Intolerance, tolerance and elections

A few weeks ago I wanted to start a post with the title 'I am afraid of the Americans'. Although the title is of course a bit too black and white, it is partly true. The post was going to be inspired about a few news bulletins that I heard in the news. A law would have been past in the Congress that officially allowed torture on terrorism suspects and once convicted no appeal is allowed. I was so shocked. I know that I probably never will be able to understand what changed in the Americans mind after 9 11... their untouchable continent attacked. We can try to empathise as much we can, we can mourn about all the victims all we can, but we can never change the fact that it did not happen in our country and on the other hand that we've always been used to violence closer by ( IRA, ETA, Yugoslavia civil war, ...). I agree that we have to fight terrorism with a united world strength, but this law is so unacceptable. Torture?? What on earth are they thinking? How can they lower themselves to that level? How can a democracy tolerate this? I can understand it can be tempting but as civilised beings we have to be able to stand up against that impulse. And then you'd here their politicians sometimes imply that our civilisation would be better than some moslim civilisations?

Secondly I am afraid of the ever growing influcence of radical Christians in the USA. Radicalism is never good and I am convinced that they've worsened the gap between Christian and Moslim civilisations a lot in the last decade rather than approaching them. As a Christian myself, I feel akward when I hear them testify as I then feel mainly a spirit of judging others. And that is not what I consider the spirit of Christ.

While I felt quite bad about the new law in the USA and about the documentary about an extreme christian university at tv, I also realised that while being afraid of extremism in the USA, I am also afraid of the growing extremism in my own country. With the city council elections approaching everywhere, all media attention was focussing whether or not the Vlaams Belang, formerly known as Vlaams Blok (legally condamned as a racist party and then restarted unther a new name) , would continue its ever increasing victory of the last 1,5 decade or not. My teacher Latin in high school has put a lot of time in teaching us to be critical and to spot a demogogue. Well the leaders of the VB comply with all of them. it's scary how they can twist all discussions to their advantage with non arguments. And I honestly feel sorry for their voters because I think they are really sad people... they must have such a negative view on society, scared of all novelties, foreigners, .... VB is just a political party thriving on negative thoughts, fear for foreigners and fooling the people with simple slogans as if those can solve complex society problems. Because you can say a lot about the VB but they did find some true existing problems we have in society.... but their so called solutions are not solutions at all. When I hear their slogans like 'own people first' I feel sick in the stomac.... when I think that 1 out of 3 in Antwerp and other big cities vote for them... I feel sick in the stomac.

Last week a group of artists organised free concerts for tolerance, the 0110 concerts. The concept had received a lot of attention in the previous months with pros and cons (mainly that making such a political statement a week before the elections would just make them turn in the victim role even more, something they like to do). The concerts became a huge success with 140 artists performing in 5 Belgian cities and >100000 people attending the concerts that were being broadcast all day on several tv and radio stations. Last Friday all musea and cultural centra rang their alarms for 15 minutes out of protest againt extreme right. I must say that those initiatives really warmed my heart. They might nog have an impact on the elections result, but they sure helped all those democratic souls that are left in our country to continue believe in our case.... Media has focussed so long on the negativity of VB, now it was time to send out a positive message and show people that there are lots of us still believing in a multicultural society and in tolerance between people. I so wish I could have gone to one of the concerts despite the pouring rain that didn't stop the people from coming and partying all day. I tried to follow it as much as I could by radio and tv and even while not being there myself, the atmosphere touched myself. It was so energizing !! Thank you Tom Barman, Sioen, Arno and all other people involved with the organisation!! You are no foolish idealists, you were great! Thank you the 100000 people standing there in the rain to make a statement for tolerance ! Thank you artists not getting intimidated by the ridiculous and sad threatening letters that the VB had sent you ( burning CD's.... how close can you get linked to the Nazi's burning forbidden books??).

Yesterday was election day in Belgium. All town and city councils had to be re-elected. We don't have the right to vote, we have the duty to vote. That means that we mandatory have to go out to vote. I love that... in a couple of hours time 7,5 million people get out of their house to go downtown and bring out their vote. As a result it is always a big social event with people walking up the streets everywhere, seeing old friends again and having a chat in the street. And after the vote, in late afternoon we all turn our tv on to see the voting results come in. First the small villages etc are done with Herstappe who wins always since they only need to count 84 votes :p.

The first results were very disappointing once more... VB who had also been mainly a big cities phenomenan really had its breaktrough all across the country. I believe that now they had in each village about 10% of the votes . Yikes. I feel very much simalar as the note that An Nelissen , press photographer of De Standaard, wrote that afternoon. It was so disappointing and you really start to wonder about your neighbours and other citizens. How can this happen each time again? However at the end of the evening we all felt a lot more positive as in Antwerp they lost votes in comparison with the last federal elections, in Ghent they lost votes.... So the trend in the cities seems to stabalise or turn. Hopefully Flanders has reached its limit of intolerant people. Lets hope so. And to all VB voters.... the cordon against you isn't antidemocratic... if you get 10 to 33% of the votes it still means that at least 67% of the voters deliberately voted for a political party that vowed to keep you all out of power. It is democracy that still keeps you out of the city councils. Thank goodness for democracy.

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