By Patrick Brogan
This is a follow up from our discussion on Geert Wilders on The Navigator podcast.
The Rise of the Right
Since the collapse of most of the European economies in the last decade, there has been a rise in far-right politics globally. Donald Trump has been widely publicised by a media that claims to hate him. He has made numerous comments based on religion, gender and nationality. He may have had these ideas in his head beforehand, but now he clearly has an audience.
In Europe too, there has been frustration that certain ideals were not represented at upper-level European politics and the likes of Marine Le Pen, Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders have filled this gap in the market. The British Isles have not been excluded from this either, with UKIP being so prominent during the British referendum on the EU and Identity Ireland being founded along as an Irish branch of the anti-Muslim group Pegida.
Not so long ago, we wouldn’t have heard this type of rhetoric in the mainstream media. What has changed? Like most issues involving the social sciences, there is no straightforward answer, but one word comes closest to describing it; anger. This anger has been borne out of a myriad of factors and most of it comes from people not being able to express themselves and having no one to put their views forward in a parliamentary democracy.
The Economic Collapse
Money is not the be all and end all. Nor is it the source of all happiness. Freedom goes a long way to determining a person’s happiness and money is the easiest and quickest way of achieving freedom for most people. So, when people can no longer go out and earn a wage, or are working, but all their money goes to paying bills it will impact on their mental health. For many Europeans, this has been the case since the economic implosion in 2008. On top of this, nearly every country has an area that historically lags behind the rest of the country economically anyway. Think of the north of England, west of Ireland, southern Italy and Wallonia in Belgium.
There is a frustration surrounding expression, too. Europe and North America are described as parliamentary democracies. There are those that have rarely had their voices heard within any parliament. Homelessness, animal rights and environmental issues only come to the fore when something related to these issues is in the news and then it is forgotten about. Consider gun violence. As Tom pointed out in his article, this is only talked about when there is a shooting spree, rather than before so it can be prevented. The main reason is because the vested interests, the richest in society, bankroll the politicians and therefore set the political agenda. If you’re poor you don’t matter.
This has always been the case, the difference now is that a lot of people who grew up middle class have slipped into this sub-strata of society. More voices go unheard. Then you look at the actual individual politicians. I know of no Irish person like Enda Kenny, no English person like Theresa May and no American like Hillary Clinton. The ordinary person’s views will never be represented by these people because they are as about as far removed from society as it is possible to be. The great disconnect. If we look at the rise of the right-wing as an equation, we are just missing the last part of the formula.
Economic Despair + Lack of Democracy + Foreign Enemy = Far-Right
Since the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the world has looked a less safe place. I think most Westerners didn’t realise there was a problem with radical Islam until that day. And a huge problem there is. The Saudis have exported a more austere and fundamental version of Islam, Wahhabism, since the oil money started coming. The strange thing is, the US and Britain are their allies, al-Qaeda and Da’aesh, the fruition of Wahhabism, are the Saudi’s enemies. The Saudis have funded mosques that spread the teachings of Muhammed ibn Abd al Wahhab all around the world, not just the Middle East. This sect of Sunni Islam is not preaching that its adherents all become terrorists, but the problem is that it is an austere and self-righteous form of the Muslim faith and this makes the jump to extremism easier than from a more liberal and progressive interpretation of the Koran and hadiths.
Islam is no different from other religions in this sense. There are fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Hindus. No religion is immune from this. Islam is different for two reasons. Firstly, the sheer weight of numbers. With 1.6 billion Muslims on Earth, if only a tiny fraction of these are extremists, it already runs into the thousands. Secondly, I mentioned fundamentalists Christians earlier, well, one of those was in the White House not so long ago. And to ignore the West’s interference in the Middle East would be foolish. I speak not just of the US-Saudi coalition, but Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel-Palestine and other Muslim countries like Pakistan and Libya. So, you can see why people in those countries mightn’t be too keen on the US. Then add in the European colonial experience and things start to become a little clearer.
Will it Fail?
People like Wilders, Trump and Le Pen aren’t that much different from those pushing radical Islam. The rhetoric of casting others as all the same and being wrong because you’re different. What’s more, people in ISIS are very happy that these people come to power because it drives a further wedge between Europe and the Middle East. We know this because they have said as much. Why I think they fall down on this issue is because of a few different reasons. They assume all Muslims think the same and are extremist. This is not true. Most rational people know most Muslims living in Europe are peaceful, law abiding people. They came to Europe to make better lives for themselves. They can’t do this if they try to destroy European civilisation.
Delenda est Carthago
This is what Roman Senator Cato the Elder used to finish all his speeches with. Carthage must be destroyed. Carthage was the other big city on Mediterranean shores. The Romans would not tolerate any competition and so eradicated the city and its inhabitants. They massacred the people of the North African city. European imperial aggression. Has that much changed since?
European nations made a mess of drawing up the borders in the Middle East and created massive religious and tribal tensions. Then, when oil was discovered in the region it was plundered by Western powers. Nobody should condone the disgusting attacks on innocent European citizens, but it if we are to move on and have peace it must be acknowledged that some Western nations are as guilty as Muslim extremists for creating the conditions for these attacks. The Far-right does not see this, though. When Trump criticises these wars it’s more on the grounds that they are unwinnable and costly rather than they are just plain unfair and unjust to begin with.
If Europe is based on a Christian or post-Christian society, should its great defenders not be more understanding? This lack of understanding will make the problem worse and will create a breeding ground for white Christian racism. As the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein wrote recently; “Are we going to continue to stand by and watch this banalization of bigotry, until it reaches its logical conclusion?” Trump, Wilders et al are often compared to Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich. Some say it is unfair. It isn’t. The parallels are too obvious to ignore. Substitute Islam for Judaism and there isn’t much in the difference.
I know some people reading this will think because of the far-right’s resurgence and popularity they must be doing something right. They must be addressing some issue. No, they aren’t. Just because people are willing to vote for them doesn’t mean what they are doing is right. History has shown us this many a time. Democracy is often described as tyranny by the majority.
There’s a line in “The Dark Knight” that sums up why the far-right has risen again. Alfred commenting on The Joker says; “In their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” The causes of this desperation in those voting for the far-right have already been mentioned and the likes of Trump and Wilders are preying on this. Neither could be described as humanists, so there must be something else at play here. It is the pursuit of power. They are no different from any other politicians in that regard. The differences with the far-right policies are that it creates an atmosphere of blinding fear. It takes a bad situation and makes it worse.
Thank God I didn’t think of this during the podcast. This is a lake in Massachusetts that unsurprisingly is often credited with the longest place name in the United States. Some translate it to English as; You fish on your side of the lake, I’ll fish in mine and nobody fishes in the middle. Why can’t this level of understanding be applied to the major religions of the world? You worship your way, I worship my way and neither of us will impinge on those rights. If the leaders of the far-right were serious about protecting their citizens it would be a message of tolerance they would preach. Not one of fear and disdain. Society and civilisation have moved on. Cultural differences have become celebrated rather than feared. Please don’t let the demagogues bring us back to the Middle Ages.
We’re down with the kids on social media;