Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Brussels and Beyond: American Frauke Petrys

CCTV image of Brussels airport attackers 
It's been hard not to feel personally affected by the events which unfolded in Brussels in the early morning hours yesterday as much of the east coast of the US slept.

On Tuesday morning I awoke to the news on BBC Radio about the 30 people killed in the two separate attacks on a subway car and in the airport terminal and the news has been replayed nearly nonstop ever since.

In my mind, on radio, Web and TV.

My mind was already occupied with the news that my eldest aunt passed away over the past weekend, then on Monday night one of my best friends from high school called me to tell me his mother was suffering advanced Alzheimer's disease and that his father was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

All of these events have conspired to remind me how easy it is to get caught up in the realities of more superficial things like politics, paying bills, or the unavoidable everyday dramas that accompany work and life.

It's not that such things aren't important, but how quickly they fade to the back of one's minds in the face of loss; which is so much more tangible and finite.

Brussels subway bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui & brother Brahim
As a fellow human being, my heart obviously goes out to the victims of the horrible attacks executed by terrorist bothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui with the help of other ISIS supporters.

My thoughts go out to their families, friends and the Brussels and European residents whose lives will forever be altered by these atrocities.

As one of the millions of people who lived in New York City during the attacks on September 11, 2001, I know the inescapable sense of numbness that lingers long after the dead have been buried, buildings reconstructed and the attackers brought to justice.

So I can say with some degree of authority that one of the darkest aspects of events like the attacks at the World Trade Center, Paris, or Brussels is the subsequent effect on human nature.

We've seen it in Europe as the devastating civil war unleashed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has sent hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians fleeing for the stability and safety Europe in wave after wave of human migration.

And as our own 2016 presidential campaign has demonstrated, we see the effects of terrorism reflected in the resulting rise of extremism and intolerance that seeps into the political landscape.

Alternative for Germany (AfG) leader Frauke Petry
Take Germany for example.

It was only about two weeks ago when mainstream German parties like the Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, saw troubling political shifts in state parliamentary elections across the country when the far right-wing Alternative for Germany party or AfD came in third in local elections.

As a March 19th article in Der Spiegel on the fallout from the recent German elections observed, AfD party leader, businesswoman Frauke Petry (pictured above) generated quite a bit of controversy back in January when she openly espoused shooting at refugees lining up at German borders.

She and other AfD leaders have also questioned "whether Africans have genetically pre-programmed reproductive behaviors that are different than ours." 

Which, frankly, sounds like dusted-off Nazi eugenics theories of genetics and race - and we know too well what that kind of thinking led to.

Here in the U.S., Frauke Petry and her AfG party might not be familiar to many Americans, but the divisive tone of her anti-immigrant rhetoric and embrace of intolerance and violence is all too familiar to those of us disturbed by the same kind of disturbing rise in right-wing fringe politics.

Just hours ago, President Obama took Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz to task for his bizarre reactionary calls for massive surveillance and "patrols" of Muslim neighborhoods in the wake of the attacks in Brussels.

Trump and Cruz; united on Islamophobia
Predictably, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump not only backed Cruz's calls for unprecedented profiling of American Muslims, as The reported, he also used the media focus on the attacks in Brussels as an excuse to polish the dust off his oft-maligned calls to ban Muslims from traveling to America and for the torture of terrorist suspects.

I guess nothing brings Republicans together quite like hatred for people who don't look like them or worship as they do.

So clearly we've got our own Frauke Petry's here in America too, only they're not fringe political leaders; they're both leading presidential candidates in one of the two major political parties that make up America's two-party, representative Democracy.

The Alternative for Germany party and the Republican party may be separated by an ocean.

But as far as their scapegoating religious and racial minorities, and stirring up anger and violence amongst a frustrated populace that's been largely disenfranchised from fair-wage increases and a share of the economic recovery and prosperity enjoyed by the 1% over the past decade, they flow from the same sludge-filled sewer.

We may speak different languages in Germany and America, but channeling fear and anger onto "others" who struggle at the lower end of the economic spectrum is a language both countries can speak with remarkable ease.

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