Every Nation Must Recognize Its Dark Side

Citizens of every nation need to recognize the dark sides of their own history, less they repeat the mistakes of the past. I have lived in three countries (spent months in a fourth), and the people who frighten me the most are those who insist that their country is perfect, except for “them” (the immigrants).

These nativists cannot acknowledge that their country has problems that need to be addressed, and that immigrants generally play a positive rather than negative role. They simply want to sweep their nation’s faults under the rug,  cover them up, and promote a kind of blind, ra-ra patriotism, a false unity that buries differences or does not respect the diverse experiences of the peoples who built their nation.

The Germans have generally done a good job of confronting the dark side of their Nazi past,  (it was easier once the WWII generation had mostly passed) and are now model, generous global citizens.

The Japanese, based on what I have read of Prime Minister Abe’s denial of Japanese brutality such as the rape of Nanking, China and the existence of Korean “comfort women,” (apologies have since been issued to the Koreans) makes me wonder how deep the official stance of pacifism goes, and if Japanese nationalism might re-emerge to engage in conflict with Korea, China, and other neighbors.

The Brits, I thought, had accepted the setting of the sun on the British Empire, but one cannot help but wonder if the decision to exit the European Union was in part based on nostalgia for Great Britain and resentment with the open borders for European immigrants.

The Turks, as wonderful as they are (I spent two years in Turkey and fell in love with it), are having trouble reconciling their past: Did an Armenian genocide occur? Some Turks I talked to suggested that Turks and Muslims were incapable of conducting genocide because it would be against their religion.

And Turks are having trouble reconciling the secularism and strict separation of religion and state promoted by their great founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk with the religious yearnings of devout Muslims. They are also having difficulty establishing civil society and loyal opposition to the reigning political party of Recip Tayip Erdogan with the notion that political dissidents and skeptical journalists can be loyal Turks.

The French struggle with the meaning of what it means to be French, and with the place of religion in French society. Can you be French and Muslim? Many French seem to think not.

The Russians and the Chinese, who have never fully repudiated the dictators Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, remain quite frightening in their top-down authoritarian autocracies.

Ironically, America, where you hear some of the most ignorant and Islamophobic remarks about Muslims, does a better job than much of Europe in inviting Muslims to assimilate, and giving them financial opportunities.

And yet, America has its own many problems to address. Yoav Fromer, who teaches politics and American history, points out that the people who support Trump are those who embrace the dark side of American history.





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