Right-wing extremism: Is the West catching the Middle East flu?

An ultra right wing demonstrator salutes during Spain’s National Day in Barcelona on October 12, 2017. (Reuters)

Extremism is a polarizing force that strives to manifest its professed demons in order to legitimize its cause. More often than not it succeeds in creating its ‘Other’ in its own image as it projects its perceived insecurities and fears onto the psyche of its supposed rival.

As societies implode into contending camps, moderates in the middle get squeezed from all sides and are vilified as two-faced timeservers, enemy collaborators or as mere feckless nincompoops.

In such an ionized atmosphere, faith trumps reason and liberalism gets a bad name. This is not just the story of the Middle East, strangely the West is fast catching the flu.

The virulence of ISIS’ radicalism has not only created its own set of hideous lone wolves and sleeper cells in the West, it has also engendered its doppelgangers in far-right White supremacist groups — albeit of a considerably less noxious variety until now.

Doom loop of liberalism

Derek Thompson attributes the rising tide of far-right extremism in the West and the emerging “doom loop of liberalism” to three contemporary trends: low birth rate of Western societies, the fragility of European welfare states and rising wave of foreign migrants.

The far-right groups blame the general permissiveness of ‘neo-liberal’ mores and the advocacy of LGBTQ rights as responsible for the “death” of the institution of marriage in the West leading to declining birth rates and a consequent need for foreign workers.

Similarly, neo-liberal support for environment protection is misconstrued as being detrimental to Western industries forcing multinational companies to shift their centers of gravity to Asia, leaving behind predatory “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions for Western populations to fend.

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The messages of repressing ethnic and racial identities and of ‘compromising’ national interests at the altar of a technocratic, globalist neo-liberal order has started resonating with even moderate sections of Western societies.

The last match to light the tinderbox has been the swarm of refugees from Syria, Libya and other Middle East states entering Europe in recent years bringing economic uncertainties to the continent and a series of terrorist attacks to boot.

This April 29, 2017 photo shows members of the far-right group, the National-Radical Camp, marking 83rd anniversary of their organization, in Warsaw. (AP)

This April 29, 2017 photo shows members of the far-right group, the National-Radical Camp, marking 83rd anniversary of their organization, in Warsaw. (AP)

The populist challenge

The most glaring sign of this rising tide of rabid nationalism was on view in the recent “Independence March” held in Warsaw on November 11, in which about 60,000 people took part — which included several fascists and White supremacists who chanted slogans like “down with the refugees,” “Europe will be White” and “God, honour, homeland”.

They sought the removal of both “the Jewry” and Muslims from their country as many banners called for “clean blood”. Surprisingly, Poland’s government, led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, described the rally as a “beautiful sight” and defended the protestors as “patriotic”.

In fact, Europe has been witnessing a groundswell of populist challenge to liberal democracy for quite some time now, which is evident even in the recent election results of various European states.

On October 15, right wing conservative candidate Sebastian Kurz won the Austrian general election on an anti-immigration platform and is on the verge of becoming its youngest chancellor. In the Czech Republic, the October 20-21 legislative election has produced an anti-EU and an anti-establishment candidate, Andrej Babis, as the prime minister-designate.

Meanwhile, the anti-immigration rhetoric of Alternative for Germany party has made it the third largest party in Germany’s parliament (Bundestag), where it has claimed 94 seats. This is the first time any far right party has entered German parliament since 1961.

Meanwhile, two regions in Italy – Lombardy and Veneto – voted for more autonomy in late October, coming on the heels of referendum in Catalonia voting to secede from Spain. The same anti-EU trend was notable in Britain’s referendum in June last year, when the UK electorate voted against being part of the European Union (now dubbed the Brexit vote), thereby agreeing with the position taken by the right wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) and even some Conservative Party members.

In the United States, there has been a marked increase in hate attacks against people of colour, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ community and other minorities this year. On August 12, hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis reportedly converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, for “Unite the Right” rally, the largest of its kind held in the US in recent decades.

The rally descended to outright clashes with anti-racist and anti-fascist activists throughout the city, causing widespread violence and the killing of a 32 year old social worker. Since then, several “White Lives Matter” rallies have been organized.

Meanwhile, a survey report issued last month by the US media organization NPR (National Public Radio), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that the most White Americans believe they face racial discrimination in their country.

Out of the 902 White Americans surveyed, 55 per cent believed there was discrimination against their race. However, only 19 percent claimed they had personally experienced racism against them.

Right-wing demonstrators waving Spanish and Valencian flags insult local leftist politicians accusing them to sympathize with the Catalan separatist movement during the festivities of the regional day in Valencia, Spain October 9, 2017. (Reuters)

Right-wing demonstrators waving Spanish and Valencian flags insult local leftist politicians accusing them to sympathize with the Catalan separatist movement during the festivities of the regional day in Valencia, Spain October 9, 2017. (Reuters)

Global village? Not yet!

These developments point to a very destabilizing situation unfolding in advanced countries of the West, which need to be addressed before it escalates out of control. Perhaps, the world could not keep pace with the speed of globalization in recent decades and the votaries of a neo-liberal “end of history” theory were too premature in making their bold predictions.

It is also noteworthy that all extremist religious and nationalist movements around the world think remarkably alike and they all oppose the liberal and humanitarian values upon which the modern international order is founded.

This makes for a very disconcerting trend. There is clearly a need for introspection and course correction, which ironically can only come from the moderate and liberal sections of the international community.

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Perhaps, regional groupings and international institutions – like the World Bank, the IMF and the EU – should become less prescriptive and more responsive to the needs and vulnerabilities of their member states, and should take into account societal fault-lines while making decisions.

Governments and civil society in every country also need to identify and resolve the unaddressed real issues facing various communities that extremists exploit to justify their call.

There is clearly a need to initiate fresh ideas and policies to drain the growing swamp of hate and intolerance in order to build a more peaceful and integrated global society for tomorrow.
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Dr. Adil Rasheed is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence and Strategic Analyses (IDSA) based in New Delhi since August 2016. For over 20 years, he has been a journalist, researcher, political commentator for various international think tanks and media organizations, both in the UAE and India. He was Senior Research Fellow at the United Services Institution of India (USI) for two years from 2014 to 2016, where he still holds the honorary title of Distinguished Fellow. He has also worked at the Abu Dhabi-based think tank The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) for eight years (2006-14).

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