The Financial Express

Rise of extremism in the West

Rise of extremism in the West

The sporadic incidents of far-right lone wolves attacking immigrants, or members of the minority groups in the Western countries are apt to give one the impression that such extremists do not represent their mainstream. And it is assumed that bigotry and prejudices have no place in societies run on democratic principles. And since a rational outlook rather than prejudice and bigotry controls life in those societies, extremism should not be able to thrive there. On the contrary, as democracy could not take root in backward societies, they nurture superstitions, religious bigotry and prejudices and as such are hotbeds of all kinds of extremism.

Then what about the rising trend of racism and far-right violence against immigrants in the West? One might recall here some recent incidents of attack such as the one committed by a Norwegian, Andrew Brevik, on July 11 2011. He massacred 77 people in total by blasting bomb and carrying out mass shooting. Also, consider the massacre of 51 Muslims by an Australian named Brent on Harrison Tarrant in two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March, 2019. How is one to explain these gruesome massacres of innocent civilians by bigots in so advanced Western democracies? Are those merely isolated cases of extremism by fringe elements in those societies?

Can those be explained away saying that those frenzied individuals took up arms in reaction to the violent attacks Islamist militants carried out on their soil?

But then how is one going to explain the very recent terror attack on the Capitol building in America by a huge violent mob?  Or what about the series of violent acts carried out by white supremacists across the USA preceding the January 6 riot at Capitol in Washington, DC?

Perhaps this latest episode of extremist attack on the sacred institution of American democracy has brought to the fore their other face that so far was not so clearly visible to the rest of the world. The demonic violence unleashed at the Capitol has unmasked another society lying beneath the veneer of America's advanced, democratic civil face.

 Donald Trump's America is the other America that has now been bared before the rest of us. But is it only America where such things can happen?

Perhaps not. Other Western nations of Europe, to be specific, are no stranger to such phenomenon. Only that we have no recent memory of any showdown of such ugly violence in Western Europe. In fact, begotten by all kinds of prejudice and superstition, such demonic forces have always been lurking behind the otherwise civilised façade of every advanced, liberal democracy. The world witnessed it in Germany before and during the Second World War. Now the demons have again begun to raise their heads one by one in every developed society.

The likes of Donald Trump are not the cause of the hate-driven racist, ultra-right, anti-Black, anti-immigrant outbursts. They are but symptoms of deeper economic malaise in those societies. Increasing disparities, rising rate of unemployment and underemployment have made the affected people in those countries look for enemies. One may recall that following the First World War fascism raised its head in the form of Nazism which believed in the superiority of the German race and targeted the ethnic Jewish minority as the cause of their misfortunes. And the rest is history.

Many Western thinkers, especially, economists ascribe such developments in their societies to the failure of neo-liberalism. Put it in the words of 2001's Nobel Prize winning American economist Joseph Stiglitz: "The credibility of neoliberalism's faith in unfettered markets as the surest road to shared prosperity is on life-support these days."

Who are these neo-liberals? They are proponents of unfettered free market with the least government control on the economy. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek and American economist Milton Friedman (got Nobel Prize in economics in 1976) re-introduced the 19th century's free-market capitalism in America and Europe. It believes that market is the economy's, even society's, ultimate arbiter. President Ronald Reagan's America (1981-89) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Britain (1979-90) championed the neo-liberal economic policies in their respective countries and the rest of the world (except the socialist countries of that time) followed suit. Basically the neo-liberal policies consisted in reducing taxes on business and the wealthy to allow them to grow without hindrance. The philosophy behind it is that growth of private capital in this manner will lead to a prosperous society when the rest of the people, too, will get the benefit of that prosperity through 'trickle-down effect'. The consequence of the economic model was that business witnessed an unprecedented growth, but the economic benefits did not trickle down to the lower strata of society. On the contrary, the working people saw a continuous reduction in their wages, the public sector experienced less government spending on education, health and social security. Workers' rights were also curbed in the industries to remove obstacles to private capital's growth.

And one should not be surprised that the number of billionaires has been growing worldwide and social wealth is being transferred to a handful of superrich businesspeople. The big multinational corporations, for example, are relocating their business ventures in parts of the world where labour is cheaper. As a result, workers in America, for instance, are losing their jobs. Social benefits have been cut.  The common people are in a desperate situation. But who is to blame for this. The oligarchs who control the mainstream politics, the media and a large section of the intelligentsia would not let people know the economic root cause of their suffering. Hence is the rise of rabble-rousers like Donald Trump who can divert common people's attention from the real issues. So, they begin to think that immigrants, African-Americans and other minorities are the cause of their hardship. Diehard xenophobes and extremists of all varieties take advantage of this situation.

Occasional outbursts of this kind of extremism are also taking place in other advanced democracies and for similar reasons.


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