by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 3, Sha'ban, 1438)
Elites in Western societies are in panic. Elections are no longer yielding the results they had hoped for.
Western rulers no longer talk about adhering to the rule of law or upholding democratic principles. These were tossed out the window long ago. Fascism is on the march in Europe — France, Germany, Austria, Britain, and even a placid place like Sweden — as well as North America. A moronic gangster surrounded by a phalanx of warlords with itchy fingers has grabbed power in the US. They believe they can sort the world out by firing cruise missiles or dropping GBU-43/B, the largest non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal.
At home, civil liberties that were touted so loudly 30 years ago when the Soviet Union was around, are now a thing of the past. Muslims are openly targeted. Draconian laws have been put in place supplemented by frequent imposition of states of emergency that give the police vast powers to search, arrest and/or shoot suspects. In most cases, intelligence agencies use paid informants, luring people into their trap. This is as common in the US, Britain, France, Germany, etc, as it is in Canada.
There is, however, something else at work. The Western political system is crumbling. Or more precisely, the mask of democratic façade is coming off. The entrenched political elites that in the past used elections to validate their stranglehold on power are not feeling so secure anymore.
It started with the Brexit vote in Britain last June. Even though by a narrow margin, the British people voted to leave the European Union. The referendum result left the British establishment stunned. Smugness that had characterized their behavior before the vote was gone. It re-opened other debates, especially the issue of Scottish independence.
The Brexit vote may have been the first stone cast in demolishing the old order in Europe, others are quick on the heels. In the Netherlands, the racists and bigots were narrowly defeated but this is not the case elsewhere, either in Europe or across the Atlantic in North America. In France, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front (FN) secured second place with 21.9% of the vote in France’s first round of presidential election on April 23. She was less than two percentage points behind Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist candidate leading his newly former party, En Marche! (On the Move!), who garnered 23.7% of the vote. The two will face off in a vote on May 7. This is the first time in France’s contemporary history since Charles De Gaulle established the Fifth Republic in 1958 that neither mainstream political party — Republicans or Socialists — is in the run-off for the presidency.
While the French establishment is now scurrying to Macron’s camp in hopes of securing its position within the ruling system, the fact that two party outsiders have secured places in the final round of the presidential election is a political earthquake. Equally disconcerting is the fact that a fascist and racist like Marine Le Pen will be in the final round of the presidential contest. The shift toward the right, racism, bigotry and exclusion of the “other,” primarily Muslims, in French politics is quite disturbing, but not surprising.
By pitting two candidates — Macron and Le Pen — the first round has given the French electorate a clear choice. The two candidates’ worldviews could not be more different. Macron is an advocate for the Western neoliberal order and wants to keep France in the European Union (EU). Le Pen, on the other hand, says if elected, she would hold a referendum on taking France out of the EU and, therefore, abandoning the euro. She also wants to close France’s borders to immigrants and refugees. She sees them as “polluting” French blood and culture. In short, she is a certified racist and bigot although the Western media euphemistically refer to her as a “populist.”
Macron wants to build the French economy by reinforcing ties with next-door neighbor Germany as well as keep France a part of the global trading system. As a former Socialist economy minister, he is keen on building the French economy as well as supporting the transatlantic alliance.
Opinion polls prior to the first round of voting suggested Macron would beat Le Pen by some 20 points in a direct contest. Polls, however, can be notoriously inaccurate. Remember the November 8, 2016 poll in the New York Times that predicted Hillary Clinton had an 84% chance of winning the US presidential election giving her narcissist rival Donald Trump a mere 16% chance?
Whatever the outcome on May 7, there is a clear shift in Western politics toward bigotry and racism. While the Western political system is crumbling under the weight of gross systemic injustices, Muslims are being blamed for this. There are clearly hard days ahead for them. The question is whether Muslims and the myriad organizations that strut about claiming to represent them are prepared for the challenges ahead? There is scant evidence to be optimistic.