An explosion of hatred and intolerance hit the world this year. From post-Brexit Britain to America’s Trump era, from ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, mass protests by Islamist extremists against the Christian governor of Indonesia’s capital, to genocide in Syria and Iraq, the entire world seems convulsed in a poisonous atmosphere which, in its most extreme form, leads to mass killings and severe persecution.
Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. One only has to recall recent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and Kosovo to know the potential of man’s inhumanity to man. The Holocaust serves as a constant reminder of how quickly sophisticated Western civilisation, too, can turn to evil.
And as we recall during Advent and prepare for Christmas, the baby born in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem was born a refugee amid Herod’s slaughter of innocents. Indeed, even as the Prince of Peace makes ready to leave the safety of his mother’s womb, assassins are being commissioned to hunt him down. Perhaps that’s why, within 24 hours of celebrating the Nativity, we commemorate the first Christian martyr. Hatred is never very far away.
Nevertheless, there have been few times in recent history when almost the entire world faces the same challenge: how do we live with differences? Political, racial and religious diversity in mature, established democracies was until recently taken for granted and celebrated, at least on the surface. Now, there is a fragility to it.
The brutal murder of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament who epitomised public service and humanitarian spirit, was the most shocking illustration, but widespread social media threats received by many public figures reveal a deep malaise in Britain’s political discourse.
The institutions of democracy are strong enough in Britain, the United States and across Europe to withstand the current coarsening of debate. The rise of populism is alarming, but in well-established democracies the fall-out can be minimised through the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press. Those who incite hatred and violence can be brought to justice.
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