Prophet Song holds a mirror to new Europe - Hindustan Times
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Prophet Song holds a mirror to new Europe

Dec 02, 2023 12:30 AM IST

Prophet Song captures the inherent anxieties of European nations experiencing inner turmoil during the Russia-Ukraine war and an economy in a downward spiral.

The authoritarian regime Paul Lynch describes in the novel Prophet Song, which recently won the Booker Prize, does not have an ideological character. It is perhaps from our experience and awareness of the surge and installations of authoritarian governments in different nations that we assume it to be right-wing. Unlike societies that are fully controlled by authoritarian regimes, Lynch introduces the readers to a different situation where society is in chaos under the thraldom of an elected autocracy run by the National Alliance Party. The party has been in power for nine years in the Ireland of Lynch’s novel. Lynch prophesies that any authoritarian regime, be it elected or otherwise, has a threshold point after which it unleashes forces that can propel complete chaos. The society is torn asunder.

Paul Lynch received the Booker Prize during a ceremony at Old Billingsgate in central London (Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo/picture alliance ) PREMIUM
Paul Lynch received the Booker Prize during a ceremony at Old Billingsgate in central London (Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo/picture alliance )

The rebel forces, again an amorphous association of people against the regime, do not subscribe to any political ideology nor do they have any alternative to offer. In one of the protest stickers, the rebels announced that “the best defence is an Armed Citizen” and another sticker said “End Judicial Dictatorship”.

The utter chaos created by the police regime acting through emergency provisions of the law has only resulted in the social breakdown and arming of ordinary citizens. This is not the type of Orwellian nightmare nor Nazified anti-Semitic Europe, but a society that has completely broken down under authoritarian rule. Social chaos in Prophet Song recalls the Manipur crisis.

Prophet Song captures the inherent tensions and anxieties of European nations experiencing inner turmoil in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war due to immigration and also because of an economy in a downward spiral. Its dystopian prospects for countries that have chosen for themselves authoritarian governments have to be understood against this social turmoil. It has given rise to everyday fascism that Europe is witnessing through the surge of populist right-wing politics. The internal turmoil has also given rise to popular demagogues, who are riding on the surge of racist anti-immigrant waves and Islamophobia.

The popular authoritarians have identified the immigrants and asylum seekers from West Asian and African countries as the root cause of the problem. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who is likely to be prime minister of the Netherlands, rode to power drum-beating hatred against Muslims. His win was greeted with so much enthusiasm by fellow Right-wingers of the other nations in Europe.

The wind blowing through Europe is carrying populist authoritarians to power, who have cunningly deployed the terminology of the liberals ranging from personal freedoms to the rule of law in their war against the immigrants. The rule of law in their precise terms is to legislate emergency provisions to target immigrants. The popular demagogues are perhaps not averse to the everyday fascism in which the citizens are armed for the “defence” against immigrants.

Every day fascisms are gaining currency in public life. Though it has similarities to the fascism of early 20th century Europe, it is not a strictly ideology-driven movement: It is more characterised by hatred against immigrants, particularly, Muslim immigrants. The hate campaign fuelling it is underpinned by the liberal West’s idea of the clash of civilisations. This clash is now happening in the heart of Europe.

Damodar Prasad is an independent media researcher and Malayalam writer. The views expressed are personal

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