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The Fires of the Far Right and the Flames that Fanned Them

As the 21st century began, conservative political power had begun to wane. The legacies of politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher faded from the policy vanguard, around the world, decidedly less nationalist politicians held the center stage. An interconnected EU had spawned one of the world’s largest economies. Trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) helped connect the world economy in ways previously unimaginable. However, the last eight years have seen a surge in politicians opposing globalization and free trade. The world’s most powerful international coalition has begun to fracture under the strain of a massive migrant crisis, and far-right parties, those on the most extreme end of conservatism, have been gaining support around the world. In the United States, Donald Trump, a man whose abhorrent comments would have instantly disqualified any other presidential candidate, has only seen a surge in his popularity. Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEIGA), a far right activism group in Germany, has staged massive protests calling for the banning of Muslim refugees and forced concessions from the German government. Even in Australia, the far right Reclaim Australia movement has gained massive support while fighting against Muslim immigration and the rights of Muslims as a whole. While these groups are not exactly identical, the anti-immigration policies as well as a fierce nationalist agenda they support are slowly weaving themselves into a new, sinister status quo.

The economic recession that gripped the Western world in 2008 began to fuel the fires of the far right, but the refugee crisis has fanned the flames. Since the end of the Cold War Era, the far right has been cast to the fringes of the political world. However, resentment over the refugee crisis has pushed it back into center stage, fueled by simple, human response to terrible situations: anger. Over a million people, many without documentation, have flooded over into the European Union and almost 11 million undocumented immigrants have crossed into the United States- all of them without basic necessities and most without money. The burden to provide food, water, shelter, and education has fallen on the backs of the European governments. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates the initial economic burden on these European states is between 8,000 and 12,000 euros per refugee every year. Europe had still not fully recovered from the 2008 economic recession and countries such as Greece and Spain had already been dealing with their own internal economic problems. For many countries, taking in refugees was seen as another unjust burden thrust upon them by the EU. Even when the human consequences are massive, the people of European countries, such as Hungary, have shut their doors. People do not want refugees in their countries and resent the EU’s refugee quota initiative. Over 80% of the French and German people support plans to spread refugees across European nations- the general attitude in Europe has become that we should help refugees, but just not in our country. The far right has used the economic strain Europe has been feeling, both from the 2008 recession and the refugee crisis, and funneled it into anti-immigration sentiment.

Far right leaders, including Greece’s Ilias Kasidiaris, America’s Donald Trump, and France’s Marrie Le Pen, have been successfully manipulating one of the most basic human emotions: fear. The fear that immigrants are coming to steal your job, that they simply cannot integrate into our society, and that they are “rapists and murderers”. In the Netherlands and United Kingdom, approximately 80% of people believe there is a risk of terrorists coming into their nations disguised as refugees. In order to protect their nations, many citizens of these countries want to halt or reduce the flow of refugees. Not only has the far right movement been painting all Muslim refugees terrorist threats, even demonizing Muslim citizens as well as outsiders. Even though there are legitimate security concerns about Syrian refugees, problems in the European Union, and economic strife throughout the world, the far right has not been participating in legitimate discussions. Rather, the far right has been demonizing people to in order drum up fear. Jimmie Akesson, a leader of the Swedish, anti-immigration Democrats called “Islamism [the] Nazism and Communism of our time”. By the same token, Donald Trump called for a “full and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that refugees “looked like an army”, and Debbie Robinson the leader of the Australian Q Society, an anti-Islamic group, said too that Islam is akin to fascism, as well as that the Australian government is “involved in the Islamisation process” of the nation’s schools and other far right leaders continue to espouse similar ideas across the world. The consequences of this inflammatory rhetoric and the rise of far right are both far-reaching and devastating.

With Muslim refugees putting a strain on Europe’s social system, Muslims as a whole have been scapegoated as the source of the Europe’s problems. For many people, Muslims, even when they are EU or US citizens, are no longer considered welcome in the Western community. Even patriotic Muslims-like Khzir Khan, whose legitimacy has been defended on this site before and has fought for the US Constitution and constantly positively contribute to society, have been slandered on national television. It is no surprise that when politicians and other prominent political figures are given a national stage to slander Muslims, they are able to convince angry, frustrated people that Islam is the problem. The impacts have been catastrophic for Muslim populations. There has been a 77% increase in reported hate crimes in Germany since 2014, and in just the first 5 months of 2016, there were over 63 cases of arson targeting refugee shelters in Germany alone. In Cannes, France, women have been banned from wearing burkinis, bathing suits that cover the entire body, because they are not “bathing apparel which respects good customs and secularism”. Muslims rights and freedoms have begun to be stripped away bit by bit and the list of moderate politicians standing up for Muslims’ rights is growing thinner.

While the rise of the far right has catalyzed social change in Europe, it has had a much more prominent effect on changing the European Union. After the EU expanded in 2004 and 2007, many new immigrants came to Britain in search of jobs and opportunity. After the 2008 recession, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), blamed unemployment and stagnant wages on the immigrants that were coming across the EU’s open borders. At first, UKIP was not taken seriously. However, the uncertainty about how the EU was going to handle the migrant crisis and curtail immigration allowed the party to garner serious support. Eventually, UKIP was able to spearhead the independence movement, riding on the back of anti-immigration sentiment, causing the UK to leave the EU. Not only has the migrant crisis and the growth of far right anti-immigration caused the UK to leave, but many more countries, including Hungary, are considering similar referendums. The migrant crisis seems to have pushed over the first domino in the strikingly fragile European Union. Countries across Europe are deciding to put their own country, rather than all of Europe, first. Discontent with the status quo is sweeping the EU, potentially destroying its collective bargaining power on the world stage. Either the EU is going to have to reform, or it is going to drown in the rising tide of the far right.

A bitter cycle is forming around the world. Islamic terrorist groups are spawning fear and hatred through their atrocities. This fear and hatred is spreading throughout the population, arousing leaders who demonize and degrade Islam as whole. This is in turn breeds more prejudice and persecution of Muslims, which leads to more radicalization. The goal of terrorism is to create fear and by that the metric, terrorists seem to be winning. The world is afraid- maybe rightly so- but our fear has begun to cloud our judgement and determine our actions. The UK left the EU in spite of massive economic evidence that it would derail their economy, the EU has begun to fracture under partisan politics, and the rights of Muslims are being striped away because of fear and resentment. Fear is a powerful tool, one that both terrorists and the far right are exploiting.