Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Hazem Saghieh
TT

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : On the Student Protests in the West and Their Limits

Many of those opposed to the student protests in the United States (and Western Europe) are awaiting the summer break, expecting it to end these protests. Some of those counting on the summer break argue that reduced military operations in Gaza and fewer images of death and destruction on social media will be enough to end these protests.

However, those who hold this opinion - even if the break and the subsiding of images provide them with relief - have shown shortsightedness driven by denial. Going forward, it will not be easy to overlook the blind alignment of the US and the West behind Israel or the brutal actions of Israel itself.

Moreover, the Palestinian question has succeeded in becoming a focal point in which diverse (though not necessarily homogeneous) objections to an array of domestic and foreign Western policies converge. Meanwhile, accepting Israel's Spartan representation of the Holocaust as the ultimate form of vulnerability and victimhood in the face of brutal barbarism has become more challenging than ever.

These factors, if they are managed strategically and patiently, could precipitate gradual and cumulative shifts in influential segments of the Western public opinion.

Nonetheless, this mistake corresponds to another by those who see these student movements as a gateway to substantive changes in the policies and power balances of the West. This paradox is most pronounced when such an optimistic estimation is accompanied in the same sentence with a pessimistic estimation of the far-right’s current resurgence in the West.

Another major reason to be cautious and vigilant is that, in a few months, the United States may have to choose between Joe Biden, who is accused of being "genocidal," and Donald Trump, who has voiced his intention to deport those protesting in support of the Palestinians! Thus, our only political hope might be the candidacy of Cornel West and his vice-presidential running mate, Melina Abdullah.

As for Britain, there seems to be a consensus that the Labour Party, which has distanced itself from Jeremy Corbyn and whose current leadership is accused of being partial to Israel, will be the one to replace the Conservatives in Number 10 Downing Street. In France, it is clear that the racist Marine Le Pen is unquestionably better placed to challenge the center-right than her left-wing populist rival, Jean-Luc Melenchon.

It is no longer a secret that migration and asylum issues play a significant role in fueling this trajectory that, at least in Europe, is also driven by other factors like economic conditions, the war in Ukraine, and Europe’s diminishing position in the world.

Under such conditions, it would be wise for those relying on a "Muslim vote" to make more cautious calculations. This vote, during a time of clashing identities, would be a double-edged sword: its electoral impact would be coupled with added emphasis on its distinctiveness and foreignness. That much can be said before we consider the potential impact of a Hamas slogan being chanted at a protest here or a Hezbollah flag appearing at a protest there.

The fact is that Europe has been on a dangerous trajectory in recent years. The taboo against forming coalitions with far-right parties, which had persisted since the Second World War, has waned.

Austria's conservatives formed a coalition with the Freedom Party, paying no mind to EU sanctions. Italy, the European Union’s third-largest economy, is now governed by a party with neo-fascist roots. In Finland, after tense debate, the extremist Finns Party has joined the ruling coalition. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats, who oppose migration and multiculturalism, have become the second-largest party in Parliament.

In Spain, Vox achieved remarkable results in the last regional elections. The Alternative for Germany is now a prominent parliamentary force. In Denmark, opposing migration has become a matter of consensus, and the Freedom Party won more seats than any other in the latest Dutch general elections. That is before we mention the situation in Central and Eastern Europe, where even worse parties and choices have prevailed.

Thus, it will be challenging, both in the United States and Europe, to take the dynamics we have seen in the academic sphere beyond, or for these dynamics to really take hold and yield substantial results. After all, the climate of universities does not sum up the climate of entire cities, let alone small cities, towns, and rural areas.

Regardless of how apt comparisons with the 1960s in America and Europe may be, precedent does not support predictions that these kinds of significant shifts will emerge. In 1972, the Democratic Party nominated George McGovern to face off against the hawkish Republican Richard Nixon. Vietnam was the central issue of McGovern's campaign, which was supported by the leftists and most radical liberal members of his party, as well as by the broader cultural climate in the United States.

He committed to pulling out all the US troops deployed in Indochina, reducing military spending by more than a third, and pardoning young men who had refused military service. He only asked that the Vietnamese release American prisoners in return. However, at just 55%, voter turnout was lower than it had been in any election since 1948. McGovern won 37% of the popular vote and 17 Electoral College votes, while Nixon won 61% of the popular vote and 520 Electoral College votes.

In France, following the resignation of Charles de Gaulle in 1969, another Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, became president. Similarly, in Italy, Christian Democrat Giovanni Leone became the leader of the Italian government, with his party maintaining control for another twenty years.

Thus, tempering expectations and exercising caution would be prudent. In our wishful case, caution should strictly regulate expectations. Those who stand behind the door and stand to benefit from the zeal of the zealous and the impatience of the impatient, are many, and they are dangerous.