Deadly Allure: Fascism Through History

Deadly Allure: Fascism Through History
Many experts agree that fascism is a mass political movement that emphasises extreme nationalism, militarism and the supremacy of both the nation and the single, powerful leader over the individual citizen. This model of government stands in contrast to liberal democracies, which support individual rights, competitive elections and political dissent.

In many ways, fascist regimes are revolutionary because they advocate the overthrow of existing systems of government and the persecution of political enemies. However, when it advances their interests, such regimes can also be highly conservative in their championing of traditional values related to the role of women, social hierarchy and obedience to authority. And although fascist leaders typically claim to support the everyman, in reality their regimes often align with powerful business interests.

The first fascist country was Italy, ruled by Benito Mussolini (Il Duce). The Italian Fascists imposed totalitarian rule and crushed political and intellectual opposition, while promoting economic modernisation, traditional social values and a rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church

Hitler's Nazi Germany remains the only example of full radicalization of a fascist movement. As Germany's absolute ruler, or Führer, Hitler destroyed all political opposition; invaded countries across Europe; launched World War II in partnership with Mussolini; and ordered the genocide of millions including the extermination of the Jewish race.

The age of reason and enlightened thought began when the Western nations of the world separated politics and religion – and the responsibility for wealth creation was shifted from landlords to industrialists with the dawn of the industrial revolution and its rapid spread through the community of nations. As a consequence of this movement, thousands of years of tribal structures crumbled the European individual was freed and empowered resulting in the rise of democracy and the demise of the dynastic system of monarchy in Europe and beyond. Liberal democracy empowered the common man to express his opinion openly and to cast his vote in elections. Populist politics became popular and the system was very cleverly exploited by leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Europe, and more recently, in South Asia, by religious fanatics like Narendra Modi in India and some ambitious politicians in Pakistan.

Wily politicians were not hesitant to use fascist methods, even though it is considered taboo in civilised politics. In this process, they distorted the social contract to accumulate political power in the hands of one individual. In the 21st century we have seen the ugly face of a modern neo-fascism by the blatant exploitation of the social media. This is done to gain domestic popularity and build an international image in order to protect oneself from accountability for selfish and totalitarian pursuit of power, at the cost of public interest and while blaming state institutions. The common factors in the political strategy of fascists leaders are a rise to power through electoral politics, use of conservative ideas to justify unequal distribution of wealth, domination of public discourse through the media and today through the social media, and a strategy of demonising and dehumanising all political opponents by labelling them as corrupt and agents of the enemy in order to avoid accountability and criticism. Once popularity has been successfully translated into unchecked and unshared individual power, personal agendas are justified through conservative and utopian ideas, especially the use of popular historical references which appeal to the people, ranging from ‘the promised land,’ ‘the chosen race,’ ‘Hindu superpower,’ and ‘Master Race’ to the recent concept of ‘Riyasat-e-Madinah.’ Another common tactic of all fascist leaders is that they make fantastic promises of a new dawn or a new beginning, such as the ‘Thousand-Year Reich,’ ‘Shining India,’ ‘Naya Pakistan’ etc. These leaders are like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, in that they make their followers dream big but they have no practical plans or programmes to turn their dreams into reality. They offer no method to achieve their objectives in the face of domestic and international challenges and constraints.

These populist leaders the fascist type do not allow any dissent or criticism and replace social tolerance with hate and toxic speech. In doing so, they create an atmosphere of hatred for all political opponents, critics and people who dare to disagree with their political agenda. They make use of their cult following to unleash their street power and make a show of strength by gathering a large number of their fanatic followers and believers in their political philosophy. In most cases, the followers of these cults are totally blinded by the charisma of the leader and actually support all extremist views and actions of their cult leader. They begin to hate all forms of activities like belief in dispassionate parliamentary politics based on public interest, pragmatism and tolerance of political opponents and the international community. The anger and frustration of the common man is turned into a weapon of war and becomes an ugly form of mob politics.

While this entire scheme of things is played out in the public eye, it is at the cost of public interest and sometimes also endangers international peace and security, as we saw when some of these individuals instigated the most tragic and bloody war in human history in the form of the Second World War, to fulfil their personal ambitions.

The fate of all fascist cult leaders in history has always been tragic and a lesson for future leaders. When Hitler failed miserably to achieve his dreams, he committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin and left Germany broken and devastated for many decades to come. Mussolini and his mistress were shot dead by the Italians. Ironically despite such examples in history, political leaders even today try to emulate such fascist leaders of the past. Mussolini seized power in Italy in 1922 by the use of street power in the form of his fanatical followers who managed to get the elected Prime Minister Luigi Facta to resign. Ironically, at this stage Mussolini enjoyed the support of the military and the business establishment. However, the king failed to anticipate that handing over power to Mussolini would enable him to rise as Europe’s most famous fascist and totalitarian leader and a threat to the Italian nation, European and African continents and world peace.

What happened in many cities of Pakistan on the 9th of May bears a chilling resemblance to how Mussolini grabbed power through coercion of state institutions and mob politics with a blatant show of street power. One can only hope and pray that our state institutions and political leaders have the wisdom and political acumen to learn a lesson from the tragic actions of cult fascist leaders of the past.