The rise of the Right: Why liberals cannot afford to lose
As the Eurozone crisis has teetered along the edge of disaster thanks to continued political and economic instability in Greece, Spain and Italy, the meteoric rise in the popularity of far-right political parties raises grave questions about Europe’s future.
Populist anger at economic mismanagement has led to unprecedented success for the extreme right in Greece and France, along with the fall of a string of governments such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Finland, Romania, Italy and the Netherlands – where the refusal of the far right Freedom Party to support Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s austerity measures in April led his minority coalition to collapse.
Previously, the Freedom Party’s 24 seats made it the third largest bloc in parliament, turning its founding leader Dutch MP Geert Wilders (pictured, right) into something of a kingmaker. Despite speculation that his sudden withdrawal from Rutte’s coalition would reduce his popularity, the opposite has happened. Exploiting the increasing unpopularity of austerity, Wilders’ call for budget decisions to be made not by the EU, but by domestic policymakers, has led his Freedom Party to outstrip the ruling Liberal Party. However, as in France, these far right gains have been outweighed by an even more popular Socialist Party, which has just doubled its seats to 30.
But it is precisely the dogged persistence of the far right, despite the current overwhelming popularity of the Left, that is cause for concern. For as the case of Anders Breivik proves clearly, there has been an increasing crystallisation of far right discourse across the Atlantic. Among Breivik’s sources of inspiration, as evidenced by multiple salutary citations in his manifesto, are Geert Wilders himself, along with a range of US ultraconservative pundits such as Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Pam Geller, among others.
In this context, Geert Wilders’ new book, Marked for Death: Islam’s War Against the West and Me, released last month in New York is worth reading as a window into contemporary far right ideology. The book is published by leading ultraconservative outlet Regnery, which happens to publish many of the same US Islamophobes identified above – and who between themselves have funded Wilders’ Freedom Party.
So what is Wilders’ vision for Europe, and the world? To get to this, one has to trawl through to about the last third of his book. The earlier chapters consist largely of two elements – Wilders’ personal story of being subjected to death threats from Muslim extremists, for which he has had to live under extraordinary security conditions (which is of course highly lamentable); and regurgitations of stale misinterpretations of Islamic history and theology previously promoted by the likes of Wilders’ co-authors at Regnery, and largely discredited by mainstream scholarship.
Along the way, Wilders reiterates his call for the Qur’an to be banned, and for Muslims to renounce Islam – a position that throws fuel to the fire of extremism and undermines moderates. He for instance criticises the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the intergovernmental body of 57 Muslim member states, for seeking to “elevate Shari’ah Laws over human rights” through the Cairo Declaration, but ignores how the OIC has since 2005, under the leadership of Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, been serious about Muslim reform. One of the first things Ihsanoglu did through the OIC was establish the world’s first Muslim human rights commission to investigate abuses of internationally-recognised “civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights” in Muslim countries.
While flaws and limitations do exist, at this critical stage the new OIC human rights commission requires not blanket dismissal, but robust support. As one high-level UN representative remarks: “I am optimistic as regards the Commission – as long as it receives the right technical support.”
But Wilders will have none of it. Instead he wants the West to cut all aid to the Muslim world, even those struggling under the Arab spring – although development experts warn that continuing inequalities and social marginalisation in these regions, combined with political corruption, are key ingredients in allowing violent extremists to recruit to their ideological causes.
By the end of Marked for Death, we see what Wilders is leading up to – a horrifying vision of a fortress Europe, defending “freedom” through the deployment of totalitarian state powers to expunge Islam from the continent. His recommendations are reminiscent of the discriminatory social control measures taken against Jews and other minorities under Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Wilders, of course, is careful to disavow violence and reiterate he hates Islam, not Muslims. But it is difficult to deny the implicitly violent subtext of his sweeping proposals, including a halt to all Muslim immigration, payments to settled immigrants to leave, cessation of building of mosques, and taxation of Muslim religious practices such as the headscarf. Most disturbing is his endorsement of Israeli-style “administrative detention” (indefinite internment without trial on security grounds) in Europe as part of criminal operations in Muslim communities; not to mention the forcible deportation of tens of millions of Muslims from Europe for “thinking” about “crime” or “Shari’ah”.
Of course, the rise of the far right is by no means a foregone conclusion. In Spain and Italy, despite a wave of opposition to brutal austerity measures, recent elections saw parties of far right persuasion lose seats and credibility. Here in the UK, although the Mayoral elections saw major losses for the coalition parties accompanied by gains for Labour, far right parties won not a single Assembly seat.
But it would be premature for progressives to rejoice. Mainstream parties have still failed to grasp just how ill-conceived austerity is as a response to deepening recession, and are running out of ideas. European progressives might be winning today’s electoral battles – but if they fail to tackle unemployment, create economic opportunities, and reduce inequalities, then we will lose the war. And if that happens, extremists like Geert Wilders may find themselves filling the vacuum in the aftermath.Tagged in: euro, eurozone, extremism, Geert Wilders, muslim, right wing
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