Tuesday, 9 February 2016

EUROPE: The Fear-Factor

“Truth and love will overcome lies and hatred,” said Václav Havel. That phrase became the rallying call of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. 

Yet the political debate in the European Union today is more about fear and repression than about rights and possibilities. A quick sweep across the continent’s political landscapes, populations and you’d be hard pushed to deny that this phrase still requires the future tense rather than the present one. From Golden Dawn, UKIP’, PEGIDA and many other expressions of fear in Europe: Fear is more politically successful than hope.

The fear is that external forces threaten a way of life. Change has become something to be treated with suspicion rather than embraced. This fear is infecting both the electorate and the elected. During the last European election campaign, UKIP party members had publicly linked homosexuality to both climate change and pedophilia, called women who don’t clean behind the fridge “sluts”, and said the UK should stop sending aid to “Bongo Bongo Land”.

All across Europe, Politics has become paralyzed by this fear of change. Global finance, the approach to climate change, mass migration, endless wars on drugs and terror all are crying out for a change in policy, yet the mainstream parties shy away from it. Instead we are left with torture to prevent terrorism, bloodshed to prevent extremism, and isolationism to protect our way of life, fear to protect the European values.

In the wake of terrorism and a rise in fear of the unknown, a tide of repressive immigration policies is passing through Europe. Many Europeans with a background from other continents face a similar situation today. Europe's companies and public services could not operate without immigrants, working for low wages and minimal social security.

In the eyes EU politicians, Muslims are perceived as a potential threat. They must be educated in European values, so they do not become followers of extremist views and possibly of terrorism. These European values are seen as something given, not something to be defined together in an inclusive political process.
Since 2006, EU politicians agreed to promote the idea of "integration contracts" for potential EU immigrants. That anybody wanting to live in the European Union must show they understand what is defined as European values and promise to follow them. Otherwise, they will not get a permit of residence. If they do not follow the contract, they might be expelled. Muslim leaders across Europe are already reacting negatively to the proposal for "integration contracts". The approach taken by EU politicians since 2006 increase tensions in Europe, not reduce them.

Another example of this approach is the secret EU action-plan to prevent "radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism", which member-states have promised to implement. One of its elements is dialogue with moderate Muslim groups, but citizens in general and Muslims in particular are not allowed to read the plan and the strategy underlying such a discussion.

Everybody should respect common values like women's rights and respect for different sexual orientations. Islamic fundamentalism too often equals repression. But other religious dogmas are not free of prejudice. The racist attitudes behind the large countries' integration contracts do not belong in the European Union. The important issue of integration has been kidnapped by hardliners seeking to support their domestic political careers. Public opinion in member-states should mobilise against the repressive laws being prepared at the closed meetings of the interior ministers.

This is a question of taking advantage of Europe's diversity instead of meeting globalisation by building walls. Above all it is an issue about equal rights. And wasn't that one of the European values every democratic European wants to defend?

Fear is the easy sell. It breeds more fear, generating its own political currency. The last great success of hope (over fear) was Barack Obama in 2008. He was the embodiment of change and of the hope that change could lead to something better. Politicians around the world scrambled to harness his political success. Too often, these calls have lacked authenticity and failed to emulate the appeal. After eight years in the White House, even Obama has found that hope is a difficult thing to maintain.

Václav Havel described hope as “an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.” Unable to articulate a positive agenda, a space has been vacated in the political spectrum. Where there is no hope, what is left apart from fear?

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert