, does nothing other than trigger our fear of dying. What the extreme right, and more and more often also the traditional conservative right, proclaims is the death of the white race, the death of Christianity and of Western civilization. We’re not so much speaking about replacement here. What the extreme right is really talking of, is extinction and this triggers a primal fear of death which is present in every species on Earth.

So while the Left is trying to appeal to humanity and speaks about the importance of coming together, of working together because this communal work would lead to a better world, the Right needs only one sentence to convince its voters because they stoke animalistic fears. And it doesn’t matter how much good the Left wants to do, how much good it imagines for the future, primal fears always trump rational decisions. The more society polarizes, the more refugee movements the climate change will cause, the more both the traditional Right as well as the extreme right will profit. For France this is crucial in many ways. The next five to ten years will be chaotic and problematic on several levels. Even without an excess radicalization of society, the effects of the pandemic and of the Russian war against Ukraine, especially in terms of economic aftermath, would cause cracks in any society. The very beginning of the Arab Spring, to take just one example, goes back to a hefty increase in prices for basic necessities. Over time, it drew larger circles. All recent uprisings have their origins at rising food or petrol prices. All of those uprisings happened in poorer countries, but we should guard ourselves from thinking that things like this cannot happen in our countries. Our liberal societies have created a growing class of poor people who can barely make ends meet, if at all.

The 2020s will demand a lot of patience from everybody but there will nevertheless be calls for rolling heads. The problem I see in the context of France is its imprisonment in its own national bubble and that the people won’t see where all of the difficulties really come from, as opposed to where they think they come from. None of it is the fault of a politician, of a party, of a religious group. It’s a combination of factors that have both national and global origins. This is the very domino chain that the French media hide from the people. The important element that is missing in the French conscience is the bigger picture, the global pictures. Even if we were to say that China was the origin of the pandemic, it makes no sense to accuse them of eating bats and have crazy fresh markets. This would only satisfy the biased racist devil who sits on everybody’s shoulder (as open as we often call ourselves, we’re more biased than we think, if ‘only’ unconsciously). The truth is that we humans penetrate more and more into wild animals’ territories because of deforestation and more. A new pandemic could begin anywhere where Man is not respecting Nature’s laws. So this time, the pandemic might have started in China and yes, the authorities could have handled it better (another reason not to go for Communism because there is always secrecy about everything that damages the image of the party or the party leader – both extremes on the political spectrum have an issue with personality cults). Perhaps it could have been a lot less worse. But at the origin of the virus is not China but us: mankind. This is the whole problem with our thinking. We don’t continue the thinking process beyond the first clue, beyond the first reason, especially not in the West, and certainly not in France. An easy explanation will do, especially one that exonerates us of our own mistakes.

We too often think that we mastered nature, so whatever challenge we come across must be the fault of another human being. Nothing could be seen as clearly as this during the pandemic.

IX

I would like to return to my previous argument that the extreme right was exploiting our most primal fears. It is often said that people who vote for the extreme right were left behind by society. They lost their jobs, their income, perhaps got into a spiral of losing everything. But let’s not fool ourselves. Nothing of this is a valid reason to vote for the persecution of your neighbours. It is simply a vote that also appeals to another of our basic animal instincts: this time the instinct of domination. ‘I have the feeling of losing control, so I take back control, no matter the costs.’

The idea that only those left behind vote for the extremes was already obsolete during Hitler’s reign. How many of the monsters surrounding him had a university degree? It was not only the masses that lifted Hitler into power. It was also intellectuals with a good job, a good income, and everything else they wanted. The only thing they didn’t have was power. One shouldn’t forget that the Weimar Republic represented a period of extreme changes with extreme speed. The years between 1918 and 1933 were characterized by several seismic shifts, not only in politics and in society. Economy, medicine, the arts – everything underwent groundbreaking changes that make those 15 years look like one big chaos. It surely was disorienting and I’m certain that many people had the impression that things went out of hand, that they had to regain control over the chaos. Combined with the Dolchstoßlegende and everything connected to the loss of the war, someone promising order over this chaos was perfect. Hitler brought another war, but he also stopped the chaos (for the Germans). He stopped time and therefore the seismic shifts that had taken place the previous decade. All of a sudden, seismic shifts only concerned the persecuted, specifically the Jews, while life for the Aryan Germans ran a simplistic course that set out to retain old values and traditions. To break it down to a simplistic opposition: Aryans could live a slow life again, while the life of their enemies sped up by a factor of one hundred, so that by the time they were sent to the concentration camps they were already completely disoriented, because nothing made sense any more.

Today’s situation is not so different. In the last thirty years, but especially with the arrival of social media our lives (in the West) take place on the fast lane. What I’ve seen in my 34 years feels like what an average person of my great-grandparents’ generation would have lived through. There were so many more seismic shifts happening in my life than in the first thirty years of my parents’ lives. Everything is much faster. This also means that the seismic shifts come at shorter intervals. We have the feeling that things are out of control. To take back control, we need to slow down and what’s better for slowing down than becoming nostalgic about the past? Values and traditions have changed for as long as Man has existed, but whereas those changes used to happen over a long period of time (definitely not in one person’s lifetime), several fundamental changes happen in a short time frame even in young people’s lives. It could be perceived as an assault, so the solution is to press the stop button. The extreme right always offers a stop button. This is the main reason for people to vote for the extremes, it’s not because they have the feeling of being left behind. So many other people suffer from poverty and a life on the brink of disaster but they don’t elect extremists.

I myself would, according to journalists and so-called experts on the matter, have all the reasons to vote for the extreme right. I come from a poor working class who lost everything when their communist world was replaced by a capitalist one. I have a PhD, but I have no wealth. Instead, I still have a debt of 14,000 euros, which I won’t be able to pay off before I’m 45, the way things go. Only then would I be able to start saving money for property, something that would allow me to secure my pension because my (French) state pension stands at 120 euros a month at the moment, if I worked until the age of 65. I would get some state pension from Germany, too, but it will be so low that it wouldn’t change anything about the fact that I’ll be more than fucked in thirty years’ time. I face dying at my desk because I will never be able to afford retiring. I left my country for a better future only to wake up in a world that sends one crisis after another my way, each crisis diminishing the number of opportunities I have in my life because no one is getting younger. If I were to compare my current life to the ‘standard’ of, say, my parents’ generation, I have achieved absolutely nothing so far and I could be very angry because by the time I do reach the ‘standard stability of life’, I’ll probably have cancer or some other debilitating disease, which makes the rest of my life just as difficult as the beginning of it. True, this is all simplistic and exaggerated, but the point is that if the feeling of being left behind was a factor of voting extreme right, I would have voted for it since I became eligible for voting. I haven’t. I haven’t even thought about it, and even though I’m only one example, there are others who are the same.

In what way would it help me if the extreme right persecuted Muslims, or Jews, or whoever else? How would my life get better if the extreme right forced people to engage in heterosexual unions only? How would a dismantling of the EU help me to find stability? How would it help anyone to say, ‘You know, I don’t think the Holocaust actually happened’? How?

The extreme right, and yes, also the extreme left, are soothing sweets that people can suck on so that they sleep better. But sucking sweets won’t help your sore throat if the infection should be dealt with antibiotics. It’s like putting a plaster on a deep cut that actually needs to be stapled. A plaster won’t do to stop the bleeding.

X

‘Nous sommes tous dépendants, interdépendants, et la domination se définit comme le fait de rendre invisible cette dépendance, et d’inscrire l’autre dans un régime de non-reconnaissance.’ (Cynthia Fleury, 2020:131)(fn)

Allow me to begin with a personal anecdote. I admired my uncle, the brother of my father. My uncle was someone who made it in this new world, in this new system after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunited. He went to university, all the way to the PhD. He worked for theatre and German state television. It turned out that he was the scriptwriter for one of my favourite TV shows at the time. He moved all the time. I hardly ever saw him. The last time was by accident when my class took a day trip to the Leipzig Book Fair. He presented his latest book there and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We met for a tea around lunch and spoke about my plans for the future. I’m not sure I saw him again afterwards. We emailed her and there, but communication was generally limited. He was always too busy. In 2012, he got in touch to congratulate me on the start of my PhD. I would become an intellectual, like him. Four or five years later, he would change to such an extent that I would stand for everything that he hated.

To this day, I don’t understand how he could radicalize himself. He became ultraconservative, joined the evangelical Church, supported the extreme-right AfD. On social media, I could witness live how he radicalized himself a little more every month.

My uncle promoted the love of God, but only to heterosexuals, and only to white Germans. He became Islamophobe, outright xenophobe, anti-feminist in parts. He believed in the Great Replacement conspiracy and considered LGBTQ+ a serious threat to the general population. People like me, who don’t care which God someone believes in, whom someone sleeps with, as someone who is married to a foreigner, lives abroad and who simply doesn’t care whether someone I talk to is black, white, Arab, Muslim, Buddhist, gay, or whatever else (as long as this person is a good person), became a bogeyman, someone who was responsible for the decline of the West. He deliberately falsified facts in his online articles to push extremist ideas. I was stunned by how he discarded every single rule you learn as a PhD candidate. Besides, his falsification or his deliberate misinterpretation of situations was so obvious that it was easy to discredit it. It spent months doing it, I exhausted myself getting obsessed over it. I took every new article by him and annotated it, then posted it on his Facebook wall. I got into a shitstorm spiral by nationalists, which he sent my way, and deleted my corrections.

I couldn’t believe what happened to this uncle whom I admired for so long. He cut communication with me and my family in autumn 2020. I don’t know what’s happened since. I left the social-media bubble at the beginning of 2021 because seeing the daily hatred, the quick progress of radicalization, made me believe that this is what would be the end of the West. No, it won’t be the Great Replacement. It won’t be the fact that some men like to have sex with other men. It will be because too many people (and they’re not all unemployed and poor – almost the majority of conspiracy theorists during the pandemic, at least in Germany, were people who went to university and belonged to the middle and upper class) have absolutely nothing to do in their lives any more. They live in a rich, First World country. They can afford more than the basic needs. So many live in a big single detached house, of which there had been a real boom in the late ’90s and early 2000s. They have children, one, but mostly two cars, and a regular income.

For my uncle, I was part of what went wrong in Western societies. I was part of those who undercut traditional values and who accelerated the supposed decline of our Western world.

It was at the same time that I was contacted by a woman to enquire about my possible interest in a project on world cinema. She had seen my profile online and thought that I could make a valuable contribution to the project. The project itself wasn’t entirely clear, like any other project. You start with an idea and the end result is always different from what you had imagined. The main idea was, first of all, to bring together five, six writers/critics/academics and create a database of ‘masterpieces of world cinema’, a collection of films that stood out for us, especially those films with a transcendental theme or aesthetic to it. We would go from there, perhaps writing a book, journal articles, etc.

I was excited about this and I added a lot of films from my film list to the database. World cinema is all I watch, and over the years, I had found some genuine gems. I thought that I could give them more visibility with this project. During the first Zoom meeting with the other contributors, I noticed that something was off. I didn’t feel comfortable, I’m not sure what it was. I had the feeling that I was thrown into a group of critics who wanted nothing more than to reconfirm the established canon of films that are always mentioned, everywhere, all the time. A week later, the project leader, a Russian (the irony today…), began to delete some of my contributions. I saw that he also deleted all of my suggestions for improvement. I had realized that ‘world cinema’ meant ‘white, male, Western’ cinema, and nothing else. I couldn’t find a single woman director. There were no films from Asia or South America, let alone from Africa. I didn’t add my films out of a sense of equality or of justice-for-all. If someone asks me to compile a list of ‘world cinema’, I do exactly that. I cannot focus on Europe and the US, because this would be geographically too limited. At the same time, I had spent the majority of the previous ten years watching non-Western films. Just like novels from around the world, so do films allow you to travel without really moving. Over the years, I have come across so many languages, so many cultures and geographical regions I had not been aware of before. World cinema, just like world literature, attracts me because it shows me the full breadth of humanity. There has never been a political reason behind what I read or watch.

Shortly after I realized the deletions, I noticed that I was suspended from the project. The project leader accused me of ‘supporting the processes of the destruction of human civilization’ and of being a danger to Western society.

What do my uncle and the Russian project leader have in common? They have everything. But they’re scared of losing the power they have always had as white natives in their countries.

These are the standard voters of the extreme right. They’re not left behind. They think that they will be left behind, they think that they will lose the status they’ve had for as long as their countries have existed. They’re not necessarily extremists from the get-go, but they become extremists if they do not accept the changes that are happening around them and become stubborn gatekeepers for what they think their society has always been like, which, of course, is nothing but hearsay because everything has always been in flux. Nothing has ever been stable. When people like my uncle or the project leader speaks about ‘a society like it always has been’ they show that they live outside the classic time-space-continuum which we all live in. What I mean is that they consider their country, their nation, their society as stable, a bit like the pyramids that were built 4,000 years ago and that you still find on the exact same spot they were built on. But while the pyramids still stand where we expect them to find, Egyptian civilization, Egyptian society has undergone dramatic changes within the last 4,000 years.

Societies and nations are not pyramids. They’re organisms which constantly renew themselves and change, they adapt in order to survive. The very refusal to adapt in evolution has always led to extinction in the long run. Bringing the argument back to voters of the extreme right and of what they consider ‘traditional Western values’, it’s those very people who lead our democracies, our societies to the path of annihilation. It’s not those who adapt, who seek and support change that drives the decline of the West. It’s those who don’t budge on their conceptions of what is tradition, what is the norm, which God people should believe in, which gender people should have and who they should love. Once more, the threat to our democracies, to our future doesn’t come from without. It mostly comes from within, from the people who surround us.

In a 1963 interview with Günter Gaus, Hannah Arendt described the change in her position towards the evil that blanketed Germany from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. The problem wasn’t about having enemies (in this case the Jews’ enemies were the Nazis). Everyone has enemies, she considered it perfectly normal that there were people who hated other people. What changed her thinking was that colleagues and friends turned their vest, and this was, Arendt explained, a decisive factor for her to consider the events in a different light.

I, too, have for many years looked at the growing radicalization and discrimination of minorities not only in France, but in the West in general, from the outside. I had taken it as a process to observe and to study until it had become personal in 2020. That I would experience hatred here in France, I had been fully aware of since a university secretary told me back in 2010 to ‘go back home, there is no place for you here’. I had learned quickly that French society has only two modes: loving themselves and hating everyone else. But, as Arendt said, although it wasn’t easy to live under this constant, subtle everyday racism, it was part of life to have enemies. Everything changed when my uncle turned his vest. At that point, the cataclysm of our societies became personal and today, I can no longer not say anything. I would become complicit in what is happening and I cannot let this happen.

XI

‘La plupart des démocraties ont une longue tradition d’exclusion ethnique et religieuse.’ (Yascha Mounk, 2022:15)(fn)

Democracies, the way we know it today, are young. Compared to other forms of governance, we don’t have that much experience with a democracy that grants voting rights to everyone, freedom of expression and religion, and a welfare system. Truth is, millions of people had to die, so that we can today enjoy this privilege to live with each other as human beings and not as enemies. But today it seems as though it wouldn’t pose a problem to many people if we were to go back to a system of privilege to the few and oppression for the many. There are several reasons for this.

Part of the frustration certainly comes from democracy’s tempo. Perhaps it is the slowest form of government. Everything takes its time because in a democracy, new laws and rules need to be discussed in parliament and have to pass several levels of governance within the democratic system. On the one hand, all these different layers lower the risk of an immediate dictatorial takeover. It prevents one person to make all the decisions. On the other, it allows society to find a consensus to lay the best possible groundwork for cohabitation. When I see French protesters in the streets demanding ‘immediate’ change, I cannot help but think that they haven’t understood the very concept of a democracy. ‘Immediate’ changes are only possible in dictatorships, and if the government does force an ‘immediate’ change by using the infamous clause 49.3 (emergency clause), then the people are back in the street to demand an ‘immediate’ withdrawal of that change.

The pace of democracy hurts itself at the tempo of the outside world. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the ensuing globalization, everything sped up. We got another push on 9/11, when 24/7 news began to become the norm. Today, it is almost impossible to think of a world without round-the-clock news, regardless of whether they come through television, radio or social media. The latter, in combination with the arrival of smart phones, accelerated once more the (perceived) tempo we experienced and still experience. People can get everything in an instant today. If things are too slow, they become impatient and angry. The instantaneity of people’s lives doesn’t correspond to the progressive development within a democracy. If the head of a country signs a law today, it’ll take years before we see the results of it. It seems perfectly reasonable to ask in this case, whether a democracy (the way we know it) was the most adequate system in a fast-paced world. Would a dictatorship not make much more sense?

For those who demand immediate changes, dictatorships (even if they don’t want to call it this way) make much more sense. You get things done quickly. Laws are passed and come into effect immediately. If you take to the streets to demand ‘immediate’ changes, you’re not an advocate of democracy but of authoritarianism, not because you take to the streets, but because you demand something that no one, not a single party, not a single politician, can ever give you in a democracy, and everybody should know this. The more immediate the demands become, the more society is pushed to the extremes. Democracy is a contemplative form of governance that needs thinking ahead, and as the world grows more connected, the more ripple effects each law may have have to be considered. Quick changes, as much as I personally wished they happened, are only possible if we have no regards for our neighbours, our loved ones, the fellows in our country, on our continent and in the world. The radicalization we witness today is also an expression of the frustration with a system too many people deem too slow to respond to a fast world, which actually hasn’t become faster at all. Only our perception of it has. The frustration is a response to a Fata Morgana, or to an artificially created feeling of acceleration. We created this artificial feeling and today it is also us who react with frustration to it. So why do we want certain groups of people in our societies to suffer because of our frustration with something that we have all created together?

French philosopher (and psychoanalyst) Cynthia Fleury argues that our democracies are in a transitional phase from childhood to adulthood, to maturity. As I said above, the democratic system, as we know it, is still very young. It is quite literally a child, with the European Union even more of a baby. To say, as was the case in pre-Brexit UK, that the EU wasn’t up to its promises and that it didn’t evolve quickly enough into a direction they would like, is like abandoning your one-year-old because s/he cannot walk yet (you read somewhere, possibly on social media, that s/he totally should, so there must be something wrong with your child!).

XII

So, why did those 5,000 young French join ISIS? Because they saw what the country they were born and grew up in, had done to their grandparents and their parents; because they experience everyday racism and Islamophobia in their own country; because they have no sense of belonging to a society which should technically also be theirs. None of this justifies joining a terrorist group. None of this justifies a terrorist attack, none of it justifies killing other people. What it explains, however, is why an extremist group – in this case the Islamic State – managed to recruit so many young French Muslims. Any terrorist group could have done the same, because it is extremist groups that give disoriented and socially excluded people (especially young people) a sense of belonging, a perspective, a sense of life. However terrible this perspective or this sense of life is (to us), it is something that French society can’t give those people. On the contrary, every day and with every new discriminatory law they push them further away.

When the migrants and refugees arrived from Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s, French authorities put them up first in camps, then in the banlieue of big cities like Paris. There was no intention of integrating the migrants. The banlieues were conceived of in such a way that there would be a hard border between ‘natives’ and migrants. Today, those migrants’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are French citizens, but they’re still living separated from the rest of society. It’s a vicious circle. From the beginning, the French showed those people that they weren’t French, that they never would be, and that they should never have come in the first place. The result was that they focused on their own people, they stayed together because this was the only way they could have a normal life. This behaviour and attitude, on both sides, never changed. The real tragedy is that they’re all French citizens today, and yet there are two societies which just cannot come together. This, too, explains why France just cannot progress. No country would be able to (see the US).

I came to live in France in seven years ago. I’m not integrated and I no longer have the intention to make an effort. I do not plan to stay for longer than I must. I stopped exhausting myself, I stopped asking myself what was wrong with me. Remembering my own ERASMUS semester, and that of other students, as well as speaking here and there to foreign students who all say that they just cannot get any French to speak to them, I came to realize that the problem is not me. It is the society that I’m living in.

I could see and feel so often that I wasn’t welcome – whether it was neighbours, in the supermarket, the optician, etc. – that I began to realize that there was nothing I could do. As the three men shouted after me and my husband in 2017: France to the French, and, as the discrimination of French Arabs and French Muslims shows, to the white Christian French only! This treatment, whether it comes from an individual or a society, would in other contexts be described as a toxic relationship. You’re kind of dependent on another but you know that it’s driving you beyond everything you can handle. The relationship ruins you. You become angry, hopeless, depressed and in some people it may result in suicide, murder, joining a terrorist group and what else not. Again, none of this justifies a criminal act. But the West, and this time I’m speaking of the whole West, needs to look at the reasons for why young people are willing to blow themselves up. And while the reason is perhaps not necessarily easy to digest, it is so much more beneficial to everyone if society accepted its own responsibility in those acts instead of blaming the Quran.

Since 9/11, Muslims worldwide have had to deal with daily persecution and discrimination. The countries that they had called home, persecuted them from one day to the next. It’s not that Islamophobia hadn’t existed before, but 9/11 accelerated and intensified it. The exceptional ‘War on Terror’ became the new routine. It was enough for people to go to pray five times a day, or for men to grow a long beard to become suspicious. It is what we saw after 2015 in France and what we see today in China, the exact same processes with the exact same explanations. Instead of looking at the reasons behind terrorist attacks, which aren’t that difficult to understand (see above), America and, later, France have found a terrible shortcut in their logic. The reason behind the attacks was, supposedly, the incompatibility of Islam with ‘our values’. This simple, single sentence, uttered so often by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, justified arbitrary arrests, no access to lawyers, traumatized children who saw their parents being kidnapped at gunpoint (one should be allowed to describe it this way) by special forces, and, in larger terms, it led to the creation of a completely lawless space (Guantanamo) where Muslims could be tortured and held for nothing other than a slight suspicion of belonging to what the West called a terrorist group. The binary us (capitalists) – ‘them’ (communists) was replaced by ‘us’ (liberal democracies) – ‘them’ (Muslims). Muslims weren’t people we needed to understand, they were people to be fought.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not only led to the complete destruction of two countries. They also set up an us-them mentality within our own societies. I remember the advice French authorities gave to its people. We should please notify the police if we knew someone who started learning Arabic, or stopped drinking alcohol, or stopped eating pork, or (for men) who grew a beard. I still see me sitting at the dinner table with my husband and my sister-in-law and I joked that they needed to flag me with the police: I learn Arabic, stopped drinking alcohol and stopped eating meat. You could denounce any vegetarian or vegan person who’s interested in Arab culture, this is all it takes. It is this easy to blow up social cohesion into pieces and replace it with general suspicion.

One day in autumn 2007, shortly after my arrival in Scotland, I went for my first walk up a hill that was right in front of my house. I wanted to see the waterfalls I suspected there and took my camera with me. Just before I had to turn left to follow the path up the hill, I saw a young man in traditional Muslim clothing coming out of a house. I was scared. My body reacted with anxiety just by seeing this man. I had never seen a traditionally clothed Muslim before. I had a Muslim friend back in Germany but no one in her family dressed traditionally. It took a moment before I realized that I had been manipulated. I had never had any negative experience with Muslims (on the contrary – even to this day!), so the feeling of anxiety was planted there by the persistent fear-mongering of the media since 9/11. As tolerant as you think you are, you cannot avoid being manipulated, especially when you’re only a teenager and all you hear about Muslims is in one way or another linked to terror or murder. It was on this day, I still remember it, that I promised myself to watch closely how the media was influencing me. I still do to this day, and I ask a lot of questions when I read something, even more so today with fake news having become almost the norm nowadays. I realized on that very day that there was a dangerous development going on. Nothing has changed since, it’s only got worse, and this not only applies to Muslims but to any group that a society considers an enemy.

One other aspect that struck me was the complete absence of attempts at drawing conclusions on the West’s persecution of Muslims and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is the West unwilling or incapable of seeing that the terror attacks we experience come in waves? Of course, especially America is quick at announcing the death of a terrorist leader or the dismantling of a terrorist group. But all of those announcements have traditionally ignored the hatred and despair each and every single bomb spread across those two countries (and beyond). The children who, back in the early years of the wars, lost their mother, their father, their grandparents, their homes, perhaps even limbs (‘collateral damage’), are adults today. They have either resigned themselves to their fate, or they have decided to avenge their losses. The most extreme revenge is to bring the violence we have spread back to our societies. The wave of terror we experience is also dependent on the age of the children whose lives we have ruined and still ruin today. They only need to grow up.

The West’s military intervention as well as the persistent discrimination and persecution of Muslims (and today, it is mostly France which is engaged in this, which is why they have four trials at the European Court of Human Rights ongoing) has a boomerang effect. Again, either people are incapable or unwilling to look beyond the obvious. I personally think that it is the latter.

XIII

‘The history of modern democracy is, at bottom, a history with two faces, and even two bodies – the solar body, on the one hand, and the nocturnal body, on the other. The major emblems of this nocturnal body are the colonial empire and the pro-slavery state.’ (Achille Mbembe, 2019:22)

It is the victorious who write history. It has always been like this, which is why so much of the history we learn at school is only half the truth and this half-truth is being used effectively by each and every country to its advantage, whatever its goals are. As I said above, France’s history is a history of glory and resistance. A particularly telling paradox is the country’s obsession with Charles de Gaulle, a hero who organized the resistance from a safe spot in England. It is the same man who organized the massacres of thousands of innocent Algerians (some estimations go as high as 30,000 victims) in the infamous Sétif and Guelma massacre in 1945, shortly after the end of the world war in Europe. While Europe celebrated the end of Nazism, France engaged in barbaric massacres away from the public eye. It was also under de Gaulle’s reign that Algerians were massacred in the streets of Paris in 1961. La Seine était rouge. I remember this book from my French literature and culture class at university.

De Gaulle turned the Algerian Independence war into a bloodbath. But you won’t find much about this, and if there are still questions as to why the French government is so hostile towards post-colonial studies at university, then de Gaulle’s dark side certainly plays a role. But not only.

History is written by the victors, and they often omit important parts. What I find striking is that the history of colonial independence was written by the former empires. Where did the victorious go? Maybe a lot of issues post-Empire societies face today would become clearer if we only listened to those who bore the brunt of expansionism and exploitation? Maybe all our societies would benefit if we were to learn of the worst in Man?

We did a painful but necessary excavation work regarding the Nazi machinery, and its persecution and plans for the full extermination of Jews. A lot of what we know today, we know from those who survived. There is an incredible amount of eyewitness material available in several institutions around the world, on top of written material. Thanks to all of this work, we’re able to see the warning signs much more clearly today (although some people/countries see them clearer and faster than others, depending on the (dis)advantage you have from seeing it – cue China’s treatment of the Ouïgours and the West’s dependency on China’s economy).

The effort the West put into working through twelve years of terror (still with the curious absence of a proper debate on France’s and England’s complete failure of their appeasement politics, however, and given the same approach to Russia in recent months, it’s time that we do talk about this), would be the minimum the same West could do to look into its shameful colonial past. Although we didn’t manage to eradicate antisemitism with this work, the working-through process helped us a lot to grow as societies. It’s a standard psychological process. There is trauma, so there must be a process of working through to reduce the risk of its repetition.

None of this can be said about the ‘working-through process’ regarding colonialism and imperialism. The West never attempted to work through this, it is of no interest because it’s still benefitting from neo-colonial structures. Just as US society is still very much characterized by segregation, albeit legally abolished in 1964, so is French society still very much in an imperial mindset, a mindset in which the French stand above everyone else. This no longer works on the world stage because France has long been replaced at the top by other countries. But they can at least reenact this superiority in their own country, in their own society, and this shows in their treatment of foreigners. And for as long as colonial and imperial history isn’t written by the actual victors, by the victims, by the survivors and then taught as such in our schools, nothing of this superior thinking will disappear. It will continue to be used for political means, it will continue to be used for propagandistic means.

What I learned about colonialism at school was all about glory. What I learned about colonialism as an adult was appalling. Taking a class on the Colonial Film Archive (British Empire) for one semester during my Master’s was an eye-opener and fed into my growing discontent over how Europe handles its brutal past. I grew up feeling guilty and ashamed of what my country did. This burden wasn’t easy to carry, yet I’m glad that I have this guilt because it helps me to stay clear of treating others as though they were inferior to me only because of their skin colour, their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality. I’m grateful for this burden. Not every German is, however. Nevertheless, the forced engagement with our history has caused a tectonic shift in Germany. But even if Germany were immune of antisemitism (which it isn’t) and even if Germany would never again persecute a minority to the point of trying to exterminate them (which I hope doesn’t happen again but hope is all I have), there would be no point in injecting this responsibility, this guilt into one nation only and all the others can sit back and relax, despite their barbarity. This works like a vaccine (coming out of a pandemic … you can tell): there is no point vaccinating one country out of 217, if you let the virus of hatred circulate freely in the other 216. What does the world gain by this?

All it shows is that we still do what we have always done: minimal effort to secure short-term peace and improvement. Long-term thinking has never been our strength. Perhaps this is the reason behind the saying, ‘History always repeats itself’: the unwillingness to improve things for the long-term and not only for tomorrow.

XIV

‘We do not want to remember. We want genocide to have begun and ended with Nazism. That is what is most comforting.’ (Sven Lindqvist, 1990/2018: 141)

Another infuriating factor is the persistent, if partly unconscious, comparison to the Holocaust to decide whether a persecuted people deserve rescue or protection. One explicit example is China, which not so long ago, told Germany that it wasn’t in the position to comment on China’s persecution of Ouïgours because, after all, Germany killed six million Jews. This was expressed in a press conference, and albeit mind-blowing, this is exactly what’s going on. The Holocaust has become a disgusting benchmark against which other genocides are measured to decide whether anyone should react to it or even remember it. Six million Jews did not die, so that countries can today continue cleansing their territories of minorities or ‘unwanted’ people.

The Holocaust does not exonerate the cleansing of peoples during the colonial era. The Holocaust does not exonerate the ethnic cleansing against Ouïgours in China. The Holocaust does not exonerate the ethnic cleansing against Rohingyas in Myanmar. The Holocaust does not exonerate the genocide in Rwanda or the genocide in Srebrenica. The Holocaust does not exonerate Israeli violence against Palestinians.

Tu avais raison.
Les hommes vont oublier ces trains-ci
Commes ces trains-là.
Mais la cendre se souvient.(fn)
(Niki Giannari)

This is what happens if you only vaccinate one country against one disease, forgetting to vaccinate all other countries against all other diseases. We may be quick to react if a society or a country were to launch a large-scale persecution of Jews today, but we’re incapable of applying what we learned to any other group. That the world has moved quickly to a large-scale persecution of Muslims (see India, China, Myanmar, East Europe, France and more) doesn’t seem to set off warning sirens. When countries were hesitant to react to Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews (and not only hesitant, they even refused to take in Jewish refugees who fled persecution – think of the Ms St. Louis that was turned away by the US in 1939 and many of those who were on board found their death in Auschwitz later) it was nothing but a confirmation that no country really liked the Jews anyway, if I may say it this way. The hatred of Jews was deeply anchored in Western societies. That so many locals across Europe were willing to help the Nazi Sonderkommandos to round up Jews and to kill them, should today be of particular interest because we have the same situation again. Especially since 9/11, every non-Muslim country has become hostile to Muslims, specifically the West, because they’re considered Islamists and terrorists. That China, India and Myanmar can engage in ethnic cleansing in broad daylight can only be explained by complicity in action, just like in the 1930s and 1940s. Same approach, same attitude, different religious group. Even the arguments against Muslims are the same that were used against the Jews at the time. The world is in the process of setting the stage for another large-scale genocide. Hopefully not in my lifetime. But I do wonder: if six million Jews had to die so that antisemitism is no longer as rampant as it used to be (it sadly hasn’t been extinguished), how many Muslims will have to die for societies to stop their Islamophobia?

A standard process of demonization of ‘the other’ is to assign to them a so-called lower rank in the pyramid of civilization. The Nazis could only do what they did because they thought of the Jews as not human. To kill a human being, especially on such a large scale, is only possible if the perpetrators thought of their enemies as non-human, because anything else would mean that they would kill one of theirs. We see the exact same procedure nowadays, and I cannot help but think of Judith Butler’s two questions: ‘Is a Muslim life as valuable as legibly First World lives? … Is our capacity to mourn in global dimensions foreclosed precisely by the failure to conceive of Muslim and Arab lives as lives?’ (Butler, 2006:12)

Western societies (not only, however, as India is marching in large steps towards the organized and state-sponsored persecution of Muslims) must answer in the affirmative.

We could bring up many examples, but one contemporary one is Europe’s treatment of refugees. The continent fought hard against having to take in (Muslim) refugees primarily from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Sudan and Eritrea. The language used in the media back in 2015 was inhumane, and except for one politician – Angela Merkel from Germany – no one had the guts to say: ‘yes, we must help. It’s our duty to help.’ Merkel paid heavily for her decision to help people in need. This was the first time that I realized that not all lives have the same value. Indeed, it was the first time I realized that there was value attached to human beings. Seven years and over 20,000 dead in the Mediterranean later, Europe welcomes over five million refugees without a single hiccup. White, Christian lives have a much higher value, and while FronTex pushes back refugees in the Mediterranean Sea and lets them drown like animals and while Polish border guards beat back black and Muslim refugees (international students!) streaming in from Ukraine, white Ukrainians are welcomes with open arms. When Europe said in 2015 that ‘the boat was full’, it was nothing but blatant racism. It reminds me of a song by Swiss singer Faber:

Das Boot ist voll,Schrein’ sie auf dem Meer
Ja, das Boot ist voll,
Schrein’ sie vor dem Fernseher.

It’s easy to sit on your sofa in front of the television and say that the boat is full. What Europe shows in 2022 above everything else is that it’s a racist and Islamophobe continent. I value the work of hundreds and thousands of people who are willing to help refugees, no matter where they come from. But one needs to ask: if we take in white Ukrainians who flee from war but not the Blacks who flee from the same war (who just happened to be international students or migrant workers), what else is it if not racism in broad daylight? And this is what happens if you do not look at your past and see what happened to people who you considered worthless. You just keep repeating it. Let’s rescue the Whites, let the Blacks perish under Russian bombs… This is the continent of democracy and human rights. I can only agree with Georges Didi-Huberman, who wrote: ‘L’histoire particulière et tragique qui s’est jouée à Idomeni au printemps 2016 apparaît bien, dès lors, comme le symptôme d’une Europe malade de sa propre généalogie’ (2017:86).(fn)

And I end this section with the words of Judith Butler: ‘To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? What are the cultural contours of the human at work here? How do our cultural frames for thinking the human set limits on the kinds of losses we can avow as loss? After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?’ (Butler, 2006:32)

Epilogue

“Si l’on s’en réfère à Dominique Wolton, le concept même de majorité n’a plus de valeur au niveau mondial. Il n’a plus de consistance face à celui de minorités. Si penser la cohabitation culturelle mondiale est si difficile, c’est précisément parce qu’il faut « admettre que, face au nouvel enjeu politique, celui du respect de la diversité culturelle, les petit pays pauvres peuvent avoir autant d’importance que les grandes puissances. C’est la revanche des identités culturelles contre le hold-up dont elles ont été l’objet par les industries du même nom.” (Cynthia Fleury, 2005:173)(fn)

When in the not so distant future, historians write about what happened in the 2020s, they will surely ponder how much space they should give to toppled statues across the West. Amongst the many events that characterized the year 2020 was an explosion of discontent, primarily by those who had had to suffer from racism across many generations, and their supporters, those who see and agree that our societies are not which they pretend to be. Conservatives, politicians of the right extreme but also leftists, albeit to a smaller extent, were quick to name this uprising: cancel culture. From their point of view, a minority in society wanted to rewrite ‘our’ history, and this was unthinkable.

The truth is that, perhaps for the very first time in a long period of relying on baseless lies, the extreme right spoke the truth. But not in the way they had probably thought of.

The toppling of statues was indeed about cancelling. It was about cancelling a culture of ignorance and hypocrisy. It was about cancelling history written by victors to make space for a history of victims. It was about cancelling an identity constructed on omissions and half-truths. It was an attack. And it was an invitation to be, for once, honest with ourselves.

I mentioned the case of Charles de Gaulle earlier in the text. Sir Winston Churchill would be another. Two statesmen without whom Europe’s identity today would be unthinkable. But those who suffered, those who were at the mercy of those statesmen, and those who studied are fully aware that both are wonderful examples of Europe’s hypocritical identity. Western societies become more and more diverse, which, to me, is exciting and a great opportunity to dare take this step from a young democracy to an adult and mature democracy. It’s a parallel that I cannot help but think of. When I was young, where I grew up, I saw only white people. I saw only married women, heterosexual couples with children. No one prayed. Everything was homogenous. This is also the picture of a democratic nation state in its infancy. Now that I am an adult I see Blacks and Arabs. I see same-sex marriages. I see homosexual couples with children. I see Muslims going to their Friday prayers, and I see so much more. Our societies are maturing. It won’t happen without pain, but it’s a great chance.

A large number of today’s migrants are children born of the West’s failure to be humane and rational. The least we owe them is an ear, or the willingness to listen to their stories, because it is their stories that made us who we are today.

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