I lived in Charlottesville, VA for a year while studying at the University of Virginia Law School. Whilst there, I made life-long friends, broadened my viewpoints, and developed a deep sense of civic duty. This was thanks my fellow students and the local community. The scenes of Nazi marches, burning torches and death are nightmarishly distant to what I remember. For me, that's a sign of how divided we have become, and what we must do in response must be.
In 2004, I spent my year abroad at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (UVa). I was excited but somewhat nervous: I was a young, liberally-minded Muslim man travelling to the South during the Iraq war to a country governed by George W. Bush.
But my time at UVa was spent meeting thoughtful and capable people from all walks of political life. It was an environment where people could discuss, disagree and find commonality on issues such as civil rights, international military intervention, privacy and much more. What bound us together was a strong sense of civic duty. It's why so many of my fellow students worked on death row cases, or advised at local civic centres on matters around housing and welfare.
When I saw images of Nazi midnight marches on the famous lawn of UVa, I was in disbelief and then anger and then resolve. Talking to my old university friends, we all felt the same way. We couldn't recognise the horrific scenes, but could understand how things got this bad. For years, political discourse in the US (and to a lesser extent in the UK) has become more divisive. With Donald Trump’s harmful and antagonising rhetoric, there's a growing sense of permissiveness and legitimacy of extreme views. There's a growing sense that somehow, in response to political correctness, fascists far-right viewpoints should be widely publicised and honoured on an equal footing as other views and ideas.
But when it comes to Fascism and Nazism, we have to be frank. These views are entirely repugnant to our way of life and should be resisted and loathed. They should not be given the same legitimacy or credence as other viewpoints, or held in equal regard. While our systems of free speech and tolerance must accept these viewpoints exist, it should not be to encourage such views.
And all the while, it is vital to progress a sense of cohesive community by working together on local projects, of open discourse in a tolerant and respectful way and stepping out of our echo chambers. With that respectful, frank interaction, we find our disagreements are often smaller than our commonalities.