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Reflecting on the rise of the far-right in Europe

Reflecting on the rise of the far-right in Europe

Categories: Latest News

Thursday April 19 2012

Open Democracy has published a translation of Mariano Aguirre’s article for Le Monde Diplomatique on the Breivik trial and the wider phenomenon of rising xenophobia and cultural protectionism which has gripped the European mainstream in the past few years.

From Open Democracy:

“The bloodthirsty attacks perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway on July 22 last year (leaving 77 dead) provided a brutal awakening for all those in Europe who had been passively observing the rise of the Islamophobic far right. As the trial opens, around thirty political parties that openly call for a “pure European identity” are effectively in the process of consolidating their parliamentary positions.

“These parties, following the example of the Nordic Forum, are adept at using new technology and social networks, which gives them an even greater platform to spread their messages of hate and bolster their national and international alliances.

“Those responsible for this noxious propaganda always hide behind the principle of freedom of expression, and, when they are criticised for the speeches they deliver encouraging the Breiviks of the future, they assert that the carnage perpetrated by this “lone wolf” has nothing to do with the climate that they have helped to create.

“A study at the University of Nottingham undertaken for Chatham House by Matthew Goodwin demonstrates that extremist parties are primarily characterised by their visceral opposition to immigration (particularly Muslim immigration), to ethnic diversity, and finally to multiculturalism, alongside social behaviours that they consider to be a great danger to Europe.

“These “new” populists carefully avoid the usual racist and anti-Semitic discourse, and prefer to position their stance more subtly, around questions of culture and identity.

“During times of crisis they also use the argument of the welfare state to justify themselves: they contend that immigrants are stealing jobs and scamming the welfare state, in particular social security, as they have many more children than the European average, and so on.

“As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek concludes : “The only way to introduce passion into this kind of politics, the only way to actively mobilise people, is through fear: the fear of immigrants, the fear of crime…”

“Moderate politicians remain relatively impotent in the face of attacks from the far right, and when they attempt a riposte, they do so in a contradictory fashion…Europe is imposing ever more restrictive policies to limit the right to asylum and inward migratory flow, while at the same time political parties are lauding “greater tolerance” towards foreigners. The reality is that xenophobic sentiments are on the rise, and immigrant Muslim populations and their culture are being increasingly rejected.”

The article cites Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe about his own fears about the rise of mainstream xenophobia and Islamophobia:

“There is something that worries me far more than the growth of the far right at the 2010 ballot…and that is the profound inertia and above all confusion that seems to reign amongst moderate democratic parties of both the left and right. One even has the impression that these parties have come to accept the narrative of hatred and that this unencumbered xenophobia has been integrated into the political discourse as though it were something quite ordinary: their leaders have totally failed to check this rise in Islamophobia.”

Aguirre points out the measures taken in Europe in recent years to make religious symbols disappear from public spaces, such as the Swiss minarets ban, the laws passed on niqab, burqa and hijab in certain European countries, and the growing vocal opposition to other symbols, for example, halal meat.

Writing in the Guardian Comment is Free, Matthew Goodwin provides more food for thought on how Breivik’s actions cannot be divorced from the ideological context from which they arose; delusions of ‘creeping Islamisation’ and ‘Eurabia’, and gives us a chilling reminder of the real danger that comes with ignoring far-right support for violence:

“As we now know from his testimony in court, it is impossible to understand the actions of Breivik by treating him in isolation and divorcing him from the wider political context in which he was embedded. On day two of the trial, Breivik expressed his view that the atrocities in Oslo and on Utøya Island were necessary in order to “save future generations” from Islam and multiculturalism…To underscore the point, he pointed to recent statements by Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and David Cameron as evidence that our experiment with multiculturalism has failed.

“These narratives may appear odd, but they are certainly not unique to Breivik. The narratives … are shared and cultivated by many within the far right. At one level, this sympathy can be seen in expressions of support for Breivik’s ideas and warnings about the potential threat from Islam.

“It is also evident among larger number of far-right supporters. As we have shown after surveying followers of the far right in Britain, significant numbers hold the view that – in order to defend the national way of life – actions such as preparing for group conflicts, and engaging in armed conflict, are “justifiable”.

“Clearly, not every supporter of the far right would endorse the actions of Breivik – indeed many are actively distancing themselves from him – but to dismiss him as an isolated exception risks ignoring the challenge that we face from a wider set of beliefs and narratives that are at work within the far right.”

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