The Global Rise of Nationalism

By McKenna Ross

Nationalism is an ideology that strongly identifies with one’s own nation and vigorously supports its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of those of other nations. Consequently, it is often equated with distrust of foreigners and a desire for greater immigration control. This ideology is on the rise around the world, spearheaded by the likes of Donald Trump in America, Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Modi in India, and President Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Last year, 25.9 million refugees existed around the world and a further 3.5 million asylum seekers because of persecution, famine, war, or any other number of reasons. Most of these people are hosted in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey — in fact, around 80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries. Still, anti-immigration rhetoric has been at the center of the global rise of nationalism in developed countries, who are taking on relatively small numbers of refugees.

Donald Trump won the American presidency based on a platform of anti-immigration and nationalist rhetoric, from proposing a wall to keep out Latin American immigrants or establishing a travel ban against people from majority Muslim countries. Trump is also known for his prolific tweeting on this issue. In one case, he argued that “[immigration] is an invasion of our Country.” This particular tweet is referring to immigrants from Central and Latin America, but his seeming hatred of immigrants also extends to other nationalities such as people from Middle Eastern countries. In another speech, Trump talked about establishing a database for tracking Muslim people in the United States, a concept which several reporters remarked as seeming reminiscent of the databases and registration used to track Jewish people in Nazi Germany.  

On the other side of the world, the government under Prime Minister Modi of India has spoken out against Muslims in the country. One of his advisors, the home minister of India, Amit Shah, has repeatedly called immigrants “termites.” In the context of this harsh rhetoric, hate crimes have risen in recent years. Hindu mobs have come to lynch dozens of Muslims, but the perpetrators are hardly ever punished. 

Europe especially has seen rising nationalism in recent years. This is exemplified by Nigel Farage, a prominent British politician known for his hate speech against immigrants. Farage was the originator of Brexit, calling for separation from the European Union at least in part because it allows open immigration from countries such as Italy and Greece to the UK. In recent years, British citizens have become more and more susceptible to nationalist leaders because of disillusionment with the current government. They feel they are losing jobs, and Farage places the blame on immigrants that only make it into the United Kingdom because of the European Union policies. He has also linked an increase in arson and sexual violence with immigration with no hard evidence to back up his claims. 

Other countries facing rising nationalism include France and Italy. France recently instituted a burqa ban that outlaws face coverings of any type, including head-coverings worn by many Muslim women. France claims the law is for public safety, but in reality it seems to be an attack on the Islamic immigrants in the country. The United Nations itself is concerned about the rising nationalism in Italy, mentioning specifically the laws attempting to strip asylum seekers of humanitarian rights and the increase in racist, xenophobic attacks in the country.  

Nationalism is also seen in the rhetoric of President Bolsonaro of Brazil. He recently pulled out of the United Nations Migration accord, saying that “not just anyone can come into our home.” Bolsanaro has also defended anti-immigration rioting, even going as far as to say that migrants should be confined to refugee camps. The rise of his far-right policies may even be spelling the end of democracy and plurality in Brazil. In the past, Bolsonaro has even praised the past military regime in Brazil and the use of torture.

Nationalism can be found on every continent on Earth but seems to be even more concentrated in more developed countries, and the expansion of this ideology has lead to increased hate crimes and less assistance for refugees fleeing violence and death in their home countries.

The rise in nationalism can be attributed to many different factors, but perhaps one of the most important is economics. A study by Foreign Affairs found that it is far-right, nationalist leaders that benefit the most from an economic downturn. Economic crashes are manmade and therefore have a cause that can be blamed. Far-right, nationalist politicians use this to gain power and turn the blame on immigrants. Citizens feel that they are being marginalized in their own countries, and nationalist leaders capitalize on these feelings of marginalization and turn immigrants into the scapegoat. They convince citizens that getting rid of immigrants and refugees means those citizens can reclaim their power. Couple a loss of working-class jobs with an increase in immigrants and nationalism has the perfect ingredients to gain power. In fact, it is not immigrants taking the jobs of natives, but an overall downturn in the economy and increased technology is making some jobs redundant. Immigrants can even bring jobs into the country they immigrate to by paying taxes and spending money on local goods and services. 

The world is turning immigrants into scapegoats and if people do not recognize this bias it can have deadly effects for minorities in many different countries. Bangladeshi people in India, Venezuelans in Brazil, and more minorities in America and the United Kingdom will be targeted. Allowing nationalism to grow is simply allowing for hatred of people different than ourselves. This anti-immigrant bias needs to be targeted in order to cleanse our governments of xenophobia.

Photo courtesy of Geoff Livingston (Flickr).

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