by Jean Roberta
It could happen to almost anyone, and it has. If you know something that the establishment wants buried, or you’ve broken a tradition by belonging to the "wrong" demographic, or you’ve signed a petition, they could come to take you away. “They” could be police or members of the military in uniform, or they could be “health” workers in white coats, or they could be thugs waiting in the shadows on a dark street.
“You won’t see it coming,” says my spouse, a survivor of the military takeover of Chile on September 11, 1973. The government had been elected by a popular vote, and much of the population was highly educated. The arts were revered, and leftist thought was part of the culture. The nation, somewhat like a Spanish-speaking (or more Spanish-speaking) version of California, had never been a Banana Republic like the small countries of Central America.
Augusto Pinochet, a member of the military, didn’t seem likely to replace the elected President and run the country as a dictator. Until he did.
Germany was a fairly enlightened place between approximately 1750 and 1930. Liberal-humanism and the romantic movement in literature were well underway there before they reached England. Antisemitism was a kind of stubborn medieval Christian prejudice that lingered on in most European countries, but no one seemed to suspect that Germany in the twentieth century would become notorious as the birthplace of the systematic massacre that came to be known as the Holocaust.
Muslims and Hindus were spread throughout India before 1947, and the chaos that came to be called Partition. Some Indian writers even wrote philosophical works showing that Hinduism and Islam were very compatible. Then the nation gained its independence from Britain, and the bigots ruled. Overnight, families who had lived in India for generations were told to go “home” to Pakistan (East or West) because they were Muslim, and therefore not truly Indian. Hindus in Muslim territory were treated the same way. One unfortunate man who still lived in India during Partition was told that as a Muslim, he was no longer an Indian citizen, so he was sent to Pakistan. The Pakistani government claimed he was Indian, and they deported him back. He was fined and imprisoned for being in the “wrong” place as both governments deported him back and forth for years.
Most of the millions of people (mostly women) who were convicted of “witchcraft” probably weren’t guilty of anything. At worst, they might have used some herbal cures for common ailments instead of relying on prayer alone. They probably didn’t foresee the Inquisition, even after the Pope issued a Papal Bull (in Latin, of course) on “un-Christian” behaviour in the 1480s.
I fear political and social cataclysms even more than I fear natural disasters. As a child in the U.S. during the Red Scare of the 1950s, I learned how whole populations can be made paranoid, afraid of something that isn’t real, or that they don’t understand. None of my classmates seemed to know what “Communism” was except that it was the boogeyman, and it was threatening our “free country.” Academics like my parents were suspected of being Communists because they read too many books, and spread ideas like viruses.
My spouse warns me not to sign on-line petitions, including several current ones about the American dentist who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. The petitions call for him to be charged with a crime, and/or for the laws about this kind of thing to be tightened. This seems logical to me. Would the Canadian government hunt me for opposing big-game hunters who kill endangered species for sport? It’s possible.
Under the current right-wing government of Canada, a recent bill was passed into law making it possible to revoke the Canadian citizenship and deport anyone who was born outside of Canada and who engages in “terrorism,” widely defined. Word on the street is that this law is aimed at environmentalists, who throw monkey wrenches in the big machinery of corporations with big plans to accelerate the selling of natural resources. I haven’t been highly visible in protests and demonstrations (including the current “Shell No”’ campaign to prevent Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic Sea and further polluting the world’s oceans). If anything, I haven’t been active enough when the fate of the planet is at stake.
But I know from experience that I don’t even have to actively oppose the current establishment to be labelled a problem.
In my nightmares, a SWAT team in riot gear breaks down the door of my house to haul me out of bed and take me away. If I ask what I’m charged with, the enforcers of the law seem outraged that I think I have the right to ask questions. As representatives of the government in power, they can do anything to me – even make me “disappear.” Realistically, who could stop them?
I may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.