Europe needs a shared social identity, and fast!

Comparing the recent rise of populism in Europe (or really across the world) with the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 20th century is sometimes presented as inflammatory, distasteful and stigmatizing. However, if we want to know what’s happening now, it wouldn’t be helpful to restrict our scope, to maybe even establish that the comparison isn’t fair indeed.

The second World War, and especially the Holocaust was very much the frame of reference of Henri Tajfel, one of the most influential social psychologists. As a Polish Jew, he had experienced disadvantage and discrimination, but the Holocaust (he was the only member of his family who survived) would shape all of his later work. Essentially, Tajfel asked himself how it could be that human beings could justify immeasurable cruelty against other human beings, just for being a member of another group. This question would lead him to pioneer on eminently important topics such as Social Identity Theory and Prejudice.

Social Identity Theory explains how we categorize other people, basically into two groups: ingroups (the group we belong to) and outgroups (the group we don’t belong to). Subsequently, we overestimate the differences between these groups and exaggerate the positive aspects of our own group and the negative aspects of the outgroup. Also, we homogenize the outgroup and generalize it’s negative aspects (to all members). At the same time, we differentiate our own groups, and view members of ingroups behaving badly as ‘rotten apples’, while members behaving in a positive manner as typical for the group. Needless to say, for outgroups, all of this is reversed. This mechanism (Social Categorisation) helps to understand how many ‘ordinary’ Europeans could commit or at least be complicit to the Nazi atrocities against their Jewish compatriots, as well as Roma, Sinti, and homosexuals.

Steve Reicher (one of Tajfel’s former students), Alex Haslam, and Rakshi Rath took this research a step further, by outlining in detail how “inhumane acts against other groups can come to be celebrated as right” (Reicher, Haslam & Rath, 2008, p.1313). They asked themselves for instance why there were such large differences between the numbers of Jews that were deported and killed from the different countries occupied by the Nazis. To illustrate this: a staggering 71% of the Jewish Dutch population was deported, as were 86% of the Greek Jews, and even 90% of the Polish Jews. In comparison, 44% of the Belgian Jewish population, 22% of the French Jews and none (0%) of the Bulgarian Jews were (allowed to be) deported by the Nazis. The explanation is that in Poland and the Netherlands, for instance, the Jewish population was excluded from the national identity. They were seen as different, alien, and not a part of the nation. Whereas in Bulgaria, where Nazi attempts to deport Jews were actively thwarted by the Bulgarians, the Jewish population was regarded as an integral part of the nation (see Todorov, 2001).

Reicher, Haslam, and Rath’s describe the five steps in which violence against outgroups becomes justifiable for ingroups. “The five steps are: (i) Identification, the construction of an ingroup; (ii) Exclusion, the definition of targets as external to the ingroup; (iii) Threat, the representation of these targets as endangering ingroup identity; (iv) Virtue, the championing of the ingroup as (uniquely) good; and (v) Celebration, embracing the eradication of the outgroup as necessary to the defence of virtue.” (p.1313).

So, how is this relevant to the present? The parallels are striking, to say the least. Maybe unwittingly, the development of the populist movements of Europe is following the steps mentioned above. The ‘ingroup’ is constructed by referring to themselves as ‘the people’, and excluding those who do not adhere, labelling them ‘elites’, ‘self-haters’, ‘traitors’ and so on. The outgroup is identified as migrants, and ‘Muslims’ in particular, who are subsequently homogenized and generalized as fundamentally incompatible with Western values. This outgroup is depicted as a general threat to the ingroup, on various societal terrains, while the ‘own’ culture (generally an idealized and romanticized, nostalgic version of that culture) is uncritically presented as good. Finally, if one has the stomach to descend into the pits of various populist right wing social media channels, one will find that the calls for a violent ‘cleansing’ are already being dispersed without any inhibition.

This article has no intention of labelling people or scaremongering. However, our knowledge of how social identity works and to what it can lead is quite clear. Recently, a Dutch sports journalist, Johan Derksen, argued that allowing too many kids of Moroccan descent to amateur football clubs, would be detrimental for those clubs. Even if we ignore the obvious discriminatory aspects of that remark, it is indicative of why Europe hasn’t been able to integrate their migrant populations. Why would a child that is born and raised in the Netherlands be called a Moroccan? Why would his failings be attributed to his descent, and not for instance to the inability of society to help him succeed? Why would PEGIDA be angry when confronted with pictures of non-white children (who incidentally contributed to a German World Championship of football)? If politicians from moderate parties want to know what they can do against xenophobic populism: define nationhood as civic and not ethnical, It’s not that difficult, really.

Reicher, S., Haslam, S. A., & Rath, R. (2008). Making a virtue of evil: A five‐step social identity model of the development of collective hate. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(3), 1313-1344.


This article has earlier been published at the

Evolutionary flaws and right-wing populism

Right-wing populism is undeniably on the rise in Europe. Parties such as the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) are on all time highs in the polls, while their counterparts, most notably the German chancellor Angela Merkel, are increasingly pushed in the defensive. Surely, the refugee crisis fuels fears and fear is the wind in the sails of the right-wing populist parties that thrive on xenophobic rhetoric. But how does this tie in with the idea of Europe as an enlightened continent, with the (arguably) highest average degree of education, the healthiest and happiest people on earth? Wasn’t xenophobia (or even racism) supposed to be a passed station in the postmodern enlightened world?
You might be forgiven for looking to specific and topical events, such as the refugee crisis, for the steady rise of xenophobia, but there are more reasons. The first and foremost reason is that our perception is not optimized to see the world as it is, but to see it as best serves our own interests. Our perception is an outcome of our evolutionary history and has been optimized for our survival, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be accurate. The result is a long list of perception biases, i.e. perceptional errors we are unaware of, but that defines the way we see the world. And in that evolutionary history it was beneficial to see the world as hostile, and as a consequence to be cautious and to see ‘strangers’ as a threat.
Especially relevant in the context of right-wing populism is what social psychologists call the fundamental attribution error. This perceptional bias explains how we attribute our own positive behaviours and successes to intrinsic factors, such as our intelligence, personality or (arguably) culture, and our negative behaviours and failings to extrinsic factors, such as bad luck. We extend this ‘self serving bias’ to members of our ingroups, i.e. essentially the groups we consider ourselves members of. This bias becomes problematic when we direct our perspective at outgroup members and the mechanism turns around: outgroup members’ positive behaviours are attributed to extrinsic factors, such as luck or positive discrimination, and conversely their negative behaviours to the aforementioned intrinsic factors. So, when your countryman fails or does something unwanted you don’t ascribe that behaviour to their -and incidentally your- culture, and are more willing to look at the (possibly extenuating) context and circumstances. However when a migrant does the same thing, you are more inclined to ascribe that behaviour to their culture and to disregard the circumstances. And what’s more, we see this specific bias especially prominent in individidualistic cultures, such as those in Europe.
So, we are basically pre-wired to be xenophobic to some extent. But that is not the only bias in play here (far from it): we are also pre-wired to avoid and diminish the stress that is caused by information that is contrary to our beliefs and prejudices. In plain text: we like to hear and read what we already believe and (think we) know. Social Psychologists have known this for a while now.
But marketeers know this too. And they apply it: advertising is more effective when it doesn’t contradict our preconceptions. Therefore in marketing our beliefs and values, but also our prejudices are confirmed. Sadly, one might say, this also applies for how we consume our news: people prefer news outlets that confirm their (ideological) beliefs, including their prejudices. So, if you want to attract as many viewers for your tv channel (or readers for your newspaper for that matter), and you have to if you are a commercial station and your goal is to make advertising money, you are best advised to tell those viewers what they want to hear, and not necessarily what they would need to hear in order to know and understand what is actually going on. This is even more the case in a diverse media landscape, where outlets have to focus on specific audiences. In this context ratings and good journalism definitely aren’t compatible.
Adding political advertising using the same mechanisms, provides all ingredients of a very toxic cocktail: (commercial) media outlets for whom confirming prejudices, or at the very least not contradicting them, is an inextricable part of their business strategy, combined with political movements for whom exploiting such prejudices provides an opportunity to appeal to a substantial part of the electorate.
The toxicity of this mix becomes apparent when we look at the xenophobic rhetoric: in order to make sure the audience identifies the targeted ‘others’ are members of the outgroup, they are generally referred to in dehumanizing terms. For instance, groups of refugees are very frequently pictured as swarms, waves, tsunamis (water metaphores are especially prominent). The results are beginning to show in The Netherlands, where right-wing populism has become an integral part of the political and media landscape, and the rhetoric with regard to the recent influx of refugees has reached new heights, or some might say new lows, and violence against refugees is a common occurrence nowadays.
Overcoming our pre-wiring for xenophobia takes an effort, but is in no way impossible. It is even very much necessary: our perceptional biases were useful in a world where our natural environment was much more demanding. Also, our world has only recently become as diverse and as populated as it is now, and evolution won’t catch up with our current living circumstances any time soon. But not overcoming our xenophobic reflexes would be much more costly, maybe even to the extent that evolution won’t have the time to catch up at all. Xenophobia in an overpopulated and diverse world could have truly horrific consequences, and it would be good, even for right-wing populist politicians, to not only focus on short-term gains, and to start thinking about the long-term consequences of stoking up prejudice.

Tspiras, Corbyn, Sanders: signs of a trend?

It was in 1992 when the political scientist Fukuyama famously declared the ‘End of History’. The Iron Curtain had just come tumbling down (quite literally in some places) and communism was defeated through the Cold War by the liberal democracies of the West. Fukuyama believed (at the time) that this would be the final ideological conflict and the world would now inevitably turn to liberal democracy as the only viable way to rule. He was criticized right away, especially for what some perceived as his championing of neo-conservatism, and downright ridiculed after 9-11, when his prophecies were made to look exceedingly naïve in retrospect. Indeed, Fukuyama had underestimated the rise of radical Islam and even his ‘rectification’ from 2008, in which he estimated that Iran would constitute the biggest threat and downplayed the ability of radical Sunni Islam to obtain power, is looking less than prescient with the rise of IS. However, recent events may point towards another, possibly more important flaw in Fukuyama’s prophecies: the shaky marriage between liberal democracy and capitalism.

Fukuyama argued that not only liberal democracy would prevail, but that it would inherently have to be accompanied by capitalism. However, the banking crisis in 2008 revealed an important problem in that arranged marriage. The financial power of corporations such as banks helped them to evade democratic control, while the entanglement between public administration and private corporations nullified economic scrutiny, creating a situation of ‘moral hazard’. Fukuyama had been right in a way, because the belief in the Friedman-esque Chicago School of economics, i.e. what we could popularly call neo-liberalism and classical capitalism, had become so dominant in the post Reagan and Thatcher era, that the only warnings came from radical leftists and ‘dissident’ economists. Even the 2008 krach didn’t result in a sway of the economical or electoral pendulum. Not right away.

While Keynes’ ideas came to the rescue of the liberal democracies and their capitalist economies, and the ‘too big to fail’ financial corporations were bailed out, the political parties that advocated neo-liberal policies stayed or even came into power. However, when austerity measures started to hit, the chickens started coming home to roost.

In Greece, Tsipras’ leftist SYRIZA came into power and managed to stay the largest party even after the humiliation by EU, IMF and (other) creditors. In the United Kingdom, the Labour party lost the power to the Conservatives in 2010, and lost the elections this year again. Unsurprisingly, this lead to a reckoning at the top of the Labour party, but what was suprising was that the veteran Corbyn won the leadership election. Corbyn had been at the left fringes of the party for a long while, while Labour transformed into New Labour during the 90s and the 00s, and abandoned much of its classical social-democratic viewpoints. Under Blair and Brown, New Labour strayed away from Keynes and towards Friedman, one could say. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn, a clear representative of the classical left, was elected by the Labour voters, while the same Blair, together with other proponents of New Labour and conservatives campaigned against him, could be a telling switch. The reaction by Prime Minister Cameron, declaring the Labour Party a ‘threat to national security’ after Corbyn’s election, might also be an indication of some discomfort.

Worryingly for Cameron, Corbyn isn’t the only left-fringe veteran that finds himself closer to power than ever before: in what is only the prelude of the primaries of the Democratic party in the USA, the most unexpected of candidates is leading the polls, in the person of Bernie Sanders. In the country that has known the practice of McCarthyism, a candidate that dares to call himself a socialist is gathering significant popular support. That is truly remarkable, but not altogether incomprehensible in the same time.

Electorates have become aware of the fact that corporations are excessively powerful, and that they aren’t shy to use that power to evade rules, regulations and taxes. The distribution of wealth is far from equitable, especially on a world wide scale, which in turn gives rise to or at least amplifies unrest and most recently mass immigration. Finally the protection of the environment hasn’t exactly been a priority as corporations strongarmed governments and evaded regulations for short term financial benefits. The latest scandal involving Volkswagen, is only one example. This awareness is gaining momentum (cf. Piketty) and might translate into electoral results. Trends are only truly visible in retrospect, one could say. But we might be witnessing the first signs of the rise of neo-Marxism.

The Cologne Incidents: Sexism and misogyny, or us versus them?

2016 didn’t start under the best auspices, especially in Cologne, Germany. We may not know every detail currently, but it sure seems that numerous women were assaulted, harrassed and even raped during the New Year’s festivities in the center of the German metropolis. More aggravating even is the all too credible observation that these assaults were committed in an organized manner and that most or even all of the perpetrators were described as ‘North African’ or ‘Arabian’. The backlash was understandably predictable: were European women under threat of ‘imported’ sexism and misogyny?

Putting the fact aside that right-wing populist jumped on the issue to confirm their prejudices: is there any credence to the idea that the cultural or religious background of immigrants or refugees makes them more likely to be sexist and misogynistic?

There clearly is a cultural pendant in sexism, but as always the picture is more complex than some would like. First of all: sexism researchers differentiate the concept of sexism, in a benevolent and hostile variant. We speak of benevolent sexism when people see women as different, but not necessarily inferior to men. Benevolent sexism is at play when women are described as weak, but more pure human beings, to the point that they’re considered naïve and therefore need the protection of men. Hostile sexists do see women as inferior, in the sense that they define women as devious and cunning. Benevolent sexists may put women on a pedestal, and they may simultaneously limit their freedoms, under the pretense of wanting to protect them. Hostile sexists may respect women in the sense that they see them as equals sexually, but see them as intrinsically different and sometimes even as intrisically malicious. Benevolent sexism is sometimes associated with domestic violence, but sexual violence against women in general is generally associated with hostile sexism.

So, are men from a Muslim background (because we all know they’re the ones who have been implied) more sexist, and if so, which kind of sexist specifically? That question is not easily answered: yes, there is more violence against women in Muslim countries than in Western countries. But there is also more violence against women in non-Muslim countries, such as South Africa or Mexico. Moreover, in countries such as India, where there’s a large Muslim minority population, the violence against women is equally prevalent among non-Muslims. What does this tell us?

First of all, it tells us that sexism may be incorporated in cultural values, but sexual violence is not only an outcome of such values. A 2014 UNDP report on sexual violence against women in South East Asia, a truly horrific read, shows that such violence is a very frequent occurrence, fairly regardless of religious background. And most horrifying is the finding that women endorse values that justify such violence, even more so than men. However, what this report also shows is that within cultures violence against women is strongly correlated with income, social status and degree of education. So, violence against women is not only an outcome of values.

What’s more is that such sexist values aren’t unambiguous. Returning to the Muslim minorities: according to the implied cultures, North African and Middle Eastern, women are not necessarily considered as inferior, but are considered as weak and needing protection. These cultures have values in place that order that women should be protected and respected, as they are more pure and the key to their families’ honour. In other words: a clear example of benevolent rather than hostile sexism. So, how does this add up with what happened in Cologne?

The crucial point is: these benevolent sexist values, that also have a protective function, however suffocating and oppressive they are for women, are reserved for ingroup women. In plain text: these values prescribe respect and protection for women who belong to the own groups. What this ‘own group’ is, depends on the context and can be categories such as one’s own family, clan, town, or even ethnicity. Conversely, women that are not part of the ingroups, can be met with hostile sexism, aggravated by a disconnection with majority culture and individual social-economic status.

To conclude: looking for explanations for the Cologne incidents exclusively in culture would be a gross oversimplification of matters. It’s much more likely that what happened has a lot to do with the societal cleavages that have appeared in Western Europe along ethnical and cultural lines. Polarization and a failure to integrate groups of migrants has given rise to a new proletariat of mostly Muslim descent. And as always, some of the angry, young men from groups who feel disadvantaged engage in counterproductive behaviours, self-fulfilling prophecies and confirming prevalent stereotypes. And the most extreme and marginal of them do so by rebelling against everything majority culture holds dear, such as a firm stance against anti-semitism, acceptance of LGBT rights, and an equal position for women. They attack Jews and gays, they consider free and autonomous women as fair game, in order to distance themselves and scorn the society they feel has scorned them. What happened is most likely an example of them versus us, in which empathy is reserved for the respective ‘us’. And let me make this very clear: this is by no means a justification, but merely an explanation.

Women, all women, must be able to live their lifes without threat, violence and oppression. That should be a priority for every modern society, I would vehemently argue. And the best way to ensure that in this specific context is twofold: firstly and most importantly, sexist values need to be addressed as such and refuted through education and policy. However, there’s also a second pathway necessary: society needs to ensure that men such as the perpetrators in Cologne view all women as their ‘sisters’, i.e. their ingroup members. I have argued it before: Europe must start a policy of inclusion, better sooner than later, because fragmented societies can only lead to further disaster.

The Greece crisis: What’s Culture got to do with it?

No need to reiterate or even summarize the many accounts of how the draconian ‘deal’ with Tsipras’ Greece was conceived. We don’t know what we know or don’t know, until maybe in a few decades a few of the protagonists decide the world is really ready for their tell-all memoirs. What we do know, presumably of course, is that the measures that Greece will be struck with are unprecedented and maligned by some leading economists, such as Nobel Prize laureates Krugman and Stiglitz (who coincidentally happen to have more or less predicted the 2008 financial crisis), while the proponents of the deal claim that the country’s problems structurally stem from a government that is too inefficient and too large. Therefore, they state, a structural downsizing of the state bureaucracy is crucial.

We shouldn’t get into the economical side of this debate. Basically, we wouldn’t be able to say who’s right, because the economists do not only disagree on the methods, crucially they already diverge on the desired outcome. The ongoing public debate between Krugman and Alberto Alesina, of the American Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), is testament to this. Because economics is nothing, if not ideologically driven.

If that is the case, if we can’t reliable predict which economic policy is objectively best, on what do we, the non-economist Europeans, actually base our judgments then? What are the reasons behind the vastly different reactions of the public to this crisis, including the layman’s theories as to why it occurred in Greece, Spain, Portugal and admittedly also Ireland, and not in Germany, Netherlands or Finland? Many have already pointed out that there might be a clash of cultures becoming manifest, with the readily available stereotypes of ‘discplined, but harsh Northern Europeans’ and ‘spirited, but lax Southern Europeans’ in hand. Others claimed that Greece in particular was hampered by the prevalence of clientelism, supposedly ingrained by four centuries of Ottoman rule.

Such ‘national characterizations’ are seldom helpful, but more importantly their accuracy is strongly disputed. Concluding from their large-scale study, Terracciano et al. (2005) remarked that descriptions of national character were basically ‘unfounded stereotypes’ and didn’t even contain the ‘kernel of truth’ they are often credited with. And when we look more closely, a first indication to why Terracciano and colleagues might be right is of course the fact that countries aren’t homogenous in their opinions with regard to current debt crisis.

On the one hand, all across Europe, there are those who think the trouble that Greece is in, isn’t all of their own making and that the rest of the Union should be merciful against the Greeks. On the other side, we have those who say that letting Greece of the hook would constitute a dangerous precedent and debtors should repay their debts in principal. Both stances clearly refer to cultural values, so does culture play a role after all?

Research suggests it does. One’s personal values and one’s political preferences are related, but these values seem not distributed over national boundaries, but across the Union over culturo-ideological demarcations. Caprara, Schwartz, Vecchione and Barbaranelli (2008) examined voting intentions of Italians, boiled down to a choice between Silvio Berlusconi as the centre right candidate and Romani Prodi as the centre left candidate. They found that people who intended to vote for Prodi prioritized values such as universalism, benevolence and self-direction, while people who intended to vote for Berlusconi prioritized values such as security, power, achievement, tradition and conformity.

So, what does this mean? Is there a difference between personal and cultural values then? That is unlikely at best: we don’t attain our personal values out of a vacuum, nor are we truly autonomous beings that select or even create their own values based on our unique personalities. We are influenced by our cultural environments, that much is true. But we need to rethink what a cultural environment actually entails: not our nation, not even our region, but the communities we are brought up in, are our main reference for what is wrong and right.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: all of this does not provide any answers to the question of why the crisis occurred and why it occurred where it did. It may just show us why people react to it the way they did. Why they think we should be strict or lenient towards Greece. Political preferences are translations of personal, cultural values into the political domain. We fit our ideologies in our value domains, not the other way around. And maybe the same holds true for our preferences for economic policies…


• Caprara, G. V., Schwartz, S. H., Vecchione, M., & Barbaranelli, C. (2008). The personalization of politics: Lessons from the Italian case. European Psychologist, 13(3), 157-172. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.13.3.157

• Terracciano, A., Abdel-Khalek, A. M., Adam, N., Adamovova, L., Ahn, C. K., Ahn, H. N., … & Meshcheriakov, B. (2005). National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. Science, 310(5745), 96-100.

Understanding Pegida: fear for cultural change as political drive

The reaction in Germany to the rise of Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) was predominantly one of shock and shame. How could Germans, of all people, after their bitter history, fall for xenophobia? The indignation was prominent across the board, and everyone seemed to condemn this new movement, from conservatives to liberals, from industry leaders to religious clerics. So when Pegida began to crumble, mainly because of their leaders falling from grace, and their momentum petered out, there was a collective sigh of relief. It had been a flash in the pan after all. Or had it?

Seeing Pegida as a flash in the pan, or even as only xenophobic would be far too shallow an analysis. First of all: several polls (e.g. TNS Emnid in December 2014) showed that a substantial part of the Germans were sympathetic to the Pegida demonstrations, and many Germans (65% according to a TNS Infratest poll from 2014) thought that their governments didn’t address their concerns about immigration issues. More tangibly, the Pegida canididate in the local elections in Dresden surprisingly won some 10% of the votes in June 2015. So, even if Pegida as a movement proves to be only temporarily successful in mobilizing people, the undercurrent carrying it may well be more enduring.

So, even if Pegida as a movement proves to be only temporarily successful in mobilizing people, the undercurrent carrying it may well be more enduring.

And that undercurrent may also not be solely xenophobia, or to put it more mildly, concerns about the effects of immigration. To be fair, Pegida did stress their opposition versus Islam (it’s even part of their name), and the main concern speaking from their 2014 manifesto is clearly immigration in general, and that of Muslims more specifically. However, what also shines through is the fear of losing the own culture.

When the Fortuyn-revolt occurred in the Netherlands in the early 2000s, also labelled as populist and xenophobic, a similar analysis was made. And subsequently an unexpected and confronting question arose: what is this Dutch culture then? If a ‘receiving’ country wants its immigrants to integrate or assimilate, to what values should they actually assimilate? To the cosmopolitan and liberal values the Dutch were renowned for and in reality were only held by those with a higher-than-average education, or to the more conservative values people the middle classes adhered to? What followed was a fierce and sometimes derailing debate, that unearthed the lack of consensus on what is typical, essential for Dutch culture. Interestingly enough, stating this very point, caused the then princess Maxima of the Netherlands to receive an avalanche of criticism: how had she dared to say that ‘the Dutchman/Dutchwoman’ doesn’t exist?

Similarly, the Pegida manifesto reflects this confusion, presenting a hodgepodge of sometimes almost contradictory values. For instance, in the manifesto there is a clear objection against ‘gender mainstreaming’, while simultaneously ‘misogynic’ political ideologies are rejected. And a closer look at this manifesto, shows that although 14 of the 19 bullets are about what the movement is ‘for’, it actually consists of what they are against: cultural change.

Pegida is the manifestation of the fear that everything will change for the worse.

Pegida is the manifestation of the fear that everything will change for the worse. It’s the resentment against a European Union that meddles with the Reinheitsgebot (the traditional German regulations with regard to beer in order to maintain its purity), against laws that outlaw traditional sexism, against the changing of the look of their neighbourhoods, and against those who are seemingly responsible for this: the immigrants, ‘the elites’ who let those immigrants come without demanding them to assimilate, while demanding ‘politicall correctness’ and ‘tolerance’ from them, ‘the people’. And this picture doesn’t only apply for Pegida and for Germany, the sentiment is virtually the same for supporters of movements and parties such as the Dutch PVV, the Danish Folkeparti, or UKIP in England (e.g. Immerzeel et al., 2013; Webb & Bale, 2014). As the eminent political scientist Hanspeter Kriesi points out (Kriesi, 2010), there are new social cleavages now, that no longer (only) follow the traditional socio-economic lines of class, but those demarcated by cultural values.

There is nothing new about this analysis, and still sensible people are failing to understand and act upon it. To be clear, acting upon the fears of people like the supporters of Pegida, doesn’t mean implementing draconian immigration laws, such as in Denmark or the Netherlands. Acting upon such fears begins with unpackaging them first. This will show that contemporary xenophobia is actually a prime example of a correlation (the simultaneous occurrence of two events) falsely being seen (or presented) as a causal relation. The cultural changes the worried conservatives resent have occurred simultaneously with the advent of the most recent waves of immigration, but the immigrants have not caused these changes. Instead, it were the same factors that caused and allowed immigration, and that independently iniated the transformation of regional and national cultures to more streamlined, universal cultures: the gradual shift from a collectivist to an individualist society, from an agricultural to an industrial, from a society in which knowledge is hard to attain to one in which it is freely available. So in the end, maybe a German is to blame after all: Johannes Gutenberg.




Immerzeel, T., Jaspers, E., & Lubbers, M. (2013). Religion as Catalyst or Restraint of Radical Right Voting?. West European Politics36(5), 946-968. doi:10.1080/01402382.2013.797235

Kriesi, H. (2010). Restructuration of Partisan Politics and the Emergence of a New Cleavage Based on Values. West European Politics33(3), 673-685. doi:10.1080/01402381003654726

Webb, P., & Bale, T. (2014). Why Do Tories Defect to UKIP? Conservative Party Members and the Temptations of the Populist Radical Right. Political Studies62(4), 961-970. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12130


Turkey Elections 2015: the last elections, the elections after the last elections or the first?

You might think it’s quite late to give a prediction, just two days before the elections. That might be the case, but that doesn’t make it easy or even more accurate on beforehand. Sure, the general trends are clear: AKP will lose some, CHP and MHP will gain some, and HDP will be close and probably over the 10% threshold. If I were to guess, I’d personally say AKP will lose more than a little and would score some 35-38%, CHP would stay just under the 30% mark, because they loan out voters to the HDP; MHP would score just below the 20% mark, and the HDP would easily surpass the threshold and probably be closer to 15% than to 10%. I say would, because I don’t expect the outcome to reflect what people really vote.

That is a serious accusation to make, I know. But it is based on past experience, such as with the local elections in 2014. For instance, the way CHP got robbed of the municipality of Ankara, can only be described as daylight robbery, in which no less than the Interior Minister and the intelligence service (MIT) very blatantly manipulated the counting of the votes in the favor of the incumbent AKP mayor. And you don’t have to take my word for it, economist Erik Meyersson did a fine job uncovering the massive rigging by means of statistical analysis (see: But wouldn’t manipulations of votes on a national level show, because they wouldn’t be consistent with what polls predicted, you say? Alas, one of the many things we learned from the leaked tapes during the 17-25 December corruption saga: opinion polls are being manipulated by the state.

Make no mistake, Turkey is a de facto party state.

And the AKP is the state. Make no mistake, Turkey is a de facto party state. There is no separation whatsoever between the legislative and the executive powers, and truth be told, there never really was even before the AKP era. But the judiciary, however unworldly and unjust it sometimes was, provided some balance to the powers of the legislative. As did the army. Not exactly in line with what we would consider desirable in a liberal democracy, but effective in a sense. The Turkish armed forces seized power on three occasions (in 1960, 1970 and in 1980) and forced a government to resign in 1997.

For some AKP followers, their party is still repairing, or rather retaliating that last coup d’etat. And it was this reasoning that got them the support of self-announced liberals, while changing the constitution (which is in turn still the venomous inheritance of the 1980 coup), specifically to bring the judiciary under the control of the legislative powers in 2010. And that was the real end of the then admittedtly still imperfect and developing Turkish democracy.

Meanwhile the army had been stripped of its powers by means of what turned out to be a conspiracy of incredible proportions. And when I say that it turned out to be, I mean that anyone who wanted to see the truth from day one, did see right away that the charges were false and a mere pretense to topple the army. Meaning that the ones who didn’t identify the obvious, and again we have to point at the self-announced liberals, may rightly be accused of looking away.

 No one in their right mind would dare claim that there has been a fair election campaign or that there is a level playing field for the parties in it.

So, where does that leave us? Right here, right now, no one in their right mind would dare claim that there has been a fair election campaign or that there is a level playing field for the parties in it. The AKP has given new meaning to the notion of incumbency advantage, by using all of the state resources, from public transportation to state television for their own propaganda. Also, business conglomerates that are heavily linked to the AKP hegemony used their (media) power to their full extent, and those who are relatively neutral were strongarmed by the state into obedience.

 Claiming that AKP has support of half of the electorate, based on the 49,8% percentage they won in the 2011 election, is merely a show of ignorance.

Exactly like happened in 2011, a cynic might say. Yes, claiming that AKP has support of half of the electorate, based on the 49,8% percentage they won in that election, is indeed a show of ignorance. But, this time it’s even worse. This time the sworn to be impartial president of the republic of Turkey fully engaged in his party’s election campaign. And when I say fully, I mean fully, no holds barred. Breaking the constitution every single day, president Erdogan asked, demanded, compelled, threatened the electorate to give him the parliamentary power he needs to change the constitution, so he can become an executive type president. Every day the president went places, mostly under the pretext of opening some place or thing, and gave speeches about the godless CHP and HDP, about the small remnants of press that aren’t leashed, and about the foreign conspiracy against him and his reborn empire. And every day he seemed to get a little more agitated, because it became clearer and clearer that the chances that the HDP would surpass the 10% hurdle were still rising, and he couldn’t stop the AKP from eroding.

The Gezi uprising has taught people that the state is not almighty and that mobilizing dissent does have an effect.

(C) CC - photo from

(C) CC – photo from


There is hope. The Gezi uprising has taught people that the state is not almighty and that mobilizing dissent does have an effect. This time around, again bottom-up, or should we say grassroots-up, an organization has arisen to secure the ballots and the vote counting process in general, called Oy ve Ötesi (the Vote and Further). Ten thousands of not-partisan volunteers will monitor the vote counting and administrating process, thus minimizing the opprtunities for those who would want to manipulate. And that might be why this is not the last election, but maybe the first. We’ll see…

Rejhaneh Jabbari, hanged for killing her rapist, and her last words to her mother…

I don’t believe in deities, and as such would be considered a criminal myself in Iran. I do believe in justice and Rejhaneh Jabbari certainly wasn’t afforded it by the clerics that rule her country. That’s one reason for me not to believe in deities. Below you’ll find the translated transcript of her last will and testament sent to her mother.

English translation of Reyhaneh Jabbari’s will (provided by National Council of Resistance of Iran – NCRI)

Dear Sholeh, today I learned that it is now my turn to face Qisas (the Iranian regime’s law of retribution). I am hurt as to why you did not let me know yourself that I have reached the last page of the book of my life. Don’t you think that I should know? You know how ashamed I am that you are sad. Why did you not take the chance for me to kiss your hand and that of dad?

The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.

However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray. But give in to the fate and don’t complain. You know better that death is not the end of life.

You taught me that one comes to this world to gain an experience and learn a lesson and with each birth a responsibility is put on one’s shoulder. I learned that sometimes one has to fight. I do remember when you told me that the carriage man protested the man who was flogging me, but the flogger hit the lash on his head and face that ultimately led to his death. You told me that for creating a value one should persevere even if one dies.

You taught us that as we go to school one should be a lady in face of the quarrels and complaints. Do you remember how much you underlined the way we behave? Your experience was incorrect. When this incident happened, my teachings did not help me. Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law.

But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer. My treatment of the animals was interpreted as being inclined to be a boy and the judge didn’t even trouble himself to look at the fact that at the time of the incident I had long and polished nails.

How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing. On the first day that in the police office an old unmarried agent hurt me for my nails I understood that beauty is not looked for in this era. The beauty of looks, beauty of thoughts and wishes, a beautiful handwriting, beauty of the eyes and vision, and even beauty of a nice voice.
My dear mother, my ideology has changed and you are not responsible for it. My words are unending and I gave it all to someone so that when I am executed without your presence and knowledge, it would be given to you. I left you much handwritten material as my heritage.

However, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. I know you need time for this. Therefore, I am telling you part of my will sooner. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. I cannot write such a letter from inside the prison that would be approved by the head of prison; so once again you have to suffer because of me. It is the only thing that if even you beg for it I would not become upset although I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed.

My kind mother, dear Sholeh, the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. I don’t want my eye or my young heart to turn into dust. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.

The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.

Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants. I wanted to embrace you until I die. I love you.

April 1, 2014


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