A Populist Tide

Islamophobia is an electoral strategy that many Western populist leaders are adopting for quick success.

By Aneeqa Memon | December 2021

A surging populist tide coupled with the rise of Islamophobia, is strikingly apparent with the presence of anti-Islamic rhetoric in electoral discourses. There are exponential increases in votes for anti-Islam political parties in national elections across the world. Rise of populism is posing a threat to the different facets of the liberal world order such as free market economy, pluralistic societies, freedom of practicing religion, freedom of immigration, etc. Populist leaders employ hyper-nationalist, protectionist, people-centric, xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric to attract citizens, giving them a sense of victimhood to condemn immigrants, Muslims, and racial minorities as threats to liberal democracy. However, it has been observed that populism is a driving force that is posing a threat to the very system it purports to protect.

Notably, after 9/11, Islamophobia has become a primary populist anti-paradigm in the far-right populist discourse, so much so that many scholars have termed it as “Islamophobic Populism” which is notorious for its exclusionary policies and for manipulating the grievances of the citizens. It capitalizes on identity lines, exploiting the gaps between “us” and “them” or “others”. Regrettably, Muslims have been considered as ideal type of “other” after 9/11. Since then, Islamophobia has been normalized in mainstream Western media and among right wing politicians, demanding to build walls, banning Muslims, and restricting religious freedom.

The phenomenon of Islamophobic populism functions as electoral strategy. The strategic logic of Islamophobic populism is to attract anti-Islamic voters and weaken the incumbent leaders or anti-Islam parties’ main opponents. The presence of the burgeoning literature on Islamophobia in the electoral discourses of anti-Islamic parties, such as French National Front, Alternative for Germany, Vox Party in Spain, Lega in Italy, Freedom Party in Austria, and the Dutch Freedom Party, shows that Islamophobia functions as a popular electoral strategy. These parties delineate Muslims and Islam as threats and maintain the rhetoric that Islam, as a religion and culture, is a threatening contrast to European/ Western values.

Pauline Hanson, leader of One Nation, a right-wing populist party, called for a ban on Muslim immigration to Australia, in 2016, disseminating anti-Muslim sentiments in her political discourse. She also called for banning the construction of new mosques and installing CCTV cameras in all existing mosques. Marine Le Penn, leader of the French National Front, also shares Anti- Muslims sentiments; linking immigration and militant Islamism and proposing to banish Muslims on French soil. Her party’s manifesto “Native French First” and racial stances against Muslims and other immigrants undermine the core political norms of liberal democracy, such as freedom of practicing religion and freedom of immigration.

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