Malaysiakini Letter

The failure of civil society and the rise of populist movements in the West

Ronald Benjamin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

It is puzzling to watch the irrational behavior of certain civil society movements in the United States since the election of Donald Trump, and parts of the world which include Malaysia on their understanding and focus of human rights.

While this groups have been a shining light in highlighting issues concerning human rights in the context of oppression, and civil liberties, they have failed to oppose neo-liberal casino economics which is the heart of the current crisis in the world that has propelled the rise of right-wing groups which have become influential in European countries like Germany, Britain and France, and the subsequent election of Donald Trump.

While the western media likes to separate the far-right-wing and the far-leftist groups in their discourse, the irony is both groups are against the neo liberal economic system of big business and cheap labor where their countries have become a sanctuary of cheap labor immigrants even though the right-wing movement takes a nationalist ethno-centric approach in addressing their predicament.

It is also important to note the contraceptive culture in the form of gay marriage and abortion supported by liberal movements has caused the decline of birth rates in countries like America and Europe that has caused the flow of immigrants to these countries which synthesises with neo-liberal economic ideology that pay these immigrants low wages, which has caused a decline of social-economic well-being of the native middle class and the poor.

These unjust economic system that enriches big business cartels, currency speculators, the concept of cheap labor and the financialisation of the economic has taken away critical manufacturing jobs to cheapest destinies.The CEOs of companies and their coteries earn billions and normal indigenous workers lose their jobs, or experience decline of wages, because their current earnings seems to be uncompetitive in relation to other countries.

Many women in the United States with families have suffered because of this economic system and they voted Trump, since the very alternative of the likes of Hilary Clinton are perceived to be spokespersons of this unjust economic system.

The middle class who have become poorer seldom gets the attention of these so-called civil rights groups in the United States who have narrowed their focus to women’s rights to abortion, gay marriage and minority rights.

There seems to be cultural war rather than human rights that is rooted in the right to life that not only opposes the killing of the unborn child and support for procreation that comes from marriage between man and women, but also opposing an economic system that goes against the common good of society.

It is obvious that this so-called women’s rights groups and their supporters fail to understand human rights from its core which is the right to life, procreation and social-economic livehood that enhances life. It is by understanding the foundational principles or womb of all rights that one would be able address complexity.

Therefore it is vital for civil society movements to be pro-life and imbedded in solidarity with all human beings including the unborn, instead of rights which are picked and chosen that serve a narrow cultural interest rooted in extreme relativistic liberal or conservative ideology.

The failure to do so has advanced the neo-liberal economic ideology that has caused the economic decline of working class, and the flooding of illegal immigrants which has propelled the rise demagogue right wing leaders. The pro-life approach is comprehensive, that not only strives for civil liberties, but also opposes unjust neo-liberal economic system that enriches the a few and depresses the lives of the majority.

It is hoped that human rights groups in Malaysia should learn from what has happened in the United States and Europe and broaden their understanding of human rights that is not limited to democratic civil liberties, but rooted in the foundation truths of great spiritual traditions that emphasise pro-life and human dignity that is holistic.

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