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Abrogation in Islam: the Uniqueness of Duality

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Jamal Badawi, concludes his propagating claims in his e-mail to Robert Spencer, on February 14 2005, by declaring: “Those who erroneously claimed that all such definitive verses have all been ‘abrogated’ by what they called ‘the verse of the sword’ were mistaken and failed to give any definitive evidence of their claims.

There is no single verse in the Qur’an properly interpreted in its context and historical circumstances that ever allowed the Muslim to fight non-Muslims simply because they are non-Muslims…”

Well, even if Badawi ignores the 109 verses that call for violence of Jihad and slaughtering against the infidels and hundreds of verses that call for incitement and hatred against the other, he still deceives and misleads in his propagation. Contrary to his words, the mild verses that call for avoidance and against retaliation are all from the Meccan period and were all abrogated, nullified and rendered void when Muhammad became strong and victorious at Medina. Western politicians, members of the academia and the media are not only unaware and perhaps ignorant of this reality, just because they don’t learn, but at the same time disseminate, intentionally or unintentionally, the tidings of the Islamic propaganda.

When one opens the Qur’an, he sees at the top of the page in brackets the words Makki or Madani, meaning Sûrah from Meccan period or Medinan period. This differentiation is according to Islamic exegesis, since the Qur’an is organized neither chronologically nor topically but in order of the length of the Sûwar: from longest to shortest. The line of differentiation was in September 622, when Muhammad ran away from Mecca and went to Yathrib (later called Medina, or Madinat al-Nabī). This event was so significant in Muslim history that it is called Hijrah, meaning emigration, but also ‘separation,’ ‘breaking of relations.’

Most importantly, it marks the beginning of the Muslim Calendar. This is something to bear in mind concerning Islamic doctrine and teaching. Muhammad began his prophecy from year 610 in Mecca. The total majority, 90 Sûwar of the Qur’an, out of 114, are from Meccan period. Yet, Islamic exegetes preferred the Hijrah as the founding event of Islamic history. The reason is clear: at Mecca, after 12 years of preaching Muhammad had a total 80 believers and the Muslims were weak and persecuted. Only at Medina, Muhammad became the leader of a religion, a military hero who fought his enemies at the battleground and won over. The Medinan Sûwar, only 24 in number, reflect this reality, being much more belligerent and warmongering, and the Calendar emphasizes this reality: they are more important.

However, from Islamic perspective, it was essential to find out the exact chronology and the historical settings of the Qur’an Sûwar, as the order of their revelation is not known from reading the Qur’an. This problem was recognized by early Muslim scholars who devoted much attention to it. They have investigated this realm and developed it almost as a science called Asbāb al-Nuzûl, “the causes of descend,” the circumstances and reasons of revelation of the Qur’an’s Sûwar.

For the Muslims the Qur’an is miraculous (I’jāz) and has been revealed for all times and situations from the beginning of history to the end of the world. However, the many repetitions in the Qur’an, the arbitrary order, the mixture of styles and genres are indicative of human process in its creation. The Qur’an being collated piecemeal, still exacerbates the determination of the chronology of the verses and their orderly appearance. From here the principle of abrogation (al-Nāsikh wal-Mansûkh) has developed. The Arabic words ‘Nāsikh’ and ‘Mansûkh’ are derived from ‘n.s.kh.’, means ‘to abolish, to replace, to withdraw, to abrogate’. It appears four times in the Qur’an.

Arthur Jeffery explains: The Qur’an is unique among sacred scriptures in teaching a doctrine of abrogation according to which later pronouncements of the Prophet abrogate, i.e.: declare null and void, his earlier pronouncements. The importance of knowing which verses abrogate others has given rise to the Qur’anic science known as ‘Nāsikh wa-Mansûkh,’ i.e. the Abrogator and the Abrogated. So, rather than attempting to explain away the inconsistencies in passages giving regulations for the Muslim community, Qur’an scholars and jurists came to acknowledge the differences while arguing that the latest verse on any controversial subject abrogates all earlier verses that contradicted it.

According to a Hadīth: the Messenger of Allah abrogated some of his commands by others, just as the Qur’an abrogates some part of it with the other. Muhammad was accustomed to stating something to his followers with the claim that it was revealed to him from Allah, then later on he would change it and tells them that Allah had invalidated it. The Qur’an is confusing and there are revelations which might have been forgotten, changed or eliminated. There is no agreement even to which was the first Sûrah to be revealed to Muhammad (Sûrat al-A’laq, 96 or Sûrat al-Muddaththir, 74). One example of the jumbled chronology is that Sûwar 2:193 and 2:216, 2:217 were revealed just after Muhammad arrived in Medina, about six years before Sûwar 2:190–2:192 were revealed. Yet Sûrah 2:193 was inserted to follow 2:190-192.

What are the Qur’anic sources of abrogation?

When we cancel a message, or throw it into oblivion, we replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things? (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:106).

When we replace a message with another, and Allah knows best what he reveals, they say: you have made it up. Yet, most of them do not know (Sûrat al-Nahl, 16:101).

Allah abrogates or confirms whatsoever he will, for he has with him the Book of the Books (Sûrat al-Ra’d, 13:39).

If we pleased we could take away what we have revealed to you. Then you will not find anyone to plead for it with us (Sûrat Bani Isrā’īl, 17:86).

There is also references in the Hadīth:

“The Prophet said, ‘If I take an oath and later find something else better than that, then I do what is better and expiate my oath'” (Sahīh Bukhāri, 7:427).

“The Prophet said, ‘It is a bad thing that some of you say, ‘I have forgotten such-and-such verse of the Qur’an.’ For indeed, I have been caused to forget it. So you must keep on reciting the Qur’an because it escapes from the hearts of men faster than a runaway camel'” (Sahīh Bukhāri, 6:550).

The assertion of the scholar Ali Dashti is explains the problems:

“It must always be borne in mind that most of the Qur’anic laws and ordinances were formulated in response to random incidents and petitions from aggrieved persons. There are inconsistencies in them and in the reasons that there are abrogating and abrogated ordinances….

Muslim exegetes agreed that Muhammad was prepared to change his mind, vows, and rules according to the circumstances. Ahmad von Denffer, a German converted to Islam exegete, summarizes the issue that the knowledge of al-‘Nāsikh wal-Mansûkh bears important perspectives: It is concerned with the correct and exact application of the laws of Allah; it is one of the important pre-conditions for interpretation (Tafsīr) of the Qur’an and the application of the Islamic law (Sharī’ah); it sheds light on the historical development of the Islamic legal code; and it helps to understand the immediate meaning of the verses concerned.

According to the narration of Ibn `Abbas, one of the most acclaimed transmitter of the Qur’an and the Hadīth:

“Sometimes the revelation used to descend on the Prophet during the night and then he forgot it during daytime, thus Allah sent down this verse’ [2:106]. Such behavior led the infidels to say that Muhammad was preaching contradictory and opposite commands. He does not receive inspiration from Allah, for he changes his mind whenever he wishes. Thus, this verse was written… Muhammad used to order something and then change it the next day whenever he found it too difficult to be implemented. Lastly, Muhammad did not want to embarrass the men around him who memorized his sayings.”

Yusuf Ali said that Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:106 means that Allah’s message from age to age is always the same, but its form may differ according to the needs and exigencies of time. There is nothing derogatory in this if we believe in progressive revelation. This does not mean that eternal principles change. As about Sûrat al-Nahl, 16:101 Yusuf Ali claims: “The doctrine of progressive revelation does not mean that Allah’s fundamental law changes. It is not fair to charge the Prophet with forgery because the message, as revealed to him, is different from that revealed before, when the core of the truth is the same, for it comes from Allah.”

Abd al-Majid Daryabadi, Pakistani exegete and Qur’an commentator, refers to Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:106:

“There is nothing to be ashamed of in the doctrine of certain laws, temporary or local, being superseded or abrogated by certain other laws, permanent and universal, enacted by the same law-giver… Even divine laws may be subject to divine improvement…

However, today Islamic propagators, fearing the implications of abrogated verses on their propaganda and Da`wah, act to dismiss the doctrine all in all. In an Islamic internet site, one named A. Muhammed refutes the abrogation principle, by attacking the “corrupted interpretation the verses: 2:106 and 16:101.” To this day, he claims, Jews and Christians accuse Muhammad of fabricating the Qur’an, and the case is substituting one verse of the Qur’an with another. Muhammad Asad, a converted Jew, has the same attitude: “the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ has no basis in historical fact, and must be rejected.” The Ahamadiyah sect also joins this conception.  

Yet, to this group of deniers, Hibat-Allah Ibn Salamah (d. 1019), one of the Islamic scholars and abrogation founders, would have reacted by declaring: “these people have deviated from the truth, and by the virtue of their lies have turned away from Allah… All verses about forgiving the infidels are abrogated unanimously. Anyone who engages in the scientific study of the Qur’an without having mastered the doctrine of abrogation is ‘deficient’ (Naqis).

Muslim exegetes noticed that the number of verses that are considered to have been abrogated increased between the eighth and eleventh centuries (al-Zuhri: 42 abrogated verses, al-Nahhas: 138, Ibn Salama: 238, al-Farsi: 248). However, Suyuti confirmed only twenty abrogated verses which are acknowledged by all exegetes.

Andrew Rippin states that although the companions of Muhammad are reported to have discussed Naskh and even to have disagreed over the abrogation of verses, references are relatively infrequent. The number of verses that are considered to have been abrogated increased dramatically between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Whether there are more than 200 abrogation or only five, it is almost a consensus among classical and most important Muslim exegetes that it exists and had much influence on understanding the revelation of Qur’an.

The following list is taken from al-Tabari Qur’an commentary: a) 3:85 abrogates 2:62 and 5:69. b) 9:29 abrogates 2:109. c) 2:185 abrogates 2:184. d) 9:36 abrogates 2:217 and 45:14. e) 5:90 abrogates 2:219. The provision of this verse concerning alcoholic drinks and gambling has been abrogated by verse 5:90. f) 4:12 abrogates 2:240. g) 24:2 abrogates 4:15-16. The provision of this verse ordaining lashing for the unmarried and stoning to death for the married, when four witnesses testify to the crime.

Concerning types of abrogation, Ibn Salamah delineates four kinds:

a) Forty Three Sûwar that were not abrogated at all (neither Nāsikh nor Mansûkh): 1, 12, 36, 49, 55, 57, 61, 62, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 77, 78, 79, 82, 83, 84, 85, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 106, 107,109, 108, 110, 112, 113, 114.

b) Six Sûwar that maintained the authority of the abrogator, but their original wording was not abrogated (with Nāsikh but no Mansûkh): 48, 59, 63, 64, 65, 87

c) Forty Sûwar in which their wording had been abrogated, but maintained their authority for applications (with Mansûkh but no Nāsikh): 6, 7 10, 11, 13, 15 16 17, 18, 20, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 51, 53, 54, 60, 68, 70, 74, 75, 76, 77, 86, 80, 88, 109.

d) Twenty five Sûwar that have had both their authority for applications and their wording abrogated (with both Nāsikh and Mansûkh): 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 33, 34, 40, 42, 51, 52, 56, 58, 73, 103, and 108.

Suyuti, makes the following typology: 25 Sûwar in which there are verses both abrogating and abrogated: 2,3,4,5,8,9,14,18,19,21,22,24,25,26,33,34,40,42,51,52,56,

58,73,108. That is, out of 114 Sûwar of the Qur’an, 71 Sûwar, comprising 62% have had verses changed or deleted.

The most important verse and the greatest abrogator (Nāsikh) of the Qur’an verses is Sûrat al-Barā’ah, 9:5, called “the verse of the sword.” It has cancelled and replaced in Toto 124 mild verses:

2:62; 2:83; 2:109; 2:139; 2:190; 2:191; 2:192; 2:217; 2:256; 3:20; 3:28; 4:15; 4: 16; 4: 63; 4:80; 4:81; 4:84; 4:90; 4:91; 5:2; 5:13; 5:99; 5:102; 6:66; 6:70; 6:91; 6:104; 6:106; 6:107; 6:108; 6:112; 6:135; 6:137; 6:158; 7:183; 7:199; 8:61; 8:73; 10:20; 10:41; 10:46; 10:99; 10:102; 10:108; 10:109; 11:12; 11:121; 11:122; 13:40; 15:3; 15:85; 15:89; 15:94; 16:82; 16:106; 16:125; 16:127; 17:54; 19:39; 19:75; 19: 84; 20:130; 20:136; 22:68; 23:54; 23:96; 24:54; 27:92; 28:55; 29:46; 29:50; 30:60; 32:30; 33:48; 34:25; 35:23; 36:76; 37:174; 37:175; 37:178; 37:179; 38:70; 38:88; 39:3; 39:15; 39:39; 39:40; 40:12; 41:34; 42:6; 42:6; 42:15; 42:48; 43:14; 43:83; 43:98; 44:59; 45:14; 46:35; 47:4; 50:29; 50:39; 50:45; 52: 48; 53:29; 53:39; 54:6; 58:8; 58:9; 58:11; 60:8; 60:9; 68:44; 68:48; 70:42; 73:10; 74:11; 76:8; 76:24; 86:17; 88:22; 88:23; 88:24; 93:22; 95:8; 109:6.

According to Ibn Kathir in his commentary to 9:5, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used this and other verses as a proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakāt. These verses allowed fighting all the peoples unless and until they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations.

“It is recorded that Ibn `Umar said that the Messenger of Allah said, I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. This honorable Ayah was called the Ayat al-Sayf [the verse of the Sword], about which al-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, ‘It abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term. Ibn `Abbas commented: ‘No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Barā’ah was revealed.

This is the reason why the issue of abrogation has become a serious matter in contemporary political debate conducted by the Muslim propagators, concerning jihadi terrorism and the homicide bombings phenomenon. They clearly sense that their propaganda war towards the free world as if Islam is peaceful and compassionate is shaky and slippery, and for that they deny any traces of the abrogation doctrine. Conquering the world, Dār al-Islām against Dār al-Harb, and the perpetuated war against the infidels, all these are not only slogans, but religious duty to be accomplished according to the power Muslims can master.

Therefore, since abrogation was legitimate and had been practiced in the Qur’an and Hadīth, there is no need to argue with the false fraudulent Islamic propaganda concerning Jihad being spiritual and Islam being peace-loving. Jihad means terrorism, aggressiveness and violence implemented against all infidels. The contemporary horrendous policy toward all the minorities in the Middle East reflects this reality. The crimes against humanity such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass-slaughtering perpetrated against Muslims and non-Muslims is pervasive.

Surah 9 is most important concerning the issues of abrogation and the policy of Jihad against all infidels. It is the only Sûrah without the Bismillāh (“in the name of Allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful”) opening, probably for its military Jihadi and violent character. For that, some Muslim exegetes call it “the Ultimatum,” al-Barā’ah. It was revealed after the conquest of Mecca in January 630. al-Suyuti listed Sûrah 9 second to the last, while Bukhari claimed that “The last Sûrah that was revealed to Muhammad by Allah was Sûrat al-Barā’ah [9].” Consequently, since this Sûrah contains the largest amount of violent passages, it abrogates all the relevant Qur’an passages from earlier periods.

Bukhari, in the chapter headed “‘The statement of Allah” related to Sûrat al-Barā’ah, 9:5, claims:

“Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Apostle said: I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Mohammad is Allah’s apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give obligatory charity. If they perform all that, then they save their lives and property from me, and then their reckoning will be done by Allah.”

“Paradise is under the blades of the swords… Our Prophet told us about the message of our Lord ‘… whoever amongst us is killed, will go to Paradise.’ ‘Umar asked the prophet, ‘Is it not true that pure men who are killed will go to Paradise and their enemies will go to Hell-fire? The Prophet said, ‘Yes’.”

Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahīh Bukhāri, into English, claims that Allah revealed Sûrat al- Barā’ah in order to discard all obligations, and commanded the Muslims to fight against all the pagans as well as against the People of the Scriptures, if they do not embrace Islam, till they pay the Jizyah with willing submission and feel subdued [9:29]. The Muslims were not permitted to abandon the fighting against them and to reconcile with them and to suspend hostilities against them while they are strong and have the ability to fight against them.

For Ibn Kathir it is clear: as Jihad involves death and the killing of men: “Allah draws our attention to the fact that unbelief, polytheism of the infidels and their avoidance of Allah’s path (Fitnah) are far worse than killing.” Here is the permission to kill all infidels and the license of free violence and terrorism for the Muslims through all generations. Jihad is the right way, and it is permissible for the believers just because the others are infidels.

Ibn Hazm deals in detail in the Qur’an wherein there appears to be conflict and/or contradiction. Through every Sûrah, he points out verses which have been canceled and the verses which replace it. He notes that there are 114 versus that call for tolerance and patience which have been canceled and replaced by Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:5. Islam is unanimous about fighting the infidels and forcing them to Islam, or submitting them to Islamic governance, or being killed.

The contemporary Islamic al-Azhar influential scholar, Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, says in his well-known research:

“The verse (9:5) does not leave any room in the mind to conjecture about what is called defensive war. This verse asserts that holy war which is demanded in Islamic law is not a defensive war, because it could legitimately be an offensive war. That is the apex and most honorable of all Holy wars. Its goal is the exaltation of the word of Allah, the construction of Islamic society and establishment of Allah’s kingdom on Earth regardless the means. It is legal to carry on an offensive Holy War.”

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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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New Social Compact

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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