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OPINION - Londoners cheering for Hamas and the Houthis is proof something is rotten in our democracy

 (PA)
(PA)

It’s an odd thing, watching people raised in liberal democracies support totalitarian regimes, and it fascinates me, because democracies are peculiarly vulnerable from within. What, when British people call for victory for Hamas, rather than the Palestinians of Gaza who have not elected a government since 2006, or the Houthis of Yemen, who are slavers, or the Trumpists supporting the January 6 insurrection, do they believe they are calling for? What do they think they see?

I see many reasons. The first is credulousness, and a lack of imagination to feed it. I suspect they are so preeningly insular — I saw a sign on a pro-Palestine march that said, “Israel is like my ex-boyfriend”, which is offensively self-involved — they believe that the structures of a totalitarian regime could not possibly apply to them, even if they could name them.

When British people call for victory for Hamas or for the Houthis of Yemen, do they believe what they are saying?

I hope they never get a lesson in its realities. I can and do blame the education system in this country, which has more time to educate us in monarchy than the benefits of liberal democracy, and the dangers of tyranny — every child in a state primary school got a book for the late Queen’s platinum jubilee, though I can’t speak for America — but I also believe people have a responsibility to educate themselves. A healthy polity can’t just be gifted to you by others. It requires work.

The second is an apathy, born of political corruption, and too much good fortune. I know that young people suffer and feel disengaged and left behind. Without inherited money, they struggle to buy homes, pay has flat-lined, living standards have declined, advertising exists to invalidate the lives of ordinary people and the climate crisis rages. It is all true. It is also true that the children of liberal democracies are still among the most fortunate people on earth, if only they could see it. Often, they can’t. An international survey last autumn had 42 per cent of the 18 to 35 cohort supportive of military rule, while 35 per cent thought a “strong leader” who doesn’t hold elections, was “a good way to run a country”. But for who?

Only 57 per cent preferred democracy to totalitarianism, a woeful number. It’s a kind of outsourcing — a privatisation — of their own democratic power. It should terrify them. Their support for human rights is off the scale — 85 to 95 per cent everywhere — which is bizarre, as their strongmen won’t deliver them. This is confusion in a graph — a joke. But there is another reason, I think, which I haven’t seen expressed much since holding a “Hamas are Terrorists” sign in central London made you vulnerable to a beating. It is misogyny. Who benefits most from tyranny? Who enjoys it? The tyrant and his acolytes, of course, but there is another class who potentially benefits from the erosion of liberal democracy — men as a whole.

It’s a generality, of course, but when law is meaningless or arbitrary, the physically weak are more vulnerable. I see it as variation of the famous line on the pre-modern pogrom: on that day the greatest wretch in the village was a king because he was not a Jew. Whatever you might be under a tyranny, at least you aren’t a woman. Look at Afghanistan.

Women can also be anti-democratic, you might say. Of course. Rage is addictive, and women can be stupid too.

Sarah Snook at the Critics Choice awards (Variety via Getty Images)
Sarah Snook at the Critics Choice awards (Variety via Getty Images)

Why we need more stars like Sarah Snook

Sarah Snook, who played Shiv Roy in Succession, offers a woeful tale to an interviewer. She lost weight for her part in 2010’s Sisters of War. “And then,” she says, “I remember this guy going, ‘Oh, when did you get hot?’” For another role her agent told her to whiten her teeth, darken her hair, and employ a personal trainer. She ate a tiny piece of chocolate cake on the set of another film and the producer chided her publicly. As enraging as the insult is to Snook — the equally gifted Romola Garai told me a similar story — it is also an insult to drama itself.

Snook was superb in Succession because she was so naturalistic. She looked like a real person with real desires and fears embodied in her real self. Being truthful gave her the freedom — the will? — to invent something glorious. More of it, please.

Tanya Gold is a columnist