Cult Wars

The Parallels of Pegida and Radical Islam

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'Courage to be honest' says the poster at a Pegida march. But are we looking honestly at capitalism?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • The terrorist attacks in Paris and protests by supporters of the radical-right Pegida group divert attention from the real problem, which is the crisis of capitalism, our guest author contends.
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  • Facts

    Facts

    • Pegida, the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West, holds anti-immigration rallies on Mondays in Dresden in the former East Germany.
    • This week’s Pegida rally was cancelled in the wake of death threats against organizers by the Islamic State jihadist group.
    • Previous Pegida rallies have sparked condemnation and counter-demonstrations in Europe.
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    Audio

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In a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, an Islamic party takes power in France and group’s charismatic leader becomes president. He enacts sweeping changes including Sharia law and polygamy.

The day Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’ was published was also the day Islamic terrorists attacked the editorial office of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed journalists.

The terrorist attacks in Paris and demonstrations by supporters of Pegida are diverting the public and politicians from the actual problem: the crisis of capitalism. The events are only symptoms of a deeper problem in society.

Those who march for Pegida are people who fear for their existence, have no trust in politics and have become victims of growing social inequality. They free themselves from this fear by externalizing it as a fear of an imaginary enemy that can be identified, named and opposed.

They make Islam the scapegoat for the evil they suffer, an evil that is invisible, abstract and complex. Instead of raising a political voice or discussing the issues, they resort to plot theories. A scapegoat is required. Before, that scapegoat was the Jew, today it is the Muslim.

A similar reaction pattern can be observed among Muslim immigrants who live in ghettos in French suburbs. There, social exclusion turns into religious radicalization. Both the radical Muslims and the Pegida followers have no other identity in society, and they long for an enemy that can create some orientation and a solid identity for themselves.

More and more people are turning away from politics. Things such as Pegida or the attacks in Paris are only distractions from the failure of politics.

Capitalism is confronted today with massive problems of financial distribution. The rift between the rich and poor is growing, and massive social inequality is the reality.

The global success of Thomas Piketty’s book ‘Capital in the 21st Century,’ which highlights growing income inequality as a key characteristic of capitalism, confirms the reality of the crisis.

Politicians today only act as proxies of the capitalist system. The leaders lack courage and vision. More and more people are turning away from politics. Things such as Pegida or the attacks in Paris are only distractions from the failure of politics.

Capitalism continually dismantles security and liabilities in favor of profits. No job today is secure. No one feels safe in this system of pure competition. Many people are plagued by fears: fear of failing, fear of breaking down, fear of being taken down.We live in a society of fear.

It is a state of permanent internal strife, and people deliver more and more amid the pressure to do well.

The inventor of the term ‘neoliberalism’ is the economist Alexander Rüstow. He contends society becomes more inhumane and ossified when only the law of the market rules. According to him, competition is a regulating principle in the field of market economy, but it is not a principle upon which you could build a whole society. In moral and social terms, competition disperses rather than unites. Total competition leads to the decay of society, and the destruction of human relationships.

The end of debate means the end of democracy, and the rise of terror and mob mentality.

Today, we live in post-democratic conditions – a society where additional choices aren’t to be had. Most citizens play passive, silent and apathetic roles. Politics are made by economic elites and experts. But democracy can thrive only when citizens have the opportunity and interest to actively participate in the design of public life.

Right-wing populist parties such as the National Front and the Alternative for Germany profit from a destroyed trust in politics.

Today, fewer debates occur – and debates are essential for democracy. Without them, emergency decrees such as bank bailouts are imposed on us. The Internet also doesn’t manifest itself as a public arena for common, communicative actions. It’s much more a private arena of the self.

It’s interesting that the Pegida followers also do not want to debate. Instead, they remain in their imagined space and march against their imaginary enemy. The end of debate means the end of democracy, and the rise of terror and mob mentality.

Capitalism breaks down binding values in favor of maximizing profits. In the face of a general destruction of values, a longing for the durable and lasting is awakened. The longing is served by radical Islam as well as the extremist right. An all-leveling power also originates from capitalism. Capitalism also levels rituals as well as values, especially religious rituals that can ease the pain of loss and the fear of death.

In an interview, Mr. Houellebecq said death was a reason he wrote the novel. His atheism was not able to help him cope with the death of his beloved dog and his parents. The novel’s original title was ‘Conversion.’ In the initial concept of the novel, the narrator converts to Catholicism. In the final version, he turns away from the decadent, depleted Western world and becomes a Muslim.

Today, the class war is changing into an inner battle of the individual with himself. No mass protest to question the system itself can arise from exhausted, depressed and isolated people. A revolution is not possible today. Would capitalism perish by itself without revolution? Although social unrest is not being directed to the political track and people’s anger exhibits itself in perverse, apolitical and cultish actions, it is through those events the agony of capitalism can be seen.

 

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com.

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