This is what western liberal democracies look like in 2016

Joe Vesey-Byrne
Wednesday 24 August 2016 15:00
news

After a woman on a beach was told by a police force of the 'free' West to remove her clothes, here's a round up of the state of so-called liberal democracy.

The number of illiberal measures by liberal democracies undermines our claim to cultural or Enlightened superiority over the 'medieval' and 'backward' Isis, or other despotic regimes in what was once known as the 'axis of evil'.

The banning of the burkini in France, and images of the ban's enforcement by armed police in Nice, has led many to draw a similar conclusion.

The policing of how a woman dresses and whether or not she is living up to morality was likened to theocracies and other culturally conservative states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran which the west often criticizes on those very grounds.

A women being told she doesn't live up to morality or 'values' of the state, is an alarm bell for anyone who believes that governments don't have any business in deciding the values by which a person should live, nor what can and cannot be sold in a free market.

Writing for the Guardian, Aheda Zanetti, the creator of the Burkini said:

Also, what are the French values? What do you mean it doesn’t combine with French values, what does that mean? Liberty? You telling us what to wear, you telling us what not to do will drive women back into their homes – what do you want us to do then?

This is not the only illiberal action in so-called liberal democracies to grab headlines in 2016.

Nigel Farage and that UKIP poster

Picture: Getty/Netflix

At the UK, home to the mother of Parliaments, a debate about Britain's membership of an economic and political union used imagery reminiscent of propaganda produced in Nazi Germany. Some specific images appeared as if they had been remade shot for shot.

This wasn't a fringe group, it was the most recognisable Brexiteer in the country, an elected Member of the European Parliament, and the leader of a party that came third place in the national vote share with 12.6 per cent at the last general election.

Pig heads on the Hungarian border

Gyorgy Schopflin, an MEP from Hungary, recently suggested placing pigs' heads along the country's border fence, in order to ward off Muslims. Schopflin, a member of the Christian Democratic European People's Party, tweeted the suggestion in response to news that Hungarian border guards had been building scarecrows in efforts to deter migrants.

Schopflin defended his actions as being conditional statements, rather than advocacy. He also referenced his time during the siege of Budapest during the Nazi occupation of Hungary 1944-45, as though that exculpated him from possibly being crude, or discriminating against Muslim immigrants.

Rise in hate crimes

Over 500 hate crimes were recorded as having taken place in the weeks that followed the EU referendum vote in Britain. The Independent reported on data collated by PostRefRacism, Worrying Signs and iStreetWatch, which included “F* off to Poland” letters sent to immigrants in Tunbridge Wells, diners refusing to be served by foreign waiters, and dog excrement being shoved through letter boxes in Rugby.

The three groups blamed the prime minister Theresa May, and her tenure as Home Secretary, for creating an atmosphere that made these offences culturally acceptable. The report by the three groups, written in cooperation with the Institute of Race Relations, cited the then Home Secretary's endorsement of government advertising vans which declared: 'GO HOME or face arrest'. The vans were driven around six London boroughs in 2013.

Donald Trump's policies and intolerant supporters

The Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump has expressed numerous illiberal policies, all claiming to make America 'Great Again' and to make it 'safer'. In addition to his plan for a wall with Mexico, Trump recently proposed a litmus test for immigrants to see if they upheld 'American values'. The policy, which he called 'extreme vetting', aimed to weed out those with extreme views on women, homosexuals, and religious diversity.

The test was applied by the Comedy Central news programme The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to attendees of a Trump rally in Wisconsin. The results showed that not only was the idea of an ideological test as criteria for citizenship accepted, but many of Trump's supporters failed to meet the test set by their own preferred candidate for president.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/YouTube

Regularly hearing opinions with which you disagree is one measure of a functioning liberal democracy, and there is no suggestion that these ideas should be silenced. That would be to replace one moral code with another. This however, is exactly what many of the above examples are doing. They criticize others for forcing their values onto a person, and then force their own in its place. Moreover these are not just opinions, which free speech believes should be left as monuments to error. The state is censoring opponents and harassment of individuals is taking place. Historically, illiberal measures by governments have always been justified in the name of preserving liberal democracy.

One user on Twitter pointed out that liberal values are not necessarily being thrown out of the window in defence of democracy. They suggest they were thrown out a long time ago.

More: Two photos that highlight society's double standards over what women wear

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