Frederique Vidal, French Minister of Higher Education and Research. Photo: Gerard Bottino

France’s attack on academics is an attempt to silence debate on race

By launching an investigation into academic studies of race, gender, and postcolonial studies that supposedly corrupt society and universities, the French government aims to diminish the legitimacy and importance of these fields of research and validate the scrutinization of academics.

By F. Zehra Colak & Erkan Toguslu

The French minister of higher education, Frédérique Vidal, has recently announced an investigation into so-called “Islamo-leftism” in the country’s academic institutions. She has accused scholars of colonialism and race of “looking at everything through the prism of wanting to fracture and divide.” This attempt to discredit scholars working with critical and postcolonial perspectives by targeting them with an ambiguous pseudo-concept —“Islamo-leftism” — underlies a strategy of silencing conversations about racism, white supremacy, and the impact of the colonial past to maintain an unrealistic image of France as a post-racial and egalitarian society. 

The use of the term “Islamo-leftism”—islamo-gauchisme in French— has gained traction in France among some academics and right-wing politicians. It refers to an unlikely political convergence between the far-left and radical Muslim movements standing against imperialism and neoliberal globalization. Today, it is used pejoratively by the current government, the far-right, and conservative media and academics in France to accuse left-wing anti-racist intellectuals of being overtly occupied with racism and Islamophobia and of justifying Islamism and terrorism. The widespread use of this tag by government figures risks stigmatizing all Muslims and left-leaning academics by lumping them into a crude category that carries extremist undertones. 

Even the National Center for Scientific Research, which Vidal assigned the task of investigating the fields of study concerned, has described “Islamo-leftism” as a poorly defined term with no relation to scientific reality. The center has also warned against “the instrumentalization of science” and infringing academic freedom in France. While the fuss over the term “Islamo-leftism” appears to be restricted to France, similar political trends are visible across Europe, where ministers often attack critical social theories depicting them as being against the “people.” Extremism experts have also attempted to link postcolonial theory with certain Muslim communities. 

The long-standing and dominant conviction about continental Europe having achieved a post-racial and egalitarian status still serves as a substantial barrier to recognizing systemic racism and the ongoing impact of colonial legacy on Black and racialized minorities. While the removal of “race” from public and academic discussions in the aftermath of the Holocaust has by no means diminished systemic racism, it has made it difficult to name or redress the profound consequences of racial inequity. France is no exception as it refuses to face up to its colonial past and denies racism by reproducing the rhetoric of a universalist and color-blind Republican ideal, which prioritizes national identification over racial or religious identity. 

In other words, Frenchness is seen as essential to achieving integration, whereas references to racial inequities are interpreted as identity politics endangering societal cohesion and leading to segregation. The establishment refutes references to institutional or structural bias as racism is seen as an individual moral flaw rather than being systemic. There are no race- or ethnicity-based statistics, and the term “race” was removed from the constitution in 2018. Such a race-blind ideal based on the myth of shared universal rights disguises the harmful consequences of racism by serving to sustain structures of racial inequity rather than dismantling them. This, despite the persistence of widespread discrimination targeting racialized minorities across societal institutions. 

Recent global and national incidents, such as the brutal killing of George Floyd in the US and the death of a Malian French man, Adama Traoré, in 2016 while in custody in France, triggered riots and protests against police violence and brutality in France. They have fuelled heated debates about race, discrimination, and the widespread concern about the racialization of security targeting young men living in French banlieues. People are demanding justice for those exposed to racial profiling, police brutality, and the systematic discrimination entailed in targeting racialized populations.

In France, young activists particularly have been vocal in defying the national narrative of color-blindness. The protests have galvanized long-brewing grievances leading to intense discussions about white supremacy, deeply ingrained systemic racism, and demands for decolonization. While fostering broader awareness and encouraging activism among a younger generation, such nation- and European-wide debates and protests have also increased fears that racial identity politics—ridiculed as woke culture—is being imported from the US. 

President Macron, who is tilting further to the right, made derogatory comments accusing academics of racializing socio-economic issues in the aftermath of anti-racist protests in France. By defying calls for racial justice as the influence of American multiculturalism and constructing demands for racial equity as a divisive threat, Macron’s government is attempting to gloss over the impact of racism on the everyday realities and experiences of France’s racialized minorities. In fact, Dan Hicks, a professor from Oxford University working on colonial violence, interprets the French government’s pushback against the progress made by anti-racist movements as the “invention of a culture war.”

Macron’s hardening rhetoric and attacks on academics and his recent campaign against the so-called “Islamist separatism” following the murder of Samuel Paty, a middle-school teacher, need to be understood within the context of wider socio-political circumstances in France. Macron portrayed himself as a defender of free expression after the beheading of Paty, who had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free expression and censorship. The recent attacks by Macron’s government on certain fields of academic inquiry, however, suggest otherwise. Some see Macron’s pandering to the French far-right on immigration issues, Islam, and labeling academics with defamatory terms as a strategy to capture support from conservative voters against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen in next year’s presidential election. Such divisive and stigmatizing government narratives targeting selected groups carry the perilous risk of aggravating existing social and systemic problems and further harming the very social cohesion it purportedly seeks to protect. 

Indeed, by launching an investigation into academic studies of race, gender, and postcolonial studies that supposedly corrupt society and universities, the government aims to diminish the legitimacy and importance of these fields of research and validate the scrutinization of academics. The concern over being targeted by the French government has been expressed by some academics on social media, including Michael Stambolis, an American sociologist teaching race in France, who wrote on Twitter: “When you’re literally an American sociologist in France who studies sexuality, runs a gender studies program, and teaches race, intersectionality, etc., it’s impossible not to feel targeted. I’m most concerned for my students and colleagues of color.

Despite the French government’s unprecedented attacks targeting academics working in postcolonial, race, and intersectionality studies, only 2 percent of publications in French academic journals since the 1960s have been dedicated to these studies, according to Philippe Marlière, a professor of French and European politics. So, if these studies are incredibly marginal in French academia, why is there so much concern about them? This is because their findings strongly challenge the national myth of a race-blind and egalitarian French society with no issues of systemic racism or colonial abuses. 

According to Macron, however, the (grand)children of African and Arab immigrants “revisiting their identity through a postcolonial or anticolonial” discourse poses the risk of nurturing “self-hatred” against France. Against Macron’s claims, these fields of academic inquiry mainly offer a way of critically engaging with the colonial legacy and a racialized system drawing inspiration from minority epistemological perspectives that have long been ignored. If anything, what they offer the (grand)children of African and Arab immigrants who study them is a deeper sense of knowledge, understanding, and a critical awareness about their position in a societal structure that fails to acknowledge and value their realities and experiences. 

Studying these critical perspectives is particularly important for racialized students who are trying to make sense of their place and negotiate their multiple identities in higher education settings, which often function as spaces of exclusion and marginalization. Suppose Macron wants the (grand)children of immigrants to forge positive identities as multicultural French citizens. In that case, he should better encourage universities to decolonize their curriculum and more actively participate in structurally engaging with the (post) colonial past and the experiences of racialized minorities in contemporary France. Because persisting racial inequities in a society cannot be solved by pretending that race does not exist and smearing academics who are researching it. 

Iconic Fallen Roof Ruin in Road Canyon on Cedar Mesa in Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. Photo: Colin D. Young

Access or Protection? Contested Lands in the American West

“Work and wilderness: surely, these two glare at each other across an intellectual clear-cut.”

Daegan Miller, This Radical Land

By Heidi Hart & Mehmet Soyer

Open lands foster a sense of community. You gather memories as you hike, hunt, climb, picnic, or drive a truck to work each day, but what happens if, all of a sudden, the federal government decides to expand or restrict the public lands where you live without asking your opinion? 

For rural workers in the American West, the phrase “wilderness protection” usually means less “access” – their own key word – to trails for off-road vehicles, less freedom to graze cattle and hunt wild game, and fewer jobs in the energy industry. On the other side of the divide, environmental activists call for government protections of non-motorized trails, water and air quality, and wildlife habitats. Though people in both groups resent development in open spaces, especially as wealthy second-home owners move in (Bowlin, 2021), the fight over how public lands can be enjoyed is often bitter. As Indigenous tribes push back against oil and gas leases and over-tourism, after several centuries of profound loss, the picture becomes even more complex.

One of most pressing Western land controversies is over the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. The region contains “breathtaking geological spectacle(s), knife-edged ridges, sleek white domes, lush valleys and cloud shaped rock formations” (Nordhaus, 2018). This dramatic geography is familiar to many Europeans, especially in Germany, where visits to Utah’s redrock country have been a part of popular fascination with the American West since Karl May’s adventure novels, however “unrealistic,” were “the German counterpart to ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’” in the first half of the twentieth century (Spröer, 2016)

But Escalante is more than a rich space for speculation, whether in books or in mineral leases. The region contains many areas that are sacred to Native tribes, in southern Utah and beyond, with Bears Ears an important place in migration narratives of Zuni pueblo in New Mexico as well (McLeod, 2019). The area also includes many archeological sites that contain important cultural resources (Eaton, 2001) “from small lithic scatters to large highly complex village sites” (Enote, 2021). Though exploring the area’s deep sandstone canyons is popular with tourists, “the mesa tops are covered with great houses, ancient roads, underground pit houses, villages, and shrines” that may not be obvious to untrained eyes (Enote, 2021).

Indian ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, USA. Photo: Krista Hardin

Bears Ears National Monument was created under the Obama administration in 2016, giving the region’s famous twin buttes (the “ears”) and surrounding Native heritage areas a new level of protection. This was the first time a coalition of tribes had been able to request and give input into a national monument. These groups have traditionally been underrepresented in decisions about the lands they have occupied for thousands of years. A Ute tribal chairman, Shaun Chapoose, told reporters at the Washington Post, “We knew exactly what was within that geographical boundary. We knew the gravesites, we knew where the artifacts were, we knew where certain plants and herbs grew” (Fox et al., 2019).

Less than a year later, Donald Trump moved to reduce the monument by 85 percent, raising the fury of wilderness advocates and Native tribes, while winning approval from local residents whose populist bent favors limited government if it interferes with hunting, grazing, and mining rights (Ban, 2017). Driving through San Juan County where Bears Ears National Monument is located, you can still see “NO MONUMENT” bumper stickers and yard signs. Although different leadership groups had been included in Obama’s decision-making process, many local residents felt that their way of life and livelihood had been ignored. Some tribal leaders opposed the monument as well, feeling that it would invite too much outdoor recreation in sacred sites (Buhay, 2017).

With Trump’s extreme reduction of Bears Ears, opening it to oil and gas leases, wilderness advocates felt that their own concerns had been completely disregarded. In December 2017, 5,000 people gathered at the Utah State Capitol to protest the Trump administration’s move (Wood, 2017). This protest included scientists, activists, families, students, community leaders, and representatives from a rare coalition of tribes, some with their own history of land disputes: the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and Zuni Pueblo (McLeod, 2019). The crowd fell silent as Carl Moore, chairman of Peaceful Advocates for Native American Dialogue and Organizing Support, danced in a traditional feathered headdress and a gas mask (Leonard and Cortez, 2017).

Valley of the Gods, Utah, Bears Ears National Monument. Photo: Krista Hardin

Though the Bears Ears controversy has been particularly fraught, Utah has been the focus of “divisive unilateral national monument decisions” for the past quarter century (Nordhaus, 2021). In the US, “business and development interests are often privileged” due to a long history of “maximizing production of resources from ecosystems” (Grumbine, 1994: 11). But a new era of public lands protection, with Native voices included in policy making, is taking shape today. The Biden administration is expected to reverse the shrinking of Bear Ears and Grand Escalante national monuments. Supporters of wilderness and Indigenous land protections take particular comfort in Biden’s nomination of the first Native secretary of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico. 

Back in San Juan County, local leaders have expressed new willingness to work with the tribal coalition but are still wary of governmental “overreach” (Douglas and Brewer, 2021). As has long been the case in the American West, every community has a strong sense of belonging in the land. Descendants of the white Latter-day Saint settlers in the Utah desert, with their own migration story of fleeing persecution, often resent the “VanLife” nomads and second-home newcomers who do not understand what it cost their ancestors to survive here, or what it meant to them symbolically. “Mormons didn’t mind the desert,” Rebecca Solnit writes. “It reminded them of the Old Testament” (Solnit, 1994: 52)with its story of exodus from Egypt. 

At the same time, many desert recreation enthusiasts resent those they perceive as being less respectful than they are. The Bears Ears area’s most recent claim to fame is not actually its “monumental” controversy but the strange appearance of a monolith resembling the one in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: Space Odyssey. As images of the monolith went viral in December 2020, so did COVID-frustrated tourists’ efforts to find its remote location. Within days, the Martian-looking landscape had been trashed by Instagrammers rushing to document themselves as much as the shiny object that, it turns out, had been there since 2016. Suddenly one night, the monolith disappeared. This was the act of a wilderness enthusiast who could not bear the crowds and left the words “leave no trace” – as, ironically, his own trace in the desert (Wells, 2020)

Perhaps the pain that locals or wilderness advocates feel when the federal government changes public lands policy, or when “outsiders” want to use the land, can serve as a reminder of what Native tribes have experienced for centuries. When white settlers arrived and displaced Indigenous communities, they saw the land as a thing to be owned. They did not appreciate how deeply they violated relationships with a life-giving landscape meant to be known, where, as the Zuni say, “as we live in the present ways of our people, we live also within the realm of our ancestors” (The Zuni People, 1972: 180). As one wave of newcomers disgruntles the next, perhaps some can step back and imagine what has come before and what will remain, or not, for future generations.

References

Grumbine, R. Edward. (1994). Editor. Environmental Policy and Biodiversity. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Miller, Daegan. (2018). This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Solnit, Rebecca. (1994). Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape of the American West. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Zuni People. (1972). The Zunis: Self-Portrayals. Translated by Alvina Quam. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Thousands of people turn out for the anti racism - anti-Donald Trump and Nigel Farage rally through central London on March 18, 2017. Photo: John Gomez

Populists International (I) — Populists Hand in Hand: Farage and Trump

How Does International Cooperation Work Between Populists? 

The last decade has seen a rise in cooperation between xenophobic right-wing populists, both in Europe and internationally. Elsewhere, we’ve seen the rise of anti-Western populists from majority Muslim countries and left-wing Latin American populist leaders. My hope with this commentary series is to begin a fruitful discussion about this cooperation. I will start by examining the stunning cooperation between British right-wing populist Nigel Farage and former US President Donald Trump, the populist held power in a country long viewed as the beacon of democracy.  

By Mustafa Demir

The relationship between former US President Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and hard Eurosceptic, went beyond the limits of a mere friendship to become an international cooperation, if not a coalition. As such, it is relevant to international populism studies. The two supported the other’s political campaigns and gave statements and interviews promoting one another’s political agendas. They even physically appeared at each other’s election rallies as “guests of honour.” They readily endorsed the other as a fellow “man of the people.” 

Farage routinely commented or posted on social media in support of Trump. Shortly after Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), Farage appeared at a Trump campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi in August 2016. He was introduced to the crowd – by Trump – as “the man behind Brexit.” Addressing the pro-Trump crow, Farage stated that, “I wouldn’t vote for Hilary Clinton if you paid me.”

He continued as follows: “[UKIP] made 23 June our Independence Day when we smashed the Establishment… If the little people, if the real people, if the ordinary decent people are prepared to stand up and fight for what they believe in, we can overcome the big banks, we can overcome the multinationals.”

Farage also used this opportunity to lambast Prime Minister David Cameron and former US President Barack Obama for backing the “Remain” campaign. He drew parallels between the US elections and the Brexit referendum, and he urged “the ordinary people” of the US to “stand up to the establishment and take back control with a ‘people’s army.’” 

He successfully appealed to the emotions of the crowd, saying: “I come to you from the United Kingdom with a message of hope and a message of optimism. If the little people, if the real people, if the ordinary decent people are prepared to stand up and fight for what they believe in, we can overcome the big banks, we can overcome the multinationals – and we did it…[You, the Americans, have a] fantastic opportunity with November’s election. And you’ll do it by doing what we did for Brexit in Britain. We had our own people’s army or ordinary citizens… If you want change, you better get your walking boots on, you better get out there campaigning; and, remember, anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”

Daniel Bates of the Evening Standard noted that Farage’s appearance was an historical moment, in the sense that it was the “first time a British politician has ever addressed a Republican Presidential rally.” 

Farage also appeared in the most recent election campaign. He appeared in Arizona in November 2020. Marina Hyde, of the Guardian, broke the news with the title “Behold Trump’s pre-election secret weapon: Nigel Farage, ‘king of Europe.’” She was quoting Trump, who welcomed Farage to the state with the moniker, “the king of Europe.” Farage responded by calling Trump, “the single most resilient and bravest person I have ever met in my life.” 

Of course, this “favour” was not one sided. Trump came Farage’s aid during the Brexit campaign. When former President Obama visited London in April 2016, his comment on the upcoming Brexit referendum – and its possible negative consequences for Britain – upset Farage, who called it a “monstrous interference” in British politics. It was: “…A monstrous interference, I’d rather he stayed in Washington, frankly, if that’s what he’s going to do. You wouldn’t expect the British Prime Minister to intervene in your presidential election, you wouldn’t expect the Prime Minister to endorse one candidate or another. Perhaps he’s another one of those people who doesn’t understand what [the EU] is.

Despite this, Farage always welcomed Trump’s support for the campaign. And despite his supposed reservations about foreign interference in elections, he did not hesitate to take the stage in Jackson, where he urged the American people not to vote for Hilary Clinton. Farage reacted to the possibility of Obama’s sharing his opinion supporting the “remain” campaign and said,

After assuming power in January 2017, less than seven months after the Brexit referendum, Trump repeatedly commented on British politics. For example, he did not hesitate to criticize former PM Theresa May’s Brexit plan. In July 2018, speaking to the Sun, Trump said, “I would have done it much differently… I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

During May’s visit to the White House in January 2017, Trump claimed Brexit was a “blessing for the world” and a “beautiful, beautiful thing.”

Trump was ecstatic about Brexit. The “Leave” campaign echoed his own populist themes and showed the sea-change that was happening in Western politics and the increasing popularity of anti-establishment candidates. Brexit was undeniably a warning sign that populism and nationalism were gaining momentum. It was not an isolated accident, but a groundswell that would redefine political paradigms.

Despite his support for Brexit, Trump has always been a highly unpopular figure in the UK. In contrast, Farage seems highly popular with Trump’s far right supporters. The US media saw Farage’s 2020 appearance in Arizona as “yesterday’s man” who was “forced to travel abroad to seek a spotlight.” Farage’s influence in the UK has waned since Brexit. 

Farage has also not hesitated to join far-right, pro-Trump, conspiracy-spreading radio programmes and gave interviews supporting Trump’s narratives and policies. Among many others, some of the conspiracies he spread included the lie that Obama is a Muslim plotting against the US and that Trump’s impeachment was a “Jewish coup.” In some of these interviews, Farage repeatedly discussed a supposed plot by bankers and “globalists” to impose a world government, a conspiracy theory strongly linked to antisemitism.

Similarly, during and after the Brexit campaign, he hosted Trump on his radio show on LBC radio. LBC is a respected radio station providing platforms to different segments of society. In October 2019, Trump joined Farage’s programme and commented positively on the performance of the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the process of Brexit while criticising Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Although Trump has never been popular in the UK, the fact that he joined the conversation in support of his good friend Farage is worth highlighting. It should also be noted that the LBC has announced Farage stepping down “with immediate effect” in June 2020, following a radio show in which he compared Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests to the Taliban. 

When it comes to cooperation between these two populists, Gideon Rachman underlines the link between the Brexit referendum and the election of Trump. Rachman marks with bold letters that both these incidents “will forever be linked in history. The two events took place within a few months of each other. Both were populist revolts that appealed to similar constituencies.” 

Supporting Rachman’s view, Laetitia Langlois (2018: 16) rightly argues that: “The pro-Brexit and the pro-Trump votes rest on the same dynamics: they are both angry votes against the elite, against immigration, against globalisation. It is no surprise then that Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are so close: as the embodiments of the rage against the system and the two populist voices in the anglosphere, they had common ideas, common targets and common objectives.”

Trump and Farage view the concerns of their constituents as basically the same. Speaking at the Jackson rally, with Farage at his side, Trump said: “They voted to break away from rule by large corporations and media executives who believe in a world without borders…They voted to reclaim control over immigration, over their economy, over their government…. Working people and the great people of the UK took control of their destiny.”

As a final note, Trump spoke to his supporters while seeing himself out of the White House and off Florida. He said, “we will be back in some form.” After his acquittal in his  2nd impeachment trial, on 13th of February, 2021, Trump released a press statement, celebrating his acquittal. He said: “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”

If he manages to make a come-back, there is no doubt that he would not leave his good friend Nigel jobless. Thus, it is not surprising to see Farage celebrating Trump’s acquittal, as evidenced by the following Tweet:

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Greta Thunberg, climate activist, has been demonstrating on Fridays outside the Swedish Parliament. Photo: Liv Oeian

Greta Thunberg: Climate Populism As Productive Double?

This commentary considers aspects of populism that Greta Thunberg’s climate movement exposes and transforms. Dr. Hart also considers Thunberg’s “spectrum superpower” and the force of activist community-building in a climate crisis that is already here.  

By Heidi Hart

In today’s polarizing politics, xenophobic populism is usually seen as a distant opposite of grassroots progressive movements. The reductive binary of evil twin/good twin is tempting, too, but what happens if we look at ways in which a youthful climate movement mirrors and transforms populist action? The double or Doppelgänger, when it appears in literature and film, is both familiar and other, in Freud’s sense of the uncanny (Glynn, 2016). If viewed through the mirror-lens, Thunberg’s role as an unexpectedly charismatic leader of a viral movement can seem as populist as that of autocrats who whip up nationalist feeling in their followers. What her work does, though, is to reveal the power of soulful activism to transform group dynamics for an outward cause rather than toward self-preservation. Though her position as a white female from a wealthy Nordic country has overshadowed less privileged young activists (Mernit, 2019), Thunberg’s movement is a useful case study in how populist impulses can speak truth to power, to use the old Quaker phrase, rather than sow fear and hate. 

Climate populism, which “tends to take ‘the people’ to be a global subject rather than a national project” and has led to the “quick uptake” of projects like the Green New Deal, can certainly risk dilution (Bosworth, 2020) and denial of Black and Brown community concerns (Coleman, 2021). At the same time, it holds potential for what Geoff Mann and Joel Wainright have called “Climate X,” a future vision that does not compromise endlessly for the sake of neoliberal planetary “management” on the one hand or surrender to autocratic oppressions on the other. This vision calls for “a rapid reduction of carbon emissions by collective boycott and strike,”[i] very much in line with Thunberg’s project. Though the authors recognize the “impractical” idealism of transnational, anti-capitalist revolution, from the neoliberal perspective, they hope for class struggles and local, Indigenous-informed efforts to “subtract” communities from damaging power systems,[ii] taking inspiration from the “palpable urgency”[iii] in mass movements like Fridays for Future.

Thunberg’s unexpected “superpower” (Rourke, 2019) in her Asperger’s has been remarkably effective in focusing the Fridays movement on specific, concrete goals rather than on feel-good platitudes. In its “ghost” role as a suppressed aspect of normative European culture,[iv] the autism spectrum exposes gifts buried under assumptions that “human” means “neurotypical” (Morris, 2004). In a recent essay by Thunberg’s mother, related to the family’s new book,[v]Malena Ernman recounts Greta’s years of facing bullying at school while refusing to eat at home. After being diagnosed with “high-functioning Asperger’s” and beginning to talk about her humiliations at school, Greta found her vocation in the very dissonance she experienced, painfully, between modern comforts and planetary disease. “She saw what the rest of us did not want to see. It was as if she could see our CO2 emissions with her naked eye” (Ernman, 2020).

Having been raised in a well-educated family, with an opera singer mother with the luxury of posting “sun-drenched selfies from Japan” – and later regretting this (Ernman, 2020) – Thunberg continues to call attention to the blind privilege of travel as consumption and to corporate powers whose carbon footprints dwarf those of even the most profligate tourists. 

Thunberg’s insistence on uncompromising truth about global warming, her sailing to the US for the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019 (Brady, 2019) despite criticism for white yachting privilege (Parker, 2019), and her ability to stare down Donald Trump (Rosen, 2019) have led not only to internet fame but to an equally viral youth movement as well. Online spread via YouTube videos, memes, and tweets is common to both far-right and climate populism, but younger activists disrupting autocratic power structures bring an open, 1960s-like energy to their efforts (Ellis, 2019)

Thunberg has certainly inspired Gen-Z activists to TikTok their way to organizing Black Lives Matter events and embarrassing Donald Trump at a largely empty rally (Herrman, 2020). At the same time, she does not take credit as a sole actor, citing her own inspiration from the Parkland shooting survivors in the US and from earlier activists, many unrecognized because they did not come from the global North and “many of whom had been raising the climate alarm for years.”[vi] Thunberg also recognizes that although the Fridays movement may have started with her lonely, quiet presence outside Parliament with a sign, it has grown through “the work of thousands of diverse student leaders, their teachers, and supporting organizations.”[vii] The recent documentary on Thunberg has received some negative reviews, not because it adds to scoffing from the right or left, but because it valorizes her as one savior figure in a movement that needs multitudes, a critique with which she would agree (Bradshaw, 2020).

The power of the pause – refusing to attend school once a week, holding one’s ground despite the bullying Thunberg now faces on a global scale – has proven inspiring to many in its own right. In a world that runs on an assumption of “endless growth” fueled by extractivism,[viii] simply stopping normal routines can open up a space for questioning what “normal” even is. The COVID year has brought to light what privileged humans deeply fear: failure of the drive for more stuff, more speed, more work, more travel, more development, more corporate comforts. In this very stoppage, though, is hope for a planet already in crisis. In her recent video, released close to the Paris Agreement’s five-year anniversary, Thunberg reflects on how little “big speeches” have done to halt carbon emissions and enact the “system change” the planet needs (Common Dreams, 2020). Her own speeches may be small in comparison, but they serve a crucial role in calling for a halt to the mythology of endless growth. 

So, what comes next? A 2020 document published anonymously in France, more radically subverting individualist privilege than Thunberg’s movement does, holds that neither calling out governments on the one hand nor altering consumer habits on the other is enough to address climate crisis at its depth. This text, titled “Re-attachments” (Anonymous, 2020/2021) does call for strikes and direct action (along the lines of Mann and Wainwright’s “Climate X” and Thunberg’s stoppages) but adds another antidote: an ecology of “presence” rather than “absence.” 

This means that instead of feeling helpless in the face of mass extinctions and lost habitats, we can mourn these while fostering commitment to new forms of community in an already compromised world. “In order to develop constituent forms of material and political autonomy, we need to communize spaces, land, wastelands, buildings, churches, houses, and parks” (Anonymous, 2020/2021). Learning from Indigenous practices of ecological co-regulation (in a respectful way, without cultural extractivism or appropriation) can aid in developing stronger bonds between humans and other species, too. Greta Thunberg’s model of quiet, searing clarity has been a giant step toward mobilizing climate action; the communities her work continues to form, in contrast to the chat rooms of fear-based populism, may be its greatest gift.   


References

[i] Mann, Geoff & Wainright, Joel. (2018). Climate Leviathan. Verso Books. p. 160. 

[ii] Ibid. 175.

[iii] Ibid. 173.

[iv] Mindell, Arnold. (1995). Sitting in the Fire: Large group transformation using conflict and diversity. Lao Tse Press. 69-70.

[v] Thunberg, Greta and Malena Ernman, Svante Thunberg, Beate Ernman. (2020). Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis. Penguin.

[vi] Klein, Naomi. (2020). “On Fire.” All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Penguin Random House. p. 42.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Higgs, Kerryn. (2016). Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet. MIT Press.

A concert of Norwegian band Wardruna at Cathedral Cave, Kirkehelleren on Sanna Island during Traenafestival that is a music festival taking place on the small island of Traena in Norway on July 8, 2017. Photo: Melanie Lemahieu

Music and the Far-Right Trance

By Heidi Hart

On a cold-soaked January night in Berlin, less than a week after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, I stood with several thousand counter-protesters on the west side of the Brandenburg Gate. On the other side, a smaller group of PEGIDA demonstrators had gathered with German flags and nationalist signs. Armed police held a line under the iconic pillars. Anger at the rise of xenophobic populism, which in turn had been fueled by the Paris attack, was palpable in all the bodies around me. The crowd chanted, “Nationalismus ‘raus aus den Köpfen,” a plea to unplug internalized nationalism. Loudspeakers pounded Turkish rap from a nearby truck. As the chant grew more synchronized and the crowd pressed closer to the barricade, I understood in a kinetic way what I had been researching in my doctoral work, on the power of rhythm to entrain the body politic, synching heart and breath rate to a march beat. 

In a famous scene in Günter Grass’ novel The Tin Drum, the main character disrupts the rhythm of a Nazi march by beating a waltz on his drum, and then breaking into a syncopated foxtrot.[i] The spell of crowd manipulation breaks, if only for a short, chaotic time. Likewise, as the chanting fell off kilter in Berlin that January night, our voices syncopated by the nearby rap, I was relieved. Though my hopes for an inclusive Germany lined up with the beliefs of others around me, we could easily be swept into a pulsing trance state and lose our criticality. This embodied experience comes to mind as I track the ongoing use of music in far-right recruitment in Europe, where rapid-fire rhythms and pagan fascinations have proven dangerously effective in giving young people a sense of atavistic destiny and rhythmic accord with groups that operate as much on fear as they proclaim faux-tribal grit.

By summer 2016, nearly a hundred far-right musical events had taken place in Germany in that year alone (Staudenmaier, 2016), and have continued, most notably in the former East. Though some of these events take the form of festivals attracting large numbers of neo-Nazis, also from the U.S. (Engel & Denne, 2020) many do not come off as stadium-style rock concerts but appropriate the “high-culture” term Liederabend (Staudenmaier, 2016), traditionally a classical recital with voice and piano. Now in popular singer-songwriter format, these intimate settings allow young people who might not identify as hard-line racists to become convinced of the dangers of migration and “Islamification” in their local towns. Associating the tradition of Schubert songs with notions of nationalist superiority also echoes the Nazi co-opting of German classical music, which Thomas Mann diagnosed as collective sickness in his 1947 novel Doktor Faustus. This all-too-familiar melding of musical intimacy with far-right ideology sounds alarms for a generation raised after decades of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or reckoning with the past, in Germany. “Never forget” risks becoming, as some of my Trump-supporting students in the U.S. have glibly put it, “Hitler wasn’t so bad.”

The German Linke (Left) party has described fascist-flavored music as a “gateway drug,” (Staudenmaier, 2016) recalling the words of Hanns Eisler, one of Brecht’s musical collaborators during the Nazi era, who warned of music’s capacity to serve as a socio-political “narcotic” (Shams, 2019). As neo-Nazis jolt their bodies in time with hate-rock’s machine-gun beat, they are not operating in the rebel-against-everything world of punk’s rapid rhythms, but rather training their senses in rage against particular, marginalized groups. Heavy metal and its many subgenres have sometimes aligned with racist ideology over the past forty years, encouraging kinetic immersion in violent theatrics, though bands such as Rammstein have denied the white-supremacist leanings some of their fans espouse (Braun, 2019). As musicologist Lawrence Kramer has pointed out, ideology is “sticky” and can adhere to many kinds of music, because musical “meaning” is mainly associative and sound is experienced in a directly physical way[ii] (Reybrouck & Eerola, 2017).

Some bands do not attract right-wing fans just through guttural singing or harsh, precise rhythms that some might consider “Teutonic” (Herbst, 2019). Sturmwehr and Unbeliebte Jungs take pride in their overtly racist lyrics (Shams, 2019); the far-right AfD party in Germany has used such bands to recruit like-minded adherents (Corte & Edwards, 2008) and though the party has found such efforts more difficult in the past several years (Mischke, 2019) “community spread” continues to occur in gaming communities and on dark web platforms as well (Kamenetz, 2019). In 2019 police shut down several white-power concerts in Thuringia due to banned songs being performed (Shams, 2019), but “hatecore” continues to draw young people, some of whom do commit hate crimes as their commitment to white supremacy grows.  

More recently, neofolk and “Vikingarock” bands have gained large followings in Scandinavia and beyond, thanks in part to the Netflix series Vikings and The Last Kingdom. Because of the unavoidable history of Nazism’s Norse fascinations, these bands tend to disavow the fascist ideology their music tends to attract, but that disavowal can be fuzzy. Ultima Thule in Sweden, active since the 1980s, cannot avoid associations with the Nazi use of the same name for an imaginary Aryan homeland (Crane, 2019). They have brought their Viking-inflected mashup of folk, punk, and rock to numerous skinhead concerts, and, with a focus on national pride in their lyrics, are commonly known as a “white power” band.[iii]In a country where the now-defunct New Democracy party (like the AfD in Germany) included white power music in its youth recruitment (Corte & Edwards, 2008), and where the equally xenophobic Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson has been known to party with Ultima Thule (Radio Sweden, 2015), the band’s statements denying a racist agenda while valorizing national “roots” (Ultima Thule, 2007) remain problematic.

On the other hand, the Norwegian neofolk band Wardruna has set out to take back Viking-era instruments and imagery from the far right. Known in the blogosphere as “antifascist neofolk,” (ANZUS, 2018) Wardruna’s music (part of the soundtrack for Vikings) includes not only hard-driving hits like “Helvegen,” about the journey to the Norse land of the dead, but also unplugged “skald” or bard songs with simple string instruments, and songs using Celtic musical modes. Still, the lines can blur when calling up pagan mysteries once celebrated in Nazi torch parades and propaganda films. One of Wardruna’s members, who has since left the group, did have far-right leanings in his former black-metal days (ANZUS, 2018), and like the current Netflix nature-cult trend (the Danish series Equinox as an example of mood-TV that makes pagan rites seem equally dangerous and attractive), Viking-associated music can still draw fans who want to picture themselves like the costumed “shaman” who joined the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Some antidotes to far-right “stickiness” include satire, however brutal, as in the Swedish film Midsommar (as critical of American tourism as it is of neo-pagan pretensions), and even farcical humor, as in the Monty Python-style series Norsemen. In Germany, music counters music, often in the form of rap, as in songs by Japanese-German Blumio (Kuniyoshi Fumio), whose “Hey Mr. Nazi” is too catchy to sound pedantic about racist stereotyping. The pop group Misuk takes up antifascist texts by Bertolt Brecht and reimagines them for the 21st century, giving them a playful ease that appeals to younger listeners. The German Netflix series Dark draws on pagan tropes, but with a philosophical grain and chilling soundtrack that show the danger of immersion in primordial caves. 

In the literary world, Sarah Moss’ 2019 novel Ghost Wall shows where uncritical neo-paganism can lead: an anthropologist involves his family in a Stone Age role-play fantasy that becomes all too real when his daughter discovers she is meant to be a human sacrifice. Though the book begins with what some reviewers have called an “incantatory” prologue (Hagy, 2019) the story itself works against this trance-inducing language, to show what can happen when human bodies get caught up in drumming, chanting, and torch-bearing. Luckily in this case, the spell breaks as the narrator refuses to join in the chant, “no longer afraid or ashamed.”[iv]

Note: This commentary draws on my previous research on antifascist music in Germany and the narcotic effects it works to interrupt, as well as on my recent work on music in dark- ecological art and film. 

 


References

[i] Grass, Günter. (1997). Die Blechtrommel (1959), Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. 151-156

[ii] Kramer, Lawrence. (2018). The Hum of the World: A Philosophy of Listening. University of California Press. 115-116.

[iii] Pred, Allan. (2019). Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination. University of California Press. 219. See also Teitelbaum, Benjamin R. (2017). Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism. Oxford University Press. 

[iv] Moss, Sarah. (2019). Ghost Wall. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 124. 

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, August 20, 2019.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud and the uncertain fate of Israel’s democracy

Right-wing populism beyond the West

This series profiles electorally successful right-wing populists outside the widely studied contexts of Europe and the Americas. We commence with empirical studies of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. In a next step, we probe the commonalities and discontinuities of these three populist leaders and reflect on the global phenomenon of right-wing populism and its relationship with processes of democratisation and democratic backsliding. These commentaries are based on research published by the authors in Democratization, Volume 27, No. 8 (2020), available at https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2020.1795135.

By Ayala Panievsky* & Julius Maximilian Rogenhofer

Ever since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, its governments have proudly adopted the self-characterisation as “the only democracy in the Middle East”. Israel’s close relationship with the United States leverages this presumption. Even Israel’s decades-long occupation of almost 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has not erased its image as the international community’s strongest ally in a dangerous region. Israel is considered closer to meeting the criteria of liberal democracy than either Turkey or India. Yet, its democratic institutions confront an intensifying onslaught by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister for over a decade.[1] In this commentary we explore the economic, nationalist and media dimensions of Netanyahu’s right-wing populist strategy and explain what makes it different – but also similar to – the one used by his populist counterparts.

Netanyahu, famous for his fierce advocacy of a “free market”, shares Erdogan and Modi’s neoliberal agenda. Following the liberalisation of Israel’s economy during the 1980s, Netanyahu’s reforms as Minister of Treasury in the early 2000sdismantled what was once a social-democratic welfare state. Combining deregulation, tax reductions and privatisation of public services, Netanyahu – like Erdogan and Modi – undermined rights-based welfare services and took an axe to public sector pay.[2] Netanyahu framed his neoliberal agenda as a revenge against the “elites”: Public sector employees, workers’ unions and the welfare state were portrayed as incompetent and corrupt burdens on Israel’s economy and as part of the anti-patriotic left, which favours the enemies of the state over the “people”. During the 2015 elections his Likud Party aired television ads showcasing a fictional support group meeting where unionists, broadcasters and Hamas terrorists comfort one another. When Netanyahu enters the frame, the slogan “It is Us or Them” – the prime motto of divisive populism – appears (Ynet News, 17 March 2015).

Alongside the privatised economy within the borders of Israel, Netanyahu helped establish a de facto welfare state within the Jewish settlements inside the occupied West Bank.[3] Settler organisations are generously supported by the government and integrated into the public education system as well as Israel’s Defence Forces. Netanyahu’s exceptional support for these groups nurtures a clientelist system, shielding settlers from the unpleasant consequences of his government’s economic policies. A similar compensation mechanism also protects another one of Netanyahu’s longstanding political allies – the orthodox community. 

As Covid-19 poses new economic challenges for Israel, Netanyahu faced persistent and heated demonstrations across the country, which alleged corruption and criticised his handling of the health emergency. Under intense public pressure, Netanyahu has granted limited governmental support for Israeli citizens who suffer from recurring lockdowns. His worldview, however, has remained fiercely neoliberal: When asked in a televised interview why his government chose not to better compensate Israelis for their financial losses, Netanyahu proudly cited Milton Friedman to suggest that greater governmental support would endanger the economy (Davar, 22 March 2020).

Voting in Israel tends to prioritise issues of national security and identity above the economy. Like the AKP and the BJP, the Likud uses inclusion within the “people” to nurture support among disadvantaged Jewish voters.[4] This form of symbolic representation is underpinned by resentment towards the “enemies of the people”, defined broadly to includeminorities, political opponents and democratic institutions. The language used by Netanyahu to justify his politics has both religious and nationalistic overtones, with the former often masking the latter.[5] While Erdogan self-identifies as a leader of the Islamic world, Netanyahu presents himself as speaking on behalf of the “Jewish people” (Haaretz, 12 February 2015). This conflation of Israel’s government with Jewishness disregards that the vast majority of the Jewish people neither live nor vote in Israel and that 25 percent of Israel’s citizens are non-Jewish – mostly Israeli Arabs. Jewish citizens also risk exclusion from the “real people” – if they oppose Netanyahu’s government.

The hotly contested intersections of religion, ethnicity and nationhood in Israel[6] and the bleeding conflict with the Palestinians enable Netanyahu to exclude Arab citizens from Israeli society, labelling them “collaborators” of the Palestinians – a “Trojan horse” with double loyalties. Netanyahu’s ethnoreligious sectarianism appeared in Israel’s 2018 Nation State Law,[7] which formally elevates Jewish collective rights over those of Israeli Arabs. If it is not struck down by the supreme court, this Nation State Law will “legitimise the use of Jewishness as a criterion to discriminate against the Arabs and prefer Jews in labour, housing, education and culture”,[8] thereby making religious minorities in Israel de facto second-class citizens. Netanyahu’s Likud invoked this Nation State Law to push-back against the alleged “liberal supremacy” of individual rights that are defended by an “elitist liberal minority” against the “people” (SWP Comment, October 2018). 

Such discourses question the legitimacy of Netanyahu’s political opponents on the left, who – albeit Jewish – are condemned for siding with non-Jewish minorities, including Israeli Arabs and African asylum seekers. Netanyahu associates the Israeli left with hostile forces who supposedly conspire against Israel, using left-wing activists as their pawns. Thus, as Levi and Agmon note, contemporary right-wing populism in Israel does not merely exclude minorities, it uses minorities to exclude the left from the “real people.”[9]

Netanyahu’s assault on the “enemies of the people” encompasses large swathes of Israel’s mainstream media. Like Modi, Netanyahu leverages social media to bypass journalists, blaming them for deceiving the public, siding with Israel’s enemies and plotting to take him down (The New York Times, 9 August 2017). Netanyahu’s 2019 election campaign targeted high-profile journalists, asking the public to vote against them (Haaretz, 20 January 2019). Netanyahu’s true rival and, thus, the “people’s” rival, was the press. Beyond this inciteful rhetoric, Netanyahu – like Erdogan and Modi –used executive power to intimidate journalists, capture state-owned media and weaken private news outlets.[10]Implementing this strategy entailed a variant of Erdogan’s media-capture strategy, namely the cultivation of alternative, loyalist media outlets.[11] Israel’s only free daily “Israel Today” is often referred to by its nickname “Bibiton” (Netanyahu’s newspaper). Netanyahu’s attempts to gain favourable media coverage have also entangled him in two corruption scandals, in which he sought to trade regulatory benefits for positive news coverage (The Times of Israel, 16 May 2019).

Yet, while Netanyahu defames broadcasters for allegedly ‘employing fans of terrorists’ and ‘persecuting Israel’s soldiers’, he has not followed Erdogan and Modi in arresting journalists or forcing television blackouts. Such acts are, as yet, considered inconceivable in the Israeli context. Earlier this year, when the Likud shared a video that called for the arrest of one of Netanyahu’s greatest critics, the investigative journalist Raviv Druker – public turmoil erupted, and Netanyahu was pressured to take down and renounce the video (The Times of Israel, 11 June 2020). This incident demonstrates that albeit weakened, certain democratic institutions – including the press – still constrain Netanyahu’s populist agenda. 

Nonetheless, Israel has faced several worrying developments: First, as Netanyahu’s supporters target the supreme court as the next “enemy of the people”, the checks-and-balances that currently restrict Netanyahu may dwindle. A recent investigative report documents how Netanyahu’s supporters were encouraged to dig dirt on family members of judges in Netanyahu’s own court cases (Haaretz, 25 December 2020)

Second, Israel is heading towards its fourth national election next year. The previous three cycles ended with a tie between the pro- and anti- Netanyahu blocs. Ultimately, Netanyahu and his main centre-left contender Benny Gantz formed a joint government under the premise of delivering “unity” in face of Covid-19. Now, the main contender to Netanyahu’s rule is, for the first time, likely to be another right-wing party led by Gideon Saar – a former Likud politician. He, too, has been labelled a “lefty” by Netanyahu’s supporters, demonstrating how fluid the boundaries of “the real people” have become. Although the Israeli people have suffered greatly from Netanyahu’s neoliberal policies and his powerful incitement against “elites” and minorities, they are likely to grant Netanyahu another term in office. If Netanyahu does win the 2021 election, the coming years are likely to showcase an amplified version of his existing populist playbook. The inertia of Israel’s democratic institutions will determine whether this period will bring Israel closer to India and Turkey or spell a recovery from a decade of divisive populism and democratic backsliding. 


(*) Ayala Panievsky is a Gates-Cambridge Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge. Her work explores the ever-changing relationship between media and politics in contemporary democracies, and in particular, the encounter between mainstream media and political extremism in the age of social media and big data.


References

[1] Mordechay, Nadiv, and Yaniv Roznai. (2017). “A Jewish and (Declining) Democratic State? Constitutional Retrogression in Israel.” Maryland Law Review. 77, no. 1: 244–270.

[2] Filc, Dani. (2010). The Political Right in Israel: Different Faces of Jewish Populism. Routledge Studies on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 7. New York: Routledge.

[3] Gutwein, Daniel. (2017). “The Settlements and the Relationship Between Privatization and the Occupation Normalizing Occupation.” In: Normalizing Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements. Edited by Ariel Handel, Marco Allegra and Erez Maggor, 21–33. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[4] Filc, Dani. (2010). The Political Right in Israel: Different Faces of Jewish Populism. Routledge Studies on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 7. New York: Routledge.

[5] Talshir, Gayil. (2018). “Populist Rightwing Ideological Exposition: Netanyahu’s Regime as a Case in Point.” Advances in Applied Sociology. 8, no. 04: 329–349.

[6] Wallach, Yair. (2016). “Jewish Nationalism: On the (Im)Possibility of Muslim Jews.” In: The Routledge Handbook of Muslim-Jewish Relations. Edited by Josef Meri. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315675787.

[7] — (2018). Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People https://knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/BasicLawNationState.pdf

[8] Gutwien, Daniel. (2017). “The Settlements and the Relationship Between Privatization and the Occupation Normalizing Occupation.” In: Normalizing Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements. Edited by Ariel Handel, Marco Allegra and Erez Maggor, 21–33. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[9] Levi, Yonatan and Shai Agmon. (2020). “Beyond Culture and Economy: Israel’s Security-Driven Populism, Contemporary Politics.” Contemporary Politics. DOI: 10.1080/13569775.2020.1864163 

[10] Peri, Yoram. (2004). Telepopulism: Media and Politics in Israel. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

[11] Pfeffer, Anshel. (2018). Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. London: Hurst & Company.

Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi addressing the 25th Foundation Day of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences at Bengaluru via video conferencing in New Delhi on June 01, 2020.

How Hindutva threatens the world’s largest democracy

Right-wing populism beyond the West

This series profiles electorally successful right-wing populists outside the widely studied contexts of Europe and the Americas. I commence with empirical studies of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. In the next step, I probe the commonalities and discontinuities of these three populist leaders and reflect on the global phenomenon of right-wing populism and its relationship with the processes of democratisation and democratic backsliding. These commentaries are based on research published by the author(s) in Democratization, Volume 27, No. 8 (2020), available at https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2020.1795135.

By Julius Maximilian Rogenhofer

Compared to the other statesmen in this series, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is a relative newcomer to national politics. The former chief minister of Gujarat secured an absolute majority in India’s 2014 general election and has since solidified his premiership with a landslide election win in 2019 (The Guardian, May 16, 2014; BBC News, May 23, 2019). Despite this democratic show of force, Modi – like Erdogan and Netanyahu – built a resonant brand of right-wing populism that severely imperils the world’s largest democracy. I argue that this political strategy resembles Erdogan’s populist playbook in a number of important respects. Let us distinguish between three constitutive parts: Neoliberal economic policy, religious polarisation and media-capture.

India’s economy successfully opened to the world in 1991, under the auspices of the social-democratic Congress Party. Despite the Congress Party’s liberal record, Modi used his own reputation for reforms in Gujarat to undermine the Congress Party and to present himself as India’s ‘development man’. His Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) positioned itself as the country’s ‘most reform-minded party’.[i] In line with Erdogan’s neoliberal playbook, Modi weakened labour unions[ii] and endorsed public-private-partnerships[iii]. Following the mantra of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, the BJP substituted formal welfare services with new insurance schemes and digitally-enabled cash transfers that play into the development narrative. Modi frames poor, newly urbanized and middle-class Hindus as the pure, deserving “people”, threatened by a secular, anti-national elite. This liberal elite is deemed corrupt for monopolising power and preventing development while pandering to minority groups.[iv] The promise of development of the “people” also allows Modi to challenge institutional and civil society initiatives that oppose his deregulatory agenda. 

In addition to Modi’s neoliberal development vision, the BJP embodies Hindutva, a belief system that deems Hinduism superior to the culture and beliefs of India’s minority groups. Hindutva manifests in animosity towards Muslims[v] and was used by Modi’s supporters to justify attacks on Muslim places of worship, delegitimize inter-faith marriages and endorse campaigns to convert Muslim and Christian families “back” to Hinduism”.[vi]

Deep divisions between Muslims and Hindus trace back to India and Pakistan’s partition in 1947 and continue to manifest – amongst other things – in struggles over the slaughter of cows[vii] (a holy animal in Hinduism) and control over the region of Jammu and Kashmir. In light of such deep social divisions, the ethnoreligious homogeneity propagated by Modi threatens to undermine the delicate accommodation between casts, ethnicities and religious groups that sits at the heart of India’s democratic compromise culture. When Modi demands that opposition politicians “stop writing ‘love letters to Pakistan’”[viii], these assertions nurture a majoritarian conception of the “people”. Funding cuts for minority development programs further alienate religious minority groups[ix]. Similarly, a civil society campaign titled “Love Jihad” – tacitly endorsed by BJP grandees – manufactured a resonant imagination of ‘sexually rapacious Muslim youth converting Hindu women to Islam’.[x]

At this stage, it is worth clarifying that the blanket securitization of Indian Muslims and Modi’s tacit endorsement of vigilante violence against them is more sweeping than Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents and political opponents. For Erdogan, religious rhetoric is primarily a source of legitimation through the definition of an AKP-supporting “people”. The “enemy of the people” is defined in socio-political, not explicitly religious terms. Modi, in turn, deems both Muslim minorities and their elite backers external to the “people”.[xi] Confrontations between the government and India’s minority populations reached new heights in 2019, when Modi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, detained thousands of Muslim Kashmiris and imposed a strict curfew (The Telegraph, October 31, 2019). In a region already prone to sectarian violence, Modi’s inclusion of vulnerable religious minorities within the “enemies of the people” imperils both liberal democracy and human wellbeing. 

Modi’s populist infusion of patriotism and nationalism with religion offers his supporters a meta-morality and a source of identity, from which the “enemies of the people” can be distinguished based on their minority status and their willingness to accommodate religious minorities.[xii] A similar unwillingness to tolerate difference or criticism emerges from Modi’s relationship with the fourth estate.

At first sight, Modi’s relationship with the Indian media landscape diverges from Erdogan’s crackdown on journalists and online media. In ham-fisted attempts to control the information flow, Erdogan sought to remove internet and cellular access for Gezi protesters in 2013, cut access to Twitter and YouTube in 2014 – after corruption allegations surfaced against him – and blocked Wikipedia following charges of voter fraud in Turkey’s 2017 referendum. In stark contrast to this censorship spree, Modi’s 2014 election campaign was marked by an unprecedented level of digital competence: Modi’s campaign included a website, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, profiles on Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram, a mobile phone app as well as 3D holograms that appeared simultaneously across different locations.[xiii] This digital strategy culminated in Modi becoming the ‘world’s most-followed leader on social media’ in 2017. 

Beyond these differences in digital competence, Modi shares Erdogan’s scorn for impartial media outlets, as fora for democratic mediation and accountability. Following criticism of Modi for ‘inaction, complicity, and even giving direction to’ large-scale violence and the killing of over 3000 Muslims in Gujarat, Modi began attacking elite media figures and traditional media outlets as corrupt ‘paid news’, one BJP minister denouncing these English-language media outlets as ‘presstitutes’.[xiv] In manner characteristic for populist leaders across the globe, the BJP asserted that the “people” would recognise their own truths against those of the secular elite.[xv] Adding deeds to discourse, Modi implemented a 24-hour blackout of NDTV – a news channel that had frequently criticised his administration – in 2016.[xvi] Journalists now face growing intimidation, repression and arrest for reporting in Kashmir or on the spread of Covid-19 in India (The Wire, June 16, 2020; Al Jazeera, March 18, 2020; Democracy Now! , October 1, 2020)

Despite being in power for only a fraction of Erdogan’s tenure, Modi’s attack on accountability institutions is catching up to Erdogan’s monopolisation of political power in Turkey. The combination of neoliberal developmentalism, religious sectarianism and media capture allowed Modi to pair-back central pillars of India’s democracy – including its accommodation between ethnicities and religions and the fourth estate. By contrasting a pure Hindu “people” with a “corrupt elite” and its unpatriotic Muslim allies,[xvii] Modi created an uneven political playing field that severely disadvantages political opponents: Within a single five-year term, his BJP undermined state institutions including the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Electoral Commission.[xviii] In his current, second term Modi continues to entrench his position as a national “saviour”.[xix] If Hindutva and Modi-like developmentalism remain hegemonic, India risks becoming an authoritarian one-party state. 

Rererences

[i] Kaur, Ravinder. “Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi.” Television & New Media. 16, no. 4 (2015): 323–330. doi:10.1177/1527476415575492.

[ii] Harriss, John. “Hindu Nationalism in Action: The Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian Politics.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 38, no. 4. (2016). doi:10.1080/00856401.2015.1089826

[iii] Sinha, Subir. “Fragile Hegemony: Modi, Social Media and Competitive Electoral Populism in India.” International Journal of Communication. 11, no. 2017 (2018): 4158–4180.

[iv] Ibid. 

[v] Palshikar, Suhas. “The BJP and Hindu Nationalism: Centrist Politics and Majoritarian Impulses.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 38, no. 4 (2015): 719–735. doi:10.1080/00856401.2015.1089460

[vi] Ibid., 728-729.

[vii] Chacko, Priya. “The Right Turn in India: Authoritarianism, Populism and Neoliberalisation.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 48, no. 4 (2018): 541–565. doi:10.1080/00472336.2018.1446546

[viii] Sinha, Subir. “Fragile Hegemony: Modi, Social Media and Competitive Electoral Populism in India.” International Journal of Communication. 11, no. 2017 (2018): 4158–4180.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Singh, Gurharpal. “Hindu Nationalism in Power: Making Sense of Modi and the BJP-Led National Democratic Alliance Government, 2014–19.” Sikh Formations. 15, no. 3–4 (2019): 314–331. doi:10.1080/17448727.2019.1630220

[xii] Kinnvall, Catarina. “Populism, Ontological Insecurity and Hindutva: Modi and the Masculinization of Indian Politics.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 32, no. 3 (2019): 283-302.

[xiii] Pal, Joyojeet. “Banalities Turned Viral: Narendra Modi and the Political Tweet.” Television & New Media. 16, no. 4 (2015): 378-387. doi.org/10.1177/1527476415573956.

[xiv] Sinha, Subir. “Fragile Hegemony: Modi, Social Media and Competitive Electoral Populism in India.” International Journal of Communication 11, no. 2017 (2018): 4158–4180.

[xv] Ohm, Britta. “Organizing Popular Discourse with and Against the Media: Notes on the Making of Narendra Modi and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Leaders-without-Alternative.” Television & New Media. 16, no. 4 (2015): 370–377. doi:10.1177/1527476415575906.

[xvi] Govil, Nitin , and Anirban KapilBaishya . “The Bully in the Pulpit: Autocracy, Digital Social Media, and Right-Wing Populist Technoculture.” Communication, Culture and Critique. 11, no. 1 (2018): 67–84. doi:10.1093/ccc/tcx001.

[xvii] Chacko, Priya. “The Right Turn in India: Authoritarianism, Populism and Neoliberalisation.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 48, no. 4 (2018): 541–565. doi:10.1080/00472336.2018.1446546

[xviii] Singh, Gurharpal. “Hindu Nationalism in Power: Making Sense of Modi and the BJP-Led National Democratic Alliance Government, 2014–19.” Sikh Formations. 15, no. 3–4 (2019): 314–331. doi:10.1080/17448727.2019.1630220

[xix] Ibid.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey, a perfect storm of anti-democratic​ populism?

Right-wing populism beyond the West

This series profiles electorally successful right-wing populists outside the widely studied contexts of Europe and the Americas. I commence with empirical studies of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. In a next step, I probe the commonalities and discontinuities of these three populist leaders and reflect on the global phenomenon of right-wing populism and its relationship with processes of democratisation and democratic backsliding. These commentaries are based on research published in Democratization, Volume 27, No. 8 (2020), available at https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2020.1795135.

By Julius Maximilian Rogenhofer

Turkey suffered a spectacular fall from grace in the global democratic imagination. Once celebrated as a ‘model for political learning’[1] and the Middle East’s ‘only Muslim Democracy’[2], Turkey has become a ‘U.S.-style executive presidency – minus the Supreme Court and Congress’ (ECFR, April 8, 2017) and ‘the biggest jailer of journalists in the world’ (Amnesty International, 2017). Of course, Turkey is not the only country to have recently experienced democratic backsliding. Yet, the Turkish case differs from the more familiar instances of populism witnessed in Europe and the Americas. The populist playbook employed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offers a partial blueprint for the antidemocratic populist strategies employed by other right-wing populists. This populist strategy combines neoliberal economic policies, religious polarisation and media capture. Let us begin with a glance at the country’s democratic legacy.

Even before Erdogan’s tenure at the helm of Turkish politics, democracy in Turkey was plagued by top-down, autocratic tendencies, manifest in four military coups between 1960 and 2000. Elected in 2002, Erdogan’s centre-right Justice and Development Party (AKP) presented itself as a moderately Islamist alternative to the secular Kemalism of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Invoking alignment with the European Union (EU) and the prospect of eventual accession, the AKP promised to improve individual freedoms, reduce the military’s role in government and better recognise Kurdish language and culture. These noble ambitions notwithstanding, the AKP repeatedly clashed with secularist political establishment, committed to upholding Mustafa Kemal’s prohibition on virtually all public manifestations of religion. 

Promising to defend democracy against the alleged coup-plotters, Erdogan used the state of emergency to undermine democratic institutions by cleansing them of alleged ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’.

Civilians demonstrated near the Ataturk Culture Center (AKM) building during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, Turkey on June 08, 2013.

For instance, the AKP’s 2007 appointment of President Abdullah Gul, whose wife publicly wears hijab, triggered a constitutional crisis and an investigation of the AKP for violating the principle of laicism. From 2008, the Ergenekon trials sought to combat the role of the deep state (the military, bureaucracy and secret service) in government affairs. At the same time, lawsuits against bureaucrats, NGOs, civil society and journalists evidenced the AKP’s willingness to rescind civil liberties to reaffirm its own power. Following a series of resonant electoral victories, the AKP increasingly weakened national institutions staffed overwhelmingly by Kemalist rivals. Erdogan’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters at Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park in 2013 showcased this distaste for all political opposition to a global audience.

A Populist Strategy to Monopolise Political Power 

Less than three years after the Gezi protests, the failed coup attempt of July 2016 ushered in a fundamental change for democracy in Turkey[3]. Promising to defend democracy against the alleged coup-plotters, Erdogan used the state of emergency to undermine democratic institutions by cleansing them of alleged ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’. The measures enacted after the 2016 coup attempt are part of a multi-pronged populist strategy to monopolise political power in Turkey. Its antidemocratic effect is compounded by harsh repression of elected Kurdish politicians, civil society groups and minority populations. While highly significant, the Kurdish issue is too large and complex to be satisfactorily analysed in this series. 

In the economic realm, Erdogan employs a variant of neoliberal clientelism. Despite promoting a series of business-friendly policies – such as the privatisation of public land,  and the weakening of labour unions – the AKP receives the majority of its votes from economically disadvantaged sections of society[4]. These voters are kept onside using Islamic charity networks who distribute benefits and services in the AKP’s name[5]. At the same time, clientelism reached new levels under Erdogan. Kickbacks from AKP-friendly enterprises constitute a major source of donations for party affiliated organisations[6]. The same enterprises benefited from lucrative public-private partnership construction contracts with AKP controlled municipalities. The catastrophic tenure of Berat Albayrak (Erdogan’s son-in-law) as Minister of Finance and Treasury (July 2018 until November 2020) and the military drone contracts awarded to Selcuk Bayraktar (his other son-in-law) exemplify a political system that places loyalty above competence (Al Monitor, September 11, 2019)

In this economic order, citizen loyalty for democratic institutions is undermined as jobs and benefits cease to be a matter of rights or merit but are tied to membership of an AKP supporting “people”[7]. Thus, after the 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan used the state of emergency to disown the “enemies of the people”. His government appropriated over one thousand schools, companies and hospitals owned by members of the Fethullah Gulen-affiliated Hizmet Movement allegedly behind the attempted coup. It also sold seized businesses, such as the Koza-Ipek Conglomerate, to AKP loyalists. Thus, by combining business friendly liberalisation, clientelism and expropriation the AKP increasingly monopolises the Turkish economy. 

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan follow his speech during an election campaign rally of Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul on June 17, 2018.

Diyanet Used to Supress Dissent 

From 2011 onwards, Erdogan increasingly used the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, to entrench AKP narratives in mosques, religious and educational institutions[8]. In addition to imposing its own religious interpretations and mobilising religious segments of society in support of Erdogan, the AKP used Diyanet to supress dissent against the regime[9]. This conscious politicization of an avowedly non-partisan state body entrenched distinctions drawn by Erdogan and the AKP between the religious “people” and their secular “enemies”. The exclusive definition of the “people” around Islamic institutions and AKP support allowed Erdogan to privilege conservative values and traditional family structures[10]. Women contemplating abortion, single mothers and other “non-traditional” family units face discrimination and are labelled unpatriotic.

The July 2016 coup attempt inspired a new level of religious polarisation, in which the “enemies of the people” were extended to include Muslims supportive of- or allegedly affiliated with Fethullah Gulen. Ten-thousands of, so called, “Gulenists”, were dismissed from their jobs, arrested and/or detained as alleged ‘terrorists’ and members of a criminal ‘cult’ (The New Yorker, October 10, 2016). Erdogan’s self-characterisation as the leader of the faithful disavows large swathes of Turkish society, who are either secular, non-Muslim or critical of Erdogan’s regime. 

Beyond this highly instrumental approach to religion, the AKP’s relationship with Turkey’s mass media is characterised by its willingness to arrest journalists for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda[11]. From early into his tenure, then-Prime Minister Erdogan painted mainstream media moguls like Aydin Dogan as the tools of “deep-state”, an elitist faction scheming to undermine the “people’s will”. More recently, Dogan Media Company – once the owner of major newspapers and television channels – was left no option but to sell its media outlets to Demiroren Holding a conglomerate with close ties to the President Erdodan (New York Times, 21 March 2018). Olay TV, another independent news channel, was forced to close due to government pressure (Ahval, December 26, 2020).

Looking back, Erdogan’s attack on democracy amounts to a “perfect storm” – in which clientelism, religious messaging and media capture combine into an antidemocratic populist strategy.

Turkish riot police bloc protesters as they surround the headquarters of a Ipek Media Group linked to a Erdogan regime critic, enforcing a court order to seize the media outlets, in Istanbul October 28, 2015.

Fourth Pillar of Democracy Was Undermined 

In addition to undermining mainstream and critical media outlets, the AKP now controls the messaging of the public broadcaster TRT and the state-run Anadolu news agency, thereby further side-lining critical and opposition voices[12]. Pro-Erdogan businesspeople are encouraged to fund media outlets, publishing houses and creative agencies filled with uncritical government supporters. Invasive laws and media blackouts nurture a culture of overt- and self-censorship among journalists[13]. During the state of emergency declared in 2016, this fourth pillar of democracy was comprehensively undermined. Large-scale media censorship, widespread arrests of journalists and the closure of additional media outlets sparked an exodus of critical journalists out of the country[14]. Independent voices were framed as illegitimate plotters against the “people”. This latest stage of Erdogan’s populist media-capture strategy undermines the principle of accountability of the ruler to the ruled, as to have any practical significance voters need accurate, verifiable information about the government.

Looking back, Erdogan’s attack on democracy amounts to a “perfect storm” – in which clientelism, religious messaging and media capture combine into an antidemocratic populist strategy. Key figures in Turkey’s democratic opposition – including Selahattin Demirtas the Kurdish leader of the progressive pro-minority Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – are imprisoned and defamed as terrorists. 

As the next part of this series will suggest, Turkey’s democratic decay is emblematic of a wider trend affecting democracies across different religions, cultures and geographies. Despite its severe democratic decay, Turkey is still deemed an indispensable partner by many within the EU and a key NATO ally. This picture is complicated by military escalations with its long-term rival Greece (ECFR, March 13, 2020), its meddling in the Libyan civil war, its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and Erdogan’s continued assault on international institutions – including the European Court of Human Rights (Al Monitor, December 23, 2020; Politico, December 10, 2020)

The collapse of the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement on migration in March 2020 exposes another key vulnerability for Turkey’s democratic partners. Having effectively abandoned Turkey’s prospects for EU accession in 2005, Europeans have surrendered a key means of encouraging Turkey’s democratisation. The failure of democracy in Turkey does not bode well for a world in which democratic values are increasingly questioned. 


References

1) Çavdar, Gamze. “Islamist New Thinking in Turkey: A Model for Political Learning?” Political Science Quaterly. 121, no. 3 (2006): 477-497. Crossref.

[2] Lewis, Bernard. “Why Turkey Is the Only Muslim Democracy.” Middle East Quarterly. March 1, 1994. https://dev.meforum.org/216/why-turkey-is-the-only-muslim-democracy .

[3] Rogenhofer, Julius M. “Antidemocratic Populism in Turkey After the July 2016 Coup Attempt.” Populism. 1, no. 2 (2018): 116–145. Crossref.

[4] Bozkurt, Umut. “Neoliberalism with a Human Face: Making Sense of the Justice and Development Party’s Neoliberal Populism in Turkey.” Science & Society. 77, no. 3 (2013): 372–396. Crossref.

[5] Cosar, Simten and Metin Yegenoglu, “The Neoliberal Restructuring of Turkey’s Social Security System.” Monthly Review. April 1, 2009. https://monthlyreview.org/2009/04/01/the-neoliberal-restructuring-of-turkeys-social-security-system/

[6] Özdemir, Yonca. “Turkey’s Justice and Development Party: An Utmost Case of Neoliberal Populism.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the European Consortium for Political Research, Montreal, August 26–29, 2015.

[7] Rogenhofer, Julius M. “Antidemocratic Populism in Turkey After the July 2016 Coup Attempt.” Populism. 1, no. 2 (2018): 116–145. Crossref.

[8] Öztürk, Ahmet Erdi. “Turkey’s Diyanet Under AKP Rule: From Protector to Imposer of State Ideology?” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies. 16, no. 4 (2016): 619–635. Crossref.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Yilmaz, Zafer. “Strengthening the Family Policies in Turkey: Managing the Social Question and Armoring Conservative–Neoliberal Populism.” Turkish Studies. 16, no. 3 (2015): 371–390. Crossref.

[11] Yilmaz, Gözde. “Europeanisation or De-Europeanisation? Media Freedom in Turkey (1999–2015).” South European Society and Politics. 21, no. 1 (2016): 147–161. Crossref.

[12] Esen, Berk , and Sebnem Gumuscu . “Rising Competitive Authoritarianism in Turkey.” Third World Quarterly. 37, no. 9 (2016): 1581–1606. Crossref.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rogenhofer, Julius M. “Antidemocratic Populism in Turkey After the July 2016 Coup Attempt.” Populism. 1, no. 2 (2018): 116–145. Crossref.

Flowers and Candles at the Hanau shooting site as a remembrance to the victims of right extremist terror attack in Germany on February 20, 2020.

Extremist criminal offenses rise in Germany, intelligence report suggests

Right-wing extremism increased in Germany in 2019, the country’s domestic intelligence agency has reported, with over 32,000 extremists identified. The report also found that more suspects are prepared to use violence.

According to a news article published by Deutsche Welle (DW) on July 9, 2020, in Berlin, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the head of Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) Thomas Haldenwang presented the organization’s most recent findings, which showed that right-wing extremism in Germany sharply increased last year. “Right-wing extremism poses the biggest threat to security in Germany,” the country’s interior minister said at the presentation of the 2019 report by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

The report underlined that the BfV identified 32,080 right-wing extremists in Germany in 2019, up from 24,100 the year before. The BfV classified 13,000 of these cases as prepared to use violence, 300 more than in 2018. Right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism continue to increase in Germany, Seehofer said. “These areas are the biggest threat to security in Germany,” he added. Seehofer also pointed to government action in 2019, saying no other government in Germany had done so much to fight far-right extremism.

Several extreme far-right organizations were banned in 2020 for views or activities deemed anti-constitutional. For the first time last year, the BfV report also reviewed the activities and member of the radical “Flügel”, or Wing, faction of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The controversial faction officially disbanded earlier this year after the BfV put the group under surveillance. But the agency estimates there remains a membership of around 7,000 individuals, some 20 percent of the AfD. This accounts for a significant share of the increase in right-wing extremists recorded by the BfV in 2019.

“Racism and anti-Semitism emerge to a very considerable degree out of right-wing extremism,” Seehofer said. “Over 90percent of anti-Semitic incidents can be traced back to right-wing extremism. And therefore it is not an exaggeration to say this is the biggest security policy concern in our country.” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said a rise in criminal offences by far-right oriented individuals against foreigners and Muslims had also risen. “We have to remain vigilant and ready to act,” said Seehofer.

Individuals with far-right world views committed more than 22,300 offences in 2019, the interior ministry figures showed, including two murders, five attempted murders and almost 800 bodily injuries, a rise of almost 10 percent.

Thomas Haldenwang, head of the BfV domestic security agency, said antisemitic crime rose by 17 percent and 94percent of the offences raging from bodily harm to verbal abuse and antisemitic propaganda were carried out by far-right sympathisers. The report also found that criminal offences committed by far-left sympathisers had risen to 6,400, an increase of 40 percent. This included two attempted murders and 355 bodily harm offences.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government was forced to act in 2019 on right-wing political violence after the killing of a pro-immigration politician and an attack on a synagogue and a kebab shop by an antisemitic gunman, which left two dead. The government imposed tougher rules on gun ownership and stricter monitoring of hate speech online, responding to a rise in hate crime.

Germany was also shaken by the killing in February 2020 of eight women and a man with foreign background in a shooting spree at Shisha bars in the western city of Hanau by a gunman espousing conspiracy theories and deeply racist views. The killings will appear in 2020’s report.

AfD demonstrated with slogan "Stop Islamization" in Rostock on May 14, 2018. AfD, Alternative for Germany, is a right wing political party in Germany.

Germany’s far-right AfD fires official over a ​racist migrant comment

Germany’s populist far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party fired an official on September 28, 2020 who had been caught on a hidden camera discussing gassing refugees.

According to a news article by Reuters’ Thomas Escritt, in footage, recorded secretly by ProSieben television in February2020, Christian Lueth, then a party spokesman, was filmed in a Berlin cafe talking to someone he believed to be a sympathiser about the challenges the AfD faced.

Asked if the AfD wanted to see more immigrants, he replied: “Yes.” “Because then things go better for the AfD. We can still shoot them all afterwards,” he said. “Or gas them, whichever you like. I don’t care either way!”

Die Zeit newspaper said it was shown the footage, which it said was filmed by Lisa Licentia, a right-wing YouTube personality who had decided to leave the far-right scene. Die Zeit said nothing indicated Lueth was joking.

German media reported that Lueth was dismissed as an employee of the party’s parliamentary group. Lueth was already suspended from his position as party spokesman in April, over an email in which he wrote that the word “fascist” was overused.

The AfD entered Germany’s parliament in an election in 2017 and is now the largest party opposing Angela Merkel’s government, a right-left grand coalition. The far right party has been monitored by the security services, and other parties consider it beyond the pale. AfD officials strongly deny that it has links to neo-Nazi groups.

Concern is growing in Germany that potentially violent anti-immigrant nationalists may be gaining footholds in the uniformed services – a matter of huge sensitivity in a country still acutely aware of the World War Two genocide of millions of Jews and others by Hitler’s Nazis.

German prosecutors investigated in July 2020 a retired police officer suspected of sending threatening emails, signed with the name of a gang of neo-Nazi killers, to prominent figures of immigrant background. The man and his wife were detained but then released while police searched seized computer storage devices.

The emails, including some sent to legislators of Turkish background, were signed “NSU 2.0”, a reference to the “National Socialist Underground” neo-Nazi gang, which murdered 10 people, mainly immigrants, between 2000 and 2007.

“The suspects, a former Bavarian police officer, 63, and his wife, 55, had previously come to the attention of police in connection with racially motivated crimes,” prosecutors in the city of Frankfurt said. “They are suspected of having sent emails with offensive, inflammatory and threatening contents to legislators and others.”

The interior minister of the state of Hesse said in early July 2020 he was aware of 69 such emails. One of the recipients was Aiman Mazyek, chair of the Central Council of Muslims, who published the text on Twitter: “Heil Hitler. Yours, NSU 2.0”.