When evil sits at the table with us

by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

Following we publish the speech Gariwo Chairman Gabriele Nissim held at the international conference "The responsibility of our time. The challenge of GariwoNetwork", which took place on 16 November at the Fondazione Cariplo of Milan.

Why did we write the Charter of Responsibilities? Why are we inviting all our friends to discuss it and give their contribution in the form of attachments and proposals?

Why do we hope that the Charter, with the creation of the Network, will be able to indicate the spirit of the Gardens of the Righteous in Italy and worldwide?
For two reasons, which may seem to be contradicting each other.
We are living in very dangerous times, which could end up throwing us into ruinous conflicts and overwhelming sorrow in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
And yet we all have an opportunity to reverse this trend because nothing is granted and every one of us within his space of responsibility can be the arbiter of his own fate. Like in the movie The Sliding Doors by Peter Howitt, which develops an idea by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, we can get on the tube that leads us the right direction or take a wrong route. Things are not decided only by chance. It is us who catch the tube.

Sixty-thousand, as recalls Francesco Cataluccio on newspaper Post's Tuesday edition, were the people who marched in Warsaw against Moslems and Jews, in countries where the latter have been annihilated and only a few Muslim migrants have been accepted. Though, 400-thousands demonstrated in September for Europe and the democratic Constitution. This was not mentioned by the media because only bad news make headlines.
Shakespeare's Hamlet comes to my mind, with the verses: “The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,

That ever I was born to set it right!

Nay, come, let’s go together.”

I think of some protagonists of history, during the rise of fascism and communist totalitarianism, who took up the burden of acting against the trend to restore order in the time that had gone out of joint.
If there had been no Winston Churchill in Europe, who in 1940 stated before the British Parliament that he would never accept any separate peace with Germans and urged the Britons to resist the Luftwaffe shellings, most probably Europe's tragic history would have headed for disaster.
Then, no great power resisted, when Germany annexed Austria, and they all collaborated in the partition of Czechoslovakia. At the time, the Soviet Union allied with the Führer to divide Poland.
Instead Churchill, by winning the Battle of England with the Royal Air Force, compelled Hitler to fight on two fronts, and paved the way to the great Alliance of Russia, the US, and England.
“If Churchill, in 1940, had not kept Great Britain at war, there would have been no war to fight” and we would have found ourselves faced with all another history, as historian Timothy Snyder keenly observed.

Such an extraordinary woman as Milena Jesenska, so well described by philosopher Laura Boella, comes to my mind: she put her mind, body and soul, first to resist the surrender of the intellectuals in her home country, then to help the Jews, then also to denounce the Stalinist trials. In the concentration camp of Ravensbrück, as remembers her friend, Margarete Neumann, in her capacity as a nurse she rescued dozens prisoners doomed to the final solution, without ever yielding to the blackmails of the communist inmates who wanted to isolate her friend. So she wrote in Prague in the Thirties, taking up the responsibility of her time in the face of those who imagined that peace would be endless and did not see the demons that were heading their way at the gates.
“These days I realized that politics in human life is as important as love… so long as completely apolitical individuals won't consider “politics”, i.e. what occurs to us, at least as important for themselves as private events, the big crowd will let itself be taken away by the events with indifference, without taking into consideration that those will head their way into their apartments and take a place at their own table in front of the bowl that is filled at noon.”

What was yesterday's time like? In the name of Nazi and communist totalitarianism, millions people were killed as if it were a matter of pruning weeds from a field. Through this very effective metaphor, Zygmunt Bauman used to describe the Nazi project.
Yesterdays' big problem was that a lot of so-called “decent” people had really believed that a world without Jews, without thinking beings and without the multiple features of human plurality could become happier and more prosperous.
So arose the concentration camps, because enemies – i.e. human beings – were everywhere and were increasing more and more. This is why it was necessary to eliminate them.

What is the present time like? Suddenly, in the face of the complex issues of globalization and never addressed inequalities, people have started thinking that hiding behind the rampart of their own ego, nation, and even region – like in Catalogna – would lead to deal better with the current challenges. Thus, without even noticing, we find ourselves again in the face of the culture of the enemy and the division between us and them, the good and the bad, both in politics and in human relations.

What’s the meaning of Trump’s slogan American first, which actually has been resumed by many countries – from Putin’s Russia to Khamenei’s Iran, to King Salman’s Saudi Arabia?
Every country seeks to become first, pursues its own interests and then the victory belongs to those who are able to exert the strongest hegemonic power.

If this dynamics is not stopped in time, we will go back to a situation of all-out war, as every country becomes the enemy of the other. First through economic competition, then with political competition, up to the perils of degeneration into open warfare.
And yet the enemies are not only to be found among the nations but also within them.Today, enemies have become the migrants and all those who seek an open society. Migrants in their quest for a better life, the so-called economic migrants, are becoming the scapegoats of our insecurity. We often hear that “they bring malaria and diseases, they take away our jobs, they take possession of our homes, they are rapists or drug dealers, they are friends of the terrorists, they represent the virus that pollutes democratic life and European culture.”
The so-called fight against immigration, instead of dealing with the causes of poverty and climate change in African and Middle Eastern countries, is causing the nationalist closure of European countries and the indictment of the people who struggle for hospitality and pursue the ideals of integration and cosmopolitism.

Not let’s forget that Hitler, in the Mein Kampf, accused Jews of polluting Germany, as bringers of a supranational culture. The bad signals that are coming from Poland and Hungary remind us of the past.

And yet this cultural degeneration which leads to the search for an enemy has entered abruptly our daily life, where social networks are the thermometer of our malaise. An exceptional tool of dialogue and sharing has turned into a place where people seek ways to assert themselves, prove to be inaccessible to the other’s ideas and look time after time for an enemy to hate and demonize. It may suffice to think of the use of Twitter made by the US President. With 140 characters only, you can accuse and destroy someone.

Journalist Simone Zoppellaro, in an important book that has just been published, explains how social networks can even give rise to the kind of propaganda that leads to genocide. In facts, an abominable honour killing that had led to the stoning of a Yazidi woman who had a relationship with a Sunni Muslim was used on the social networks to incite to the hatred and massacre of the Yazidis. On 22 April 2007 a bus travelling from Mosul to Bashiqa was stopped by the Isis militants, and after a selection, 23 Yazidis were murdered. It was the first episode of the genocide of this people.

How can we then reverse this trend that generates a politics of contempt? First of all, by keeping a watch on the fake news that circulates and taking the distance from insults, and instead affirming the taste of dialogue and reason.
It is necessary to bring again lofty content into the social networks, as those who write on these communication tools, even if they do not realize it, as my friend Antonio Ferrari has often suggested, can have the same persuasion force as an editorialist of the Corriere della Sera and the New York Times.
A wrong sentence, a lie can be clicked by thousands people and become a heavy stone that creates irreparable damage.

This is why we must keep a watch on Facebook and, as Hannah Arendt suggested, convey information based on insights and actual truth.

But there is also another route to undertake. It is necessary to dialogue kindly and gently, also with those who take the wrong route or express debatable opinions. This is the best way to break the vicious circle of the culture of the enemy and educate people to seek dialogue, not personal insult.

If you want to convince the others to change, explained Stoic Marc Aurel in his Memories, you must talk to him “without scolding them, without making him feel you are bearing him, but frankly and in a good-mannered way, without blame nor resentment in your soul.”

This concept takes us back to the discourse on the anticipation of Good, which is the key point of our Charter of Responsibilities.

To the violent, we need to respond with non-violent. To the xenophobes, we shall respond with hospitality. To those who incite hatred and contempt we shall respond with friends. To those who want the walls we shall respond by building bridges.

Why is a discourse on the Good so topical now? Not because we are vowed to sacrifice and renunciation. Not because we are suggesting everybody to become saints. But because, as Baruch Spinoza taught us, man can develop his own power and overcome his fragility only when he builds his destiny together with the other men. The greatest interest of the individual, also of the most selfish person, is that of working for the common good.
Taking about Good, reason, adequate ideas, as the Dutch Jewish philosopher explained, means affirming that the most serious problems of our planet – from climate change to poverty, immigration and terrorism – are not going to be solved by hiding behind the ramparts of a ghetto, but hiding great synergies and finding the taste of cooperating. This is why it is ridiculous that also in our country, politics is turning into a quarrelsome arena, where people are incited to become enemies to each other. Hence, for example, the next elections are presented not like a great opportunity to discuss ideas, but like the final score-settling.

This is why we relied on the experience of Charter 77in Soviet-occupied Prague, where two great people such as playwright Václav Havel and philosopher Jan Patočka invited people from different walks of life and political views – Communists, liberals, Catholics, Jews, greens – to work together, as no one was the repository of an absolute truth and all of them had to accept the challenge of totalitarianism, in that this system could only be defeated by overcoming the idea of the enemy. This is a challenge of the utmost importance and topicality in the gloomy times we are living in Europe, and which despite the Velvet Revolution and the end of communism has not yet been solved, because still nowadays the idea of the enemy is just too deeply rooted.

Charter 77 invited the citizens from Prague to sign that document because every signatory made a public affirmation of responsibility. We, too today wish to give a name to those whom we can define as the Righteous of our time, who fight through exemplary actions against terrorism, anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, and for dialogue, the welcome of migrants and freedom from the totalitarian regimes. We are all good when we place ourselves in the past, but it is much more difficult to choose to be it today.

What does Gariwo Network aim at being? We are no political party, but we instead wish to create synergies to awaken consciences in the face of the problems of our time, to give strength and visibility to all the plural experiences that are headed for this direction.
The network of the Garden of the Righteous in Italy, in Europe and worldwide, can perform a great educational role today. I like imagining that over time, these Gardens will become public agoras where people learn to think by themselves and put themselves in the others’ shoes. We have in our hands an extraordinary tool to awaken consciences and to rouse people out of their lethargy and shake them up from their vices we need to things: to show them examples of good behaviour and ask them questions in order to prompt soul-searching in them.

All the Righteous have this strength.
This is why we of Gariwo do not pursue fame, power and visibility, but rather we fight to leave traces of humanity through our Gardens.

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim. Gariwo Chairman

Gabriele Nissim

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

22 November 2017

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