Populism and the complex tyranny of the far right

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In the fight against racism and Islamophobia, the complexities of far right politics need to be examined, writes Sameer Murthy.

WHEN WE THINK of leaders who makes progressives around the world shudder, the names of Trump, Wilders, Le Pen and Duterte come to mind.

Much has been talked about how these leaders have declared "war" on radical Islam and drugs (in the case of the Philippines) to the point that constitutional rights such as freedom of religion have been infringed upon.

The executive order from President Trump to ban immigrants and travellers for three months from seven specific (Muslim-majority) countries will be remembered as a significant and dark day in history. Looking elsewhere, Geert Wilders' party is leading in the polls ahead of the Netherlands election, which will be held in March. And Wilders is widely known for having even more radical views on Islam than Trump. Marine Le Pen has famously come out with harsh statements on illegal immigrants in France and, along with Wilders, has symbolised the shifting dynamics of European politics. Rodrigo Duterte has also hardly been subtle on how to tackle religious-based problems in the South Philippines.

One matter must be clarified: while it is true that these leaders have similar views on "radical Islam", it is simplistic to label their policies as all being on the far-right spectrum, because they have otherwise very different political positions shaped by the context of their countries.

Wilders, who is sometimes slammed as a "fascist", is a progressive on issues such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion, just like the majority of his countrymen. This is slightly different to Trump’s constant shifting of positions on all these issues throughout his public life — most recently claiming there has to be some sort of "punishment" for women who undergo abortions.

Marine Le Pen is similar to Wilders on her social progressiveness, bar euthanasia and Euroscepticism. But she is not as hardline on legal Muslim immigration. Her similarities with Trump lie mainly in her protectionist economic positions.

Rodrigo Duterte has shocked many in Western countries with his brutal ways of dealing with the drug problems in the Philippines, with many apparent extrajudicial killings in the wake of police corruption. It appears his solution to “radical Islam’ isn’t much different. His crass and dominant personality reminds many of Trump and many have sarcastically expressed how well they will get along. However, this Times article talks about how he has "earned the support of several prominent women’s rights activists", often fighting against domestic violence and working towards increasing workforce opportunities for them. This is a huge contrast to the prominent women’s marches we have seen all over the U.S. and the world, protesting against Trump’s stated attitudes towards women, along with alleged harassment lawsuits.

It is essential that we start having a constructive conversation about this surge in populism to best work out how to fight against Islamophobia. Being sentimental and categorising all these leaders as "far-right" will only alienate their supporters even more.

There are many ideological differences between these leaders and it is the responsibility of mainstream media to cover the complexities around these issues. Perhaps even that is too much too ask.

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