Rabies, that contagious disease which affects the central nervous system and causes acute encephalitis leading to death in almost 100% of cases – the oldest known viral zoonosis – was thought to be under control and disappeared from our collective psyche years ago. However, a dog bite suffered by a young cyclist not long ago made us stop and think: while we may hope that certain phenomena are under control and in some cases extinct, this is not always so.
Similarly, we see today that the symptoms of a disease thought to be extinct in the world’s democracies is re-emerging. This disease is also acute and contagious, involves rage and has fatality rates bordering 100%. That disease is one of violence and intolerance. The illness not only damages society’s central nervous system, but also compromises its ability to act and think correctly. All these are unmistakable signs that the social fabric is in crisis. This disease is Nazism in the many forms in which it manifests.
What are the symptoms?
The appearance a year ago of a neo-Nazi art school in Southern Chile and the current presence of an alleged “Nazi party” show that we have not generated enough antibodies to consider ourselves a society free of such a harmful disease. Sadly, this exacerbated extremism –neo-Nazism– feeds on passive intolerance (harbouring non-externalised hatred against anyone who is different from one’s own standards) as well as active intolerance. The latter is reflected in xenophobia, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, among others, nurtured by acts and expressions that openly discriminate against people who are different, vulnerable and marginalised. In short, the aim of this disease is to attack peaceful and democratic coexistence among people.
Thus observed, neo-Nazism is not attributable to a single country or specific group, but is a manifestation that in each country adopts its own unique features. Yet, there is the common thread of seeking to eliminate everything that is different and foreign. Within Chile there are groups who reject those people they do not see a true Chileans. In ridding the country of them, they would say, the end would certainly justify the means.
It is precisely this context that is the breeding ground for hate crimes. It is not about attacks perpetrated by institutions holding a monopoly on the use of force, but rather, acts of aggression committed by individuals in the most ignominious forms on the simple grounds that the victim is different from the perpetrator.
Clearly, the threat of the proliferation of so-called hate crimes (particularly xenophobic, homophobic or religious crimes) goes against Chile’s aspirations and policies, such as its open approach to immigration, support for social diversity and respect for the plurality of people and realities that make up the country. Diversity is the greatest virtue of our modern societies. Similarly, such proliferation is out of sync with the country’s international commitments to the protection of fundamental human rights.
This is why, faced with these symptoms of the disease and the danger of repeating history, we must take all possible measures to prevent and mitigate the propagation of this illness. On the one hand, the Executive branch is developing a series of policies to strengthen the values of equality and non-discrimination. On the other, the legislature is approving bills such as the one criminalising incitement to hatred or violence against any sector of the population, a project that the Sin Odio Foundation has fostered, promoted and improved in a methodical and systematic way. Lastly, civil society is becoming increasingly aware of the harmful consequences of arbitrary discrimination and hate speech from its most extreme manifestations (such as neo-Nazism) and that people can and must fight such expressions, even the most everyday ones that affect the relations of democratic coexistence of the nation’s inhabitants.
Just as diseases can be eradicated and, in case of re-emergence, must be decisively fought, the resurgence of harmful episodes that endanger us as a society must reactivate our social immune system. We must remain alert and prepared to combat such phenomena, and strive to protect the essential values of tolerance, respect and inclusion that will allow us to preserve this country and project it towards the future.