Source: The Guardian
By Elif Shafak is a novelist and political scientist
From Jordan Peterson to Thilo Sarrazin, rightwing writers are bringing once fringe ideas into the mainstream
used to live in Tucson, teaching at the University of Arizona. The post-9/11 US, just half an hour away from the Mexican border, was a strange place to be. Armed vigilantes patrolled the desert hunting for illegal immigrants. Every day the local radio spewed paranoia and xenophobia. They talked about “true Americans” in small towns with “pure values”, as opposed to the corrupt liberal elite in the cities. A radical-right rhetoric was beginning to form, but it was still on the margins.
Poll after poll showed that trust in basic democratic institutions was diminishing. It was against this background that the rightwing radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed there were “four corners of deceit”: media, academia, science and government. Conspiracy theories mushroomed about how “liberal lobbies” had usurped the system. Populist demagogues began to advise building alternative rightwing institutions. A parallel universe. Information wars. Culture and knowledge, which have for centuries bound us together as human beings, were now regarded as a battleground.
Since then the radical right has seeped into the mainstream. A new breed of populist demagogue has arisen, with no care for facts, reason or data. Yet alongside this has been a silent shift: the emergence of a radical rightwing intelligentsia. With their books and talks they bridge the less-educated groups on the margins and the world of letters. A new publishing trend has emerged, and part of its task is to rewrite history.
In 2018, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s memoir Son of the Nation came out in France. The first edition sold out even before it arrived in bookshops. The book was, among other things, an attempt to rewrite the past, particularly the Vichy era. Nazi sympathisers in the Vichy government were romanticised as true French patriots. Le Pen himself has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, and calls the Nazi gas chambers “just a detail” in the history of the second world war. A similar attempt to reconstruct the past is taking place in Poland. In her books and talks, the historian Ewa Kurek claims the ghettos were “voluntary” and life was more difficult for Poles living outside the ghettos than it was for the Jews inside.