International and domestic developments are often far more predictable than commonly realised.
As long ago as 1962, the French political scientist Raymond Aron noted that “heterogeneity among civilisations” was the major source of conflict in international politics, that bipolarity veiled this conflict, and that the end of bipolarity end would “unveil” that heterogeneity.
From the late 1980s, Bassam Tibi was forecasting the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the biggest challenge to the West in the 21st century.
This is precisely what we are now seeing.
Brexit and the election of Donald Trump also caught journalists and politicians by surprise – because they failed to do their job properly and actually talk to people outside liberal metropolitan centers to find out what they were thinking.
But Oxbridge educated friends of mine in the UK were furious at the European Union and mass immigration in the early 2000s – and that was before the latter shot up after 2004 and the accession of 8 poor countries from eastern Europe.
Later, American friends on both sides of the aisle who attended or taught at elite universities were similarly furious at US politics and believed the whole country was corrupt.
It is a media myth that populism only resonates with the poorly educated and victims of globalisation.
Numerous expert warnings have thus been consistently ignored by politicians, policymakers, most academics, journalists and, as a result, by the general public.
Angela Merkel’s open invitation to refugees in 2015 is a classic example of a policy rammed through in the face of expert opposition – from experts on Islam, Islamism and the Middle East, such as Bassam Tibi, the German security community, German economists and Germany’s regional and local authorities, which had to cope with the huge sudden influx when their finances were already stretched.
Moreover, virtually every middle-class German I spoke to at the time was also opposed to the mass influx – including Turks and Arabs long-established in the country. Some businessmen told me that a repeat of similar numbers in 2016 would prompt them to sell up and leave the country.
The other members of the European Union were also opposed, but Merkel expected them to take their share of the refugees – without, however, consulting with them beforehand.
It is not surprising that the German chancellor has since dialled back her open-door policy, nor that it led to greater support for the AfD, the populist Alternative für Deutschland.
Merkel and her CDU party were indeed fortunate that the country’s next federal elections were due in September 2017, and not in 2015 or 2016.
Much media criticism is now aimed at populists, as if they were to blame for the current polarisation across Western society.
In fact, populists are merely reacting to long-term structural changes long since visible and forecast – and largely ignored by Western elites.