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Panel discusses rise of the far right

| Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The month of October saw a wave of violence, with the pipe bomb scare, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the shooting of two African Americans in Kentucky that is “being investigated as a hate crime,” according to NPR.

In response to these events, members of the Kroc Institute organized a panel Tuesday to discuss the rise of populism and means to combat it, including redefining dominant social narratives, eliminating segregation and enacting grassroots political change.

Professor David Anderson Hooker said in order to fight racism, xenophobia and far-right extremism, society must abandon its “narrative[s] of superiority.”

“We have a narrative of superiority that has constructed us in ways that allow that there’s always going to be a superiority and an inferiority,” he said. “There’s a narrative we celebrate at Thanksgiving, we have all of the war holidays … that celebrate the glorification of violence that supports a narrative of manifest destiny and doctrine of discovery that allows for superior glorification of violence as the way we show up in the world.”

In order to overcome this narrative, individuals must abandon certain identities — such as whiteness grounded in a sense of racial superiority — and reimagine themselves.

“For most of you, I would ask, in your imagination, if you weren’t white, who would you be? Do you have a way of even knowing yourself?” Hooker said. “We’re going to need an imaginative capacity to know ourselves outside of the constrictions of whiteness. Otherwise, you have to continue participating in the reproduction of the hegemony that emerges from that, that we label as racism, populism and xenophobia.”

Eliminating segregation is also key to combatting rising far right population, professor Rory McVeigh argued.

“When a crisis hits, an economic crisis or something else, it makes it possible for some people to kind of buy into the notion that ‘It’s only our group that is suffering’ and they don’t see the suffering of other people in distant locations,” McVeigh said. “It makes it hard for them to recognize that there’s a common problem that could be solved through cooperation rather than through conflict.

“And also [there is] the kind of segregation where maybe you’re actually spatially approximate but positions in the hierarchy overlap substantially with racial identities or religious identities that makes different groups affected differently by the transitions that are taking place in society.”

Following the economic recession, those without college degrees had a difficult time finding employment, McVeigh said. As a result, he said, far right ideas gained more traction in the United States.

“While we saw the unemployment rate going down and we saw a lot of things that suggested the economy was on the rise, there were a lot of other people who experienced something different and nobody was speaking to them,” McVeigh said. “And a demagogue came along and started speaking to them about their economic circumstances in racist terms and sexist terms and has enjoyed quite a lot of success in doing so.”

Ann Mische, associate professor of sociology and peace studies, pointed to the political process as a means of addressing the rise of the far right.

“My two recommendations are … try to construct insider-outsider coalitions. Pursue both electoral strategies, as we did in the U.S. in the most recent elections, but don’t just leave it to the elected representatives,” she said. “Also work on grass roots mobilization, community organizing and growing different kinds of social mobilization, including more conversational forms.”

Mische traced the rise of right wing extremism in Brazil, which most recently elected Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right president. In recent years, Mische said, protests around the world have advocated for less partisanship, resulting in debates over whether theses movements have supported dictatorships.

“In many of these cases, the movements that started with a kind of radical autonomy articulated with strong anti-partisanship and often strong anti-corruption themes,” she said. “In many of these countries around the world, you saw the growth of populism, sometimes from the left, as in Spain, but sometimes from the right.

“So whether they were talking about Argentina, Brazil, India, other countries, you saw the articulation of anti-partisanship and anti-party sentiment coming from the right and these many of these countries as well, you see declines in democracy and the rise of the far right.”

While Brazilian protests of the party system led to anti-corruption laws, the far-right also capitalized on this extremism, Mische said.

“In many of the pro-impeachment rallies, [you saw] the rise of sectors that were defending the return to dictatorship, that were defending military intervention and articulating it with the claims and critiques of corruption,” she said. “And Bolsonaro was just a marginal politician. Nobody took him seriously. But he was articulating the [message] of the extreme right, back in these anti-corruption demonstrations that contributed to the impeachment of the president of the worker’s party.”

Professor Atalia Omer discussed anti-Semitic stereotypes. While anti-Semitism does not manifest itself in the same ways as racism, it still plays out in society through several stereotypes, Omer said. Jews are often regarded with suspicion, and seen as mysterious and disproportionately powerful and destructive, Omer said.

Anti-Semitism and other forms of scapegoating are a means of distracting from the real sources of oppression, Omer said.

“Why is scapegoating appealing? Because it helps simplify the world’s problems and divert attention from those systems and groups actually complicit in direct structural, cultural forms of violence,” she said. “Instead of examining the structures of exploitive capitalism, militarism and toxic masculinity, to name a few causes of injustice, is it by far easier to direct blame to a group whose dehumanization has deep roots and readily available religious, cultural and historical grammar and vocabulary.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a junior majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

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