Much has been made of the rise of “neo-fascism” in the 2010s. Progressives in the United States and Europe have often noted that since the Great Recession, an “alt-right” has stormed into power in the supposed bastions of liberty in the world. The vote for a British exit from the European Union in 2016, along with the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the Italian Constitutional Referendum in 2016, are seen as having empowered the far-right and shattered the liberal international order that’s been preserved since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. But in reality, neo-fascism has long been rising–namely, in Turkey and Iran.
The formerly secular, Kemalist Turkey is on a fast track to becoming an ultra-religious dictatorship. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president, has been funding front groups in the USA with close ties to extremists. It has also been increasing its influence among US Muslim organizations to the point that they deny the Armenian genocide, or call for “balanced narratives” on the 1915 mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians. It supports destabilizing and radical organizations in battlefields like Syria. Inside Turkey, the Erdogan regime has worked hard to deny any semblance of a Kurdish identity, region, language, or people. Moreover, Erdogan has cracked down anti-regime rhetoric, protests (including those in other countries), and media while degrading the power of Turkey’s historically, semi-democratic checks and balances. These include other, more liberal Muslim political parties (such as the Gulenist camp), non-PKK Kurdish parties, and secular schools. The status of women and the LGBT community in Turkey is also declining. The government has fewer women in positions of power than it once did, and women are seen more as family caretakers than as equals, as Soner Cagaptay explains in his book, The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey.
Iran took a slide into fascism far before Turkey did, back in 1979. It regularly arrests and lynches members of the LGBT community, discriminates against its Arab citizens, calls for the destruction of Israel–tantamount to genocide of the Jewish people–and subverts the right of self-determination and human rights of its minority Kurdish, Baloch, and Azeri populations. And despite the frequent argument that Iran is more liberal in regard to women’s rights than neighboring Saudi Arabia, sexism is still entrenched in the “revolutionary” Khomeinist government. This is to say nothing of the expansionist and colonialist policies of the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. The Iranian regime in Tehran seemingly benefitted from the P5+1’s nuclear deal with it, in which some sanctions were lifted and businesses started making deals in Iran in exchange for a slowdown or temporary halt in nuclear activity. But instead of spending that cash on its increasingly impoverished population, Iran’s leadership has spent it on foreign adventurism in which it gloats over dominating its traditional enemies (Arabs) and threatening its new enemies (Israel and the United States).
Luckily, there seems to be hope in the case of Iran. Protests have erupted at frustration over high prices, high unemployment rates, and overall fatigue of oppression by the regime against the people of Iran. While it is uncertain how long these protests will continue, as well as how effective they will be in moderating or changing the Iranian leadership, this uprising is different from the 2009 Green Movement protests. Back then, it was largely educated, middle-class or rich Tehran residents that protested the outcome of an election that was widely believed to be unfair. These protests are being held in cities all over the country, with the participation of underprivileged segments of the population as well. Just a few months ago, scholars and experts were agreeing with some hardliners that Trump’s election and anti-regime rhetoric had unified the Iranian people around the regime. Clearly, their analysis was wrong. Others have noted that the protests are mostly economic, not aimed at changing the regime. While this may be true of some circles, an Iranian protestor I spoke to via Instagram told me differently.
While the Iranian regime has attempted to stifle social media, their attempts are not always working. Rather than disrupting the coordination of protestors, it has instead sparked international outcry and support from various world figures, and encouraged protestors to reach out to others in order to spread news about “facts on the ground.”
Iranians must determine their own fate, and Trump’s rashness could end up hurting their cause if he goes to the same extremes he has in regard to North Korea. That being said, the policy of appeasement of the regime by feeble “leaders,” such as in the European Union or former president Barack Obama, has not helped anybody except for hardliners who wish to spread violence around the Middle East and oppress innocent civilians. The international community must do more to make sure that the regime is punished for trying to oppress its population and silence its people who voice legitimate concerns. But ordinary non-Iranian citizens must go beyond that. The progressives who are protesting against Donald Trump’s ruinous policies in the US often speak of the sanctity of intersectionality. If so, they must make more of an effort to boldly stand against the Iranian and Turkish regimes’ aggression against other peoples of the Middle East, as well as their authoritarian neo-fascist policies at home that cause minorities, women, and LGBT people alike to suffer. With authoritarianism on the rise, and governments slow to act (or complicit in such crimes), it is important that the common folk take action where institutions will not or aren’t able to. The fight against neo-fascist rule is quickly becoming an international one, not just within the Western theater.