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Da’wah, How Muslim Propagators Deceive the Infidels

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Da’wah is one of the three arms that operate the Islamic strategy, together with Jihad and Hijrah.

Among the three Da’wah is the most dangerous, just because Western culture does not understand. It is the stealth devise, a means to deceive and to mislead the infidels about the essence of Islam, its operational aims and strategies, introducing the nice face of Islam as a religion of peace and compassion.

The motive of Da’wah is religious: the strengthening and expansion of Islam, and it is based on the Qur’an commandments, which can be observed as Jihād al-Da’wah, the spreading of Islam among the infidels by peaceful propagating means. It is intended to changing the infidels’ minds and behavior and to subverting their mode of thinking. It is a cultural coercive strategy aimed at toppling Western democratic liberal regimes by eliminating their freedoms and by infiltrating Western technology and society’s fabrics and destroying them from within. Where Jihad works on the body, on the material structure, Da’wah works on the mental–spiritual side as a persuasion means; where Jihad operates to terrorize and intimidate, Da’wah aimed at deceiving, confusing, and misleading; where Jihad acts to submit, Da’wah paves the way to Islamize.

According to these lines, Jamal Badawi, one of the known Muslim propagandists in the US, wrote an e-mail to Robert Spencer, on February 14 2005. The aim was to prove that all verses of the Qur’an are peaceful, and that Islam promotes peace and it is against violence and wars:

“The Qur’an prohibits compulsion in religion [2:256]. It teaches the Oneness of God, acceptance and respect of all prophets [2:285], broad human brotherhood [49:13], acceptance of plurality [5:48; 11:118], universal justice and fair dealing [4:134, 5:8]. It demands just, kind and respectful treatment of those who co-exist peacefully with Muslims [60:8-9]. Peaceful dialogue with the People of the Book and the emphasis on common grounds with them is a repeated theme in the Qur’an [3:64; 29:46, 5:5].

This list sums up most of the contemporary Islamic propaganda in plenty internet sites and various publications. It is distinctive and highly definitive that Muslim propagators purposely quote verses from the Qur’an that were written in the early days of Islam at Mecca, where Muhammad was weak and his followers were few and vulnerable. These passages make Islam appear a bit compassionate and peaceful. However, the Islamic propaganda that claims that the Meccan verses are dominant in Islamic teaching, is either ignorant of actual Islamic doctrine and tidings, or it practices a sophisticated deception of Da’wah.

Well, the question is are these verses quoted above really mean what Badawi says? It is easy to refute his claims as a pure propagation by introducing the real meaning of the verses.

As about verse 2:256, “no compulsion in religion,” La Ikrāh fīl-Dīn. Probably there is no verse more frequently cited by contemporary Muslims propagators to mislead the infidels. Let’s read verse 2:256 in entirety:

There is no compulsion in religion. Truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in Allah, indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off.

This verse was given after the Badr War, in March 624. According to the most authoritative Muslim exegetes, there are the following explanations to the verse circumstances:

First, the cause of this verse was the expulsion of the Jewish tribe of Banu al-Nadir, and it has nothing to do with tolerance towards the other. The women of Ansar, Arabs who joined Islam in Medina, used to make a vow to convert their sons to Judaism if they lived. When the tribe of Banu al-Nadir was expelled from Medina, some children of the Ansar were among them, so their parents could not abandon them; hence Allah revealed: “There is no compulsion in religion…”

Second, according to Ibn Ishaq, in his Sīrat Rasûl Allāh, narrated Ibn Abbas: it was revealed with regard to a man from the tribe of Bani Salim whose two sons converted to Christianity but he was himself a Muslim. He told the Prophet: “Shall I force them to embrace Islam as they insist on Christianity”, hence Allah revealed this verse. But, continue Ibn Ishaq, it was abrogated by the verses of “fighting” the infidels, in Sûrat al-Fath, 48:16; Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:73; and Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:123.

Third, according to Ibn Kathir: Allah says: “There is no compulsion in religion”, meaning: do not force anyone to embrace Islam, because it is clear and its proofs and evidences are manifest. Whoever Allah guides and opens his heart to Islam has indeed embraced it with clear evidence. Whoever Allah misguides and blinds his heart cannot embrace Islam by force. Therefore, all people of the world should be called to Islam. If anyone of them refuses to do so, or refuses to pay the Jizyah, they should be fought till they are killed. This is the meaning of “compulsion.”

Fourth, according to Nahhas, with the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas: “scholars differed concerning 2:256. Some said it has been abrogated by Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:73, for the Prophet compelled the Arabs to embrace Islam and fought those that had no alternative but to surrender to Islam. Other scholars said that it has not been abrogated concerning the People of the Book. It is only the infidels who are compelled to embrace Islam, and upon them 9:73 applies. The Prophet said: I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. This Hadīth is taken from the words of Allah in Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:193. Allah sent Muhammad calling people to Him, showing the way to the truth… until the evidence of Allah’s truth became manifest … He ordered him to call people by the sword…”

Fifth, according to Suyuti, verse 2:256 was not abrogated by 9:73, but this is a case of delaying or postponing the command to fight the infidels until the Muslims become strong. This view exactly supports the issue: in Mecca Muhammad was weak with few followers, and he could not resist his enemies. From here the mild pronouncements concerning fighting his rivals. However, in Medina Muhammad became strong, and he ordered the Believers to fight the infidels.

However, most important to understand the meaning of verse 2:256, is by reading the following verse 2:257, which is connected to it. This sums up the entire issue:

Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light, and as to those who disbelieve, their guardian is Satan who takes them out of the light into the darkness. They are the inmates of the fire, in it they shall abide forever.    

Concluding the issue, one has to look at the context, to realize there is nothing compassionate and peace-loving here. No tolerance and no accepting other religions as legitimate. Verse 2:257 confirms that 2:256 prove, by definition and along its entire Scripture Islam is ethnocentric, racist and homophobic.

As about 2:285, in which Badawi says it “teaches the oneness of God, acceptance and respect of all prophets.” Well, Badawi is misleading as a propagator. The verse says:

The Apostle believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in Allah and his angels and his book and his Apostles. We make no difference between any of his Apostles, and they say: we hear and obey, our Allah (emphasis is mine).

That is, there is no pluralism and respect of the other. It is a firm belief in Allah alone and in Islam as the only legitimate religion. Moreover, this is the proof how Islam is compulsive and abusive. According to Islamic Din al-Fitrah, all human being are Muslims from the beginning of history to the end of the world. All Jewish and Christian prophets are Muslims and all submit to Allah. It is totally opposite from pluralism and tolerance. This is not exactly what Badawi says when he deceives the infidels with his pure propagation. Islam is in fact ethnocentric and racist.

As about 49:13, in which Badawi says “broad human brotherhood.” Well, it is not exactly as he says. The verse declares:

O people! We created you from a male and a female, and made you races and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous (emphasis is mine).

The verse refers to the Arabs alone. It is clear from the next verse (49:14):

The Desert-Arabs say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not believed; but say, ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered into your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish any of your deeds. Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

There is absolutely no “broad human brotherhood,” but submission to Islam alone. On the contrary, by definition and along its entire Scripture, Islam is ethnocentric, racist and homophobic.

As about 5:48 and 11:118, in which Badawi says “acceptance of plurality.” The analysis is far away from what he says: verse 5:48 declares:

And we revealed to you the Book [Qur’an], with truth, confirming the Scripture that preceded it, and superseding it. So judge [Muhammad] between them according to what Allah revealed, [meaning the superiority of the Qur’an] and do not follow their desires if they differ from the truth that has come to you. For each of you we have assigned a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He could have made you a single nation, but He tests you through what He has given you. So compete in righteousness. To Allah is your return, all of you; then He will inform you of what you had disputed (emphasis is mine).

It is also clear from the next verse (5:49):

And judge between them according to what Allah revealed, and do not follow their desires. And beware of them, lest they lure you away from some of what Allah has revealed to you. But if they turn away, know that Allah intends to strike them with some of their sins. In fact, a great many people are corrupt (emphasis is mine).

To be sure, verse 5:47 says:

So let the people of the Gospel rule according to what Allah revealed in it. Those who do not rule according to what Allah revealed are the sinners.

Verse 11:118 declares:

Had your Lord willed, He could have made humanity one community, but they continue to differ (emphasis is mine).

This is not a declaration of plurality, but differentiation: those who are not Muslims continue to differ and that is why Allah has not made humanity one community. A proof comes from verses 11:117, and 11:119:

Your Lord would never destroy the towns wrongfully, while their inhabitants are righteous.

Except those on whom your Lord has mercy-for that reason He created them. The Word of your Lord is final: “I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, altogether.”

These verses do not show any pluralism. On the contrary, by definition and along its entire Scripture, Islam is ethnocentric, racist and homophobic.

As about verses 4:134, 5:8, in which Badawi says “universal justice and fair dealing.” It is important to show these have nothing to do with the subject matter.

Whoever desires the reward of this world with Allah is the reward of this world and the next. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.

This verse has nothing to do with “universal justice and fair dealing.” It says: the Muslims loyal believers will receive Allah’s rewards in this world and the next. That is all. Moreover, the verses before and after clear the issue:

132. To Allah belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Manager.

133. If He wills, He can do away with you, O people, and bring others. Allah is Able to do that.

135. O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah takes care of both. So do not follow your desires, lest you swerve. If you deviate, or turn away, then Allah is Aware of what you do.

As about 5:8. It relates only to the Muslims.

O you who believe! Be upright to Allah, witnessing with justice; and let not the hatred of a certain people [not Muslims] prevent you from acting justly [to your fellow believers]. Adhere to justice, for that is nearer to piety; and fear Allah. Allah is informed of what you do (emphasis is mine).

The verses before and after prove this issue clearly:

And Remember Allah’s blessings upon you, and His covenant which He covenanted with you; when you said, “We hear and we obey.” And remain conscious of Allah, for Allah knows what the hearts contain.

Allah has promised those who believe and work righteousness: they will have forgiveness and a great reward (emphasis is mine).

Concluding these, by definition and along its entire Scripture, Islam is ethnocentric, racist and homophobic.

As about 60:8-9, in which Badawi says Islam “demands just, kind and respectful treatment of those who co-exist peacefully with Muslims.” One can only wonder how Badawi interpret these verses. The verses are as follows:

As for those who have not fought against you for your religion, nor expelled you from your homes, Allah does not prohibit you from dealing with them kindly and equitably. Allah loves the equitable.

But Allah prohibits you from befriending those who fought against you over your religion, and expelled you from your homes, and aided in your expulsion. Whoever takes them for friends-these are the wrongdoers.

These verses prove that those who resist Islamic coercive religion and prefer not to become Muslims, their fate is to be fought. Islam is ethnocentric and warmongering.

As about 3:64; 29:46, 5:5, in which Badawi says Islam advocates for “peaceful dialogue with the People of the Book and the emphasis on common grounds with them is a repeated theme in the Qur’an.” However, Badawi reveals only a small portion of the truth. The verses are as follows:

3:64. Say, “O People of the Book, come to terms common between us and you: that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate nothing with Him, and that none of us takes others as lords besides Allah.” And if they turn away, say, “Bear witness that we have submitted.”

5:5. Today all good things are made lawful for you. And the food of those given the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. So are chaste believing women, and chaste women from the people who were given the Scripture before you, provided you give them their dowries, and take them in marriage, not in adultery, nor as mistresses. But whoever rejects faith, his work will be in vain, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.

29:46. And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in the best manner possible, except those who do wrong among them. And say, “We believe in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed to you; and our Allah and your Allah is One; and to Him we are submissive” (all emphases are mine).

According to these verses it is not a peaceful dialogue but a coercive one: if Jews and Christians accept Allah as their only deity, and associate nothing with him, then there is a cooperation. However, if they stick to their God then they are sinners. Even for women it is one-sided: Muslims can take Jewish and Christian women but not vice-versa. But the issue is much more complicated. Even in their prayer, in Sūrat al-Fātihah, verse 7, Muslims disassociate themselves from the Jews, who have gone astray and Christians, on whom there is the wrath of Allah.

Unfortunately, Judaism and Christianity are rejected and not acceptable to Allah, after he has sent his final messenger to the entire world. Jews are sinners and transgressors and have therefore forfeited their status as the chosen people. They are evil incarnate like devils, since they have killed all the prophets. They have turned into monkeys and pigs destined to suffer in Hellfire forever.

As for Christianity, it is a corrupted and distorted religion based on myths and legends. Jesus is a Muslim Prophet who asserts that the foundations of Christianity, like the Trinity, are false, and that Christ’s Divinity is a blasphemy. Christians are infidels and blasphemers and have invented lies about Allah by ascribing partners to Allah, which is the worst of sins. For that, they are condemned forever to Hell. Jesus will come back and destroy Christianity by breaking the Cross, and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them. Indeed. On the Day of Resurrection, Jews and Christians would take the place of Muslims in Hell.

For Badawi’s sake, here is an up-to-date version of Islamic behavior concerning the non-Muslims: fighting is prescribed upon the believers (2:216). It is Jihad in the cause of Allah (2:244 and other forty verses) against the powers of Satan (4:76), the infidels and the hypocrites (9:5; 9:73; 66:9), and the People of the Book (9:29). The order for the Muslims is to smite their necks (47:4; 8:12) and to strike terror in their hearts (3:151; 8:60), including the People of the Book (59:2), for the hereafter world (4:74). For that, the Jihadi Muslims will earn paradise (3:195: 9:72: 13:22-23; 47:4-6), and their reward will be black-eyed virgins (44:51-54; 52:17-20; 56:22-24), and the utmost tiding is that they are not dead, but alive, staying beside Allah (2:154; 3:169).

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Anatomy of right-wing populism

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Twenty-five years ago, Fareed Zakaria introduced the concept of illiberal democracy: he revealed how some legitimately elected governments undermine liberal democratic principles by eroding the rule of law and the protection of fundamental freedoms. He predicted that this new form of regime would significantly damage the status of our democracies if not appropriately challenged. After almost two decades, the 2014 speech of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán marked the official birth of illiberal democracy in modern Europe, with a discourse that echoes the 1997 article. Except that it is the exact opposite of what Zakaria hoped to hear.

Orbán’s rhetoric and attitude are supported and endorsed by several populist leaders across Europe and beyond. What the Hungarian PM represents is the result of a long democratic recession that Larry Diamond estimated to start in the early 2000s in continents such as Asia and Africa. It appears that it is now the turn of Europe, as we can deduct from the rising popularity of multiple anti-establishment and nationalist parties across the continent. Despite populism not being exclusively a right-wing phenomenon, most of its support in the EU is represented by radical right parties that are often Eurosceptic.

This aspect is also confirmed by the outcome of the last European Parliament election in 2019. The results indicate a nationalist trend and a shift from the centre-right to the far-right within the populist vote: the relative populist electoral strength was highest in two European parliament groups, namely Identity and Democracy (ID) (including Salvini’s League and Le Pen’s National Rally) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) (including Brothers of Italy and Law and Justice in Poland), which are both very critical of the union and formed exclusively by right-wing (or even far-right in some cases) populist and nationalist parties. These two groups, albeit not achieving the brilliant results they were expecting, have won 135 seats in the European Parliament, and their main parties happened to be very strong nationally. Considering that the historic European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) have lost 65 seats combined from the previous election, it is not a bad outcome overall for right-wing populism.

In 2017, Bridgewater’s populism index in developed countries revealed that this phenomenon was at its highest rate since 1930s. In addition, the think tank Timbro estimated that more than a quarter of European electors vote for authoritarian populist parties, with Poland and Hungary among the four countries with most support. Political scientist Cas Mudde observed instead that the average support for these political forces is the highest since 1940s, with over 20% since 2010. Slightly different estimations are calculated but nevertheless this shows to what extent have these parties grown in recent years. One might consider these factors as alarming, since many scholars claim the expansion of populism and nationalism could eventually topple liberal democracies and favour authoritarian regimes, as already occurred in history.

What do we mean by right-wing populism?

First and foremost, before getting into the details of right-wing populism, an overall definition and brief explanation of populism must be provided. Mudde defines populism as an “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’”. Populists also believe that all members of the ‘pure’ group have the same aims and abide by the same principles, hence they do not accept a pluralist society consisting of diverse needs and concerns. Some of them also claim that this perceived faction of ‘the people’ comprises only of one ethnicity, class and religion.

Populist parties no longer seek out compromise and consensus through tolerant and democratic practices, but instead try to overthrow what they believe is a corrupt and broken system. In this way they undermine democratic institutions such as courtrooms and media, while attacking any aspect of society that opposes the common will of ‘the people’. They also refuse the search for a balance between the needs of the majority and the minority, as they claim that disregarding the interests of the majority is a violation of democracy, thus supporting “a form of democratic extremism or, better said, of illiberal democracy”.

Moreover, the cult of the leader is crucial in the populist world. This may sound obvious because a charismatic figure is always needed in politics in order to move masses and influence opinions, regardless of the political party. However, populist leaders declare they embody the will of the people and often appeal to the worst instincts of the population, manipulating fears and anxiety to increase their support. As politics is not only made of rational thinking, but also emotions and sentiments, they interpretate fear and desperation with (sometimes false) claims and simplistic solutions to contrast complex issues.

Populist groups are usually considered ‘catch-all’ movements, meaning that they follow the popular support rather than choosing a specific side. However, it could be discussed that this wide definition of populism is reductive. In fact, French economist Thomas Piketty deems it as a generalisation and refrains from using this word since there is a variety within that group: any party criticizing the current establishment is labelled as ‘populist’ without differentiating the diverse forms of this phenomenon. For instance, right-wing populists are usually hostile to immigration and minority rights, whereas left-wing populists are often culturally inclusive.

It could be further discussed that the argument about the people versus the elite tends to be overused as we have cases in which the political system is widely corrupt, and thus brings to legitimate concern and popular discontent to demand for more transparency and equality, such as in Greece, Spain and Italy. The movements that have emerged in these countries (Syriza, Podemos and 5 Star Movement respectively) showed a different approach to politics in comparison to prominent right-wing populist parties, as they have not undermined or taken over democratic institutions when elected to govern their respective countries.

Nonetheless, the majority of European populist parties have right-wing tendencies. This type of nationalist populism (also defined as ‘national populism’ by British academics Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin) is mainly based on xenophobic and protectionist sentiments, in addition to be against the neo-liberal establishment. Right-wing populist parties tend to regard nationality as a rigid and unmodifiable homogenous identity (mistakenly connected only to ethnicity), and they are therefore against any form of pluralism, whether it is based on culture or sexual orientation. Although some national populists consider themselves patriots defending their sovereignty, it could be argued otherwise. Italian scholar Maurizio Viroli observes in his book that the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are often misused: while the former mostly reflects a protectionist and isolationist approach (rather than sovereignty), the latter is also based on the respect of other cultures.

Furthermore, most right-wing populist parties are willing to live in a democratic context, but they are against the liberal values of present-day democracies, such as media freedom and minority rights. As a matter of fact, they believe they represent the true nature of democracy, which focuses on the needs and interests of the majority that felt excluded and neglected by the ‘corrupt elite’ in recent years. Nevertheless, by emphasising the importance of the majority at all costs, they end up discriminating who is not part of ‘the people’, hence appearing to be a regressive and undemocratic response to a legitimate concern.

What are the causes of the global rise of populism?

Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris suggest that the rise of populism is mainly due to economic inequality, which was partly caused by phenomena such as globalisation and austerity. The shift from the industrial age to what Piketty describes as a “globalised era of hypercapitalism and digital technology” has created high levels of inequity around the world. Piketty also argues that the concentration of wealth is disproportionate because the ratio of economic growth is lower than the so-called ‘return on invested capital’, hence much of the resources end up in the hands of a microscopic part of the population. Indeed, the latest Credit Suisse report indicates a great disparity in the world, with 1.1% of the population owning almost half of the global wealth (45.8%), and the bottom 55% of the population possessing only 1.3% of the total resources.

While globalisation had its own advantages (such as giving work to millions of people in emerging economies), it has also displaced many low skilled jobs and produced economic stagnation in developed countries. This has resulted in an ever-increasing wealth gap; this disparity, in turn, has created underserved communities who began to distrust the global system. Already twenty years ago economist Joseph Stiglitz (in his book Globalization and Its Discontents) warned us that rising inequality would pave the way for the rise of anti-establishment parties, such as nationalists and populists.

The 2008 financial crash further deepened the economic gap: the main consequences of the so-called ‘Great Recession’ have been high levels of unemployment, growing inequality and impoverishment of the working and lower middle classes. Moreover, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the austerity policies implemented by the European Union, including tax raises and spending cuts, exacerbated the situation. The austere measures were in fact not combined with effective social protection systems, hence degrading the conditions of workers as well. This circumstance thus led the EU into an identity crisis, which we are still experiencing today with the rise of several Eurosceptic parties. 

Some might discuss that this is connected to the decline of liberal democracy, as the European Union is mainly based on liberal values. Mudde observes that the crisis of democracy results from the failure of the liberal establishment in the political system, and not from several external challengers trying to undermine it. In fact, he also claims that “contemporary populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism”. The fact that the liberal system could be or become undemocratic is not unrealistic as it sounds, especially if we consider that in history liberalism was not always applied in democratic contexts, such as in many European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The democratic crisis was also caused by the deterioration of traditional parties that lost touch with the lower middle and working classes, which have stopped trusting a system that has sold them false promises and has not met their needs. As a matter of fact, the level of trust towards parties across the EU has been in a declining trend in the last decade (just over 20% in 2019). This is also demonstrated by factors such as lower electoral turnout and decreasing participation in political activities, but also by the growing interest towards non-traditional parties. This aspect is critical because once you cease to identify in a political movement, you automatically find refuge in national identity, ideology or religion.

Furthermore, the advent of right-wing populism has cultural determinants as well: the 2015 migration crisis has indeed displaced millions of asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of which coming from Muslim countries. Their religion is a key aspect because right-wing populists have increasingly exhibited xenophobic attitudes towards Islam, which is seen as a civilisational threat, particularly after 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. Whereas there is no justification for such discriminatory behaviours, raising a question about EU’s handling of the migrant crisis may be a legitimate concern. According to Article 79 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the union “shall develop a common immigration policy aimed at ensuring, at all stages, the efficient management of migration flows”. It could be discussed whether some member states have not put enough effort and resources to cooperate and find a common solution, but it is also true that the EU could have anticipated the crisis by implementing appropriate immigration controls and reception systems. In fact, Mudde acknowledges that migration policies were often “undemocratic in spirit”, meaning that they were not the outcome of collective discussions and decisions taken together with the population. Hence, right-wing populist parties have exploited this crisis to criticize the EU with improbable scapegoats: for instance, describing migration from Africa and the Middle-East as an invasion or claiming that NGOs and liberal institutions are plotting for an ‘ethnic replacement’ of the European people.

Conclusion

As a result, right-wing populists (or at least most of them) reject liberal democratic values rather than democracy in its entirety: those values that are entrenched in the EU and other international institutions. However, the populist response does not seem to respect EU fundamental goals and values, nor basic democratic principles. The main issue is the approach used to criticize the liberal system. Populist movements tend to appeal to the fears and anxieties of the voters to attack the elites, which are perceived as always corrupt and distant from the population. This cannot be accepted as a fair argument, because, as we cannot generalise that all populists are fascists or xenophobic, then we cannot assert that the so-called elite is all corrupt either. As a result, neither the growing populist sentiment nor the liberal establishment are to be completely eradicated, but rather challenged and improved through collective discussions and decisions.

Moreover, the rise of right-wing populism is not the consequence of a single issue, but it is driven by a combination of mutually reinforcing economic and cultural aspects (from unemployment and wealth inequality to racism and xenophobia). These factors are the result of a series of events that affected our society in the last decades, such as globalisation, the Great Recession, the 2015 migrant crisis and the decline of traditional political parties. It would be thus too simple to only blame the vulnerabilities of the liberal establishment or the opportunism of populist leaders, as both approaches have had negative repercussions on the public.

On the one hand, populists have gained popularity due to genuine issues that liberal institutions have failed to deal with. On the other hand, they have also promoted ‘culturally exclusive’ behaviours (racism, xenophobia etc.) through demagogy and propaganda, often accompanied by the spread of disinformation. Nonetheless, the liberal system has perhaps not effectively dealt with crucial challenges and has showed weaknesses that exacerbated the socio-economic crisis we are witnessing, hence allowing right-wing populist parties to flourish. The more the people have felt left behind by the system, the more they have found refuge in national identity and intolerant ideologies. Therefore, the first step to take in order to explain and fight populism would be to bear responsibility for the inequal policies implemented through the years that have left many communities marginalised and prone to vote for anti-establishment parties. A card that does not seem to have been played well (or at all), since right-wing populist parties are increasingly on the rise in many countries around the world.

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Education needs a transformation. The same holds true with how we monitor our commitments

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

Education is the key to unlock our development challenges. Yet, millions of children and young people are left behind, unable to fulfil their potential and prepare themselves for the future. In many countries, the pandemic has struck off the modest gains of the past 20 years for the generation most affected by school closures, with long-term consequences. This week, the Transforming Education Summit  comes to an end. The world’s education leaders have gathered over the last few days in New York, invited by the UN Secretary-General as part of Our Common Agenda, to debate solutions to put education back on the right track. 

The Summit has come at a time when, according to UNESCO’s latest figures, there are an estimated 244 million children and young people across the world still deprived of any form of formal schooling. Over 600 million children and adolescents are either not completing basic education or do not acquire basic skills that would help them prepare for the future. With only seven years to go until the deadline to reach SDG 4, the global education goal, they are lacking the support to access a high-quality and fulfilling education. Compounding the problem is the fact that governments in the poorer countries appear to be cutting their education budgets

The Transforming Education Summit marks a key moment. But as leaders declare their determination to improve education in their countries, we must review how to translate these words into the concrete targets, so that these promises do not ring empty, and how to monitor progress towards them. While the Summit has debated solutions to make schools safe, healthy, connected and green, countries should express the level of their ambition through national targets for each of these commitments to spur action from now to 2030. 

The issues rising to the surface during the discussions and consultation around the summit are all critical. One in six children live in areas impacted by conflict that also destroys their education opportunities. Schools are being bombed and children and teachers are killed daily. Only last year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on the protection of education in conflict zones. But more must be done to protect the education of affected children and young people. 

The compound effects of COVID-19, a war in Europe that disrupted grain production and exports, rising inflation and a looming economic recession, mean that the world is edging closer towards a food crisis. When schools closed their doors with little to no notice due to the pandemic, millions of students were cut off not only from their education, but also from one of their principal food sources. An estimated 39 billion school meals have been missed since April 2020. It is not only children’s physical development that was impacted. Without food, children simply do not have the energy to concentrate, and their education outcomes are therefore significantly worse. 

Another, equally significant impact of the pandemic was bringing learning from classroom to home. Laptops, computers, and iPads replaced pencils, erasers and pens as back-to-school essentials– for the lucky few: because this shift was reliant on all children having access to the technology required to learn from home. Unfortunately, with two-thirds of 3–17-year-olds unable to access the internet at home, this was far from the case. These children were left behind in systems whose efforts to catch up with the times simply failed them. As with many crises, this also predominantly affected children in disadvantaged homes and communities. The pandemic shed light on the foundations of education systems, which fuel exclusion and inequality. 

Finally, with almost two billion people affected by floods, droughts and storms every year, these devastatingly real consequences that climate change is unleashing on our planet are already being felt, though not equally by all. Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Global South, whose education opportunities are also poorer, further compromising their ability to adapt. At the same time, education systems in the Global North and in countries contributing most to global warming are yet to demonstrate how their schools will serve their climate change mitigation efforts.

Agreeing to the actions is one step, monitoring them is crucial to provide accountability and drive ambition. UNESCO has started a process where each country sets their own realistic ‘benchmarks’ in the road to achieving SDG 4. About 90% of countries have heeded this call and established national targets which they reasonably believe can be reached by 2030, in the hopes that this will accelerate progress. We encourage countries to also set national targets for 2025 and 2030 against each of the global initiatives to be tabled at the Summit. These will represent the transformation countries want to see. 

The follow-up mechanism after the Summit, based on national target setting, will be critical to convert leaders’ statements into improved education results for children and youth, as this call for action implores countries to do. The solutions to be agreed at the Summit must be appropriately monitored if we are to come out of this global education emergency. 

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New Social Compact

Our Case for Investment in Education is Our Case for Humanity

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A 14-year-old girl works on a school assignment at home in the Central Java Province of Indonesia. © UNICEF/Jiro Ose

As world leaders gather at this year’s UN General Assembly and work to make good on commitments outlined at the Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit, we are calling on all of them to put education – especially for the 222 million crisis-impacted children that are in need of urgent education support – at the top of the international agenda.

Investing in education means investing in humanity. It means investing in a peaceful and prosperous future. It means investing in human rights and our global promise to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, especially our goal of quality education for all (SDG4).  

From a 50,000-foot perspective, investing in education means investing in strong nations and in resilient economies for generations to come.   

As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) launched our Case for Investment and 2023-2026 Strategic Plan during this year’s General Assembly.

Our case for investment is our case for building peace where there is war, prosperity where there is poverty, and hope where there is despair. Our case for investment is our case for realizing 222 Million Dreams for the children and youth impacted by conflict, climate change, forced displacement and other protracted crises.

From our very human vantage point, this support is ensuring refugee girls like Bchiote and Janat Ara are able to go to school to develop to their full potentials and become productive contributors to their society. ECW works through a holistic, whole-of-child approach. It’s not just about books and classrooms – because all too often education goes beyond learning in crises: education is also lifesaving and life-sustaining. This is why ECW interventions embrace a broad spectrum of support, ranging from providing safe and protective learning spaces to mental health and psycho-social support; from providing school feeding to helping build disaster preparedness in the face of the climate crisis.

Addressing the Education Crisis

Today we have a perfect storm of a global education crisis coinciding with a global funding crisis. The solution is to scale-up funding to education. From there, all else can be achieved. Without education, all else is elusive – whether it is human rights or the sustainable development goals. It all starts with an education.

It’s hard to believe that even today, education in emergencies and protracted crises only accounts for approximately 2% to 4% of global humanitarian funding. And while we have seen a noticeable positive trend in commitments, funding appeals have skyrocketed to more than US$2.9 billion in 2021, compared to US$1.4 billion in 2020. The value of 222 million children and youth enduring conflicts, climate disasters and forced displacement is priceless and never too costly. They are our investment in humanity – theirs and our own.

The world is getting hotter, more crowded, more violent and more inhumane by the minute. By investing in education, we are removing the dark veil of inaction and inequality that has stripped millions of the world’s most vulnerable children and adolescents of their basic human rights.

Most concerning, we seem to be back-sliding on our commitments to ensure quality education for all. When ECW was formed in 2016, approximately 75 million crisis-impacted children were in need of educational support. Recent analysis indicates that number has nearly tripled to 222 million today, including 78 million who are out of school entirely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the global learning crisis. In 2020 and 2021, 147 million children missed over half of in-person instruction, and as many as 24 million learners may never return to school, according to the United Nations.

Transformational Approaches

As we grapple with war in Ukraine, the spectre of famine across much of the Sahel, armed conflicts, massive displacement and the truly apocalyptic impacts of the climate crisis, we are faced with tough choices in aligning humanitarian, development and private sector funding.

As a crosscutter that delivers returns far beyond the classroom, education has a tremendous return on investment.

For every dollar spent on education we receive $2.80 in return. And the World Bank estimates that “limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” 

We must take a transformational approach in our delivery of this support.

One-off responses are no longer enough. Working in silos is no longer viable. Now it is about speed and quality. It is about crisis-sensitive development approaches to education. With US$1.5 billion, ECW can provide 20 million children with holistic education supports. This doesn’t just mean building schools, it means taking a holistic approach and bringing all partners together to providing protection and psychosocial services, gender equality, teacher training, learning materials, school feeding programmes, tests and exams showing advanced learning outcomes, early childhood education and an array of supports that provides whole-of-child solutions to a whole-of-society problem.

Through its leadership of the G7, Germany has stepped up to put education first in its humanitarian spending, with over €300 million in funding to ECW and significant contributions to our partners across the globe.

This support has solidified ECW’s position as a model for UN reform. To date, we have mobilized close US$1.1 billion through our donors, allowing us to reach 7 million children in just five years of operation, and more than 30 million through our COVID-19 responses.

The private sector is joining in. The LEGO Foundation recently announced significant new funding to Education Cannot Wait and other key education initiatives.

Others must stand and be counted. In the 21st Century we stand at a crossroads. We have choices to make.

Do we invest in the young generation or do we ignore their most fundamental right to be educated? Do we invest in the 222 million children and adolescents whose only hope left is that of an education, or do we leave them behind?

The choice we make will determine the future for generations to come. Let us make the right choice. Fund education. Invest in humanity.

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