The Dutch are renowned for their liberalism, from the legalisation of marijuana to the freedom of windswept hair on the venerated cycle path they appear to have liberalist society down to a tee. But like most European countries, it’s had its battle with rising Islamism in recent decades. The emergence of the Hofstad Network in the early 2000’s was the first concerning sign of the this issue in Holland, but it wasn’t until Geert Wilders in 2016, in the aftermath of Brexit and Trump, that the right-wing anti-islamic sentiment gained momentum. Among traditional anti-atheistic proponents, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is held up as a heroin, standing up against the intrinsic oppressiveness of the ideology and fighting back vigorously against heralded Islamic principles in a bid to diminish the ill-effects of fundamentalism, and having served in dutch parliament she is a big deal in the windmill capital of the world. However, her public renunciation of the faith has failed to get the liberal majority on her side, and this is where one of the big issues with 21st century liberalism is conceived, and more importantly where Wilders almost managed to exploit a gap in the spectrum. Many leftists claim to defend fringe groups, such as Muslims, in western countries and seem to forget that in other countries these people are the majority. They blindly defend Muslims in the Middle East in case our perceived persecution of them has been exported to their homeland. There’s a consistent victim with an inconsistent justification. We should be able to criticise bad Islamic ideology in Islamist countries without being accused of discriminating against minorities. The reality is we forget about the real victims of these theocratic states. We defend the right of Muslims to practice female genital mutilation as a mere cultural anomaly, but forget to protect the rights of the girls being mutilated. We defend the right of Muslims to preach sharia law, but forget about the tortured homosexuals and subjugated women, actions which would humiliate even the most homophobic and sexist westerners. We defend the right of Muslims to live by their scripture but forget about the apostates being publicly executed and the secular bloggers being lashed for their beliefs. It’s an inconsistency which needs to die if we intend on making progress with regards to cultural relations. We’re supporting cultural tolerance at the expense of morality and we must find a middle ground between discrimination and masochism that can advance our aims. Until we find such a space, we can be sure that fear will be exploited by populist candidates in order to drive a wedge between religions for their own political gains. Wilders had legitimate cause to point to the murder of Theo Van Gogh as a failure of western culture to recognise the threat of Islamic extremism. Van Gogh was murdered, by a jihadi, in 2004 for making a film entitled “Submission” with the aforementioned Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This unwarranted violence is a simple ploy to silence any conversation about the perils of Islamic extremism, and it’s a threat that many leftists are bowing to. Every time we try and bring up this topic we are warned that we do so at our own risk. It is the one issue that truly no longer affords free speech. This begs the question: how do we sensitively initiate this much needed conversation about Islam? Do we make a film, like Theo Van Gogh? Do we draw a cartoon, like Charlie Hebdo? Do we write a book, like Salman Rushdie? What’s the appropriate way to introduce these issues without having to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life out of fear that you were so provocative as to merit being slaughtered on your commute. When every effort to communicate is mistaken for the sin of blasphemy, how do we address the issue? That is the question we must find a rational solution to if we intend on putting an end to the irrational solutions propagated by self-serving nationalists.
In Hungary, they put their beliefs far more plainly. Prime minister Orban has publicly opposed opening borders to refugees, but he has been the voice of reason in this campaign. In politics I always find it difficult to fully back a politician due to the sheer number of policies they are obliged to subscribe to, the chances are that I will disagree with them on a number of fronts. However, I have for more time for Orban’s soft-eurosceptic approach and justification than any other anti-EU campaigner. Like many leaders at the moment, he is calling for reform, especially in the EU, but his lucid criticism of leading European establishments gives his campaign a degree of honesty and integrity that I couldn’t extend to Le Pen. As far as right-wing populists go, Orban seems to be the most open-minded despite his fundamentally illiberal belief that “the community, not the individual is the basic political unit”. The main worry regarding Orban is his idolisation of China, Russia and Turkey as effective political blueprints, but if all of the current stream of populists conducted themselves in such a rational manner, the cries of the right would be easier to listen to. Orban is not a hero of modern day politics, he’s guilty of the some of the same misdeeds as many political fanatics, but he appears, at least on the surface, to be the most coherent voice of right-wing moderates, and I’m sure he’s less dogmatic than the aforementioned populist figureheads. Therefore, in the name of rational discourse, I think it wise to listen to such controversial beliefs, without mistaking nationalism for racism, without mistaking free-speech for hate-speech, and without mistaking criticism of Islam with discrimination, otherwise, these comparatively harmless ideals may dangerously mutate in the minds of right-wing extremists.
The 2016 Austrian election was one of the weirdest political events of the year, an impressive feat given the absurd competition. The main issue in this election was an attempt to manufacture controversy in the legitimate election of the independent libertarian, Alexander Van Der Bellen. After a 50.3% to 49.7% victory, there was good reason for a discussion to ensue vis-a-vis a recount, but the automatic assumption from Norbert Hofer’s, right wing, supporters was instead claims of electoral fraud, something his party members had mentioned in the run up to the election in order to prime his supporters to believe such nonsense. This widespread contention led to the annulment of the results by the Constitutional Court of Austria and prompted a re-run 5 months down the line. The results of the second election were almost comical, Van Der Bellen increased his margin of victory, ten-fold, from 30,000 to 300,000. Despite, the second, more convincing victory, the result is still shrouded in controversy due to the anchor of political corruption in the minds of voters. We need to be wary of this method of manufactured controversy in politics as a weapon of manipulation. Just as it was employed in Austria to deceive the public, it was used by Farage to advocate a second referendum if the result was narrow, and by Trump who suggested multiple times throughout his campaign that he wouldn’t accept the result of the election and propagated a notion that a Clinton victory could only happen if the Democrats cheated. This is a cheap but effective ploy and one that is used in an unprinciple way to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a victory, as justification for posthumously fighting against your opponent’s campaign. It’s a dangerous tactic and it could have real consequences if we don’t remain vigilant for such anti-democratic propaganda.
The Italian referendum was one that mostly slipped under the radar, despite many key political analysts describing it as the most significant European political event of 2016, which takes some doing. In doing research on this topic, I noticed an absence of straightforward information but I eventually, tenuously grasped the basics. In short, Prime minister Renzi launched a campaign in favour of removing power from the senate, meaning bills would only have to be approved by one house of parliament. He failed miserably, losing by just under 6 million votes. The party on the opposing side, immodestly called “Five Star Movement”, has been likened to an Italian UKIP, a recurring comparison of the last couple years. Renzi claimed the bill would stabilise the Italian Government and allow for a more productive administration. On the flip side however, it was portrayed as poorly put together and an abuse of power on the part of Renzi. In the aftermath of his defeat Renzi resigned, the populist right-wing party expanded their support base and talk of a referendum on European membership ensued. Deja Vu indeed. The “No”camp capitalised on Renzi’s declining popularity, offering an anti-establishment repudiation of globalist politics. Again the refugee crisis played a role, again the fear of a changing Europe defined the election, and once again the isolationist-nationalist sentiment won out.
I don’t believe for a second that the global right-wing campaign has been fueled racism or bigotry, there’s undeniably a preponderance of such people within this movement, but they’re genuinely the minority. In reality, the left-wing ideologues are corroding our democracy and peddling divisive politics in collaboration with the right, while the moderates are left trying to rein them in to normality. The left’s ability to call themselves liberals while condoning bigoted, fascist behaviour within their own ranks is just as much a cause of our current political crisis. The movement is not merely stagnant, but is in retrograde, they’ve lost ground in the centre and their future looks irredeemable. Until they can rectify their internal divisions and listen to their opponents with an open mind, I fear we will be trapped between the rock of left wing intolerance and the hard place right wing discrimination.