World / Politics

Spiral of xenophobic fear and violence further imperils Western societies, experts say

Thomson Reuters Foundation

The rise of far-right politics across the world may hit already scant foreign aid, increase tensions between communities and countries, and lead to more people fleeing conflict, warn Nobel laureates, leaders and experts.

Populist parties and nationalist politicians across Europe and the United States are gaining popularity amid a migrant crisis and sluggish global economic growth.

Experts say this is not only fueling xenophobia and hate crimes against minorities, it could lead to more violence and more migrants and refugees seeking shelter in the West.

“I am certainly very concerned. I think the anti-immigrant feeling is going to grow. It’s pretty potent politics and it’s very dangerous,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, recently on the sidelines of a child rights conference in India attended by a host of international figures.

After a referendum campaign dominated by the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic views of politician Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party, Britain voted in June to leave the European Union.

The result has bolstered other far-right populist politicians such National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is expected to perform strongly in next year’s French presidential election on a Euroskeptic platform.

Alarming liberals the most was last month’s election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. The billionaire businessman has previously called for a ban on Muslims, a wall to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border and increased militarization.

Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of East Timor, said the surge in populism is based on xenophobic lies fed by politicians and far-right media groups.

“These idiots like Farage, Marine Le Pen propose simplistic solutions to deep-seated problems in Europe, which have nothing to do with migrants and refugees,” said Ramos-Horta on the sidelines of the Delhi conference. “They are ignoring the structural economic problems which have long existed in the West. It has to do with their aging populations, where they have to pay more for social welfare and are less productive.”

Ramos-Horta said the shift to the far right would mean countries would likely adopt more protectionist policies, which could result in foreign aid cuts.

Despite rich countries pledging 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product on foreign aid by 2015, only a handful have actually followed through.

Last year, the world’s 35 wealthiest nations only gave 0.3 percent of their overall GDP in 2015, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned against cutting aid further, saying it should be substantially increased because it could ultimately help stem humanitarian emergencies such as the migrant crisis in Europe.

“People are going to move if there are no opportunities and no hope where they are, and a key way of giving people hope is to invest and educate their children,” said Gillard, chairwoman of the Global Partnership for Education.

With many far-right parties advocating military solutions over diplomacy, experts also fear more conflict in the world.

While it is too early to say what Trump will do, Sachs said initial signs are not encouraging, with the president-elect “militarizing democracy” by appointing a slew of retired generals to his national security and foreign policy Cabinet.

Some also feel the move away from inclusive societies and rising Islamophobia will fuel sentiments that may drive more Muslims to join militant groups such as the Islamic state.

Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein of Jordan — which hosts 2 million Syrian refugees — said the West’s poor treatment of immigrants could further embolden extremist groups: “I think the best thing for a group like Daesh (Islamic State) is to see the West and others behave the way they are, because it gives them the excuse to justify their own actions.”

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