The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights blasted nationalist populists like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage for using “tactics similar” to ISIS to frighten and reel in followers.
“The proposition of recovering a supposedly perfect past is fiction; its merchants are cheats,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Monday. “Clever cheats.”
Speaking at the Peace, Justice and Security Foundation gala in The Hague, Zeid — a Jordanian prince married to an American from Texas, global maternal health activist Sarah Butler — singled out Dutch politician Geert Wilders and “the populists, demagogues and political fantasists” like him.
The commissioner acknowledged he “must be a sort of nightmare” to these populists as he defends the rights of asylum seekers, gays, women and the disabled while being a Muslim “who is, confusingly to racists, also white-skinned; whose mother is European and father, Arab.”
He panned Wilders’ “lies and half-truths, manipulations and peddling of fear” and recent appearance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “What Mr. Wilders shares in common with Mr. Trump, Mr. [Viktor] Orban [of Hungary], Mr. [Miloš] Zeman [of the Czech Republic], Mr. [Norbert] Hofer [of Austria], Mr. [Robert] Fico [of Slovakia], Madame Le Pen, Mr. Farage, he also shares with Da’esh,” he said, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“All seek in varying degrees to recover a past, halcyon and so pure in form, where sunlit fields are settled by peoples united by ethnicity or religion – living peacefully in isolation, pilots of their fate, free of crime, foreign influence and war. A past that most certainly, in reality, did not exist anywhere, ever. Europe’s past, as we all know, was for centuries anything but that,” Zeid said.
“…Populists use half-truths and oversimplification — the two scalpels of the arch propagandist, and here the internet and social media are a perfect rail for them, by reducing thought into the smallest packages: sound-bites, tweets. Paint half a picture in the mind of an anxious individual, exposed as they may be to economic hardship and through the media to the horrors of terrorism. Prop this picture up by some half-truth here and there and allow the natural prejudice of people to fill in the rest. Add drama, emphasizing it’s all the fault of a clear-cut group, so the speakers lobbing this verbal artillery, and their followers, can feel somehow blameless.”
The commissioner said the formula of these politicians is to “make people, already nervous, feel terrible, and then emphasize it’s all because of a group, lying within, foreign and menacing,” then “make your target audience feel good by offering up what is a fantasy to them, but a horrendous injustice to others.”
“Inflame and quench, repeat many times over, until anxiety has been hardened into hatred.”
Zeid stressed he “certainly” did not “equate the actions of nationalist demagogues with those of Da’esh, which are monstrous, sickening; Da’esh must be brought to justice.”
“But in its mode of communication, its use of half-truths and oversimplification, the propaganda of Da’esh uses tactics similar to those of the populists. And both sides of this equation benefit from each other – indeed would not expand in influence without each others’ actions,” he added.
“History has perhaps taught Mr. Wilders and his ilk how effectively xenophobia and bigotry can be weaponized. Communities will barricade themselves into fearful, hostile camps, with populists like them, and the extremists, as the commandants,” he warned. “The atmosphere will become thick with hate; at this point it can descend rapidly into colossal violence.”
Zeid questioned whether “we’re doing enough to counter this cross-border bonding of demagogues.”
“Are we going to continue to stand by and watch this banalization of bigotry, until it reaches its logical conclusion?” he asked. “…Do not, my friends, be led by the deceiver. It is only by pursuing the entire truth, and acting wisely, that humanity can ever survive. So draw the line and speak. Speak out and up, speak the truth and do so compassionately, speak for your children, for those you care about, for the rights of all, and be sure to say clearly: stop!”
“We will not be bullied by you the bully, nor fooled by you the deceiver, not again, no more; because we, not you, will steer our collective fate. And we, not you, will write and sculpt this coming century. Draw the line!”