How far right creates a new political identity through othering
by Taner Doğan
Jul 11, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Taner Doğan
Jul 11, 2016 12:00 am
Othering has a close relationship with the identification of states, societies and individuals. Identifying oneself in reference to the other for a specific issue or event is the reality of today's world. Umberto Eco highlighted this reality in a lecture at Bologna University in 2008: "Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values. ... So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one." This piece will focus on identity formation and its relation to othering with examples from academics' theories, political parties and political leaders.
While talking about othering and its aftermath, Edward Said's "Orientalism" is one of the most important works in the field, which approaches the other by identifying the political perspective of the Occident. Whereas Said emphasizes the critical approach to the East, he also delineates the arrogance of the Occident in positioning the other. He points out that "as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West." Lawrence Grossberg underlines the Orient in Said's study as the object of knowledge that is the product of colonial power relations. In the early 18th century, France and Britain's imperial interests were in India and the Holy Land. Between the 19th century and World War II the dominant interest of both nations shifted toward the Middle East. The post-World War II period gave birth to America as the new dominant power in the region. Hence, Said says that Orientalism "is more a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is as a verdict discourse about the Orient."
Cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains the relationship between identity and the other by highlighting representation: "Identity is a structured representation which only achieves its positive through the narrow eye of the negative. It has to go through the eye of the needle of the other before it can construct itself."Hall's approach to the negative and other accentuates the role of representation. In particular, the case of social movements and parties should be considered in the context. Whether it is a right-wing, populist party; a terrorist organization or an American presidential candidate, dissociating from the other facilitates the creation of a new identity. Additionally, the "symbolic interaction" of Mead and Cooley concerns the relationship between the self and society. Positioning oneself with reference to the needs of the public is a phenomenon in the political landscape.
In the early days, Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), Germanys extreme, right-wing party, emphasized Germany's relationship with the European Union. This rhetoric, however, has evolved into an anti-immigration and anti-Islam campaign. The latter debate turned into a polarization between two factions in the party, which gave birth to a new party, Alliance for Progress and Renewal. This case focuses on the more than 3 million Turkish-Germans who were seen as a threat, especially due to economic reasons. Additionally, the rise in Germany's Turkish population and the developing and ascending education level of the new generation were some of the other reasons behind this anger that led to growth in far-right populism.
Similarly, the increasing popularity of Marine Le Pen's National Front (FN) in France is a similar to that of the AfD in Germany. The increasing number of immigrants represented a new opportunity to fulfil populist policies. Immigration from North Africa was seen as the increasing cultural and religious invasion of peoples that did not subscribe to the values of the French Republic. Muslim migrants were also framed as illegal aliens who would contribute to crime and exacerbate unemployment. In order to increase the traction of its message Muslim migrants were framed as a threat to France's secular values. Many of the third and fourth generation North African youth born and raised in France with French citizenship and identify themselves as a French-Moroccan or French-Algerian were one of the FN's main targets. Political campaigns changed their discourse as immigrants' political turnout and political participation was rising. Statements such as "the immigrants are going to vote and you are staying home?!" carried strong symbolism for society in order to increase the turnout and hinder the impact of the vote of immigrant communities.
A passionate debate erupted when U.S. Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump announced that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. Even though some of his supporters criticized his statement, this example demonstrated the main identification and political approach of an average Trump-sympathizer. Trump's narrative was formed in relation with the needs of his supporters. Furthermore, distinguishing certain issues from opponents narrows identity down and forms a new narrative that can be risky as well as successful. For Hall, identity is a "moveable feast" that forms and transforms itself in relation to the ways of representation or cultural system that surrounds societies. Hence, Hall underlines that identities in the postmodern period cannot be interpreted as fixed, essential or permanent. In particular, during an election period, as seen in the U.S. currently, populism can loosen identity as along with strong commitments.
Whether it is Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islam discourse compared the Quran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf," the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which increased its vote with anti-Immigration politics, or the Brexit Leave campaign in the U.K., immigration and refugees were in the focal point and the aim of all these parties and politicians is the same - provocation. The narrative and identity of far-right groups has shifted from overt racism, which became very toxic, to identity and culture, which could be interpreted as polite, soft racism. Consequently, coverage of Islam and migration in the media increased the popularity of niche parties in order to challenge mainstream parties, which started losing support. Furthermore, the rise of right-wing populism seems for the time being to be growing from strength to strength.
Yet it cannot be bypassed that political rising is the herald of sociological change and development in Europe. As power is a symbol of domination for Max Weber, he also underlines that "power is the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will." Therefore, in the context of identity shift, power and othering should be considered attentively as Said accentuates that "dominant power necessarily constructs its other as a repressed and desired difference."