Since President Obama took office in January, Americans have witnessed the right-wing fringe politics that once dominated political discourse in this country re-emerge to their former glory. Whether the issue is Obama’s birthplace or the supposed socialist path this country is on, “teabaggers” – as they affectionately call themselves – have begun to demonstrate across the country.
The sparsely populated 23rd congressional district in upstate New York has become a microcosm of this growing movement. A Republican Party-backed congressional candidate there dropped out of the race less than a week before Tuesday’s Election Day because she was outflanked by an independent candidate on her right. And while the rejuvenation of fierce right-wing politics in this country may not alarm many, this may be part of a growing trend emerging across the globe.
In the United Kingdom, political parties once regarded as extreme are trying to soften their image – not their views – in hopes of attracting mainstream voters. It seems, at least in part, to be working. In June of this year the vaguely named British National Party won seats in district and borough assemblies and the European parliament for the first time ever. The British National Party sounds harmless enough, until one considers that its constitution says the party is “committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948.”
BBC recently helped raise the public profile of the party’s leader, Nick Griffin, by inviting him to make an appearance on the network’s popular show “Question Time,” during which he discussed issues of the day with the leaders of the mainstream Conservative and Labour parties. On the show, Griffin declined to fully retreat from his previous statements that doubted the extent of the Holocaust and reiterated his belief that Islam was an inherently violent religion. At one point, the audience audibly laughed at Griffin when he discussed his past appearances with Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and his description of the group as “nonviolent.” The views expressed by Griffin and the British National Party aren’t innovative or new, but unfortunately, they have become a part of the mainstream discussion.
In the Middle East, creationism, a religious belief most often associated with many Christians in this country, has gained traction in the region among masses and intellectual elites alike. A recent Boston Globe article highlights the growing popularity of creationism in the region, and how educators see its acceptance as a problem for the population’s scientific education.
A 2006 study asking respondents whether they agreed that humans had evolved from earlier species found that Turkey, the only Muslim country surveyed, had the lowest level of support, at around 25 percent. Most European countries registered support around 80 percent, while the United States demonstrated its intellectual superiority by placing second to last, with 40 percent.
Turkey is currently debating the teaching of creationism in schools, with a man named Adnan Oktar leading the charge for the subject’s inclusion. Oktar is well versed in the subject, since he has no formal religious or scientific training, and went to college for a while to study interior design before dropping out. Nevertheless, his beliefs – that evolution is the work of “a scientific dictatorship under the sway of Freemasonry,” for instance – are becoming more accepted in his home country and in the region as a whole.
The movements in the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey may bear no resemblance to one another at first glance. Indeed, there is no doubt that Griffin, an alleged Holocaust denier, is at a far more radical point on the ideological spectrum than both the right-wing protesters in this country and believers in creationism across the globe. Moreover, creationist beliefs are disseminated largely through a religious framework, while Nick Griffin and the tea party protesters are working through political channels.
There are common threads though. The right-wing protesters in this country are driven by fear of an economic collapse that was the worst in more than a half-century, coupled with a new president and his ambitious agenda. Griffin’s British National Party has gained traction among those individuals wary of increased immigration into the United Kingdom. Many Muslims have come to associate scientific advancement with the West; perhaps hostility toward Western countries and culture is manifesting itself in the rejection of evolution as a legitimate scientific theory.
In all three of these cases, individuals at the top of the movements are using fear, at least in part, to mobilize the masses. As students educated at one of the best universities in the country, it’s our job to help separate legitimate political discourse from that which is fear-induced. Arguing about tax policy or health care reform is legitimate; engaging in debate over Obama’s birth or whether the Holocaust occurred is not. In the future, we should all try to focus on the former and spend less time worrying about the latter.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Friday.
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