The other pandemic

There has been another racist attack on property in Galway, where I live:

Arsonists have burned down a house that the local council was preparing for new residents. A family from the Traveller Community were about to move in.

Late on Sunday night, just before 5 am, attackers set the home ablaze. They used accelerants to ensure the fire took hold, and placed bales of wrapped silage at the gateway (presumably by tractor or bulldozer) in an apparent effort to impede the fire service from gaining access. Their crime — i.e., their hate crime — was elaborate and carefully planned. It was undoubtedly a group effort.

As such, local residents must surely know who is responsible. So will they now come forward and assist the police with their inquiries?

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

This, after all, is the part of Galway that gave us Noel Grealish.

* * *

Ireland has seen a rash of arson attacks in recent years, aimed at (among other targets) facilities set aside to house asylum seekers. We have also seen a mixed-race couple hounded out of the country simply for appearing, with their child, in a supermarket advertising campaign. We have thugs brazenly shouting racist slurs at passers-by in the street and performing Nazi salutes at their so-called “free speech” protests. We have national politicians claiming that Ireland is “losing its culture” to immigration, warning us that Nigerians might be stealing all our money, and running for election on what amounts to an anti-Traveller platform.

While Ireland has always had its own take on xenophobia, there is little doubt that the current global climate has ushered in a new Golden Age of online racism. This has surely helped make our problems with discrimination much worse in recent years.

In the aftermath of Oughterard, I wrote about “celebratory racism.” In short, this is when racists use humour, semiotics, and a repertoire of social-identity signifiers to cultivate solidarity with like-minded morons on social media. “Team-building for bigots,” I called it at the time.

Ironically for the nativists concerned, none of this online culture is indigenous. Our flag-toting Irish “patriots” are are indistinguishable from their fellow fascists in the US, the UK, Germany, and elsewhere.

These self-styled anti-globalists are themselves part of a global meme culture.

But irony aside, we really need to pay much more attention to the transnational dimensions of racism. This threat from outside is real.

* * *

As people around the world tire from the stresses and strains of COVID-19, we are beginning to see some disturbing spikes in bigotry. In several countries, protest-movements against anti-coronavirus restrictions are being hijacked by far-right extremists. Ireland has been no exception.

It seems the people who hate masks often have common cause with the people who hate minorities. Heck, they’re often just the same people.

The far right have been framing COVID narratives to their advantage for months. They have used the pandemic to promote all their usual objectives: to foment distrust of expertise; to undermine the media; to scapegoat bureaucrats; to demonise regulation and red-tape; to blame foreigners (for creating the virus, for keeping it secret, or for stealing “our” vaccine knowledge); to promote conspiracies about white genocide; to stigmatise “otherness”; and to call for the closure of borders (which they refer to as “the best vaccine“).

I guess if you just don’t care about your fellow human beings, you will be able to find many ways to rationalise — and express — your sociopathic misanthropy.

This is why we see an upsurge in racism during a time of COVID crisis. Global turmoil triggers our instinct for self-preservation, and presents new ways to scare people into accepting xenophobia. Fear, like the coronavirus, spreads quickly.

Hatred, after all, has always been highly contagious.

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