Are we heading towards racial conflagration?
On Sunday April 29 I travelled by rail from Kent Station Cork to Dublin Heuston. Somewhere north of Thurles I was forced to think of the meanness and nastiness of how human beings can behave.
There were few passengers in my coach. Some seats back I overheard a conversation. At one stage a man said that he had no time for people from Poland and a few minutes later I heard him criticise Arabs and pronounce on their behaviour: 'I can't stand f…… Arabs'.
I was on the verge of telling him that I'd prefer if he did not speak in such a way about people. But on second thoughts I decided to say nothing. He was a tall strong man. I'm still wondering did I do the right thing. I was a coward not to object to the explicit racist behaviour of the passenger.
The previous day in The Irish Times, Berlin-based journalist Derek Scally wrote about the increasing number of attacks committed against Jews in Germany. There are now close to two attacks every day in Germany against Jews and Jewish venues. Since the end of World War II the former West Germany was meticulous in making sure that the Holocaust could never happen again on German soil. Former East Germany, while condemning what happened, attempted to forget its past wrongs.
Scally in that same article reported a 60-year-old man shouting at a Jew in Berlin before Christmas: 'Money is all you Jews have on your mind. You'll all land in stupid gas chambers. Nobody wants you here.' The terror of those words resonated in my ears when I heard my fellow rail passenger talk about the 'f…… Arabs'.
For most of my life racial prejudice was something that happened in far off places or in the past in Nazi Germany. Last week on a US radio station a talk show presenter used the expression 'not our people'. He tried to ameliorate his tone or sentiment but he was expressing downright racist views. The same station on a daily basis abuses and denigrates people who they believe do not support their political ideology. It would be impossible for such a station to obtain a broadcasting licence in Ireland, certainly at present.
Are we heading towards a violent racial conflagration? It certainly seems that some sort of genie is currently being released from the bottle and slowly but surely it is becoming okay to make racial slurs. There is something about the Trump presidency that seems to give people a confidence to condemn 'the other', to blame them for all their woes. We always seem to need a scapegoat and in the era of Trump, maybe Brexit too, it's getting easier to say nasty things about those we consider 'not our people'.
My saying nothing to that man on the Dublin-bound train reminded me of the lines penned by German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller:
'First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out/Because I was not a socialist./Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out/Because I was not a trade unionist./Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out/Because I was not a Jew./Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.'