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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Peak Islamophobia

Islamophobia is at peak levels in many western democracies, and the extreme conservative views on Islam in France and the United States are remarkably similar. I'm going to address this trend by comparing the relative scope of Islamophobia in modern French and American politics.

These two states make for excellent comparisons because both nations are experiencing key election activity at present. Moreover, both countries have a large, disaffected conservative population with an intention to voice itself as loudly as possible.

In France this movement is represented by le Front National, a far-right party led my Marine Le Pen. The FN is made up of a wide variety of interests, including anti-immigration, social conservatism, and euroscepticism. The party generally polls well as a protest vote, but has had minimal success until recently. Regional elections took place in France earlier this week at the FN fared much better than normal, sweeping 6 of the 13 regions and finishing first overall in popular vote.

In the United States this movement is represented by the Tea Party and by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Despite his use of brash language, his broad employ of false information, and his continual scandals, he looks to be pushing through quite well. We are a ways from the caucus and ultimately the primaries, but Trump proven to have found an audience with which his message resonates, even when suggesting something as completely outrageous as ''banning all Muslims'' from American - whatever that even means.

The similarities between these two movements are honestly quite striking.

To start, I have to address the fact that they are both taken so seriously. This is surprising because they are representative of such political extremes (and ones that are normally not the centre of attention). However, the reaction of moderates and progressives only serves to galvanise the resolve of these extreme right wing movements, especially in the wake of recent events such as the attacks in Paris and California.

In both instances there is an impressive development of cult of personality. Le Pen and Trump are seen as saviours who have the answers to complex political, economic, and social problems (not far off as fascists go from Hitler). Moreover, they are seen as the purveyors of truth, speaking out against rigid climates of political correctness. In this way they get to be renegades or mavericks fighting against the system while simultaneously benefiting from representing elitism. Both the FN and the Tea Party receive broad popular support from ''average'', ''hardworking'' citizens while also appealing to the upper class with their political views.

In both instances the broad support comes from advocating for xenophobia (specifically Islamophobia). There is a limited interest in promoting inclusion or valuing diversity. The FN and the Tea Party base their policies more broadly on a combination of fear and historical nostalgia. The fact that France or America could ''resume their greatness'' is symptomatic of this.

In both instances the movements are likely to win votes in the short term but not be able to govern. Le Pen and Trump represent the protest vote, the desperation of people who feel left out of mainstream politics, and ultimately who can only unite their voices in opposition, not in the establishment of a particular coherent policy direction. 

Despite the fact that these movements are inherently incapable of governing, it won't stop them from making notable and nefarious impacts on national politics by influencing the general discourse. What's perhaps more of a problem is that there are no signs that the FN or the Tea Party will be going anywhere anytime soon.


  1. Keith Boag of CBC wrote an interesting editorial about the next steps for the Republican Party in its nomination process. He rightly pointed out that Trump may have coalesced all the extreme right support, but it still only amounts to ~30%. He suggested that it was time for some of the marginal candidates to start dropping out and put some momentum behind the front runners and effectively marginalize Trump. If not, the GOP itself will be marginalized.

  2. Thanks Ron! That's definitely a solid perspective. I feel as though (in any case) the republicans will likely not do well against Clinton or Sanders. That said, someone like Trump could continue to have a loud voice for the next 11 months with very far-reaching consequences