Europe at a Crossroads: The Rise of the Right and Post-Truth Politics

 

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The EU is having a hard time. Photo by MOs810

Ben Krasa

Europe is at a crossroads and the coming months will determine its stability for the foreseeable future. The unforeseen victories for Brexit, Donald Trump and the rise in populism makes us question how there is such momentum behind these campaigns. Therefore, the leaders who have grabbed headlines over the two years must be examined in order to understand how they have shaken the world.

“Post-truth” was awarded by Oxford Dictionary as the word of the year. Defined as “appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored”, it has led to escalation of support for populist leaders and a growing support of their beliefs. With anti-migrant and anti-Muslim sentiment rising in Europe, there is an obvious shift in mentality as opposed to previous years, which mainly rests on the shoulders of the post-truth rhetoric. Various populist campaigns stemmed from post-truth and used emotion to escalate fear and incite hatred in various nations. Donald Trump’s stinging remarks about Mexicans and Muslims have been accompanied by a spike in hate crimes post-election, likewise in post-Brexit Britain. The leaders rely on fear and stirring emotion, rather than sense or logic, in order to gain a large following. In a pre-Brexit world, no one would have given Farage a chance, or have thought that Trump would claim the victory across the pond, nor that Le Pen may have influence in the French Presidential election.  However, the Brexit campaign spurred Trump to follow the same rhetoric and yielded a similar result. Post-truth tactics and hate rhetoric have grabbed Europe by the throat and won’t let go, so much so that talk of the demise of the European Union has begun to bubble up in public discourse.

Frauke Petry, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen are disturbing the political establishment of liberal Europe.

Throughout Europe, there is a growing urgency to discard the base of what has been guiding the political norm for the last decades. Moderate politics has typically dominated politics but we are witnessing a change in European sentiment. As elections in France, Germany and The Netherlands loom, Europe’s future could potentially be vastly different within a year. Marine Le Pen is making noise in France with a rhetoric that highlights the use of post-truth in politics, with much focus on the fear that a foreign ‘other’ will steal your job and earn more than you. This kind of rhetoric is hardly new, but as of late it has begun to feature more prominently in political discourse. Just last week, Geert Wilders was once again convicted of hate speech and also wants to ban all mosques in the Netherlands, is leading the most popular party in the country. He also relies on the tactic of post-truth and the manipulation of citizens’ emotions to gain popularity, rather than on logic and clear policy goals. Before the recent rerun of the Austrian Presidential election, a Holocaust survivor spoke out and pleaded with the public not to vote for the far-right candidate, Norbert Hofer, because the consequences petrified her and reminded her of pre-World War II Austria. This is a clear signal that surely it is time to think about which direction current politics is taking.

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Farage campaigned for Trump’s presidential bid.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit quoted as a stand up against the establishment and Donald Trump being carried as the ideal ‘anti-establishment’ candidate in the U.S. election. But for me it is difficult to confirm that they are truly ‘anti-establishment’. Trump resides in a Manhattan apartment “decorated in 24K gold and marble” and has a net worth of 3.2 billion dollars. It is hard to imagine why people labelled him anti-establishment despite having more in common with Hillary Clinton than many people would like to think. Prior to the election, he rubbed shoulders with the Clintons, their daughters are friends, and he had even donated money to the Clinton Foundation and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It would be foolish to think that Trump is anything but the ‘established’. Moreover, Nigel Farage who officially resigned as UKIP leader, but still receives 84,000 pounds salary as an MEP, immediately denied the NHS their supposedly ‘guaranteed’ 350 million pounds after the Brexit result. Since the Brexit campaign, he has stuck to Trump, like a remora fish on a shark. Pictures recently circulated of him at one of Trump’s parties in London. How are these men seen as anti-establishment since they reap so much from the establishment? Granted, there is disenchantment with politics, but those leading the opposition do not know more than those already in government. One just has to look at Farage’s disappearance act or Boris Johnson’s reaction post-Brexit. Just this week, a Tory aide was photographed with a notepad with Brexit plans which included “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it”.

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Green Candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, won the Austrian presidential election, twice. Photo by Ailura.

However, maybe not all is lost. In the recent Austrian Presidential election, the Green Party won the vote by a bigger margin than the original election in May. Moreover, in the Richmond Park by-election in London, the Lib Dem candidate unseated the Tory, Zac Goldsmith. This may just be a symbolic victory for the left, yet, it may be the penny dropping in people’s minds that unity and harmony will undoubtedly be more beneficial than discord. However, with papers and polls indicating that populism is here to stay, the more centred people must surely find a way to stop the post-truth tactic and potential destabilization and disintegration of the European Union.  

Ben recently graduated from Leiden University with a masters’ degree in International Relations. From Ireland, Ben graduated from University College Cork with a BA in Spanish and History and is currently interning in The Hague.

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“And Then There Was One: Angela Merkel and the 2017 German Elections” by Lauren Rogers

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Online Terrorism: Radicalisation on the web

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Cover of ‘Dabiq’, an ISIS propaganda publication distributed online.

Eric Hartshorne

In my last article we discussed what terrorism is and how the Islamic State got to where they are today. A brief conclusion highlights how terrorism is a method to obtain political power by executing acts of violence directed at civilian targets with the aim of spreading fear amongst a state’s citizens. The process leading up to an act of terrorism may be  referred to as radicalization. Today, much is being made about radicalization on the Internet and how violent extremist groups are using the platform to spread their messages worldwide. This article will explore some of these narratives as well as discussing the methods in place to prevent and combat radicalization.

The use of propaganda in conflicts is nothing revolutionary, however what differentiates contemporary extremist propaganda from previous forms is the method of communication. When Al Qaida initiated their large-scale propaganda campaign in the early 2000’s they were dependent on existing media outlets to convey their messages. Rather than having to submit material to established media outlets such as Al Jazeera, today it is possible to distribute messages through an array of outlets online. What this form of communication has enabled is that violence promoting groups may spread their ideologies to an audience of proportions unheard of previously. Twitter, in 2016 alone, removed 235 000 accounts that have been deemed to be supportive and active in the distribution of terrorist-related content.

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Usama Bin Laden depended on mainstream media to distribute his messages.

Since the 2014 self-declaration of the Islamic State’s caliphate [a form of Islamist government representing the political unity and leadership of the Muslim world] the terrorist organisation has rapidly expanded its global propaganda campaign. At the centre of this campaign is Dabiq, the online magazine written in seven languages by IS own media outlet, Al Hayat. Dabiq aims to offer an insight into the “daily life” of the caliphate and combines gruesome images from the battleground with religious discussions and examples of IS built infrastructure. One example of this are articles where converts to the Islamic State offer “sincere words of advice” to former Christians who have converted to Islam, in turn attempting to establish a link between the terrorist group and potential recruits. Outside of Dabiq, IS have released two issues of Rumiyah – Rome – which focuses less on the theological discussions than Dabiq. In the latest issue of Rumiyah readers are offered a discussion on the psychological and practical problems one might run into before conducting a “just terror attack”. Promoting the knife as the weapon of choice, the reader is offered religious guidance aimed at legitimizing the tactic as well as a practical discussion on pros and cons of different types of knives. IS and other self-proclaimed jihadist groups have previously spread these types of “terrorist-attacks for dummies”, for those interested, instructions for bomb-making are only a few clicks away. IS also produce an Arabic newsletter, as well as French periodical Dar al-Islam.

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Excerpt from ISIS magazine ‘Rumiyah’, giving tips on how to conduct a knife attack.

In 2015 I analysed IS propaganda in comparison to Al Qaeda’s and found a clear distinction between how the two groups have presented themselves through outward directed messages. What the study revealed was that IS presented an identity in accordance with a martial role. A martial role, which is one of two aspects of Arena and Arrigo’s theory “the terrorist identity” emphasises military strength and the overwhelming sense of uniqueness within a group. This uniqueness if founded on the establishment of the caliphate and control of a geographical area. IS control of an area spanning across northern Iraq and Syria,(an area roughly the size of the UK) is a clear distinction to other self-proclaimed jihadist-groups. Although Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram are active in specific areas of Somalia/Kenya and Nigeria/Cameroon/Niger/Chad respectively, these groups do not hold uncontested territories in which they are able to produces and uphold infrastructure as IS have. If you are interested in reading more about the self-presented identities of IS and Al Qaida, click here.

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Excerpt from ISIS execution video of American journalist James Foley.

Nevertheless, IS have over the past two years gained recognition for the gruesome propaganda videos, which borrow influence from western culture, such as video games and movies. These videos include countless executions, decapitations, public crucifixions, the tossing of HBTQ – persons off buildings, the Jordanian pilot burnt to death in a cage, and suicide bombings. In a new study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point a group of researchers and military personnel, including leading terrorism researcher Bruce Hoffman, have examined over 9,000 official media products produced by the Islamic State. The study revealed that over 50 percent of produced media focused on issues outside the Islamic State’s borders. These issues contain walkthroughs on how to perform terrorist attacks – such as the one presented in this article –, fatwas calling for attacks against westerners, and several articles condemning and establishing their enemies as the generalizable other. However, new studies are revealing that the group’s presence on social media platforms is reducing.

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A march in Sweden of the extremist right-wing organisation, the ‘Nordic Resistance Movement’.

However, with IS presence reducing on American social media accounts, far right extremist groups have increased by 600 percent on Twitter .Right-wing extremist groups such as the Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska Motstånds Rörelsen – NMR), which is predominantly active in Sweden and Finland, presents an often overlooked threat to a nations security. In Sweden the NMR are attempting to frighten city officials and journalists. In Borlänge, the movement’s Nordic hub, officials have been greeted by their front steps covered in blood and in southern Sweden a municipal official had his car lit on fire and garage door covered with the NMR’s symbol. Meanwhile in Finland, the government is attempting to pass legislation which would enable the banning of extremist groups. The new legislation is a response to the death of a 28-year old that died of wounds he received at a NMR demonstration. If you are interested in the rhetoric of right-wing extremists in Europe read my colleague Sabine Volk’s insightful article on the subject.

Nevertheless, European states are actively countering extremist anti-democratic forces online and offline. Out of these anti-radicalization methods online, the use of counter-narratives is becoming increasingly popular, with the EU’s Counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, the latest to endorse the methods potential. However, is the hype surrounding counter-narratives justified?

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Excerpt from ‘Dabiq’ showcasing the supposed benefits of life under ISIS.

The counter-narrative method may be divided into three areas; direct counter-narratives, aimed directly at the messages released by extremist groups.  Alternative narratives offer an alternative understanding of the narratives released by extremist groups aiming at delegitimising the violence aspect within a group’s ideology. Within the alternative method the messenger, i.e. the person/group delivering the alternative message must retain a high level of legitimacy within the intended recipients. In the case of takfir-salfist jihadist, Imams and other Islamic religious leaders may condemn the fatwa’s produced by the Islamic State and produce fatwa’s condemning violence by drawing references from the Quran. More so, the experiences and knowledge of former members of right-wing extremism  has proven to be an effective method for engaging the target audience in preventative discussions. This type of messenger is also gaining traction as a deterrent in jihadist recruitment. The third counter-narrative method is the development of media- and information knowledge and critical thinking amongst youth. This tactic is particularly popular in the Nordic countries. However, despite the new databases, knowledge centres and support for counter-narratives, there is little to no evidence supporting the effectiveness of direct counter-narrative campaigns as part of a radicalization prevention strategy. Rather than acting as a preventative measure the removal of extremist content online, which is a common aspect of counter-narrative campaigns, and messages directly targeting extremist content, are dependent on the publication and distribution of extremist propaganda. Therefore the method is heavily reliant on extremist groups, rather that setting its own preventative agenda.

Another problem facing current preventative campaigns is the difficulty in measuring their success. Security details will always be able to measure the amount of casualties in terrorist attacks and the figures regarding the roughly 30 000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq have been waved across most international media outlets. The amount of individuals who have not been radicalized is intangible, and existing measurement tools are inadequate. However, leading actors within counter-narratives such as the British think-tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue are developing instruments for measuring counter-narratives outreach. Nevertheless, measuring likes, comments and shares on social media will not highlight the amount of individuals that have not become radicalized.

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Excerpt from ‘Al Qaeda’ in the Arabian Peninsula’s magazine ‘Inspire’. It highlights that the method of radicalising online has been widely adopted.

Although current research paints a gloomy picture for those encouraging counter-narrative campaigns, those promoting alternative narratives and media- and information education have a more positive outlook. Research in the Netherlands, the United States, and the UK, has pointed towards the potential that alternative narratives may be developed as part of complete anti-radicalization campaign. More so, the application of media and information education in youth is likely to develop the critical thinking amongst a state’s citizens, in turn making them more resilient to anti-democratic narratives.

There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to countering radicalization and recruitment to violence promoting extremist groups. However, by combining preventative measures with deterrent methods, which are known as soft vs. tough methods, it is possible to create a long- and short-term strategy to combat terrorism and violent extremism. In this, the internet remains an important battleground.

Eric Hartshorne will be back next month with his editorial asking if either Soft or Tough methods of countering radicalisation are more effective. For Eric’s article on the history of terrorism, click here.

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Hoping to be proud

It is easy just to be proud when you realise how many people are willing to know about your home country. ‘Because it is France. It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’. An ideal that cannot ring true to everybody if one does not have the same rights.

paul-gilbert colletazpaul.colletaz@gmail.com

On the 6th of May 2012, from a little city in Italy where I was studying at the time, my English partner and I witnessed the election of a new President for my home country: France. The Socialist candidate François Hollande won over his opponent – the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. Amongst the voters hoping for change was a majority of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual French community.

Indeed, Mr Hollande, unlike Mr Sarkozy had promised to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Since then, the process proved to be complicated and the past few months were rich in demonstrations, lobbying and public events supporting the President or trying to make him renounce.

Being away, it took me some time to realise the importance of the debate in France and how the question of giving homosexuals those rights was present almost everywhere: in the streets, on television, on the radio…This, however, only seemed to be a start and I imagined that, until the law was passed, the debate and involvement of people on both sides would keep on increasing. Or so I thought…

Glaring at the slow but steady process of allowing same-sex people to marry and adopt, some right-wing mayors declared that they would not marry same-sex couples and requested the right to refrain from performing ceremonial weddings between said couples, were the law to come into force. The debate would continue even after the implementation of the law: longer than I thought…

On the 10th of October, some 1248 mayors had already signed the petition.

Some of the political leaders of France, that democratic republic, were to reject the law and regulations that define a democracy. They would go against the –according to them, very French- rules of democracy because the decision to give equal rights to homosexuals did not include the French electorate directly and therefore lacked a democratic foundation. A brain teaser.

This argument falls short when one is reminded that in early November, 58% of the French population was in favour of same-sex marriage and 50%, in favour of/supported the right for same-sex couples to adopt. However, these figures have decreased since 2011 when they were 63% and 56% respectively. So what is to blame? Certainly, the overwhelming place of the debate and the constant arguments, for or against, repeated again and again. Faced with such a large spectrum of opinions, one thing is certain. Homosexuals and the rights of the homosexuals have never been of much interest for the right-wing politicians.

Another popular argument against the introduction of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is that it would create chaos. The Senator Serge Dassault explained this on the radio on the 7th of November: (…) “Look at history, in Greece, it is one of the reasons for its decadence. Utter decadence. It would compromise children’s development, it would mean the end of education, it would be an enormous danger for the nation as a whole. It would pose an unprecedented threat for the nation as a whole!” Total decadence, well of course. Apparently, being heterosexual helps keep the nation together.

Flag of France

Being French is always something that has helped me spark an interesting conversation with the different people I met as a student studying abroad. Whilst in Italy or in the United-Kingdom, people would speak about the food, the beautiful language, and the philosophers along with the clichés of the beautiful, arrogant, chauvinistic thin French man or woman who smokes too much, can be a bit dirty and who will not, under any circumstances, accept to learn a foreign language. Perhaps because I was speaking another language than French then, the discussions were always cheerful, enjoyable and showed a real interest. Further away, in India – where I am presently studying – the interest in my country is still there, and though some of the ideas about food or of what is ‘typically French’ are more vague; it is the same attraction – if not an enhanced one – that I encounter when I see people perking up at the mention of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire…

However, I knew that in the land where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written, the person who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was beheaded and that Voltaire was describing homosexuality as ‘a despicable attack against nature’ whilst Rousseau saw it as ‘the odious example of a brutal depravation and of a charmless vice’.

This is what being French means. It means missing home and being proud of its ideals, its culture and of some parts of its history. It is also at times facing stubbornness, underlying racism and a somewhat quaint idea that our past and present would make the French people somewhat different. ‘Different’ often meaning ‘better’. Switching from pride to shame is a feeling most people feel when they think about their country, but because of its image and reputation, those two ends feel so far from another if you are French.

I might have chosen to study in different countries to avoid those ups and downs. It is easy, not being informed of what is happening ‘there’, to just be proud when you realise how many people know about your home country, your mother tongue and be even more proud when so many more people tell you about their will to know. ‘Because it is France.’ It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, not a French motto, but a goal and an ideal shared by everybody everywhere in the world. An ideal that cannot ring true to the homosexual community as long as they do not have the same rights.

The project of allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt in France has been approved by the Council of Ministers on the 7th of November and should be discussed in Parliament in January 2013.

* The Euroculturer : F. Hollande said he would be granting what is called “liberté de conscience”, which in fact allows mayors to refuse to perform the ceremony, so they would not be breaking the law. (http://www.atlantico.fr/pepites/mariage-homosexuel-aura-liberte-conscience-pour-maires-dit-hollande-551293.html)

* However, immediately after having used the expression ‘liberté de conscience’, F. Hollande said that he regretted having said that and that mayors will not have the choice whether to marry or not. (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/mariage-gay-lesbienne/20121122.OBS0239/liberte-de-conscience-hollande-regrette-ses-propos.html)

 

paulPaul-Gilbert Colletaz, Contributing writer

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne, Paris, spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. He started the MA Euroculture programme in September 2011 at the University of Strasbourg before going to the University of Udine (Italy). He is presently studying at the University of Pune (India). His research interests go from gender studies to queer studies with a particular interest in body expression, masculinities, second-wave feminism and the legal status of homosexuality and its political consequences.