UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] on Monday unleashed [official speech] a scathing criticism of Western “demagogues,” accusing them of spreading populist xenophobia and racism. At issue for Zeid was the recent eleven point manifesto [text] released by Dutch politician Geert Wilders [BBC profile], which laid out plans to remove Islam from the country including the removal of the Koran as well as the closing of mosques. Zeid believes these populist ideals are tinged with bigotry and have spread around the Western political globe, including the US elections. He cautioned that this same rhetoric is seen in Islamic State (IS) propaganda and will have a disastrous effect on the democratic society if people do not speak out against it.
Make no mistake, I certainly do 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. The humiliating racial and religious prejudice fanned by the likes of Mr. Wilders has become in some countries municipal or even national policy. We hear of accelerating discrimination in workplaces. Children are being shamed and shunned for their ethnic and religious origins—whatever their passports, they are told they are not “really” European, not “really” French, or British, or Hungarian. Entire communities are being smeared with suspicion of collusion with terrorists.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. The atmosphere will become thick with hate; at this point it can descend rapidly into colossal violence. We must pull back from this trajectory.
Zeid called for a rejection of these growing ideals.
The speech comes after the UN Chief has called for a host of changes to improve the conditions of human rights around the world. Zeid in August called [JURIST report] on the international community to establish an independent international body for conducting comprehensive investigations of human rights violations in Yemen. Zeid expressed [JURIST report] his concerns in the same month regarding Indian and Pakistani authorities refusing to allow the Human Rights Council access to Kashmir. Also in August Zeid expressed [JURIST report] concern over efforts by the Iraqi government to expedite implementation of the death penalty.