By Annie Fraser:
When we think about right-wing extremism, we might feel concerned but not seriously threatened. After all, the word “extremism” alludes to views, behaviors, or incidents that aren’t normal or ‘normalized,’ and are therefore rare and unlikely to occur. Whether it be, the seemingly sparse acts of Saffron or Hindutva terror in India, or the shrill right-wing propaganda spread by personalities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in the United States, right-wing extremism around the globe is being dismissively treated on a case-by-case basis. We doubt extremists’ abilities to conquer our societies and governments, and we are not concerned about their power to drag our countries into a downward spiral of domineering inequality, intolerance, and oppression. And it is within this doubt that we have gone seriously wrong.
As we observe and study the followers of right-wing extremist groups, in the United States and in India, we can’t help but note the similarities shared by members of these groups. People drawn to these groups appear to exhibit a need to feel superior to others. They attempt to fulfill this need by demeaning and blaming others, by embracing racism, false paranoia, and by the condemnation of minority groups. In the United States, extreme right-wing groups fight to ensure that racial minorities and immigrants be stripped of their civil rights, that gays be denied the same rights that their straight neighbors are afforded, and that Christianity prevails, both in government and society in general. In India, Saffrons demonize any religion outside of Hinduism and aggressively propagate the Hindutva way of life.
So, where does this all come from? What causes these extremist beliefs to emerge in the first place? It’s my personal belief that the need to feel superior stems from a loss of dominance. In the United States, right-wing extremist often include large numbers from the white fundamentalist Christian community. Prior to the election of Barrack Obama, the White house was occupied by an outspoken Christian President, George W. Bush. Bush often referenced his religious beliefs and mentioned prayer as being a necessary part of his daily decision-making processes. His openness with regard to his personal Christian religious beliefs, according to many, was not appropriate in a country that is supposed to maintain a separation between Church and State. The Christian Right, however, welcomed Bush’s open Christianity. In addition, at the end of Bush’s presidency, the country entered into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Many people in the United States lost their homes, their investments, and their financial security. Many were angry and afraid and needed someone to blame. Who better to be the object of this anger than the first black President, various racial minorities, gays, various religious groups, etc?
Looking back even further in U.S. history, one can also point to a series of events that is still having an impact on the social and political foundation of the United States and has caused a power shift within the country. Starting with the abolishment of slavery in 1865, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, and then the disintegration of conventional values due to various youth and social movements, previous minorities, particularly racial, as their socioeconomic statuses progressively improve. Because of this, the white Christian majority is losing its hold. Similarly in India, Hindu nationalist right-wing extremists fervently grasp their slipping authority as religious majority and are becoming more accepted and influential. Furthermore, the right-wingers, feeling bitter about being robbed of their supremacy from minorities, slyly target these minority groups as the scapegoats for the country’s problems. What’s worse, their opinions cannot be changed due to the practice of cognitive dissonance. Driven to hold their attitudes and beliefs in harmony, right-wingers will search out any information that supports their point of view, and ignore all information that goes against it.
What is most frightening about right-wingers in the United States is that the right-wing philosophy is slowly merging with extremist values. Center-left Democrats and center-right Republicans have always evenly played United States politics. Within the last decade, though, the Republican Party, a major stakeholder in America’s political structure, has been dangerously migrating more away from the center and towards the right. In the name of God, Jesus, and liberty, we have witnessed the emergence of far-right political parties (such as the Tea Party), with their followers blaming gays, immigrants, Muslims, and Democrats for the country’s problems. “Yeah, a bunch of crazies”, you might be thinking, “But their extremist views will never gain political traction”. Wrong. As of now, Tea Party sympathizers form roughly one half of the Republican foundation. Meaning, if any future Republican candidates expects to win, they will be required to appeal (at least in some aspects) to the ideologies possessed by right-wing extremists.
If extremism can creep its way into major American political forces, who is to say that the same cannot happen in India? If you’re curious as to the implications of the normalization of extremist politics and policies, then look to Germany and the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust.
For now, we must stop underestimating the power of right-wing extremists. We cannot brush off the rise of “small”, but far-right parties with an extremist agenda, and if we continue to turn a blind eye, then we are practicing naivety at its purest form.