In many parts of the world, there is a rise of extreme right challenging the established parties. These movements are blaming status quo parties for the economic decline and loss of identity. People of the West are emphasizing that it’s culture has a White racial identity and Christian values. Anyone outside this is considered alien and should be rejected. In India, BJP is claiming that Hindutva heritage should dominate and all others should return home by converting to Hindu religion or leave. Names of the cities are changed to classical Hindu era to erase the memory of Mughal and a Muslim rule just like Spain got rid of 700 years of Arab rule. Presidents of Turkey, Philippines, China, and Russia are also using nationalistic and racial identities to seek the mandate for a long-term rule.
This phenomenon has intrigued social scientists and many prominent scholars have written books about it. One most recent such book is by Francis Fukuyama titled “Identity: the demand for dignity and politics of resentment”. I think Fukuyama has failed to grasp the dynamics resulting in this retaliation against the status quo and leave many questions unanswered. One question is why is this reaction against established political order global rather than restricted to just a few countries. The other question is why there is a movement to extreme right while the response from the left is almost nonexistent. The third question is whether this shift to the right will gain further momentum or fizzle out as a temporary spark. Finally, what will be the final shape of things when we return to the center which is where the balance is. Fukuyama has failed to answer any of these questions.
Through this piece, I want to leave you all with some food for thought. Rene Descartes famously declared I think therefore I am. This recognition of existence creates its own anxiety especially since we realize that we are not alone there are others who are similarly endowed intellectually and that we have limitations of existence that we can only overcome with the help of others. This conflicting coexistence of competition and cooperation has complexities which multiply as more and more players are added to the equation. One way to alleviate some of these anxieties is to find associations based on affinities and mutual interests. Anyone that is a dissimilar and demanding share of the resources has to be opposed for the success of the group. This conflict is inherent in human nature and has to be contained. Religion is the most widely used tool to introduce tolerance although most of the time it is blamed to be the root cause of intolerance.
Now let us refer to the story of Adam (AS) (other religions have similar stories of first creation). At the time of his creation, there was only one relation that existed which is between the creator and creation. This relationship is divine and continues once we depart from this earth. This signifies that this takes precedence over all other relations and superior to the ties of language, ethnicities and economic interests. But it is easier said than done. Religion in its most basic form is an individual’s relation with God but in every religion, there is a buffer introduced which we call dogma. This dogma is a mixture of distortion of tenets of faith, language, race, and geography. West wants to be Christian in its social values but forget that their Prophet Issa (AS) was Middle Eastern rather than Western. The agents that develop and exploit this dogma are politicians and religious leaders. Khadim Rizvi, of TLP, is not burning with desire to protect the dignity of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) but he finds it a good tool to gain political power. There is not much difference between Khadim Rizvi and Narendra Modi because both are using religion for their political power.
The movement to the right became a global phenomenon because new communications technology has made it possible to spread a message with almost no major expense. Political scientists believe that hate spread faster than harmony especially when there are lingering anger and insecurities among people. The political success of hate in one country has inspired politicians of other countries to adopt the same strategy and it has paid off.
Status quo has lost the trust and confidence of the people because there are shortcomings in the Western liberal democratic order. I have written in the past about it so won’t repeat but one example is that a member of Congress (or national assembly) can gain a mandate to represent people by just securing 13% of the total registered voters. These shortcomings have to be resolved if the extreme right has to be defeated because their agenda is to destroy the sovereignty of people by exploiting these loopholes. Failure to address it would allow the rise of autocrats that would want to become rulers for life.
Extreme right is raising its head in Pakistan as well but did not gain success in 2018 general elections. The success of Imran Khan is a reaction to the disappointment with the status quo but he does not represent any particular ideology. It is because of this lack of ideological grounding that we see Imran Khan take frequent u-turns. As a cricketer, all he wanted was to win the match which is the election but did not realize that after winning this political match he does not return to the dressing room and relax rather works even harder. Trump, on the other hand, is firmly grounded in white supremacist ideology and has always made decisions to pursue that ideology and satisfy his base.
In 2023 general elections it seems that real contest will be between the forces of extreme right and status quo political parties PTI, PPP, and PML N. Parties need to reform and regain the trust of people or else be prepared to be eliminated for good by the rising tide of the right.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi