Faisal Saeed Al Mutar founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement and Ideas Beyond Borders. He is an Iraqi refugee, satirist, and human rights activist. He is also a columnist for Free Inquiry. Here, we continue a series together.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to a recent speaking tour, you traveled to Canada. You had concerns about the rise of some backlash movements. Where does this concern come from? What is the nature and character of this backlash movement?
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: So, there is a talk that I did at CFI-Toronto with Al Rizvi. It was a result of research in an article by Thomas Friedman called “America is Being Europeanized.
In this era of polarization, especially around immigration and extremism, in this rise of anti-globalism, pro-protectionist policies, these polar opposites are feeding into each other.
Both, to some extent, need each other to survive. They need each other to continue rising. Many people dismiss my concern as Canada being more educated and less crazy than the United States. We are seeing even places like Germany, where the AFD have won some seats in the parliament.
In France, you have Marie Le Pen. So, there are many European countries and the United States – where Trump won the presidency and also the Republicans won the Congress. This is a concern that many people have.
Many people make a comparison between Obama and Trudeau, as you noted before the interview. Nobody thought that someone like Trump could rise after Obama. But I think this is a result of many people living in a bubble.
I live in New York. Many people are Democrats. Many of my friends too. They do not have even really strong negative views of Obama. But if you go to other parts of the country, Obama is the equivalent of Satan.
Mutar: It didn’t take much for these people to get mobilized, especially in the States because there is the electoral college – so it is not just popular vote. Places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, some of these people are completely pissed off at Obama, the Democrats, and the DNC in general.
It didn’t take much for them to become happen. So, that can happen in Canada as well. I do not think Canada is some special place away from partisan politics.
Jacobsen: So with an educational bulwark that could prevent some of the nastier aspects, what would be an analogy to bridge that conceptual gap through an example?
Something that happens in American from former president Obama to current president Trump as from the transition from prime minister Trudeau to whoever becomes prime minister next if indeed this becomes someone who appeals to people of a Far-Right bent.
What would be some signifiers or indicators of this reaction?
Mutar: There is a movement of anti-globalism rising up, constantly. In America, we have Alex Jones. In Canada, you have Lauren Southern and Rebel Media. They are gaining momentum in one way or another, but not mainstream momentum.
Those are indicators that some of these voices are being listened to. Some of these people like Trump. It is possible. I think Trump is an exceptional case. He is unique in a way in his craziness. I think that a possibility is similar in a sense of protectionist anti-globalist, probably anti-immigration and pro-travel bans, ‘pro-Canadian culture’ or ‘Canadian values.’
Like what happened in Montreal, where people have to say bonjour while entering a restaurant, I don’t know if you have heard of that.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] I haven’t.
Mutar: If there is that transition, I assume many people who are the Trudeau supporters will be in complete shock when that happened. You will probably be shocked that there are many people who do think that.
We have many protests such as the women’s march in America. There are probably protests every week across the Trump towers in the country. We have one group who is disappointed and another group that is happy that the other group is disappointed. With Trump, this is a revenge. To me, that is quite obvious.
Jacobsen: Does this come from making the other side ‘the Other’ – so you can go along with your party line?
Mutar: I have witnessed, over the past year or so now, how many – as you know, I work in the international affairs world and have an organization focused on that – relationships I have seen torn because of how different people see these candidates from the different political points of view.
There is a lack of empathy for the other side, “You are voting for a rapist, a criminal.” Same for Hillary, they said, “How could you vote for a criminal?”
That has probably been happening on pro-choice or pro-life, where one side sees the other as pro-killing babies and the other sees the other side as anti-women. It mostly devolves into personal attacks and ad hominem.
Nothing generally good comes out of it, seeing the other side as the Devil. That is why it is hard when I do public speaking engagements and speak to different crowds, Liberal and Conservative.
As you know, I have views from both sides. So, it doesn’t take much for me to piss off people if they see me as from the other side. If the conservatives see me as liberal, or if the liberals see me as conservative, they shut down all of their listening.
Image Credit: Faisal Saeed Al Mutar.