Murari Sharma: Confront Rise of Racism in West

Recently, someone I know told me that a white customer asked her to go back home at a store in London, where she works. Such incidences have substantially increased after the 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union.

No wonder, England and Wales recorded 80,393 hate crimes in 2016/17, a spike by 29 percent over the year before, according to the Home Office. Eighty-five percent of them were broadly race related — 78 percent race and 7 percent religion related.

Racism is not new in the West. For various reasons, it had taken a back seat for some time, but now it has come back with a vengeance. Should we care about racism in the West?

Indeed, we should stand up to racism everywhere, particularly in the West because what happens in the West spread across the world like wildfire. Western countries set the global political standards and control global commerce and institutions. If unchecked, the resurgent racism will lead to bloodshed in Western countries and elsewhere.

There was a time when Westerners treated non-Whites as sub-human. They liquidated the Red Indians, Aborigines, Maoris, Eskimos, etc., appropriated their land and riches, and consigned them to reservations and to the margins of society.

They colonized Asia, Africa, and Latin America, plundered their wealth and resources, and enslaved their citizens and treated them like animals. In many places in India under the British Raj, for instance, the Indians and dogs were not allowed in. The locals could not ride the same bus and train and could not go to the same school in South Africa.

World War I weakened and World War II destroyed European powers, and colonies successfully removed them and secured independence. The United Nations, established to prevent wars and promote human rights of all, nudged racism from the center. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans stood up against racism and colonialism and won independence and equality for their citizens.

Some pursued violent means to do so, like in South Africa and Vietnam. Others shamed the foreign powers to do it, like the Indians under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. Yet, much blood was shed in the process.

But racism remained very much alive in Western countries in a major segment of the population, only constrained by the law in the book and propriety in public. If racism were not alive, the celebrated British leader Winston Churchill would not have caused the great Bengal Famine to feed the White British and let the poor Indians die of hunger, arguing that they had never enough to eat anyway.

Or Enoch Powell would not have made a name for himself by being openly racist. Or Ku-Klus-Klan and other White supremacist groups would have vanished from the earth’s face.

In recent times, racism has risen its ugly head once again in the West, and it is being mainstreamed under the patronization of several rightist and far-rightist Western leaders. Start with the US President, Donald Trump, and the United States.

Though Trump has barely escaped personally implicating himself as a racist, he has done everything racists often do. He had paid fines for discriminating against the blacks in his properties. He has hired ultrarightist as presidential advisers. He has demonized minority people, including a senior judge, and patronized White supremacists groups.

Remember his comments on the Charlottesville mayhem where a White supremacist drove a car into the peaceful protest against the far-right rally or his comment about an American judge of Mexican ancestry?

More broadly, a large number of Americans entertain racism in private; otherwise, Trump would not have been the president.

Now Britain. Brexit, the British decision to leave the European Union, is largely a product of Britain’s closet racism. I have already cited the rise racist hate crimes in the country. While some like the UKIP leader Nigel Farage have been openly racist, a large section of the British leadership and public proved to be racists privately.

Elsewhere in the West, too, racism has raised its dirty head. For instance, in the 2017 presidential elections in France, the National Front President Marie Le Pen secured more votes than the socialist and conservative candidates. She lost to Emmanuel Macron, of En Marche, a new Party, bagging 34 percent votes in the second round.

Norbert Hofer the right-wing, nationalist Freedom Party secured the largest number of votes in the first round of the presidential election last year in Austria last year and lost the ballot in the second round by a small margin.  The same party clinched the third place with 26 percent votes in the parliamentary elections there this year.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party, emerged as the third largest in the German parliament in the 2017 elections. Its leaders, Alexander Gauland and Frauke Petry, are in leagues with Farage and Le Pen.

How will this phase of racism end? In bloodshed, as in the past. For example, if push comes to shove in the minorities in the West will fight back. The disenchanted have been already joining the terrorist groups. Terrorism will increase, and so will the revulsion towards minorities, in a spiral.

Sure, those who resort to extremism own the blame for their choice and action. However, society at large that has failed to integrate them or pushed them inadvertently to extremism cannot remain blame-free either. The net effect would be increased acrimony and bloodshed.

Therefore, racism ought to be contained in the West, before it gets out of hand, to protect humanity from another cycle of violence and bloodshed. Though only Western people can do it, the voice of the rest will be important to give heart to the fair-minded Westerners and widen their support in the West.

Britain’s statistics are frightening. In other Western countries too, hate crimes have increased significantly in recent time. If fair-minded people across the world do not join forces to defeat it in the West,  the resurgent racism there will engulf the rest of the world quickly as well.



Murari Sharma: For whom the bell tolls∗

The German politician Otto Von Bismark has said politics is the art of the possible. The latest effort of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) cooperate for the coming provincial and national elections, leading to their potential merger, has rocked Nepal’s political landscape.

Some people in Nepal complain when political parties quarrel and when they cooperate. Some people have ridiculed it as a futile effort. Some have criticized it as a marriage of convenience without any principle. Some have suggested that either the CPN (UML) leader KP Oli or the CPN (Maoist Center) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s clever stratagem to destroy the other. Some have feared it as the potential game changer.  

Indeed, the collaboration could end in one of those three possibilities. It could be a short-lived marriage of convenience. Or a futile exercise, as the Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa has said. There is ample evidence for it. Marx had called for the unity of the labor worldwide, and this means the unity of communists around the world. Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founding leader of the CPN, also tried to keep the CPN together.

However, communists worldwide and the communist of Nepal have consistently quarreled and their unity has fractured. Established in 1949, the CPN had about 17 factions, all calling themselves as full-fledged parties. At the same time, the communist parties have also merged with each other and expanded to become the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center).  Anyway, the effort toward unity is a good step.

It could well be that Oli and Dahal are trying to destroy each other and take the mantle of communist leadership. Both have proven their smarts: Oli by rising to the top of his party, becoming a nationalist visionary with some quirk, and winning the local elections for his party.  Dahal has been the leader of the Maoist insurgency and of the largest party of the first Constituent Assembly, as well as the prime minister twice. 

Some, mostly left-oriented pundits and politicians, have sincerely hoped that the new alliance could be a potential game changer. For some, change of government could be a change in the game. But for me, the new alliance will not be a game changer until it leads to two conditions. First, if the two leaders and parties have not been seeking to destroy each other.

The rumor is that they would try to destroy each other, and the budding collaboration is a trap. If that is really the case, then they would try to destroy each other through political propaganda and even violence between the supporters of the two parties. 

Second, if the new alliance robustly nudges the country towards a relatively stable and strong two-party state, something Nepal desperately needs for its progress.

Nepal needs a stable government, along with the peaceful transition of power from one government to another, for political maturity and socio-economic progress. While the first-past-the-post election does not provide a guarantee that one party won the majority in the house, proportional representation often results in unstable government, subject to whims and fancies of smaller coalition partners that have little to lose if the incumbent government fails to deliver. 

There is a genuine fear in the Nepali Congress Party that the attempt to set up a wide leftist tent could put it out of power for several years. Evidently, the fear prompted Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to call the meeting of non-communist parties recently. While only time will tell whether a broad non-communist alliance would actually materialized, it will be good for stability, democracy, and the country. 

In addition, smaller parties have also clamored for unity and consolidation. For instance, several Madheshi parties have merged to form the Rashtriya Janata Party. Now, the ∗and the Federal Socialist Forum have also agreed to form an alliance for the provincial and national elections. Smaller communist parties have also formed a coalition recently. 

This is a good thing. Rather than ridiculing those leaders and parties that have been seeking to come together, we should encourage them, so Nepal evolves into a strong-two-party state. However, it might not be easy for different parties to engage in seamless cooperation, let alone obtain such integration. Even if the senior leaders choose to follow the ambitious path, junior leaders and local political workers might find it difficult to palate.

We know it from the NCP experience. Prime Minister Deuba separated from the mother party and formed a separate one when the NCP President Girija Prasad Koirala did not cooperate with him 2002 to extend the state of emergency to combat the Maoists. Though Deuba reunited with the mother party later, the two factions could not integrate at the district level. So for a long time, there was 60-40 division between the two factions.  

It is premature to suggest whether the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center) would last or result into their eventual integration. They might be the victims of history or they might beat the past and start a better future together. But it will only be good for the country if they integrate, and the NCP also forges a grand coalition of non-communist forces.

I do not know for whom the bell tolls if the UML and Maoist Center effort fails. But I have no doubt that politics is the art of the possible. Nepali politics has sprung many surprises in the past, so nothing should be ruled out just yet.

∗I have taken the title from one of Ernest Hemingway’s novel.