Post Trump, where are we in the Interfaith world?

Post Trump, where are we? Well we are in a fast moving and extremely challenging environment where the social norms of what we have known before are being weakened. The very essence of liberal democracies are being subverted by those on the extreme right and democratically being challenged by movements that are looking inwards and blaming ‘the other’. The ‘other’ at this time are Muslims, migrants, refugees, Roma and Traveller communities and with the millennia old hatred of anti-Semitism simply bubbling underneath the surface.

Driving this change over the last 3-4 years, has been the Alt-Right or the Alternative Right. Turbo-charged on conspiracy theories such as Obama being born outside of the United States and based on an insidious hatred of pluralism by promoting the view of ‘Making America Great’ – (by using dog-whistle politics to “take it back”), the Alt-Right’s strategy has been to make fact-fiction and fiction-fact.

So creative has been their ability to do this, that they have nurtured and opened up a space in communities in the US and have played on the fears and insecurities of white working class groups in America, whilst blurring the lines of truth to ensure that their message is the one being listened to through the use of aggressive headlining. At the core of the Alt-Right’s messaging has been to play to a growing sense of rage within this demographic group.

Yet, during the US elections it became clear that for some within the Alt-Right, anti-Semitism was embedded within the material that they circulated and distributed. Attacks on George Soros, played to tropes of a malign force trying to control and subvert the globe and social media posts attacking those in the banking and financial industries, all of whom listed were Jewish, brought back basal fears within many in Jewish communities that in 21st century America, anti-Semitism was never far away.

Allied to this, toe-curling overtones of support from the more pallatable face of fascism in the form of Marine Le Pen and campaign endorsements for Trump from ex-KKK leader, David Duke, did not instil confidence with many Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans and Muslims in the United States.

Or take the fact that in the last 48 hours, Trump has appointed Breitbart Head, Stephen Bannon, into his administration to head up strategy and today the Southern Poverty Law Centre, said that:

Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill. Trump should rescind this hire. In his victory speech, Trump said he intended to be president for ‘all Americans.’ Bannon should go.”

California Democratic Representative. Adam Schiff tweeted:

Selection of Steve Bannon for senior WH role unsurprising but alarming. His alt-right, anti-Semitic, misogynistic views don’t belong in WH.”

Yet, if this is the environment today, the groundwork was set by sites like Breitbart and by terrorism that has repeatedly rocked European capitals, amongst others. The actions of terrorists, apart from killing innocents on European streets, has led to growing resentment in Europe with many drawn to the fiery headlines about Islam and Muslims that make up a large number of Breitbart US and UK articles. In doing so, many made Breitbart a key reference point in the portfolio of web-sites that they visited in order to consume material which confirmed their biases and their world views.

The Polarised Political Left

Yet, this is not the domain of only the Alt-Right.The political left and its anti-Semitism has also reared its head through similar conspiracy theories and the promotion of these through social media. The use of the term ‘Zio’ as a subtle reference to Jews and conspiracy theories of Jews controlling the media and financial systems and making up anti-Semitic hate incidents to exert political and emotional influence, are all peddled by segments of the political left, as well as the extreme right. In all of this melee, those within the middle ground are being squeezed and pushed to take sides. They are being co-erced into a battle of ideas and ideologies which will bring cyclical political instability to capitals in the Western world.

Such views and perceptions are quickly made in an environment where we are all driven to accept bite sized packets of information. 140 characters on Twitter, pictures on Instagram and short pictorial postings on Facebook, provide users with a short fix as they feel a sense of self-importance by the number of followers they have on social media. It is also within this social media world that context and true meaning is lost and the ability to influence people at a basal level opens up. In fact, the longer someone who is vulnerable to such narratives of hatred digests such dumbed down material, the more it sinks in and becomes fact for them.

So what can we do? This week is Interfaith Week and may will be undertaking a number of activities bringing together faith communities in our country.  As I have said before, interfaith work is all well and good, but there is a communication battle for hearts and minds being fought out on a daily basis. It is a communications battle that is relentless and which takes no prisoners and our genteel form of interfaith activities and actions seem more like a Morris Minor trundling along a hedge-row in the shires, whilst the Ferrari of sites like Breitbart leave us stuck in the mud. That is why our messages to tackle hatred must be edgy, eye-catching, simple but effective and repeated over and over again in different forms and with contexts relevant to different regions and countries.

We can also mobilise to stand with each other in the online world and offline world. We can promote critical thinking through training programmes for young people, highlight language that is socially unacceptable and most of all, challenge, challenge and challenge. If we fail to step up to the challenges ahead, there will be no-one to blame but ourselves.

About the Author
Fiyaz is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters, which works on countering extremism, community integration and monitoring hate crime work. He is also the Founder of the national Islamophobia Monitoring Group, Tell MAMA, and was it's Director from 2011-2016. He has worked on supporting better Muslim and Jewish relations for over 17 years.
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