Why are racist, xenophobic campaigns winning in West?

By Salman Azami
MANCHESTER, England


There is a genuine sense of disenfranchisement towards political establishments in the western world, but unfortunately people’s anger and frustrations are leading to voting patterns that are deeply worrying for those who believe in equality, justice and freedom.


Last week, a political earthquake struck the most influential nation in the world, and the whole world felt its tremor.


Donald Trump, a business tycoon with no previous experience of political administration, is now to become not only the most powerful man in the world, but also one of the most powerful presidents in recent U.S. history due to the Republican Party’s stronghold in both houses of Congress.


There is no doubt he won fair and square through America’s political process and that he has the legitimate right to take over the White House on Jan. 20 next year.


However, the American electorate’s support towards his language of racism, xenophobia, misogyny and Islamophobia does little to comfort those who may end up on the receiving end of this hatred.


The attitude that white Americans are somewhat superior to other races and ethnicities is about to become institutionalized in a country towards which the whole world looks.


I find it astonishing that in his first major interview after winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump said he did not expect the rise of racist and Islamophobic attacks in the U.S.


Although it is good that he asked people to stop these attacks, why he is unable to understand the rise of xenophobia is surprising. Didn’t he himself provide these people with the inspiration and provocation during his election campaign?


When the leader of the openly racist Ku Klux Klan describes Trump’s win as “our victory”, it is a dreadful thought for anyone with the minimum virtue of equality and justice.


We witnessed similar scenes in Britain after the Brexit vote when the ethnic-minority population became victims of hatred and xenophobia. Those attacks can also be linked to the types of rhetoric used during the referendum campaign.


There are worries that the far-right in Germany and France may do well in next year’s elections in those two important European countries, with the fear that France may even elect Marine Le Pen as its next president.


Why are these racist and xenophobic campaigns turning out to be so successful? I find it difficult to believe that suddenly the majority of the British and American peoples have become racists. What seems to be the emerging trend is that white working-class people are increasingly frustrated for being left behind by the political elites.


People are angry and disappointed that politicians do not understand their concerns. Financial crises in the last few years have hit the working class the most.


On the other hand, many people are witnessing ever-increasing demographic changes within their regions, which are making them uncomfortable. The Syrian war, the refugee crisis in Europe and the failures of western governments to deal with these problems have all exacerbated the frustrations of these people.


Opportunists


Right-wing opportunists have tapped into these frustrations and anger and started to put the blame on everyone else for the misery of disenfranchised groups. Armed with strong nationalistic language and an anti-establishment agenda, these politicians have found a niche market where they can pass on their hatred to an angry population and gain political success.


Donald Trump is a classic example of this exploitation, similar to the United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel Farage -- who this year succeeded in his long-term dream of taking the U.K. out of Europe. It is therefore not surprising that it was Mr. Farage who was the first U.K. politician to meet President-elect Trump.


I cannot help but wonder how hatred, bigotry, racism and xenophobia can be the alternatives to a corrupt political class against whom the majority of the British and American public kicked against in the two ill-fated votes this year.


I fail to understand why people chose to use the EU referendum to exercise their protest vote against political elites, creating huge uncertainty over the future of this country.


On the other hand, the result of the protest vote in the U.S. can bring far greater consequences not only to America, but to the whole world. It is difficult to comprehend how Trump’s divisive campaign could convince his voters that divisions and tensions between communities will bring prosperity and end their miseries.


There has been anger from the other side as well after the American elections. Protests are being held almost every day since the election result with the slogan “Not My President”.


In some places there have been clashes with the police and some violence by protestors. Protesting against the election of an individual who won through a proper process cannot bring solutions to the problems Trump’s victory has created, nor will it resolve the dangers different communities find themselves in.


Western societies often talk about their greater moral values compared to non-western societies and ask people who migrate to these countries to adopt those values. I am uncertain what values are gaining momentum and which virtues are possessed by those who are winning elections.


I am not sure how the language of anger, hatred, bigotry and prejudice can resolve the problems people are facing. How anger towards a fellow human being can be a stepping stone for an individual or a group to succeed in a free society is a puzzle I am unable to solve.


Donald Trump has recently appointed a well-known right winger as his chief strategist, who has faced accusations of anti-Semitism. How this will bring happiness and good life to all those millions of people who voted for Trump is unthinkable.


I am not a pessimist, so I do not despair at anything that is wrong, though I am as much worried as others. As a man of faith, I believe that nothing has happened without the will of the Divine and there may be something positive around the corner.


There is no crystal ball to predict what the future is. Who knows? Maybe Brexit will bring positive outcomes for Britain, and Donald Trump may eventually do exactly the opposite to what he said about Mexicans, Muslims, women and other minorities.


However, one thing I am certain of is that anger should not lead to hatred towards the “other”, and divisions between communities cannot solve the problems of a society. A society can change for the better only when there is love, compassion and understanding between communities.


As an optimist, I would like to hope that what happened in Britain and America may be a blessing in disguise. I may sound delusional to many, but I would rather hope and wait to see what happens than to mourn in despair.


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* The writer holds a PhD in linguistics and is a senior lecturer in English language at Liverpool Hope University. His book Religion in the Media: A Linguistic Analysis (Palgrave) was recently published in the U.K.

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