The bleak world after Brexit
The unthinkable happened. The British people decided to “leave” the European Union. This will probably be detrimental not only to the United Kingdom itself, but also to the EU. Far-right politicians all across the continent will be emboldened. Maybe there will be other “exits,” and certainly bolder campaigns to realize them. The EU, which has been the most successful peace project since World War II, will have tough days ahead.
Why did this happen? Well, I am no U.K. expert. But as I understand, it is the same story that is triggering the far-right all over the Western world: Dissatisfaction with economic stagnation and loss of jobs. Blaming the immigrants for not just the dire economy, but also “invading” the native culture. Blaming the “liberal elite” for keeping the borders open to foreigners and closing their ears to the “common people.” All in all, a sense of besiegement, betrayal and fear.
A tweet I came across explained this mood really well: “And in the end, Britain, which had colonized the world, destroyed itself in fantasies that it was being colonized in turn — Historians” (By @Ted_Scheinman). I am not sure that “historians” will really say that, but as current-day political observers, I think we can.
And this is not just for England. In France, there is Marine Le Pen. In Netherlands, there is Geert Wilders. And for worse, in the United States, there is Donald Trump. If that self-absorbed populist really wins the U.S. elections in November, then we will all have a much bigger problem than Brexit. We will have a US-exit, an exit from liberal democracy to populist authoritarianism, which will have far-reaching consequences all across the globe.
I am watching all this in Turkey, which is busy perfecting its own “exit” from liberal democracy. The EU, as faint as it was, was still a tool of leverage that tried to push Turkey to respect liberal values such as freedom of the press or independence of the judiciary. A weaker EU will have even less influence on Turkey on such matters, which already had been dismissed by our latter-day leadership as nuisances against the glorious march of our “national will” – or, more practically, our tyranny of the majority.
No wonder Brexit seems to have made some of our rulers happy. “The process of the unmaking of the EU has begun,” wrote Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli on Twitter. “England left the ship before others.” I also expect to read cheerful articles in the pro-government media about the “collapse” of the EU, and, in fact, all of Western civilization. The politically incorrect fact that they will ignore is that our own civilization, the Muslim world, at its current stage, does not really have anything to offer us to go forward in anything.
That is why the world only looks bleaker to me after Brexit. The naïve liberal hopes of the post-Cold War era, that the world would be more global and liberal, did not really work. Globalization triggered an array of anti-liberal forces that keep empowering each other in a global vicious cycle. And while the “liberal elite” has its own failures, the populists who are replacing this elite offer “solutions” which will make everything only worse and worse.