• Lara Flanagan

Don't let fear turn into hate

I have always loved history and two of my favourite subjects at high school were Modern and Ancient History. My belief was that history has much to teach us. Churchill made a speech in 1948 to the House of Commons; he paraphrased philosopher Santayana when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” The Holocaust is a period in history that I was obsessed with. I thought it highlighted that humanity is capable of depravity and cruelty that is unfathomable. It also taught me that humans have an inner resilience and bravery that could on some occasions, overcome that depravity and cruelty. What saddened me most about the Holocaust though was the fact that it could only happen with millions of people ignoring what was going on or pretending that what was going on was not actually happening. What I worked out later is that people were scared. Their leader made them scared, told them what and who to be scared of and turned their fear into hate. Thus the Holocaust was able to happen. I said to myself that because the Holocaust happened, the world had been taught a lesson and it would never happen again. I have always been a wide-eyed and on occasion, ignorant optimist. I have just finished a book called “The Bone Woman” written by Clea Koff, an anthropologist who works for the UN and specialises in working on mass graves related to cases of genocide around the world. Her goal was to give a voice to those silenced and provide evidence to bring killers to justice. What did my head in was the dates of these horrific mass graves and I had to keep going back to check on them. Rwanda: Kibuye February 1996. Rwanda: Kigali June 1996. Bosnia: 29th August 1996. Croatia: 20th September 1996. Kosovo: July 2000. These dates made me so sad. The world had learnt nothing and what makes me scared is that I think humanity is constantly teetering on a knife-edge. Clea wrote in her book that the one thing that was becoming clear to her and what was revealed in the International Tribunal courtrooms was that the common denominator in almost every act of genocide was that the government or leadership actively worked on spreading fear. That really got to me more than anything. Fear was the common denominator in almost every atrocious act this modern world has known. And ultimately fear leads to hate where people will accept the unacceptable. Look at the storming of the United States Capitol on the 6th of January 2021. A violent mob driven by fear and hate. In the last few years, we have seen drought, fire and virus. Drought and fire seemed to bring out the best in people except for one event I remember vividly. We had just been advised on a Sunday afternoon by a mailbox delivery that our water was undrinkable. Apparently, a rare rainfall had washed the ash and fire retardant into the dam and affected our water supply. I never check my mailbox on a Sunday and only knew because my mum rang and told me. Later that afternoon when I was in Coles I saw two people fighting over water bottles. In Tenterfield, there was water-rage before there was toilet paper rage. These two people were filled with so much hate. It is because they were scared. Since then we have seen toilet paper rage and the most awful behaviour directed towards our frontline workers. People are scared and as a result, they are hateful. Recently, people like border residents are seeing a new shift. Just before our lockdown, I was watching Archie play for his beloved Ballandean Football Club against a Stanthorpe team. It was a night-time catch up game and Riss and I were sitting in the car to keep warm but we had the windows open so I could hear the game. Two men walked in front of the car talking loudly. They were telling each other how they could not believe that Ballandean would allow “so many **** Mexicans to play in their teams”. One of the men reassured the other that it was ok as the “*** Mexicans” had to go straight back to NSW once the game was over.” That was apparently really good because it was where we “**** belonged”. Rissie had her earplugs in but she must have sensed something because she looked at me and asked me if I was ok. I got it, these guys have been told repeatedly to be scared of people outside of QLD. And what happens when you are scared? Invariably, in most cases, you act with hate. At the moment it is hit and miss if we can get across the border. Even with an X-pass and the appropriate documentation. I know multiple people who have returned from the border with documentation and passes that border policemen refused to look at, and who were made to feel like common criminals. People are scared because they have been told to be. Their actions are a result of that. I firmly believe that humanity is constantly teetering on a knife-edge. I was rambling about this in the kitchen one day and I did not think Rissie was listening to me when she said to me, “You know what Momma, it’s all about hope. Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.” I looked at her and my eyes got misty. It was one of those moments when I marvelled that I had made this child from scratch. I asked her if she wrote that. She then did a weird thing with her hands, shimmied her little body and said, “Snap! President Snow! #hungergames!!!!!” I snapped out of my reverie and went back to thinking, “what alien gave birth to you?” But Rissie or President Snow were right. Hope is the one thing more powerful than fear. Hope. Hope is everything. Instead of President Trump’s endless hateful tweets and snide accusations that inspired a deadly riot, I think of Martin Luther King. His writings and speeches were filled with hope. Hope for a better world, and he inspired millions all over the world to fight for civil rights. Their hope was far more powerful than the fear of others. He did this by talking about having a dream. His words still inspire people today with hope, despite the hate in the world that is directed at people with different skin colour. Another example of someone who led with hope rather than fear is Anna Bligh, a former QLD Premier who made the famous “We are Queenslanders” speech. “We are Queenslanders; we’re the ones that they knock down and we get up again. I said earlier this week that this weather may break our hearts and it is doing that, but it will not break our will.” Her speech was amazing and I still remember it making me cry and to be so proud that I was a Queenslander and an Australian. She gave people hope that they could get through what they were facing and her words inspired a nation to provide a mud-army that headed to Queensland to help where they could. I can remember coaches arriving from south of the border with people armed with buckets and mops. I can understand people being scared. It doesn’t matter how good you have it in a country like Australia or how lucky we are in comparison to many other places in the world. It is still understandable to be scared, frightened and confused. But what I do not understand is allowing that fear to become hate. There are too many lessons in the world that show us that as soon as fear becomes hate, bad things happen. I have a dream at the moment and that is when people are scared and feel that they can’t cope, that they remember that the one thing greater than fear, is the act of having hope. With hope comes kindness and the inability to be cruel. That is my dream.

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