THE RISE OF new political parties and their attraction arises from the powerlessness many people are experiencing due to the failure of the economy experienced by them in bleak high streets and neighbourhoods bereft of hope. The centralisation of power has made local government administration impotent.
Also, since the inauguration of the European Union, people feel further distant from the centres of power. The architects of the European Union had a greater sense of participation in mind for the people of Europe. However, individual member governments, European institutions and those appointed to manage the European project have failed to connect with the citizens of Europe. Over the years political leaders have consistently assured the public that they wish to be at the heart of Europe.
However, when failure looms on the horizon of individual states, national politicians use the European Union as a whipping boy for these failures. As a result, there are huge vacuums in people’s lives in that they find it hard to identify with any meaningful signs and symbols that are assuring and comforting.
Venting frustrations on others
Actually, people don’t know who to believe anymore and in that situation look for scapegoats to vent their frustrations on. Emerging political parties fill these vacuums of fear and hope by pointing the finger of blame at the weaker and vulnerable sections of societies that usually do not have a voice. Worse still, the mainstream political parties compete for popularity not by offering alternate policies but by depicting themselves as equally extreme as their opponents. In post-election government formation, mainstream parties are forming coalitions with extreme parties.
In doing so the mainstream party has to compromise many of its principles of toleration, respect for diversity and protection of the weak.
Immigrants are the new ‘weak’, the new ‘enemy’. So many citizens are ignorant of that fact. They resent the presence of other nationals working in their neighbourhoods yet see no contradiction in their own sons and daughters emigrating to seek work abroad. Their political leaders are slow in correcting misinformation among their constituents regarding the presence of immigrants and the contribution they make in local economies and their economies at home. Aspirants in emerging political parties latch onto perceived grievances among the population and exploit them for their own advancement. Extreme structural solutions are offered to deter immigrants such as withdrawal from the European Union and other international agreements.
Respecting the equality of difference
These attitudes by political leaders feed into racism that is so rampant throughout Europe. When anti-immigrant atrocities are committed blame is put on the perpetrators and rightly so. But the perpetrators of such atrocities have been listening to and are affirmed in their extremism by the comments of politicians and policies of their governments. Equally, it is evident in some situations of anti-immigrant violence that law and order institutions are slow to bring charges and convict such people.
There are instances of such procrastination throughout Europe in the recent past – and presently in Germany – to bring people who have committed crimes against immigrants to justice. The remnants of ethnic inequality are deep-seated in European colonial culture. Justice for indigenous populations was not central in European imperial rule. It takes a determined effort for Europeans to respect the equality of difference and treat it accordingly.
Fear in immigrant communities
Many European governments are gestating new immigration legislation in the face of the disastrous effects of their economic policies. Again, highlighting the need to reform immigration policy is a diversion from real issues of unemployment, housing shortage and health services. It serves a purpose in that it feeds populist neo-fascism, creating an atmosphere of fear in immigrant communities and slowing the process of integration. Young immigrants who feel excluded from the mainstream tend to identify with global extremist movements that compete with neo-fascism.
Recently, the Queen’s Speech at the opening of the British parliament mentioned:
A fair society that rewards people who work hard…a society where people are properly rewarded…reforming the benefits system…a fairer society where aspiration and responsibility are rewarded…a bill that further reforms immigration…will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not.
Has nobody woken up to the fact that immigrants globally remitted $500 billion last year to their home nations? That kind of money was not generated by people who want to be on the dole or unemployed. Even Britain was a net winner in the remittance merry-go-round, having received $8 billion.
Why scapegoat the most vulnerable to protect the most powerful?
On reading the Queen’s speech one could be led to think that immigrants, the unemployed and those on benefits were the ones who brought about the present economic crisis that has devastated the lives of so many. There is no mention of the mandarins whose policies and practices in the banking system, the market and the media are shameful. They are not being asked to act responsibly. Nor are they sanctioned or regulated as to the way they disproportionately reward themselves and avoid taxes.
Is it right to make a few hundred people redundant in order to increase and maintain executive salaries and bonuses? Is it just and ethical to recognise and condone havens that enable tax avoidance on profits made on British, European and American high streets? Are those who are annually paid millions because they’re “worth it” more deserving than those who struggle on low wages because they are immigrants, not good enough or not working hard enough? Why scapegoat the most vulnerable to protect the most powerful?
But it is a trend at present to cast protest groups that are highlighting inequality as irrational. These groups are pointing the finger at feral elites who have taken control of the corridors of power and who, by effective lobbying, tilt economic policies to protect their interests.
An offshore reality isolated from regulation and the common good
So, the challenge that confronts the leaders of modernity is to imagine a different future of peace, justice and prosperity. Otherwise, ghosts of a European past in the form of protectionism, extreme nationalism, racism, ethno-centrism and exclusion will haunt the mean culturally-bleached, abandoned European high streets.
The paradigm and the construct of colonisation as described by Albert Memmi is being recycled to justify a new era of global inequality dominated by a few who put themselves in an offshore reality isolated from regulation and the common good.
Bobby Gilmore joined the Society of Saint Columban in 1957 and was ordained in 1963. He conducted an education programme on migration for the Irish Refugee Council before establishing the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, which works to promote justice, empowerment and equality for migrant workers and their families. His commitment to working for social justice for disadvantaged communities has taken him all around the world.