A Liberal Journey: Reflecting on the IAF Seminar "Liberalism vs Populism: How Can Liberals Win?"

Nurhuda Ramli (author) standing with the other IAF participants on grand staircases in front of a building

Written by Nurhuda Ramli, Programme Officer - Outreach & Empowerment, Sisters in Islam (SIS) Forum Malaysia

During my participation in the IAF Seminar "Liberalism vs Populism: How Can Liberals Win?" held from January 22nd to February 1st, 2024, in Gummersbach, Germany, I had the opportunity to delve deeply into the complexities of the current political landscape. The seminar, organized by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF), aimed to explore the dynamics between liberalism and populism and equip participants with strategies to counter populist narratives effectively.

The seminar commenced with a team-building exercise, setting the stage for a collaborative and engaging learning environment. Throughout the program, various sessions, such as "Competing Narratives: The Role of Storytelling in Politics," "The Great Realignment," and "Pluralism as the Antithesis to Populism," provided valuable insights into the ideological foundations and communication strategies of both liberalism and populism.

Nurhuda Ramli (author) in a group selfie with other IAF participants in some sort of a gathering room. Behind them is a wall with two words, "Freiheit" and "Freedom", written on it.

One of the highlights was the excursion to Cologne, where we examined populism in practice and learned about its impact on liberal democracy particularly in Germany and Europe. In Gummersbach, we were delved into case studies of leaders like Narendra Modi, Viktor Orbán, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, offering a nuanced understanding of their rise to power. Similarly, the visit to Berlin allowed me to engage with scholars who specialize in populism, gaining invaluable perspectives on the topic.

Nurhuda Ramli (author) standing with the other IAF participants in front of the Bradenburg Gate

The seminar also addressed the role of political communication in shaping public opinion, with sessions on "How Populists Talk" and "Political Communication: Basics, Principles & Guidelines." These discussions were instrumental in understanding the persuasive techniques employed by populists and how liberals can effectively counter them.

As the seminar drew to a close, we engaged in a final project to recreate the liberal story, emphasizing the importance of a cohesive narrative in countering populist rhetoric. The seminar concluded with a reflection on the future of the liberal story and strategies to effectively combat populism in the years to come.

Overall, the IAF Seminar was a transformative experience that deepened my understanding of the ideological and strategic challenges facing liberalism in the current political climate. It equipped me with the knowledge and tools to advocate for liberal values and effectively counter populist narratives in my community.

Thank you IAF and FNF for the opportunity and hope to come back again to Gummersbach in the near future, God willing.