Troubling times: The rise of far-right movements

By and in Features/Opinions

If you avoid global politics — or news in general — you may be unaware of the global far-right movement happening right now. Far-right ideas of fascism and populism are louder than ever in a world revolutionized by technology and communication.

Although far-right movements are thought to be of the past, the newly-elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized by journalist Travis Waldron as being a fascist. Bolsonaro supports dictatorships and calls for the killing of his political opponents and the cleansing of leftists from the country. In addition, he often refers to immigrants as “scum,” is openly racist against Afro-Brazilian communities and is a self-declared homophobe.

From Brazil to Europe, there is presently an upswing of far-right sentiments across the world. On top of that, far-right political parties are gaining support and seats in many parliaments, especially in Europe.

A 2017 investigative article by Andre Tartar, published in Bloomberg, found that there were commonalities shared among the 39 populist and far-right political parties in Europe that gained access to parliamentary seats. The parties tended to share a similar stance for stronger immigration control and anti-European Union views.

Fascism originated with Benito Mussolini and was adopted by far-right dictators like Adolf Hitler. Fascism is a political ideology that includes not only a dictatorship but also nationalist authoritarian goals to strengthen a nation culturally, economically and militarily. 

Neo-fascism is an updated version of the original ideology that is usually composed of an opposition to liberal democracy and a focus on the concerns of the ordinary people instead of the elite — known as populism. Additionally, it often includes protecting the interests of native-born citizens, or those who consider themselves to be established citizens, against immigrants.

The movement of people across borders and the ongoing refugee crises have spread millions of refugees across the world. Anti-immigrant supporters view immigrants as an economic threat and a risk to their perceived cohesive national identity.

Geertje Lucassen and Marcel Lubbers conducted a study on the topic of whether or not European right-wing political beliefs are influenced by perceived economic or cultural threats. The study found that prejudice towards immigrants is a significant predictor of far-right support.

Greece’s far-right party, Golden Dawn, creating threats of the other, specifically immigrants, creating a sense of victimhood for ultranationalists. This victimhood is disseminated through the party and used to justify hate crimes as they are fueled by the idea of vigilante justice to protect the Greek identity — a major component of fascism.

While Golden Dawn is without a doubt a far-right party with neo-fascist ideas, it can be difficult and complex to identify a person or an organization as fascist. It is also important to note that hateful rhetoric and hate crimes can be generated by anyone. If we do not call out fascist and populist ideas for what they are, we risk normalizing such nefarious behaviour.

Author Jason Stanley, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Yale University, discusses this idea in his book titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

“What normalization does is transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been,” Stanley writes.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in racial division born from hate and violence is still an ongoing movement today. The Unite the Right rally that occurred on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017, shows characteristics of ultranationalism and neo-nazism.

Taunts and chants were heard throughout Charlottesville as rally-goers and counter-protesters clashed around Emancipation Park. The far-right white supremacists yelled, “Our blood, our soil!” and “White lives matter!” in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

This nationalist movement, started by a group composed largely of young white males at the University of Virginia, is evidence of the damage that far-right ideas can inflict.

The Unite the Right-rally legacy continues on, and an attempt for a follow-up movement was made on Aug. 12, 2018 — one year after the first rally. Around two dozen white nationalists participated in the “Unite the Right 2” rally, but they were greatly outnumbered by counter-protesters.

A more recent example of a movement displaying neo-fascist ideas is the Canadian Yellow Vest movement. The movement was inspired by France’s Yellow Vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel tax and then morphed into a movement opposing the current president, Emmanuel Macron.

The main issue of the Canadian Yellow Vest movement is fighting against the national carbon tax, but Canada’s adoption of the United Nations agenda regarding global migrations is a topic of conversation as well.

People across Western Canada continue to rally, doning yellow vests and holding signs, including one with the slogan “Trudeau’s new Canada” and the symbol of Islam in the middle of a Canadian flag.

Signs like these display anti-immigration ideas by focusing on the problematic message that increased immigration equals increased terrorism, which propagates a far-right populist ideology.

These movements are not truly deserving of the fascism label, but they do share and promote anti-­immigration and ultranationalistic ideas, which are ideologies seen in neo-fascism. It is a concerningly similar outcry to that of a world on the brink of war — as seen in Europe before World War II.

After World War I, the German population was unhappy with Germany’s weakened economy due to reparation payments, giving the Nazi Party the opportunity to gain a following and spark World War II.

The rise of far-right political beliefs is rooted, to an extent, in economic dissatisfaction and the growing refugee crises resonating with those around the world today.

Greece and Brazil’s unstable economic state, the rise of far-right political parties and the refugee crisis in Europe are contributing factors in the rise of neo-fascist ideologies as more people turn towards sentiments of anti-immigration and establishing sovereignty for solutions to their current dilemmas.

We are witnessing the beginning stages of repeating history. So what can we do as University of Saskatchewan students to prevent another world war?

We belong to an institution responsible for higher education, which can be offered as an alternative solution to the rising far-right movements. By educating yourself about polarizing issues, you are thinking critically about these ideas and combating misinformation and fear by taking a stance on these issues.

In order to prevent the cultivation of these dangerous ideologies, we need to take a step towards working together to bring awareness to the insidious ideas taking shape. These ideologies have often resulted in hate and violence — we must condemn such actions and do what we can to avoid these same conclusions.

Awareness is important to combating these extremist ideas. We are heading towards a dangerous future if these problematic far-right ideologies continue to spread. The limitless connections that we have with people around the world through the internet and social media contribute to the spread of these movements.

For the sake of humanity, let’s work together in educating ourselves of these dangers.

Aqsa Hussain, J.C. Balicanta Narag / Outreach Director

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor