This is the first of two posts on the rise of the racist right in Europe. Today’s post focuses on attacks on Muslims, while the second post examines racism directed at Europe’s wandering peoples.
With the European economic crisis in full bloom, the rise of racism on the right has been an inevitability, given that scapegoating always occurs when things get tough and a miseducated populace is desperate to assign blame.
Today, we’ll look at a range of sins that point to the rise of a 21st Century version of fascism, a breed similar in many ways to the brand that arose in the 1920s and 1930s — but that also differs in one key respect.
First, consider this from Manfred Ertel, Peter Müller, Mathieu von Rohr, and Michael Sauga of Spiegel, which links the revival of racism to the crisis, while imparting a particularist spin:
As a wave of skepticism about Europe sweeps across the continent, the political elites in the continent’s capitals are reacting precipitously and inconsistently. To neutralize the populist movements and score political points at home, European leaders are seeking conflict with one another, arguing about such issues as accepting North African refugees or participation in the Libya mission. Markus Ferber, a member of the European Parliament for Germany’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), warns that solidarity among European countries is waning, a situation he calls “extremely dangerous.”
The successes of right-wing populists could indeed exacerbate the smoldering euro crisis. Tensions between the wealthy countries in the north, who are contributing most to the bailouts, and the ailing debtor nations in the periphery already threaten to destroy the monetary union. If a European version of the American Tea Party movement develops, it could very well become the kiss of death for the euro.
In another look at the growing neofascist currents in Europe, Spiegel’s Annette Langer looked at the millieu which had spawned Gianluca Casseri, the Italian extremist who this week murdered Senegalese street venodors and shot three others before killing himself in Florence Tuesday:
Old-school fascism in Italy has been replaced by even more radical and dangerous symbols of neo-Nazism, said right-wing extremist expert [Saverio] Ferrari. “In the last 10 years we’ve observed a big leap in right-wing currents across Europe,” he told Spiegel Online.
One of the newer neo-fascist groups, where Casseri is alleged to have found his ideological home, is called Casa Pound. Named after American poet Ezra Pound, who was an avid admirer of fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini, the group has gathered a number of new members over the last two years, boasting some 50 offices nationwide. Casa Pound has a reputation for being young and trendy, squatting in houses and demonstrating against high rents, in addition to staging plays and running its own student organization.
In Germany, right-wing extremists are reportedly very interested in the up and coming group. According to Patrick Gensing of public broadcaster Norddeutsche Rundfunk, the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in northern Saxony held a talk about the group in 2010. The neo-fascist group has also been the topic of interest at the NPD’s “Institute for Homeland and National Identity,” where they are exploring ways to construct a “cultural revolution from the right” that appeals to young voters.
There was one hopeful sign in the wake of the shootings, as reported by Agence France-Presse:
Thousands marched against racism in Florence on Saturday after a far-right activist killed two Senegalese vendors in a shooting spree that shocked Italy and ignited a row over immigration.
“We want today to be the dawn of a new hope so that our brothers did not die in vain,” said Pape Diaw, a spokesman for the Senegalese community.
“We really have to work for peaceful coexistence and respect of people but it has to be a real struggle, not just a facade,” he told reporters.
Around 10,000 people took part in the demonstration, according to police, while organisers put the number at some 12,000. Participants carried Senegalese flags and placards including one that read: “Racism? Not in my name.”
“Our brothers were martyred. Obviously not martyrs of war but martyrs since they were killed while they were working for their daily bread,” Florence imam Izzedin Elzir told the crowd in the historic Santa Maria Novella square.
The city is still reeling after Gianluca Casseri, a Holocaust denier and author of fantasy novels, went on the rampage on Tuesday with a Magnum revolver at two local markets including the tourist-heavy San Lorenzo in the centre.
There are two main targets of racism in Western Europe, Muslims and the people collectively known as “gypsies.”
Brevik as a symptom
Rage at Muslims inspired Europe’s worst racial violence earlier this year when Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 77 Norwegian students and government workers as an expression of his rage against the Social Democrats he blamed for encouraging Muslim immigration.
Now confined after he was found insane and incapable of standing trial, Breivik is busily writing away at a book expressing his rage at multiculturalism, and websites and groups that provided his inspiration are still up an running.
Ankara-based writer Ceren Kumova explored the latest eruption of anti-Muslim violence in a 31 July report for Istanbul’s Today’s Zaman:
The last round of a long-standing debate as to whether Muslims can coexist in peace with dominantly Christian Europeans is rumored to have been triggered by a best-selling book titled “Germany Abolishes Itself” written in 2010 by Thilo Sarrazin, a center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) member and a former member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Mainly a compilation of insults and stereotypes targeting Muslims, Sarrazin wrote that Germany’s Muslim community was “intellectually inferior” and its members were incapable of adapting to the German culture or learning the language. Later the same year, polls produced results reflecting disturbing results, with the majority of the Germans saying that they consider Muslims a social burden the costs of which are greater than their share in production. Close to 90 percent of Germans admitted they found the book convincing, and a 20 percent indicated they would vote for Sarrazin if he founded a political party.
More recent polls confirm these findings, pointing to the unwavering perception of a Manichean dichotomy between the culture of Muslim minorities and that of the European countries they reside in — a perceived otherness that has at times surfaced in ugly ways, as in the example of the Oslo attacks, and remains silently underground at other times. One poll released in July by the Pew Research Center as a part of its Global Attitudes Project shows that one-third of Europeans think that Islamic fundamentalism is a factor that hinders prosperity in predominantly Muslim countries. Another report from the Islamophobia Observatory of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) tells of significant majorities around Europe that feel Muslims are a “threat” to their communities and identities, with figures soaring beyond 40 percent even in the most multicultural countries of the continent, such as France and Germany.
And consider this comment [typos and all] submitted by a Danish reader of this blog to one of our posts about the Norwegian killer:
Breivik is a true VIKING!!!
all muslems have a very low IQ and an agressive GENE wich have to be removed from this earth!!! besides-muslems love death… so why feel sorry for them??
The ‘Muslim Question’ in Germany
Haunted by its past, the German government has tried to tone down the rhetoric, but sometimes even government officials have added fuel to the flames.
From Britain’s Labour List, a 1 April essay by Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament, begins with this:
Last month, a mere five days after his appointment as the new German Federal Minister of the Interior, Dr Hans-Peter Friedrich has pronounced his views on Islam in Germany.
His verdict? The religion “doesn’t belong” in Germany.
This bizarre statement was barely reported in the British press, but should have been. The remark is at the heart of whether or not Europe will be able to cope in a globalised world. The statement was directly relevant to the UK because Germany, like Britain, has a large non-white and Islamic population, one happy with its German identity. When the idea that Islam “doesn’t belong” is announced by a member of the German government, that sentiment is a potential problem for every Muslim not just in Germany, but in Britain and Europe more widely.
Dr Friedrich did temper his remarks, adding that over three million German Muslims are a “part of society”. Following the already controversial resignation of the country’s defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (to which Dr Friedrich owes his reshuffled new position) it was probably wise to couch his views. But “that Islam belongs in Germany is something that has no historical foundation” was still the main thrust of the Interior Minister’s remarks.
This makes Dr Freidrich’s position, however packaged, barely distinguishable from other anti-Islam voices in Europe. Consider Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the French far-right Front National. She spoke out just this month in the Guardian about the “dilution” of French culture under the pressure of “never ending queues of foreigners”. She even went so far, recounted in the same article, as to compare Muslims in France to the Nazi occupation of France. Naturally, Dr Friedrich’s position was more subtle than this, and naturally Le Pen’s position is overly brazen, but at heart they are essentially the same. Both politicians believe that Islam is an alien presence in Europe. And both have not been shy.
She even went so far, recounted in the same article, as to compare Muslims in France to the Nazi occupation of France. Naturally, Dr Friedrich’s position was more subtle than this, and naturally Le Pen’s position is overly brazen, but at heart they are essentially the same. Both politicians believe that Islam is an alien presence in Europe. And both have not been shy.
The Western European anti-Muslim is reaching new levels of rhetorical violence and gaining political traction.
Racism resurgent in Sweden
From a 21 September 2010 essay by Michael Youlton of Irish Left Review:
An anti-immigration party in Sweden has won seats in parliament for the first time, in the latest sign that far-right parties are gaining ground in Europe.
The Sweden Democrats (SD), which has described growth of the country’s Muslim minority as the biggest foreign threat since the Second World War, won 20 seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, leaving the two main blocs without a majority.
The centre-right governing coalition, which won 49.3 per cent of the vote, has ruled out any negotiations with the far-right group, and said it would instead look to the Green Party for support.
“I have been clear … We will not co-operate with or be made dependent on the Sweden Democrats,” Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister and leader of the Moderate Party, said after falling just three seats short of a majority.
But the leaders of the Green Party, which scored its best election result ever, appeared hesitant to a partnership with the centre-right.
The level of rhetorical violence has forced Sweden to take action, as reported in this Monday story from The Local’s Swedish homepage:
The Swedish government has launched a new website to combat the proliferation of inaccurate and racist myths about minorities and immigrants in Sweden.
“Extremism has found a new forum which is also very effective when it comes to spreading myths and prejudice,” integration minister Erik Ullenhag of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) writes in an opinion piece published Monday in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
Ullenhag cites a report issued earlier in the year by the Forum for Living History (Forum för levande historia) which found there had been a dramatic increase in the number of racist websites in Sweden in recent years.
While racism is hardly a new phenomenon, writes Ullenhag, racist myths and stereotypes have found a new foothold on the web, and must be addressed there.
“Prejudice will be met with the facts that exist,” he writes.
The new site, regeringen.se/tolerans, attempts to debunk a number of “common internet myths about immigrants and minorities”.
The right courts Jews in France
But in one respect, the racism of many in Western Europe differs from its mid-20th Century counterpart: Jews are no longer the primary targets,
From France 24’s By Charlotte Boitiaux:
It was a moment of shock for Thierry Solere, vice-president of the Hauts-de-Seine administrative district on the outskirts of Paris, when he approached a stylish young woman, wearing a Star of David necklace, and handed her party campaign leaflet in January.
“No thank you,” she told Solere, who represents France’s centre-right ruling UMP party. “I’m voting for Marine Le Pen.”
Ten months later – and five months before the presidential election – Le Pen’s far-right National Front is now officially courting the Jewish vote.
Louis Aliot, Le Pen’s partner and deputy leader of the party, was in Tel Aviv, Israel, this week to meet “expatriate French citizens who want to know more about the party’s programme.”
“More and more French Israelis adhere to our cause,” he told FRANCE 24. “They are attracted to Marine Le Pen’s ideas, which is proof that the image of the FN as anti-Semitic is false.”
Making an all-out effort to attract Jewish voters is a new direction for a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine’s father), once famously described the gas chambers of the Nazi death camps “a detail of history”.
“The FN is reaching out to the Jewish community,” said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert in European far-right movements and member of the Institute for International Relations (IRIS) in Paris. “And courting the Jewish vote is all about regaining a veneer of respectability that was lost to past anti-Semitism,” ahead of next May’s French elections.
And, lest we forget, the writings of Pam Geller, Daniel Pipes, and other right wing American Jewish anti-Muslim zealots were cited as inspirations in Breivik’s bizarre manifesto released in the wake of his killing spree. Geller, in turn, offered her own peculiar spin on Breivik’s attack, declaring that the scores of young people slaughtered at a socialist youth camp were “future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims who refuse to assimilate, who commit major violence against Norwegian natives including violent gang rapes, with impunity, and who live on the dole.”
Geller and her ilk are playing with fire
The virulent racism they espouse can all too easily be redirected at Jews. The marriage of convenience between Jewish and Christian extremists is fraught with peril, and premised not a genuine sympathy for Jews as Jews, but on a combination of Israel’s role as a foe of Islam and on the belief among many Christians that all the world’s Jews must return to Israel so all save for a small remnant who convert to Christianity can be slaughtered in apocalyptic violence.
Ponder, for instance, the implications of a statement made this week by Britain’s prime minister:
From the BBC:
David Cameron has said the UK is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so”.
In a speech in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the prime minister called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”.
He said “live and let live” had too often become “do what you please”.
The PM said it was wrong to suggest that standing up for Christianity was “somehow doing down other faiths”.
Describing himself as a “committed” but only “vaguely practising” Christian, the PM admitted he was “full of doubts” about big theological issues.
But he staunchly defended the role of religion in politics and said the Bible in particular was crucial to British values.
And many on the far right, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe haven’t abandoned the old school racism, in which Jews and Muslims are group together as the hated Other.
Deutsche Welle’s William Totok looked at the emergence of neo-fascist parties in Romania:
The right-wing extremist parties that emerged after the fall of Communism are, however, hopelessly divided. Radu Sorescu, founder and head of the Party of National Rights, rejects the existence of all other ultra-nationalist organizations and describes them as “organized traitors of the Romanian Fatherland.” Of these, though, there is one group that he finds worthy of imitation: the legionary movement founded by the notorious Hitler-admirer Corneliu Zelea Codreanu.
In Sorescu’s ideal state there is no place for national minorities. Thus he and his party members have set out to fight against what they call the “Gypsy danger,” to confine all Roma on “Reservations” and to erect an “ethnocratic state” to be ruled exclusively by pure-bred Romanians.
The organization Noua Dreapta (New Rights) is also against working together with its ultra-nationalist competitors. This group, led by the attorney Tudor Ionescu defines itself as “radical, militant, nationalist and Christian Orthodox.”
The New Rights call for a strong Romanian nationalist state, for the unconditional union of Romania with the republic of Moldova, for the stiff punishment of what they call “Gypsy crimes” and for an absolute ban on abortion.
At the same time, however, the nationalist-oriented group defines itself as euroskeptic and as an opponent of multiculturalism and NATO. Their political manifesto also includes the fight against “Hungarian separatism” and homosexuality.
In order to avoid being accused of inciting national hatred the Noua Dreapta group – as well as many others – also practices a kind of camouflaged anti-Semitism. Without being concrete – yet with enough innuendo to get their point across – the party makes public reference to the dangers of “occult forces” to the survival of the Romanian nation.
In the second part of our report, we’ll focus on the rhetorical and physical violence directed at Europe’s wandering peoples.