IS HE BACK?
Evil creeps up on us in an ordinary form and we may even befriend it because it seems impolite not to. Is this happening today?
Is it OK to make Adolf Hitler into a comedy figure or does this diminish the evil he embodied? Timr Vermes, in his novel Look Who’s Back (MacLehose Press, 2012) thinks there is latent satire in the Fuhrer and this has now been turned into a film by the same name. Hitler wakes up in the twenty-first century above the same plot of land his bunker was built into. He looks the same and is dressed the same; everyone recognises him. Except no-one believes it is.
Hitler quickly becomes a stand-up comedian with a huge YouTube following which laughs at the perfect imitation he makes of himself. People assume he is a method actor (‘Bruno Ganz was superb, but he’s not a patch on you’) and his angry online rants are not taken seriously. His popularity leads him back into politics and the only person who understands he is the real Hitler is sectioned and put into a padded cell at the end of the film.
he allegory is not subtle but still has the power to unsettle the viewer at a profound level. This man is the embodiment of modern fascism but no-one sees this poisonous form for what it is, preferring to view it as a phantom to be laughed at or mocked but under no circumstances to be taken seriously.
Across Europe there has been an alarming resurgence in far-right activism; some of it has translated into votes. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, France and Germany itself have seen a rise in support for virulent ideology. It is utterly intolerant of Muslims and immigrants – especially where the two are combined – but there is no change in the venom of its founding myth: Jewish people control the world and twist power to their own end. We may think we understand how the 2008 banking collapse happened, but the far right knows better. Where once the Nazis talked about the Jews who control finance, now some speak of ‘cosmopolitan’ bankers who brought ordinary people to ruin; it does not take Bletchley Park to break the code for ‘cosmopolitan’ here.
In the Church we speak often of the role of an epiphany in our understanding of God. The wise men saw the infant Jesus for who he was; the few disciples who accompanied Jesus up the mountain for his transfiguration perceived his glory in a new way; Paul met with Christ on the Damascus road and was rendered speechless by the vision he received. Many of us can speak of moments when we finally see something of God which our blindness had previously obscured. This is the nature of God; he appears in unexpected and sometimes unobtrusive ways which we struggle to interpret quickly.
Sadly, the same is true of evil. We are slow to recognise it; evil creeps up on us in banal and ordinary forms and we may even initially befriend it because it seems unexceptional and impolite of us to confront it. We tend not to take evil people at their word when they speak in vengeful, murderous and sometimes apocalyptic terms because our liberal inclinations cannot grasp their meaning. Our therapeutic models may blind us to the truth. The failure of many to perceive Hitler for who he was is not a lesson easily assimilated today if the same human foibles are on display.
European history may not repeat itself in the same way as in the 1930s and this calls for wisdom and vigilance. There has been much debate about the European Union among the citizens of its nations but, oddly, one conversation is usually lacking. The shared European project began as a means of draining poisonous right-wing nationalism out of a ravaged continent. If an existing political project is incapable of doing this, it has cause to re-assess its scope and priorities. Yet this originating purpose may be more required now than at any time since Europe was re-built.
He may not be back, but would we identify the DNA quick enough if he was?
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