To reduce the risk of Jihad in the West, people advocate a society where citizens inform on each other and/or where government surveillance is ubiquitous. Has that been tried before? What does it feel like and how do you rebuild a society afterwards? This is addressed in Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets.
Here are some relevant passages:
A regular communal apartment… Five families live there—twenty-seven people in total. Sharing one kitchen and one bathroom. Two of the neighbors are friends: One of them has a five-year-old daughter and the other one is single with no kids. In communal apartments, people were always spying on one another, listening in on each other’s conversations. The people with ten-square-meter rooms envied the ones with twenty-five. Life… that’s just how it is… And then, one night, a Black Maria—a police van—shows up… They arrest the woman with the five-year-old daughter. Before they take her away, she has a chance to cry out to her friend, “If I don’t come back, please look after my little girl. Don’t let them take her to an orphanage.” So that’s what happened. The neighbor took the child in, and the building administration gave her a second room… The girl started calling her Mama… Mama Anya… Seventeen years went by… And seventeen years later, the real mother returned. She kissed her friend’s hands and feet in gratitude. If this were a fairy tale, this is where the story would end, but in real life, the ending was very different. Without a “happily ever after.” When Gorbachev came to power, after they unsealed the archives, they asked the former camp inmate whether she wanted to see her file. She did. So she went down to look at it, opened the folder… and the very first page was an informant’s report. Familiar handwriting… It was her neighbor’s, Mama Anya’s… She’d been the one who’d informed on her… Do you understand any of this? I don’t. And that woman couldn’t, either. She went home and hanged herself.
I remember my father’s words: “It’s possible to survive the camps, but you can’t survive other people.”
First they arrested my wife. She went to the theater and didn’t come back. I got home from work and found my son sleeping on a little rug in the hall next to the cat. He’d waited and waited for Mama until he finally fell asleep. My wife worked at a shoe factory. She was a Red engineer. “Something strange is going on,” she’d told me. “They’ve taken all my friends. For some kind of treason…” “You and I are innocent, so no one is coming for us.” I was sure of it. Absolutely positive… Sincerely! I was a Leninist, then a Stalinist. Until 1937, I was a Stalinist. I believed everything Stalin said and did. Yes… The greatest, the most brilliant leader of all eras and peoples. Even after Bukharin, Tukhachevsky, and Blyukher* 14 were all pronounced enemies of the people, I still believed him. It seems stupid now, but I thought that Stalin was being deceived, that traitors had made their way to the top. The Party would sort it all out. But then they arrested my wife, an honest and dedicated Party warrior. Three days later, they came for me…
The search ended toward morning. They ordered me to pack my bags. The nanny woke my son. Before I left, I managed to whisper to him, “Don’t tell anyone about your mother and father.” That’s how he survived.
I spent almost a year in prison. I was preparing for my trial. For the penal colony. I was surprised, I wondered why they were dragging their feet. As far as I can tell, there was no rhyme or reason to it. Thousands of cases… Chaos… A year later, a new investigator summoned me. My case was being reviewed. And then they released me, dismissing all charges. So it had been a mistake after all. The Party believed me!
I found my son living with strangers, the nanny had taken him out to the country. He’d started stuttering and was afraid of the dark. The two of us began a new life together. I tried to get any news I could about my wife. At the same time, I applied to get reinstated in the Party. I wanted my Party membership card back. New Year’s Eve… We’d decorated a tree. My son and I were expecting guests. The doorbell rang. I opened the door. A poorly dressed woman stood on the threshold. “I’ve come to send greetings from your wife.” “She’s alive!” “She was alive a year ago. I used to work with her in a pigsty. We’d steal frozen potatoes from the pigs, and thanks to that, we didn’t starve to death. I have no idea whether or not she’s still alive.”
I came home twice wounded, with three decorations and medals. They called me into the district Party committee, “Unfortunately, we will not be able to return your wife to you. She’s died. But you can have your honor back…” And they handed me back my Party membership card. And I was happy! I was so happy… [I tell him that I will never understand that—never. He loses his temper.] You can’t judge us according to logic. You accountants! You have to understand! You can only judge us according to the laws of religion. Faith! Our faith will make you jealous! What greatness do you have in your life? You have nothing. Just comfort. Anything for a full belly… Those stomachs of yours… Stuff your face and fill your house with tchotchkes. But I… my generation… We built everything you have. The factories, the dams, the electric power stations. What have you ever built? And we were the ones who defeated Hitler.
And the ones sentencing them and guarding them were the people, too—not foreign workers, not people brought in from outside—they were the very same people. Our own men. Kin. Today, you see everybody putting on the striped uniform. Now, everyone’s the victim and Stalin alone is to blame. But think about it… it’s simple arithmetic… Millions of inmates had to be surveilled, arrested, interrogated, transported, and shot for minor transgressions. Someone had to do all this… and they found millions of people who were willing to…”
I didn’t quote the truly painful stuff, so if you can stomach that you should read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets …