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November 5, 2017

The politics of fear


November 5, 2017

With the speed at which globalisation has occurred over the past few decades, it could have easily been assumed that Nazism, racism, xenophobia were things of the past. Of course, they still exist but only on the instigation of non-state actors.

The Arab Spring, which started in the Middle East in 2010, indicated the extent to which democratic values had become embedded in the minds of the international community. However, since 2015 we find ourselves in a world where support for democracy and human rights seems to be thinning down and is now being replaced by regimes founded on the basis of mistrust, fear and xenophobia. How did this change come about?

The Arab Spring succeeded in overthrowing oppressive, dynastic regimes in Egypt, Yemen and Libya. Although these regimes were believed to bring about a more rights-sensitive world, the outcome was anything but. The series of revolutions across these countries gave their youth communities the power to take the law into their own hands. The revolutionary movements, supported by the ‘civilised’ Nato countries, might have been aimed at promoting democratic governments. However, no one had considered who would govern once the regimes in these countries were overthrown. This resulted in complete anarchy and left dangerous and frustrated people armed with weapons. It was these people who filled in the vacuum.

While the Arab Spring had worsened the situation, some in Syria decided to move towards overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. Just when a civil war was going on in Syria, a new group was founded under the name of Isis. This group claimed statehood in the Iraq and Syrian territories and announced the revival of a caliphate. The terror it brought with it not only threatened  immediate victims but also compromised international peace and security.

Faced with an alarming situation in Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East (not to forget the plight of the Rohingya community in Myanmar and that of the Palestinians) the natural instinct of any reasonable person would be to survive. Therefore, not surprisingly, the population of these regions set off to migrate to apparently safer places – the European countries and the West. And so began the migration crisis.

Since the economies of the EU member states were suffering from huge crises, the arrival of unknown migrants posed challenges of epic proportions. Accommodating these migrants would become a burden on their economies. And, further, how would they integrate these ‘aliens’ into their own social structures?

Just when the European countries and the US were trying to control the inflow of migrants into their borders, a series of terror attacks took place after November 2015. These started with a string of attacks in Paris, which resulted in huge casualties and confirmed everyone’s fears that Isis posed a risk to peace and security on a global scale. The Paris attacks were followed by similar incidents in 2016 and 2017 in Germany, Brussels, more cities France and then the UK. As a result, fear spread across the world.

This is what gave rise to the politics of fear. Nothing spreads as rapidly as fear and one person’s fear is always someone else’s opportunity. The same tactic that has been employed by non-state actors who perpetrate acts of terrorism. However, when the same tactic is adopted by state actors under the guise of democratic legitimacy, it becomes more worrying.

Hence, it came as a bitter reality check when Donald Trump was elected as the American president in November 2016. Trump’s campaign clearly indicated that he stood for all notions that went against the very fundamentals of the ‘free country’ that the US has symbolised: white supremacist ideals, Islamophobia, xenophobia and discriminatory views towards women. Trump was the embodiment of every single vice that the previous regimes of the US had stood against.

What comes across as shocking is that it is not just the US president who advocates a right-wing, nationalist political approach. Instead, this has become a worldwide phenomenon, with previously liberal democracies now favouring a much more right-wing approach. The rise of dictatorial and oppressive regimes has now also become a common feature in the liberal, Western European countries.

Relatively peaceful European countries have recently been in the midst of serious political controversies. For example, Poland finds itself under the rule of the right-wing party Law and Justice, which recently proposed controversial bills that sought to limit judicial independence. Similarly, Hungary is also led by a right-wing populist government. Spain is in a political mess after the people of Catalan began expressing their desire to secede following the recently-held referendum. This resulted in Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy resorting to violence against separatists. Even the UK has expressed right-wing leanings in light of its Brexit referendum in June 2016.

All these advocates of the ‘free world’ appear to be disillusioned with the broken promises of democracy and liberalism. The reasons for their disillusionment are common to quite an extent: crumbling economies and the rising wave of extremism that leads to the fear of immigrants. However, we must remind ourselves that fear is the biggest malefactor as it can lead to grave errors. This is quite evident from the Bush administration’s decision to intervene in Iraq in 2003 without any factual basis. The world needs to come together to fight off the evils that we are facing; politics of division cannot save us.

The writer is an advocate of the high court.

Email: [email protected]

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