The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein slammed European and American right-wing leaders as populist bigots, comparing their campaigning style to that of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The commissioner made the accusations in a speech to the U.S. Peace, Justice and Security Foundation gala last night and addressed his remarks to "Mr. Geert Wilders, his acolytes, indeed to all those like him – the populists, demagogues and political fantasists”
You can read his full speech here.
Boasting about his status as a human rights crusader, al-Hussein tore into Wilders’ electoral pledge to ban Muslim immigration and close all mosques in Holland.
He drew connections between all populist anti-Islamic movements in the West, arguing “what Mr. Wilders shares in common with Mr. Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, Mr. Farage, he also shares with Da’esh.”
“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.”
To a certain extent he is right. The message of “taking our country back” to “make America great again” (Trump) is the same call to arms sounded by Farage’s “take back control” slogan in the Brexit campaign. Wilders is leading in the polls because he wants to halt Muslim immigration, not in spite of that policy, and he very definitely wants to assert Dutch identity and Dutch culture.
To some that may seem fantastical and to a certain extent the past they want to resurrect is mythical.
ISIS also definitely wants to restore a mythical past, but theirs is one of a pan-ethnic theocratic empire. Where Wilders is nationalist, ISIS is imperialist, where Wilders is parochial, ISIS is expansionist and want to take over the world.
However, there is no indication that Wilders seeks to reconquer Holland’s former imperial domains in South East Asia.
It is here that al-Hussein, by his own admission a cosmopolitan internationalist, completely fails to realize that some people care deeply about their country and that patriotism is not in and of itself a crime. Neither is seeking to retain one’s own culture. Indeed, if culture is important enough to Muslims that their rights to wear hijab, eat halal food and worship in mosques in whichever country they reside, surely it is understandable that people from Holland would want to retain their Dutch identity?
In his speech, al-Hussein made no recognition of the problems of extremism, of the failure of Europe’s policies of multiculturalism, of any of the myriad of reasons why people might be worried, fearful and looking for answers.
And in the answers department he is conspicuously silent.
All he does is rage and bluster against rising anti-Islam sentiment, but offers absolutely no diagnosis of why this might be happening, beyond vague allusions to “bigotry” as if Europe is just one dog-whistle call away from race riots.
He shows no awareness that unless the problems of Islamist terrorism and Muslim integration are addressed and solved, this sentiment will continue to rise until it becomes an unstoppable flood.
It is his last paragraph that is the most depressing.
“Speak out and up,” he thunders, “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!”
That may play well at a gala in The Hague. But its aggressive and contemptuous tone will not go unnoticed by the supporters of the populist right, the people he allegedly wants to convince. They aren’t going to hear a call to “compassion and reason,” but a declaration of war against them and their way of life, by a UN official, someone whom they most likely already despise.
Far from addressing the problem of rising intolerance and bigotry, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein is heaping fuel onto the fire.