By Nick Cumming
September 5, 2016
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, in February. Credit Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Discarding diplomatic niceties, the United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday denounced Western politicians who he said used racist language and peddled fear in a way similar to the jihadist propaganda of Islamist extremists.
Speaking at a gala event in The Hague, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, lashed out at “populists, demagogues and fantasists” exploiting economic hardship and social tensions to fan racial and religious prejudice.
Mr. Hussein addressed some of his comments to Geert Wilders, an anti-Muslim firebrand who is leading opinion polls in the Netherlands, where elections are set to be held in March. But he also took aim at Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, and at right-wing European leaders like Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary.
Mr. Hussein has spoken out against statements by right-wing political leaders in recent months but took his criticisms to a new level of vehemence on Monday. He urged a stand against “the banalisation of bigotry” by such populists, drawing a long standing ovation from an audience that included international jurists, diplomats and film celebrities.
Mr. Wilders’s Freedom Party issued a one-page manifesto last month proposing to close all mosques and Islamic schools, ban the Quran, and ban all migrants and asylum seekers who are from Islamic countries.
Mr. Hussein, a veteran Jordanian diplomat and the first Muslim to serve as human rights commissioner, said such virulent propaganda flowed from “the same factory of deceit, bigotry and ethnic nationalism” that had inflamed the devastating Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Politicians like Mr. Wilders appear to have learned “how effectively xenophobia and bigotry can be weaponised,” Mr. Hussein said.
He said such politicians used similar propaganda tactics to those of the Islamic State. “Both sides of this equation benefit from each other — indeed would not expand in influence without each other’s actions,” he said.