The results of the German election on September 24 paint a worrying picture for the future of the European Union, the general public reaction to the influx of refugees and for (perceived) lax laws of immigration in both Germany and the rest of Europe. Angela Merkel was expected to win with relative ease, and yet the election saw her party manage to get only 33 percent of the votes, making the chances of her forming a secure coalition very difficult.
More problematic however, than Ms Merkel’s troubles, is the fact that the election also resulted in providing space for the ultra-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to enter the Bundestag for the first time, with 12.6 percent of the vote, managing to acquire 90 seats. The AfD, formed in 2013, started off as an anti-Euro party, but is now quite clearly anti-immigrant, and more specifically anti-Muslim, and its leaders have landed themselves in hot water on more than one occasion for rhetoric that is seen to be heavily infused with Nazi overtones.
But the German election is only the newest in a line of a series of successes for ultra-right populist parties all over the world. What started with Brexit and the Trump victory can be seen all over the world. Marine Le Pen in France did much better than the AfD in Germany, and indeed even congratulated the German party on its ‘success’ in the election.
But the west is not alone in its support for the ultra-right – closer to home; we saw the Modi victory in India lead to a greater flurry of activity from Hindutva brigade. And here at home, the NA-120 by-election saw Milli Muslim League (MML) – the new political face of terrorist organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) – bag an unbelievable 5822 votes in the provincial capital of Punjab, coming ahead of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).
Should we really be surprised then, that ultra-right parties are propping up with tangible support all over the world? Not really. These are the times we live in. Populist rhetoric and the attempt by these parties to drive up support for identity-based politics – centred on exclusion of the ‘other’ and the ‘enemy’ – is seeing remarkable results. In Pakistan, sympathy for militants is not something new or unheard of, it is just shocking that the extremists found this much support in one of the most important seats of Lahore as well. Just last year in December, Jhang elected Maulana Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi as its provincial seat-holder in PP-78 in a by-election.
For Germany and other western nations, this phenomenon is in parts reactionary. An influx of other cultures, some of which the locals might not understand – with different languages, cultures, religious beliefs and stark differences in identity – the initial alienation can be seen as a direct cause of the adverse reaction. The answer to this conundrum is of course, integration, but with the large number of newcomers pouring in, it will not exactly be easy. In any case, integration and assimilation into a culture is a long and arduous process, one that does not take place overnight, and a million new inhabitants all but ensure that a new, parallel culture and identity will be formed in countries that take in refugees. The creation of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ is then, inevitable.
But back here at home, the situation is very different. There is no new alien culture, nothing to fight against but outside forces – internally, the fight is against these very militants that are seeing their support strengthened – and no real question of opposing identities or parallel cultures. The poor treatment of minorities at the hands of the majority has all but ensured that they are forced to integrate, hide their cultural and religious traditions or move elsewhere. This means that for Pakistan, the problem is not as complicated as for the west.
Considering that the state has now actually declared itself to be fighting against the extremist, ultra-right religious militants, the answer should come easily; ensure that the public realises the threat we face at the hands of the extremists and use any and all mediums to ensure that there is a state-sponsored narrative that counters the one being offered by the ultra-right. Choosing a more moderate stance then, is key.
Shunning any and all attempts to morally police the public, allowing for greater debate and polarity of thought and protecting minority cultures at all costs is the only real way to bring about a more tolerant society. However, since the government is otherwise preoccupied, Pakistan might be sinking into the same quicksand that western countries find themselves in, and the next elections might just see an increase in support for extremist parties such as the MML.
The writer is a former member of staff.