The rise of right-wing populist parties and movements in the West has made Muslims the new Jews, writes Muhammad Javed.
In Europe and the US, change is looming; the continent is in the midst of the election season, and with it will come a change in government, new policies, new controversies, and ever more uncertainty.
Not all in the West are satisfied with the current political and social situation. The political right are for the first time in recent decades gaining traction as a whole, and picking up momentum on the political stage in both Europe and the US: the “Alternative for Germany” party won up to 25% of the vote in March 2016, threatening Angela Merkel’s position as German Chancellor; Poland’s Law and Justice Party resurged with 39% of the national vote in 2015; and France’s National Front party which won 27% of the vote in 2015 and is expected to stride ahead next year in the 2017 presidential election. The most altering and effective resurgence in right-wing European politics is by Austria’s Freedom Party, which gained just over a staggering 49% in May, being narrowly defeated but having another chance in a re-election soon.
With presidential elections just round the corner, the US is in a strikingly similar position: the presidential nominees have been narrowed down to the last two – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Many find this to be an almost impossible decision to make, sticking Americans between a rock and a hard place, and understandably so.
Clinton’s long record of political lies and support for aggressive foreign policy decisions, including the invasion of Iraq make her as undesirable as Trump because of his xenophobic attitude, views, and threats against minorities.
In both continents, we can see the gradual and steady rise of the far-right, whose views are typically anti-immigration, anti-EU, sometimes anti-Semitic, and pretty much always anti-Islam.
So what is causing the shift in this political landscape, and what is the role that Muslims are playing in it – or rather perceived in it?
Why is the right-wing actually supported?
A question that naturally comes to the inquisitive mind is “why are right-wing parties and politicians gaining so much momentum and so many votes?” Amidst economic uncertainty, a rise in Euro-scepticism, the flood of refugees into the continent, and especially the sharp increase in terrorist attacks across Europe, it’s no surprise that this situation of panic has been exploited by the political right for their own interests.
The ranting and raving of those right-wing politicians is only really acceptable in times of turbulence and uncertainty, and in a climate of fear and hate. The divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump, for example, would not sit well even with his Republican masses back in the mid-20th century when the US was in a time of relative peace and prosperity, with its post-war economy booming. In fact, they would have considered him a madman, an attention-seeker, some kind of broken soul, for espousing such right-wing views when one fascist government had just been defeated.
So here we can see that the support for a certain type of political ideology, and its level or radicalism is effectively determined by the social and economic atmosphere of the time. Apply this to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany in 1933, which fed off an atmosphere of social decline, the weakly-perceived Weimar government, and economic recession, fuelled by the promise of “making Germany great again,” to win over the admiration of the German people. Sound familiar?
The miracles of propaganda
For a political party to achieve this affect and to win over the hearts and minds of a nation, it is no mystery that a clever and constant use of propaganda is needed. The far-right knows this, and uses it to a greater effect than any left-wing party or movement.
Hitler used his knowledge of the psychology of the masses, which stated that while individuals would judge and be sceptical of the points a speaker makes, many individuals joined together in a crowd would rely less on their intelligence and more on their emotion, letting themselves to get carried away by the constant rhetoric being hammered into them.
Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ explains it as follows:
“It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction, for instance. The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be…and not success pleasing a few scholars or young aesthetes.
“The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. In this way the result is weakened and in the end entirely cancelled out.”
Furthermore, the political right has a policy of using propaganda and hate speech to revive and fuel the “us vs. them” worldview. This sets one group against all, believing all other groups to be part of a whole and greater enemy.
Another passage from the same book dictates that “the leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”
To compare Europe’s right-wing politicians and Trump to Hitler and the National Socialists is, of course, not entirely accurate.
Trump’s foolish and amusing antics in particular do not resemble the grim seriousness of the ideology – but the hate and threat that both messages carry is strikingly similar. The message that the Germany’s National Socialists propagated was that the Jews were responsible as a whole for global capitalism and the financial debt of entire nations, and that as a result they should be restricted, limited, gathered, concentrated, and eventually exterminated. The message that is propagated by the political right today is that the Muslims are responsible as a whole for global terrorism and the instability of entire nations, and that as a result they should be….you know the drill.
When confronted with this concept, many would brush it off by saying that such a thing is impossible and merely exaggerated, yet those are exactly the same thoughts of the international community almost a century ago. It is incredible that humanity, in particular Europe and the US, who were the most engrossed in the Second World War, has already forgotten the atrocities that results from such a polarised view and aggressive political rhetoric, but perhaps their ‘Fuhrer’ was right when he said “their power of forgetting is enormous.”
The unfortunate reality is that we Muslims are the new Jews of the world. Let us hope history does not repeat itself completely.
Muhammad Javed is a university politics student, who is an aspiring journalist focusing on Middle Eastern and international political affairs.