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Opinion: Engaging in Dialogue in a Global Polarized Environment

14 Jul 2019 10:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

A workshop presented by Elmer Dixon, President of Executive Diversity Services at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Leuven, Belgium.

[Interculturalists around the globe gathered in Belgium in early June for the SIETAR Europa Congress 2019 in Leuven Belgium. I was once again a presenter at the conference. This year I facilitated a workshop that looked at Engaging in Dialogue in a Global Polarized Environment.]

Interculturalists have dedicated their life’s work to building bridges across cultural differences. As such they strive to soften barriers to living life with cultural others. Companies and organizations have recognized that cultural differences can have a positive impact on the organization’s success. Intercultural trainers are providing teams with a broader understanding of the value of cultural differences. And they teach tools for adapting styles and behaviors to enable culturally different colleagues to work effectively together.


Human movement and relocation in the 21st century is growing. This may be by choice or in response to human-made or natural disasters. This has ignited a trend where many people and in fact nations have taken defensive lines.  They’ve adopted divisive discourse as a means to protect their national and cultural identities. We’ve seen in multiple elections across Europe a rise in far-right white nationalists. These entities have forged closer links with like-minded groups in the U.S, where they’ve benefited from a perceived sympathy from elected governments for strands of their extremist politics.

Yet this is a trend that has been building for years. In July of 2011, a gunman opened fire at an island youth camp in Norway, targeting Muslim youth. The gunman was described as a right-wing Christian extremist with a hatred of Muslims and ties to right wing Neo-Nazis. More recently in the US there was the slaughter of Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. That was followed by another shooting at a synagogue near San Diego.


The toxic combination of the most prolonged period of economic stagnation and the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II has seen the far-right surging across the European continent, from Athens to Amsterdam and in between. In the U.S. cries of “invasion” prompted by the aggressive stands on immigration affect the sensibility of an infected populace.

Daniel Friberg, who attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, is a clean-cut, smooth-talking far-right activist. He is a prominent figure in the Swedish radical right and self-identifies as identitarian. This French-originated ideology, increasingly influential among European far-right youth, argues for the preservation of a white or European identity.  And, in theory, it attempts to decouple from the overt racism, violence, and fascist symbolism that have been a barrier to the far-right’s political acceptability in post-war Europe. Friberg, however, sees “identitarian” and “alt-right” as largely synonymous terms.


I had proposed the workshop in response to the growing, critical need for dialogue across the political divide. It is needed now more than ever in such a polarized global environment.

In this interactive workshop, participants learned a dialogue tool for having critical conversations. They then explored the mindset and philosophy of this new breed of smooth-talking far-right activist, or identitarian. They also looked at the European far-right who argues for the preservation of a white or European identity.

During this interactive discussion participants broke into small groups to share stories and explore opportunities and strategies for bridging the gaps between polarized groups. They also were asked to identify training approaches and strategies specifying the most critical issues of identity xenophobia, and how to address them in the classroom.

In the report out, each team shared their group’s ideas along with their own experiences facing these critical issues in the classroom. And they looked at how interculturalists can more effectively create dialogue.

The overall goal of the session was to encourage intercultural trainers to engage in critical conversations such as right-wing isolationist philosophy and lessen the impact of polarizing opinions and beliefs.

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