This column appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on January 11, 2016.
Educators and parents all know that if you tolerate unacceptable behaviour for a while it will escalate, as children tend to explore their boundaries, waiting for the adult to respond. If consequences are not clear, boundaries are stretched: spare the rod and spoil the child.
We can see a similar thing in politics or society, where cultural change can creep up on you. What at one time could rightly be considered unacceptable, or part of a lunatic fringe, has now pushed its way into the mainstream.
In the wake of the refugee-debate, a Facebook group was set up on the island, with the aims of highlighting the worries some people might have had about accepting refugee families into the island.
Seems reasonable right?
After all, there are numerous aspects people could rightly be worried about. Would the newcomers be able to integrate properly? Does our island have the facilities to deal with some of the traumas that refugees might bring with them etc.? A debate about these issues will always be a valuable thing.
Unfortunately, no proper debate ever developed. The Facebook-page has descended into shocking anti-immigration rhetoric and xenophobic hatred of non-Western immigrants. There are no attempts at understanding or even thinking about possible solutions to this massive challenge, there is simply preaching to the choir: “Immigrants are evil and all Muslims are a threat.” There are even calls to violence and the use of anti-democratic methods, not just against the scary refugees with different skin colours, but against anyone who dares to question that hatred. It seems only a matter of time before the ignorant hatred of a tiny minority of people on Facebook has some consequences in the real world.
This is all pretty frightening, because we have seen this type of rhetoric fall into fertile ground across Europe where groups of people, suffering under the blows of austerity and economic chaos have convinced themselves that there is an “us” that must be protected from “them”. Fascism can creep up when a culture fracturing along social lines is encouraged to unite against a perceived external threat. It’s the terrifying “other” that gives the false impression that there is an “us” to defend. This is exactly how fascism spread in the 1930s.
Is it time to demand from the States to put into practice the new Discrimination Law, to try and push back the incitements to racial and religious hatred we have seen on the “We are the 82%” Facebook page?
Having come from a society in which diversity is celebrated and now experiencing the heart-warming and welcoming attitudes of the great majority of Jersey’s community, it seems to me that intolerance is the real threat to ‘our’ way of life.