It makes me feel a bit sick thinking about the celebratory mood in Isis bunkers right now; them flipping open their laptops and delighting as schisms escalate, and Western democracy turns in on itself. Watching on with glee as Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, spews xenophobia from a podium, while Marine Le Pen’s National Front ascends into the mainstream of French politics. Toasting to a job well done now far-right populism grows ever more vehement, and ever more persuasive; as the west recoils in a state of febrile neurosis in the aftermath of Paris.
Untethered from the confines of acceptable discourse, leaders like Le Pen exploit a moment of collective fragility; intensifying the rhetoric in a bid to flare anti-islamic anxiety. Farage, as ever, blamed the divided society created by multiculturalism. The Schengen agreement of open borders had allowed the “free movement of Kalashnikov rifles” he indelicately put it. Le Pen added subtlety to her damnation, attempting to broaden her party’s appeal – away from its racist stereotype – to capture the mood of those downtrodden with fear. “France is no longer safe” she declared, “we must kick out foreigners preaching hate on our soil and illegal immigrants who have nothing to do here”.
While statements like this may resonate with people in times of fear, they’re afforded greater power by what isn’t said. Le Pen and Farage are outsiders, unburdened of the responsibility of elected leaders to draw a divisible line between peaceful muslims and radical islamists. Rarely, if ever, will you hear them make this distinction. In fact, it’s this they exploit.
Holland and Cameron can denounce radicals, and talk tough on retaliation, but the terrorist threat feels ever-present under their watch. For a growing cynical minority, racked with trepidation, hearing leaders put it down to a few anomalous extremists working independently of their religion seems like a cop out; even a failure to admit the linkages between the two.
In stark contrast, hard-right populists are unafraid of drawing these parallels. They thrive on our irrational fears and stoke conspiracies at every opportunity. Farage was widely condemned by mainstream figures for saying some British muslims are “conflicted in their loyalties’’. While in the US, Trump’s radical interjection has its grounding in an American Values Survey poll, which found that 75 per cent of Republicans believe the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life. It’s divide and conquer politics, breathing fire into a debased form of nationalism, that grows ever more popular as it sheds its racist toxicity; instead cloaking its suspicion of muslims in vague, subliminal messages which imply the complicity of islam as one homogenous entity.
Unlike traditional western parties – viewed more or less as enforcers of the status quo – the far-right searingly dish out blame and appear to offer a quick fix. Presenting themselves as the voice of common sense, spitting in the face of the liberal sensitivities they hold responsible. Each party has forged a separate identity around it’s own particular brand of state politics, but their appears to be some unifying themes; a call for tightened, or in Trump’s case, locked off borders, banishing illegal immigrants and ignoring fleeing refugees as someone else’s problem.
Paris has only supercharged the surge in far-right support; one with roots that go much deeper than the scourge of Isis. Increasingly, Western liberalism has faded into irrelevance for many who feel it no longer represents them, or offers protection from financial insecurity.
In France, old taboos are dissolving fast, with The Front ahead in six of 13 regions. Recent events have firmed up support but it more accurately represents a withering revulsion at the failure of mainstream parties to reverse 30 years of unemployment, now standing at over ten per cent. While in the US, the Republican Party’s dramatic lurch to the right is partly a spasm at the great influx of immigrants between 1990 and 2007; focused mainly in the South and Midwest, where white, low skilled workers faced intensified competition for jobs.
If the UK had voted the other way in 2011’s Alternative Vote, heaven forbid, we’d most likely be living under Tory/UKIP coalition rule now. As people, from across the political spectrum, feel a real alienation from the technocratic blandness of our two main parties, and their failure to address important issues, like immigration – constantly polling as Britain’s chief concern.
The populist surge doesn’t stop there. Once ostracised at the fringes, it edges closer to power across Europe; in countries like Hungary, Poland and Sweden. All Isis seemingly have to do is sprinkle random acts of terror over the west, for far-right politicians to play up an underlying, irrational paranoia present in every nation state – that within our body politic there exists a dangerous foreign presence we must inoculate ourselves against. The resurgence of this idea becomes all the more insidious when the hard-right have learnt to smooth over its rougher, racist edges with lazy assumptions. Isis will rejoice if the day comes where we barricade our borders and turn on our own people simply because they prey to another God. It’s this fear-ridden, atomised world they hope to make a reality. What a shame the hard-right are poised to do their dirty work for them.