Brexit, the election, and the rise of the far right
They say many around the age of forty are struck with a crisis of identity. After vowing to end 43 years of political and economic union with Europe, it seems oddly befitting that like it’s citizens, a nation too can have an existential crisis. Last month’s referendum decision in Britain came as a shock to many.
Few believed that the general public would reject the near uniform calls from the political and economic establishments to remain in the European Union. The constant warnings from ‘expert’ commentators on the financial cost of such a move fell onto deaf ears, as the silent majority quietly severed ties with the continent.
Commentators on both ends of the political spectrum were quick to lay blame. Acknowledging truthfully that the debate had largely devolved into an argument over foreign immigration, some were eager to label leave voters as racist bigots, arguing that their vote was based largely on hatred for immigrants – particularly refugees fleeing the Middle East. Others were quick to blame the refugees themselves, stating that they were ‘destroying Europe’ and are ‘incompatible with a British way of life’.
"Back at home Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has just seen a resurgence in the political field by tapping into a popular sentiment of fear that cannot be ignored."
Rather, we must observe last month’s results not in a reductionist manner that demonizes over half the British population, or innocent people fleeing from terror, but as yet another protest to the unforeseen economic and cultural consequences of a globalisation project increasingly under attack.
Across much of the Western world there has been a resurgence of far right ethnonational movements and politicians who have made careers out of capitalizing on heightened public anxiety and fear in the aftermath of terror attacks and global violence.
In a world of increasingly open doors, there are those desperately trying to batten down the hatches. In the same year that UKIP convinced voters in Britain that the answer to global insecurity and the protection of their identity was the enactment of legislative walls to immigration, a Republican nominee in the US runs on the promise of building literal walls to keep neighbouring Mexican people out.
Back at home Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has just seen a resurgence in the political field by tapping into a popular sentiment of fear that cannot be ignored. She is running on a mandate where she wants to ban the intake of any Muslim refugees; to ban the wearing of clothing deemed Islamic; to ban the building of mosques and require the installation of surveillance equipment into pre-existing Muslim schools and places of worship; and to demand the establishment of a royal commission into Islam. This vilification of people based on the colour of their skin or the faith in their hearts is far from new. Perhaps as someone with Asian heritage I should at least be relieved that this time around I am not the first in her firing line.
It is undeniable that we live in a cosmopolitan world. The sovereign borders between nations have become less visible as national, and supranational entities seek to reduce the barriers hindering global trade and finance. Accompanying the free flow of economic capital has been the increasing movement of cultural capital as well. Today, anyone can share ideas and communicate to a global audience, regardless of time or space. Movement of people has increased exponentially as air travel has become more accessible alongside its ever-growing affordability.
For years this trend has been greeted with enthusiasm. Increasing cultural cosmopolitanism has enriched our lives and understanding of the world by allowing us to see from other perspectives and experience different ways of life.
But for some of us it has also awoken a deep sense of unease about our own identity and our place in a changing world.
Never is this more salient than in times of crisis. One only needs to turn on the TV to see how, despite the wealth of research into the multiple causes of radicalization and violent extremism, terrorist events are still largely depicted as a ‘clash of civilizations’ between those who identify with Islam and those that do not.
Then again, how can we expect journalists to explain the complex drivers of violent extremism in a media sphere that rewards simple slogans and is inherently hostile to rational debate that requires a multiplicity of viewpoints. Instead, it has sadly proven itself fertile ground for messages of hate and vitriol that catch the eye and make for good headlines.
Leaders understand that words matter. It is time for us to realize the same. Using hateful and bigoted rhetoric to manipulate the public for one’s own ends is beyond negligent – it is destructive. It does nothing but fuel needless anger, fear and resentment. Most importantly it denies the reality that Australia today is a multicultural society, and that the right to identify and define what it means to be an Australian does not belong to a select, vocal few; it belongs to all of us.
Across much of the Western world there has been a resurgence of far right ethno-national movements
Photo Paul Loyd @ Creative Commons