We have an ethical responsibility, one human to another, to take seriously the gut-wrenching developments of 2016 and together chart a new course of human rights, peace, justice and dignity.
Trumpism. Brexit. Duterte. Putin. Assad. ISIS. The ‘alt-right’. Post-fact journalism. Refugee exoduses. Xenophobia. On its own, each of these phenomenon presents a severe challenge to efforts in international relations to further peace, justice and human rights.
Yet in 2016, and especially with Western traditionally liberal democracies coming under threat from the rise of right-wing nationalism and white supremacy, there appears to have been a monumental shift in how these discrete events have come together at this point in time. To be sure, no one knows how this apparent reshuffling in the geopolitical order will play out. We can’t. By virtue of being human and thus not having accurate fortune telling abilities nor time travel machines, we simply don’t have the means or ways to say with any certainty what these shifts will mean for international peace or conflict.
But like the memes pervasive on social media about how bad 2016 is and has been, there may be a collective realisation, as yet poorly thought out that the times we are living in are the stuff Chinese curses are made of. We may not know what’s ahead, the specifics may not be clear, we can’t yet see how the balance of power will settle after this storm. But what we do know is that if the portents of recent developments have any meaning, we would be foolish not to pause and consider what the potential for harm and destruction could be. Beyond the chuckles and gallows humour about ‘this year, am I right?’ it is important to consider and reflect on the meaning we can and should take from these events. Not only on a global geopolitical level, nor even only at a country level, but at the level of self and community.
For me, the meaning is clear.
This is a moment in human history to pause and reflect. It is a moment to take a step back and consider what it means to be human. Again. To consider what it means to live together with people, with those who look, think, talk, worship, see, hear and do like us and those who don’t. It is a moment to start a journey of redefining for ourselves the meaning of humanity, what values we hold ourselves to and to which we should be held. Declarations of human rights, global charters, conventions and treaties have spelled this out before. We had previously agreed that we, human to human, are worthy of dignity, respect and in possession of inalienable rights. But yet here we are, fighting battles that we thought we’d fought years, decades and global wars ago.
The dream of inclusion faces a nightmare reckoning. And it may yet morph into humankind’s biggest battle yet – the battle against our own worst selves at a time when our own destruction rests a button away.
For me, the illusory access to rights and dignity since the end of WWII currently mutating itself into this ugly rise, once again, in extremism, nationalism and a return to race superiority is symptomatic of systemic failure. It is not something idiosyncratic to villains du jour on the global stage. It is, instead, chickens coming home to roost, a moral reckoning of our enabling of injustice and oppression while individuality and consumerism has foregrounded all meaning. That in the second decade of the 21st century it is still radical to say ‘structural racism is real’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’, and, more locally, ‘white privilege is powerful’ and that ‘some persons of colour have great privilege’ is testament to how we have failed to truly come to grips with the societal and intersectional vectors that divide us through harm, prejudice, discrimination and violence.
What we need to do is reshape inclusion. We must tackle and deconstruct structural oppression, racism, misogyny and privilege in new ways, ways that none of us may yet know. We must challenge, forthrightly and vigorously, illogical notions of post-fact journalism and alt-right movements and call them to task for what they really are – lies and neo-Nazi white supremacy. We must build inclusion starting with ourselves. We must reach out so that our own family and friend circles contain different hues, genders, and sexual orientations. Not for its own sake (tokenism never works), but to enrich our shared commonality. We must do this consciously, and deliberately, to push back against malicious actors whatever their motivation, to stand for the goodness of humanity. We must build inclusion from ourselves to community, to society, to country, to stand on the right side of history. We must do this not because it will bring peace and justice but because it is right. And it will show our children that love does indeed trump hate. But not on its own – love and peace and justice and dignity trumps hate when we fight for it.
Ayesha Fakie is the HOD for the Building an Inclusive Society Programme at IJR