Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual, and that stands for a centralised autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
In the process of looking up the above definition on Merriam-Webster’s website, I’ve made my contribution towards making fascism Webster’s ‘Word of the Year.’ The word that has been looked up the maximum number of times on the website receives that prestigious position of word of the year. While announcing the likelihood that fascism may become its word of the year, Merriam-Webster took to Twitter to send out an entreaty-“there’s still time to look something else up.”
In related news, Oxford Dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’(relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief) its word of the year, while dictionary.com has gone with xenophobia (dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries). The pattern is hard to miss.
Why this fuss about a ‘word of the year,’ you ask? They tend to reflect the socio-political situation we are currently faced with, though to a largely limited extent. A single word fails to capture the plurality of experiences across the world, but does serve as a mirror image of the ideas that are bandied about in conversations or in the media, virtual or otherwise.
While 2016 cannot be described in a word, our concern lies primarily with the circumstances that have led several thousand across the world to take to the internet and find out what ‘fascism’ or ‘xenophobia’ might mean. Acknowledging such words as ‘words of the year’ would involve accepting the unfortunate idea that such circumstances predominate in the minds of a large number of people, and this can be a scary prospect when it comes to terms like fascism. The world definitely hasn’t forgotten what happened the last time fascism gained ground as an ideology.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights Chief, claims that, “The rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists meeting in illicit clubs. It is becoming part of normal daily discourse. In some parts of the USA and Europe, anti-foreigner rhetoric full of unbridled vitriol and hatred, is proliferating to a frightening degree.” This rhetoric is evident in Donald Trump’s plan to build an “impenetrable, tall, physical, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” between the USA and Mexico, and in his suggestion of a ‘register’ for Muslims.
Though Trump occupies pride of place in the media, he isn’t the only one sounding the death knell for liberalism. European politicians like Germany’s Frauke Petry and Sweden’s Jimmie Akesson have been consistently opposed to ‘open-door’ refugee policies. An 89-year old survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp recently took to the internet to appeal to people not to vote for a far-right Austrian politician, Norbert Hofer, as their President. She draws similarities between Hofer’s politics and fascism of the pre-second world war period. There have been allegations that India is also currently experiencing fascist undercurrents.
Though Trump has the backing of the people of a democratic nation, having been elected President in a valid election, similarities have also been drawn between Trump’s politics and that of Hitler’s. These similarities, seen not just in Trump but also in several politicians across the world, can be quite appalling.
Maybe looking up other words will help avoid the negativity associated with fascism and xenophobia? But doesn’t the “fear of a name increase fear of the thing itself?”
Maybe we should all look up tolerance instead. Our collective amnesia seems to prevent us from recalling what it means.
Image credits: Uproxx