I suppose it was the imagery of the rat that told me.
The prime minister of Poland had already claimed that refugees bring disease. Alien people infecting the host population. A people-disease. Spoken by the head of a government in…. Poland.
There is the already extant second class legal status. Then there are the demands for new forms of distinction – to discern the outward, physical, somatic markers which, for various US politicians, mean “proven Christians” as opposed to Muslims may be, to some extent, accepted into the body politic, on licence. Separated out from the rest of the suspect group. Selected.
Such physical distinctions do not exist, of course. So they have to be sown on, applied, embroidered, stamped onto clothing, ID cards, coded into National Insurance numbers, etc. Laws have to be passed to enforce compliance – though the surreptitious census of the population may be done secretly, with bureaucratic efficiency, in data bases, which are simply digitised versions of the filing cabinet and card index of old.
Jobbik and the neo-Nazi right already talk of cleansing operations. So do the Greek police and Golden Dawn. That is also the idiom of police in Calais and in municipal council meetings in many parts of the continent.
And then there is the family likeness between anti-Muslim racism and the modern anti-Semitism of the interwar era – an existential threat to civilisation from without (the scheming world Jew and the hateful Muslim world) and from the “fifth column” within. Always ready to blow us up, or stab us in the back.
Anti-Muslim racism – like anti-Semitism – is more than just a ramshackle of prejudices against newcomers or settled immigrants. It provides a rabid worldview, irrational at core and incoherent, but sufficiently plastic to “explain” growing war, social breakdown, political collapse and economic dislocation.
The stuff about culturally not mixing, taking jobs, large families on benefits and so on is par for the course for post-WWII anti-immigrant racism in any case. In the good years.
It’s the other factors, combined with deepening and generalised war, which fell sharply into focus in my mind recently giving an interview to a US progressive publication. Others may well have spotted the resultant picture earlier.
The elements of the kind of biological, eliminationist racism (not to mention general crisis and rising authoritarianism) of the 1920s and 1930s are in place in Europe, to an extent – not in pockets on the far right, but quite widespread in public, polite society – and in a way I have never known.
It no longer strains the imagination to ask the question – could it happen again? The “it”, that is, to which we have said over the decades, “Never Again”.
The answer is: Yes, it can. It’s no longer a cliche or a lazy call to arms on the left.
We must stop it happening again. For in the sense of accumulating the necessary conditions for it to take place – “it” has already begun.