The politics of hate

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Every  tyranny has used fear and hate to take power and to keep it. Coercion and the use of force have never been enough. A gun can only kill, but fear can make entire nations tremble, and hate lead them into committing the worst of crimes.

Adolf Hitler used anti-Jewish sentiments to stoke German fears so effectively he convinced even learned men, among them the philosopher Martin Heidegger, that their country and Western civilization itself were on the verge of annihilation and needed a strongman to save them. German fears for the future found in the Jews of Europe a convenient target of hate, and a “problem” that required a “final solution.”

In the hands of the Nazis what was alleged to be a war for “the defense of civilization” gave birth to the worst barbarism in history: the systematic murder of six million men, women and children by a people so steeped in philosophy, the arts and the sciences it was once thought impossible for them to be inhuman.

Though labeled a Hitler from the mid-1960s to his dying day, Ferdinand Marcos was only a pale copy. Instead of the fear of being ground under the heels of more powerful neighbors, Marcos used  fears of anarchy and revolution to convince the  middle class, the technocracy, the Church, business, and his American patrons of the need to combat the “leftist-rightist conspiracy” with whatever means necessary.

The arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings that he unleashed under martial law had for objects of hate critical labor, student and peasant leaders, writers and journalists, progressive clergy, academics, and anyone else who could be labeled as “subversive.” 

By the time Marcos was overthrown in 1986 he had detained 100,000 men and women, tortured several hundred, murdered nearly 4,000, and left the country in ruins. It was on these foundations of fear and hate that he built the dictatorship that destroyed the Republic he claimed to be saving and to the return of which the Philippines is still in constant peril.

As far apart as they were in terms of the number of their victims, Hitler and Marcos had in common the use of the politics of hate and fear to gain support and adherents as well as to intimidate the potentially critical into silence and inaction.

The same politics is in obvious display in the current regime’s drive to a tyranny worse than that of Marcos’, whose record of extrajudicial killings it had already surpassed by the second year of its problematic watch.  But President Rodrigo Duterte’s free use of expletives against anyone who displeases him, and the hate and incitement to violence his regime trolls and  old media hacks spew daily are not its only signs.

Even before he came to power, in 2016 the then candidate for president had already identified drug users and pushers as the objects of hate and elimination Filipinos should blame for the country’s ills and its uncertain future.  He and his accomplices in the civilian and military bureaucracies have since added others, among them the “Yellows” and the independent press. But they have since settled on the “Reds” and the poor, disempowered and marginalized as their prime targets of hate, upon whom they have heaped blame for the country’s poverty, underdevelopment, social unrest, and political instability.

Deliberately heedless if not totally ignorant of the undeniable historical truth that rather than their cause, social unrest, rebellions and “insurgency” are the consequences of poverty and underdevelopment, the Duterte regime has launched a mini-equivalent of the Hitlerian all-out offensive against European Jewry. It has targeted for “neutralization” the farmers, workers, indigenous people, political activists, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and even Churchmen and reformist officials whom it claims to be either members of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) “front organizations” or co-conspirators in a plot to oust Mr. Duterte from power. In the process it has transformed not only Negros Oriental but also much of the country into the Philippine version of Cambodia’s killing fields.

But add to the regime’s lengthening hate list its most recent target: student activists whom it has accused of being either brainwashed or coerced into joining youth organizations by their professors and the academic institutions in which they are or were enrolled.

Supposedly to check the alleged recruitment of students into any of the dozens of youth and student groups in the country’s universities and colleges, and even into the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is reviewing a longstanding memorandum of agreement (MOA) it signed with state universities. It forbids, for perfectly valid reasons, the deployment of police personnel in state universities and colleges without the permission of their administrators.

If the DILG review leads to the rescinding of that agreement, the police and military, on the argument that it involves national security, can at will enter the campuses of the universities with which the MOA is currently in effect, among them the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) and the University of the Philippines (UP), which they claim are not only the hotbeds of student activism but also the fertile grounds for CPP and NPA recruitment.

If that happens, police and military personnel won’t be hanging around only on the grounds of those universities or drinking coffee in their cafeterias, but will be establishing their presence in the very classrooms, laboratories and libraries of every college in both universities where learning takes place. Though hardly equipped for the objective and competent assessment of, say, the validity of a lecture on political economy or plasma physics, they can label any professor critical of government, or his or her students, as recruiters for, or as already recruited  members of, this or that “front organization,” or even the CPP and NPA.

What is worse is that police and military presence, whether publicly known or solely assumed, will serve as a hindrance to the untrammeled discussion of whatever subject is on hand. How thoroughly, for example, can a professor of literature in the University of the Philippines whose lectures are being monitored discuss Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick as a critique of  the capitalist  assault on nature without being red-baited and targeted? (The whaling ship Pequod in pursuit of the white whale of the novel’s title is a factory that kills and processes for profit one of nature’s grandest creatures.)

The MOA the DILG wants to review and quite possibly rescind was signed and implemented for perfectly sound reasons. Far from merely being an attack on student activism, which is bad enough, the unwanted police and military intrusion into universities will constitute a direct assault on the academic freedom the Constitution guarantees all state universities.

Even worse will it legitimize the inclusion of academia and academics in the list of targets of the regime’s  politics of hate and intimidation. The access to, and search for, the knowledge that is indispensable to the freedom, humanization and betterment of society that is the true university’s reason for being will be among the collateral damage that the Duterte regime has often justified as necessary in preventing the loss of power that it most of all fears.

It is in fact the regime’s own fears that drive the politics of hate that it has unleashed on these sorry isles. But that is small comfort to those whom, out of fear and hate, it will continue to harass, threaten, defame and even kill.

First published in BusinessWorld. Hitler photo from Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0; Marcos photo from Gov.ph; Duterte photo from PNA.

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