Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
‘Fascism’ is best described as a kind of “radical authoritarian nationalism” which saw its roots in the early 20th century of Europe. It thrives on ‘majoritarianism’, where the more powerful (either with numbers or with resources) genuinely feel that there is no place for the weaker or for the minority sections. In the wake of neo-fascist trends emerging in several parts of the world today, it is good to take a close look at some of the characteristics which are embodied in this ideology; these include:
• to create a false sense of ‘nationalism’
Fascists normally try to unite their followers by creating a feeling that they and the country are one. They use loose terms like “they are the nation”, “they are for all”, “the country comes first”. These terminologies are conveniently lapped up by their followers. Sooner or later, they create the bogey of an “outside” enemy which helps in rallying the people.
• to denigrate the minorities / weaker sections
In the context of the above, fascist ideologies subtly and openly denigrate, demonise and attack the minorities and the weaker sections of their society. These groups just do not have a place in their scheme of things. At times, they are conveniently ignored and at other times, they are made to feel as though they are a major burden in the country; they are “terrorists”, “they are out to convert you” are familiar words. The way Hitler exterminated the Jews, the Catholics, the gypsies, the nomads, the homosexuals, the writers and the poets of his times helps to illustrate this point.
• to take-over / use the media for their agenda
Among the first take-overs by the fascists is that of mass media and communication. They do so either directly or through one of their honchos from the corporate sector. Once media is in their control, it is easy to manipulate gullible citizens. The way Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Hitler regime was able to use the media so effectively on behalf of the Nazi regime is today termed ‘Goebbelsian’. The fundamental axiom is “to tell a lie a thousand times and people believe it as the truth”. What fascists conveniently do is to highlight issues of others and sweep under the carpet their own; eg. a gangrape which takes place in an area which is not ruled by them is highlighted several times over by the media whereas a dozen more serious crimes in their own territory hardly find a mention.
• to intimidate and harass independent writers / poets and social media activists
Even in the most totalitarian State, there will be those who cherish freedom of speech and expression and will not hesitate in writing about the truth and what will ultimately help others; fascists cannot tolerate such people and they are systematically hounded, denounced and even put in jail.
• to take on human rights defenders and others who take a stand
Fascists brook no dissent. They are unable to deal with those who highlight their shortcomings and take a stand about it and also those who support the victims of injustice and accompany them in their struggle. So what is foisted on these groups of people are false cases, subtle leaks of “abuse” of power and money. Human Rights Defenders are always on the radar by fascist forces. Fascists are always afraid of the truth!
• to manipulate education and distort school textbooks
This is one of the easiest ways by which fascists manipulate tender minds and provide them with an ideology which is one-sided, subjective and even perverted. History becomes something to be tampered with; replete with lies and falsehood. School textbooks then seriously violate the rights of children. Fiction is highlighted as historical facts. Those who conform to the ideology are made the editors / writers of school textbooks.
• to divide and rule
This is a time-proven strategy of fascists anywhere – their ability to play one against the other; very specially from among those who seek to oppose them. Their methodology is very simple: they co-opt a few, through favours and other privileges and make these co-opted their ‘spokespersons’. This creates great confusion among the rank and file of the opposition and it also helps in quelling voices of dissent.
• to create fear and panic
Fascists are known to create fear and panic among sections of the masses. They normally start the fire but conveniently blame the other for this. Vulnerable groups (particularly the marginalized and minority communities) are really afraid to take on fascist forces because of long term repercussions to their lives, families, possessions, their work and livelihood. Panic and fear put people on the back-foot. Often key leaders or spokespersons are either killed or literally made ‘impotent’ through false cases and frivolous charges.
• to infiltrate realms of governance
Fascism is not a phenomenon that happens overnight. It begins in innocuous and subtle ways; those who follow their ideology are placed in ordinary and in key positions in the bureaucracy, in the judiciary, in the media, the police and in other significant institutions. Over the years, these officials are able to deliver; before one realizes fascists have their people running and controlling everything that matters.
• to be wedded to the corporate sector
The corporate sector which is normally market-driven and who seek their own profits are normally wedded to fascists who can take quick and hard decisions on their behalf. So if a certain environmental clearance is needed, a multi-national knows that they will easily have the clearance even if they violate standard norms or their land acquisition is faulty. Several from the corporate sector will do plenty of flag-waving for fascists who are able to deliver on their terms and conditions. Fascists have plenty of resources available to them.
• to defocus from ground reality
When the ground reality becomes too hot for them to handle, fascists normally try to defocus in a very clever way – they change not only the tune but also the song. If one group is affected, they cleverly speak about “the whole country”. If the issue is about communal violence, they use concepts like ‘development’. Simultaneously, they will also ensure that their affiliates and associated organizations propagate their agenda blatantly.
The above are just some key characteristics to enable us to understand how the fascists operate. It is important that all of us look around and in a calm and mature way, do our part to ensure that the values enshrined in democratic traditions and upheld by the fabric of pluralism, are not compromised anywhere.
30th July, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)