As I contemplate the potential consequences of a renaissance of nationalism across Europe and the wider world, fuelled significantly by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Putin in Russia and the fearful prospect of Marine Le Pen becoming the next French president, it is difficult to find shafts of light to penetrate the ensuing darkness. The complacency that blinkers us from seeing the potential implications of political decisions, movements and the law of unintended consequences is at best bewildering and at worst very disturbing. Allied to apathy, a shift to right-wing policies which are unchecked and unchallenged by inept opposition parties, threatens to undermine democracy and fragment civil society and cause the breakup of communities, nations, unions and continents.
The Slovak president Andrej Kiska at last years Forum 2000 conference in Prague said:
Only a madman would want to roll back the centuries of developments of human rights and civil society. Yet today …there is a clear and present danger which many of us thought we would not see reincarnated again. It is the rise of nationalism, extremism and racism. … We suddenly feel as if the unpleasant history of Europe is returning.
Forum 2000 is an annual gathering of politicians, leaders, academics and other thinkers to meet together to discuss the important issues facing the world. In his keynote address Kiska went on to address the power of words, which he said can make peace but also war.
He cited populist words used by politicians in the Brexit campaign in the UK, which have led to an increase of xenophobic sentiment and violence toward people from Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And what is the reason? Words. Words by politicians, he said, adding that people need to be concerned about words against any religion or group of people because words can influence and trigger damaging attitudes and actions.
How we need to listen to those whose words bring life and hope and be on our guard and discerning and reject those whose words breed division and hatred. I was encouraged yesterday to read the address given by Emanuel Macron, the French former economy minister, France’s youngest presidential candidate as he addressed thousands of people in Lille who had gathered to listen to a politician who was addressing the fears that people are experiencing at the prospect of Marine Le Pen and her far right Front Nationale growing in popularity.
Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves! he said. True words of liberté, égalité, fraternité ~ words of life and hope.
In a week where attention will focus on the presidential inauguration of the man of dubious and unseemly reputation, whose popularist and skilful oratory has appealed to the masses and ignited in some circles the fires of racism, sectarianism, sexism and a disturbing rise in nationalism, I remember a truly great American, a Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. It is fifty years ago that Newcastle University awarded Dr Martin Luther King an Honorary Degree, (the only British university to do so ~ good on you Newcastle!, my home city and where I was awarded my Masters). Sadly, only five months after the ceremony, when back in America, King was assasinated. Listen to the words of a truly great orator, whose impromptu speech oozes with prophetic passion, reflecting the heart of God and the vision of his kingdom here on earth, where racism, poverty, war, inferiority and injustice have now place.
May the Lord raise up men and women, who, following the example and inspiration of Martin Luther King may speak God’s truth to power in our day and generation.