The trend seems set, the extreme right continues to rise in opinion polls and the contradictions in the public debate are sharpening. Bridge builders and progressives often look on with sadness, paralyzed by a sense of powerlessness. Polarization is thereby condemned and crushed without taking into account the balance of power and the social positions of the opposites in that polarization.
In the current polarization, on the one hand there are groups in our society who invariably get the short end of the stick and who demand a platform, they condemn the dominant language and practice, they emphasize the contradictions and look through a magnifying glass at the injustices that are done to them. At the other end of the polarization is an (ethno-)nationalist movement fighting for the return to an idyllic (but non-existent) home where conservative values maintain the dominant group in society and where ‘the other’ had it better. adjust or scratch.
Woke as a scapegoat
In the opinion polls conducted in September, the far-right Vlaams Belang (VB) scored 21.6 percent. VB thus maintains steady growth (in the opinion polls) and sees its conspiracy theories increasingly gaining access in politics and the mainstream media. Not only Dewinter and associates have found a scapegoat in wokemovement center-right also divides this nicely in the framing woke means the end of our culture.
Eg. Bart De Wever, Flanders’ most popular politician/Antwerp mayor/N-VA party chairman, is scouring student circles these days with a lecture called How vigilantism is destroying our culture. In his lecture, De Wever warns against the totalitarian nature of wokehe denies the structural exclusion of groups of people and laments the alleged influence of people asking for gender-neutral toilets.
Woke therefore raising the mood, with a conference in Antwerp on the subject last year (with the rectors of Flemish universities on the panel), where the poster boy of the far right dedicated a YouTube channel to the subject, a shower of opinion pieces (read: Baroness Mia Doornaert) , … the list is long, it theme is hot, the scapegoat has been found. Bieke Purnelle – as usual – hit the nail on the head in her piece in MO* with the roaring title Wake is a safe word for those who don’t want society to change. (1)
In his talk, De Wever warns against the totalitarian nature of the wake, denies the structural exclusion of groups of people and laments the alleged influence of people asking for gender-neutral toilets
Depicting both poles of this polarization as offshoots of an identitarian movement sick in the same bed is a position that denies fundamental aspects of polarization. The liberation struggle (with roots in the feminist, anti-racist and emancipation struggle) stands up for more rights for those who see these rights not fulfilled, while the (extreme) right-wing struggle tries to do the exact opposite. Demanding a platform to obtain more rights is not of the same order as stigmatizing and excluding (minority) groups. By presenting both views as problematic, we deny the small power that the liberation struggle has and the supremacy that the (extreme) right has. To deny that impotence is unjust, to deny that force majeure is downright dangerous.
Demanding a platform to obtain more rights is not of the same order as stigmatizing and excluding (minority) groups
By the way, it should be clear what is meant by polarization. Does it refer to political polarization or toxic polarization? In political polarization, social contradictions are (always) sharply played out against each other. In toxic polarization, one group is systematically pitted against another group (where it is often no longer clear what ‘conflict’ or ‘problem’ is at the heart of the matter, and where the other group believes it has been silenced). Toxic polarization is more about far-reaching stigmatization of ‘the other’. The dominant discourse on polarization, spearheaded by the above-mentioned celebrities, treats all polarization as toxic polarization that devalues the social conflict of interest. Today, this conflict of interest is a normal political struggle in a democracy.
By shifting the focus from a legitimate liberation struggle to pitting one against the ‘other’, we risk losing sight of the real threat. And that threat comes from those who have power and see that power threatened.
It is not the struggle for liberation that threatens our freedom of expression or our culture, on the contrary
Because it is not the transgender rights activists who threaten our understanding of human rights. It’s not BOEH’s feminists! or Rosa, whose terminology, ideas and conspiracy theories are adopted and repeated by journalists. It is not Black Lives Matter activists making homophobic and Islamophobic statements in Parliament. In other words, it is not the struggle for liberation that threatens our freedom of expression or our culture, on the contrary.
A liberation struggle is a blueprint for a more just society. Like the struggle for universal suffrage, the Leuven-Flemish, the emancipation struggle … were legitimate emancipation struggles. The critics of woke do well to remember what struggles they reap the fruits of, and by what arguments and means their struggles were thwarted.
A liberation struggle is a blueprint for a more just society
Will we tackle polarisation? Then we should do what allies in a liberation struggle must do: by listening, taking arguments and feelings seriously, being critical and always ready to stand on the side of those who are wronged by a system that systematically discourages .
Make coexistence possible
Do we want to get beyond an ‘us versus them’ mindset? Then it is time to learn to deal with tensions and political contradictions, time to learn again that within a democracy there will always be an ideological and interest struggle and that there will always be power differences. The less a society is able to respect and secure the basic rights of minority groups, or to reach acceptable and sustainable compromises, the more we will have to deal with sharp social struggles and even toxic polarization.
We must therefore realize that there is no single truth, and that we must lean enough on the spectrum between ideological thinking and pragmatic action towards the side that makes coexistence possible, at the same time that we always do the social analysis and keep eye on the system of oppression (rather than just shifting responsibility to individuals). We must examine the dominant practice in our society, dare to adapt, dare to open the moral circle for ‘the other’, because that is the only way to arrive at a ‘new we’. The current heated state of the liberation struggle is just a sign that our dominant assimilationist or ‘conforming to the norm’ thinking is bankrupt.
Will we do something about the rise of the far right? Then it is high time to get started
Will we do something about the rise of the far right? Then it is high time to get started. Motief vzw, Huisvandemens Genk and Vrijzonder Limburg organize together with 15 partners (2) ‘Time to 2024. Conversations and workshops on polarization and the extreme right. Tools for civil society and engaged citizens’, op December 17 at C-Mine Genkwith speakers Jihad Van Puymbroeck, Meron Knikman and Diaper Lleshiand workshops by Labo vzw and Motief vzw.
Appointment on December 17 in Genk for ‘Tijd tot 2024’, because although the left and the progressive Flanders often lack a face, cooperation and a project that captures, we can undeniably agree on one thing: no normalization of the extreme right , no extreme right-wing politics, no society where the extreme right determines the scale and tone.
- Purnelle, B. (2022, 17 April) ‘Woke is a safe word for those who don’t want society to change’, MO*, URL: https://www.mo.be/column/woke-is -een-stopwoord – for-who-doesn’t-want-social-change (accessed 15 June 2022)
- The organizing partners are Motief vzw, Huis van de Mens Genk, Freelance Limburg, 8 March collective, 8 May coalition, General Central of ABVV Limburg, ACOD Limburg, ACV Limburg, Amnesty International (Hasselt), Avansa Limburg, Hand in Hand against racism, Hart Boven Hard Limburg, KifKif, Limburg Platform for People on the Run, Masereel Fund, Rainbow House Limburg, University of Social Interest, Vermeylenfonds Hasselt.