“In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria.” These words from Sting’s 1985 ballad, “Russians” were written in response to the Cold War and the growing threat of mutually assured destruction by ICBM. Over 30 years later, hysteria is growing in the USA and Europe once again.
This time, however, our fears are not only of plutonium warheads and ballistic superweapons. The threat is much more human, and potentially far more frightening. Spurred on by shifting geopolitical sands, radicalized nationalist groups are becoming increasingly active all over the globe. We know by now that their goal is to promote bigoted views about racial purity in the guise of legitimate politics.
Bad Role Models
What better way to encourage nationalist groups to take center stage in the geopolitical conversation than by appointing leaders who endorse them? Britain’s Nigel Farage, the so-called “architect of Brexit” was the first example of this in the prominent western world, but even Farage pales in comparison to American President Donald Trump’s outright endorsement of racism from the Oval Office.
Case-in-point is Trump’s recent promotion of anti-Muslim values on social media. Few would question whether there’s any love lost between Trump and people of the Muslim faith after observing his repeated attempts to pass targeted travel bans against Muslim countries. However, the flailing American oligarch chose to underline his thinly-veiled bigotry by re-tweeting stories from the ultra-nationalist group Britain First in November of 2017.
The tweets were originally written by deputy leader of Britain First, Jayda Fransen. The 31-year-old is currently facing four charges of religiously aggravated harassment, and the tweets Trump promoted contained anti-Muslim propaganda videos.
Despite his neo-Nazi-affiliated cabinet, complete mishandling of the racial tensions in Charlottesville, assertion that he loves Mexican people because he eats taco bowls, and countless other racially-tinged infractions, Trump carries on and many continue to support him.
Nothing about nationalism, or the way this man conducts himself, is presidential or dignified. This is the person we chose to lead a nation founded on the principle of freedom for all? We are living in interesting times.
Nationalism at Home and Abroad
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) makes it their goal to monitor and combat bigoted activity in the United States. Currently, the SPLC is tracking over 900 active hate groups in the United States and, while not every hate group presents themselves as a nationalist organization, there are quite a few that do.
Examples of nationalist activity abound in the USA’s recent history. Milo Yiannopoulos has toured the nation with a pro-white, pro-nationalist message that was not well-received by places like California’s UC Berkeley, a place of higher learning and a historically liberal institution. All the while, confederate sympathizers defend monuments to icons of hate.
But it’s not just the United States that must come to terms with this issue. The nationalist movement is making a push for attention around the world.
In Austria, the FPOe or “Freedom Party,” a group with extremely nationalistic values, recently secured the presidency in an election even tighter than many of those we’ve seen in the States. The Danish People’s Party (DPP) currently controls about one-fifth of the vote in Denmark, and it promotes an end to immigration and the EU. In Finland, a political organization that once called themselves the “True Finns” has changed their name to just “The Finns” — they are a populist organization focused on putting native Finns before other groups.
Even France, still celebrating the win of progressive new president Emmanuel Macron, has to live with the fact that Macron faced real and legitimate opposition from the populist campaign of Marine Le Pen. Increasingly, divisive leaders who seek power through nationalistic ideas are strengthening their positions. But what has changed to make their rhetoric attractive?
Why Nationalism Cannot Defeat Terror
The threat of terrorism does remain imminent every day. Those who don’t understand how terrorists win think nationalism can defeat it.
They think terrorism is something that can just be filtered out of society by de-integrating those who are not from a particular place, and that a person’s character is determined by where they are from, instead of by the experiences they have had.
But nationalistic views only fuel the fires of the extremism that motivates terrorist groups. ISIS, Al-Qaida, the Mujahideen, and hundreds like them know just where to look in times like these to find people who are ostracized and afraid that they will face persecution just for being from another part of the world. They also have a better chance at successfully attacking us when we are divided and fighting amongst each other.
Leaders like Trump and Farage might think what they are doing is the right thing, or they might just enjoy the feeling of power that comes with nationalism’s false hope. Either way, we need to start recognizing these issues for what they are and working to stop them before we effectively destroy ourselves. There are better ways to combat terrorism than this.