African and Middle Eastern refugee flow created huge crises in Europe
ISIS strategically managed to draw US into a war against them
In France, in the aftermath of the lone wolf attack at the Champs-Élysées, the Ultra Right French Nationalist Party candidate Marine Le Pen said if she becomes president, she will close down all mosques. Secondly she said every individual who is a suspect in the French investigations on terrorism – if they are not French citizens – will be deported immediately. Two days later in Germany, when the anti-immigration party which shares many views similar to Le Penn organized a forum in Cologne, nearly 50,000 Germans started descending in Cologne to oppose the party forum. These two narratives sum up the crises in Europe which are engulfing the two key states in the European Union.
France’s first round of the election just concluded yesterday, which was carefully observed by analysts, global media and policy makers with interest, enthusiasm and concern. The 2017 presidential election has four main contenders out of whom three were new comers and had not held any political office and they all represent very different world views. These candidates represent the new realities, not just in France but a reconfiguration of political communities on a global scale.
Theme cartoons googled and added by TW
The success and prosperity of a common Europe was grounded on the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) mooted in the 1950s, which saw for the first time two historical rivals in Europe – France and Germany – setting aside their rivalries and looking forward to moving ahead together. Based on this ending of hostilities, Europe slowly started to prosper around the integration of trade, markets, finance, borders, common currency to creating a political institution all encompassed into what we call the European Union.
For the European Union and European states, the importance was that the organization was not purely political but represented a powerful bloc in the world that could work towards sustaining and spreading the liberal values of the European project. This is different from the liberal world order that the Americans championed after the Second World War. These two do complement each other but are different in form and intention. For the Americans it is a way of maintaining strategic advantage and dominance. For the Europeans; it is a vehicle of making European values the moral high ground for any political community, the gold standard of democratic societies.
What the Brexit and Trump election symbolized was a recession or rupture in both the liberal project and the liberal order. While the world is yet to understand the full force of a Trump candidacy, it is getting some snapshots; what is more alarming for liberals globally is that the election outcome in France would determine the very existence of the European project. The Europe liberal project is already undergoing a major unravelling. The catalyst for this was not Trump, Le Pen or the Brexit, it was the ascendancy of populist leaders in Hungary and Poland to power. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán and the Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński represent a power duo, i.e. they both have one thing in common they are ex-communists. Yet they managed to inspire a new generation of nationalists who felt under the European project their rights were taken away by bureaucrats and the European Union did nothing for the betterment of many ailing European economies in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crises and the massive demographic challenges with refugee flows from North Africa and the Middle East.
While the Liberal project is facing ominous signs, and the liberal order itself is in a self-destructive mode, Liberal thinker John Ikenberry calls recent actions of the Trump presidency as a means of sabotaging the liberal world order by the nation that created it in the mid 20th Century. While there is so much being discussed about the fate of the liberal order and the liberal project, the common denominator of both democracies itself seems to be the weapon of choice that is being used to dismantle the core values and institutions built by them both. Thus every election win for the nationalists is through democratic means; another significant European democracy the Turkish democracy – went through a process of reinventing its political landscape.
On 16th April, the referendum to make 18 amendments to the Turkish constitution took place giving a slim victory to the incumbent President Tayyip Erdogan. Soli Ozel, a Turkish professor of international relations, in a recent opinion piece claimed that the amendments were approved after a ‘relentless campaign of obfuscation, misrepresentation, and vilification’. Yet the outcome came through democratic means of a referendum. Thus any form of national and long-term consolidation of power even through democratic means is not a healthy option. Yet all these developments in Europe signal that the European project is not under siege – it is being recreated from inside by a new set of forces.
There are multitudes of interpretations about populist movements, nationalist politics in the recent past, but a major phenomenon which is driving this narrative is under-discussed. The year 2016 not only gave rise to the Trump movement it also gave rise to an alarming trend of misinformation and scant disregard for facts. The politics of lies, misinformation was never the main stream in advanced democratic societies. Suddenly it has become the norm. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama well known for his end of history thesis, called this development the emergence of a ‘Post fact world’.
The idea of a Post fact world is a serious analysis, not just a mere observation of a simple fact that politicians in advanced societies have resorted to lies or fake information. This idea goes beyond this simplistic narrative, the concern is how come political communities, ordinary citizens do not care about facts or truth but tend to vote and make decisions on a set of subjective narratives disconnected from ground realities. Thus existential threats to human security have become so fictitious, it is creating a dangerous outcome for global politics.
The internet, according to the Fukuyama is now like the Wild West, it came with so much promise, many analysts, activists saw the internet as providing spaces and agency for the oppressed and the voiceless, Larry diamond called it a liberation technology. Yet in the current context it has become a battleground for misinformation campaigns, it has become the hub of fake news, the cauldron of the post factual world. French political campaigns for the first round of the presidential election has spawned stories, accusations, where global intelligence analysts are claiming that there are a multitude of external players who are trying to effect the election process by generating false information for the advantage of one candidate.
It seems terror outfits like ISIL are cashing in on the uncertainty of information and political decision making gripping Western societies. The lone wolf attack just a few days before the first round of the French elections, the letter that the attacker had in possession announcing his allegiance to the ISIS, seems like an orchestration to make the French public elect a candidate that beats the war drums. ISIS strategically has managed to draw America into a war against them, it seems now they want France to follow suit. ISIS thrives on war not on peace; any violent extremist group cannot exist if there is no counter-violence against them. Thus the most interesting and alarming fact is that ironically the democratic societies themselves are the most vulnerable to misinformation and fake narratives campaigns that aid and extend strategic outcomes desired by organization which want to destroy the democratic world.
France stands as the bastion for liberalism that can’t afford to fall, can it wither a post factual onslaught? Can the French save themselves and in turn save the genuine liberals or will the election create the fracture that will open a political fault line with repercussions reaching beyond the limits of Western Europe ? Are liberals globally about to taste the French kiss of death or will France preserve its liberty, freedom and the republic? At this moment all bets are off.
The Writer is the Director, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)