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A world of fear and hatred

From the security meetings in Bonn, Munich and Baku, to the French and German elections, following Britain’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president, the world looks worried, anxious and different. Is it a crisis of priorities or a problem of concepts? Are we still able to come up with a new definition for coexistence in the age of brute populism?

Is it possible for bigots and extremists, who hate even their compatriots and seek to repatriate immigrants to their countries, to live in peace and harmony with peoples whose fathers and grandfathers fought against theirs a few decades ago?

What connects the racists of France to those of Germany, when one remembers that behind the two peoples stand the animosities of two world wars and reciprocated claims of “occupied territories” in Alsace, Lorraine and Saarland? Were these animosities not buried by wise and great visionaries such as Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle and Robert Schumann, who looked for unifying interests that eventually led to the idea of a united Europe?

What brings together English right-wing isolationists — who used to describe the Labour Party with disdain as “the party of the Scots and Welsh” — and the extremist Flemish and Walloons of Belgium? What principles unite the zealots among Catholics and Protestants, separated through the ages by rivers of blood like those of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France and the Irish troubles?

How can one explain the morality or logic of Arab, Kurdish, Indian or Chinese immigrants, and Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh immigrants in Western Europe, who oppose newcomers from white Christian Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania?

How is it possible that immigrants and descendants of immigrants become enemies of immigration? What is the excuse for former victims of racism and extremism in their forefathers’ homelands who practice racism and extremism against others, just because they arrived in their new home earlier, enjoyed its milk and honey, then shut out the latecomers?

This is the immoral and unstable world we live in today. Some of its leaders are trying to halt its slide into a massive world war. Still, the democratically elected world leaders, throughout their debates and actions, are only dealing with symptoms rather than root causes.

Everybody is chattering about freedom, and yet has reservations about its most significant product: Globalization. Everybody is looking at the issue of security, but turns a blind eye to hotbeds of injustice, nests of deprivation and swamps of ignorance that threaten the peace and security of societies across the globe.

At the Munich Security Conference 2017, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said: “We should be careful that this fight (against terror) does not become a front against Islam and Muslims.” This has also been the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However correct and honorable these positions may be, they mean little in light of what we see and hear during election campaigns currently underway in the West. They carry no weight when opinion polls time and again show that the more a candidate incites hatred and adopts isolationist and racist stances, the higher he scores with the electorate.

Moscow seems to be sowing the seeds of devastating civil strife inside great Western powers. It is reasonable to believe that it views this strategy as the perfect revenge against the West, which had brought down the Soviet Union.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Furthermore, they do not amount to anything when we see before us maneuvers, conspiracies and crimes of religious and ethnic natures, such as those being committed in Myanmar, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Many of these maneuvers, conspiracies and crimes, including ethnic and religious-sectarian cleansing, are ongoing with international sponsorship or collusion, sometimes at the highest levels.

America elected Trump in November’s presidential race based on a clear and candid electoral platform. Three delicate and dangerous elections are scheduled in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

If the Dutch elections are viewed by some as carrying less weight than what might happen in France and Germany, the advances made by the extreme right have become ever more worrisome for various reasons, among them its deep hatred of immigrants (especially Muslims) in a country with a sizable Muslim community, from which the speaker of the Dutch Parliament hails.

Thus how racists fare in the Netherlands is worth observing, since racism is not a political taboo anymore, even in the greatest constitutional Western democracies. The French elections are crucial for the French — including immigrant communities — as well as Europe and the world. What seems obvious so far is that the extremist National Front is no more a political aberration, but a major player within the political establishment.

In addition to the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in reaching the final round of the 2002 presidential race, the alt-right now enjoys significant support and influence. This is further proven by the stunning victory by former Premier Francois Fillon at the Republican primaries at the expense of two heavyweights: Former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Premier Alain Juppe.

Fillon came from behind to win big because he took the most conservative positions, taking many leaves from the National Front book as the dangerous isolationist trend is dragged from the fringes into the mainstream.

The Alternative for Germany, another extremist anti-immigrant party, is worth monitoring too. It would be interesting to see how it would channel what its soulmates in the Netherlands and France achieve, particularly with what has become of the issue of immigrants and refugees.

All this takes place amid the Syrian crisis and its tragic consequences — a very sensitive issue for Europe, which has become a natural destination for refugees escaping the horrors of Syria, as well the Middle East and North Africa. Here we reach another dimension to the rise of racism, particularly in Europe: Russia’s position.

Moscow’s strong backing of Trump in the US presidential race is well-established. In Europe, more and more reports are emerging about active Russian support for extremist and racist blocs, including Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader and its presidential candidate. Interestingly, this backing coincides with Moscow’s continuous sponsorship of a policy of systematic displacement in Syria.

Where is Moscow’s interest in all this? It seems to be sowing the seeds of devastating civil strife inside great Western powers. It is reasonable to believe that it views this strategy as the perfect revenge against the West, which had brought down the Soviet Union and, temporarily at least, checked Russian imperialist advances toward the Old World’s warm waters.

• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.