The Niqab (face veil) has frightened European politicians so much, that they would rather normalise the Swastika, than a piece of cloth veiling a Muslim women’s face. For the last decade, Danish and other European politicians have been wandering into womens’ wardrobes, like the Gestapo did in Nazi Germany. In the same breath, politicians have boasted their commitment to gender equality, and then hypocritically dictate to Muslim women how they should dress, so that they can be model citizens of Europe. The Niqab has become a symbol for far right parties to use on their marches and posters, to illustrate why immigration is problematic to Europe and how the ‘Islamification’ of Europe is becoming a reality.
The rise of the far right in Europe is a very real phenomenon. Europe is suffering from amnesia, by forgetting the devastation which Fascism left. Literally millions of people died during the height of Fascism, leaving Europe to rebuild their nations, however today there is a repeat of the proceedings leading to World War two. Hitler’s vile messaging towards the Jews in Europe pre-World War two, is shockingly similar to the messaging that is being directed to the Muslims on Europe’s mainland.
Disappearing manufacturing jobs, rising income inequality and lack of housing has fuelled unprincipled politicians to direct their fire and blame on immigration. The bankers and elites, who were the actual people who left Europe in a financial crisis for over a decade, are seldom mentioned. This motley band of thieves are still increasing their wealth, whilst the ones that have fled war torn countries are being blamed for high level, organised financial scamming.
False campaigning on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platforms by far-right parties have turned this economic downturn into a real political movement across Europe.
Unfortunately in the western world, when there is financial crisis and periods of recession, immigration becomes a core political issue. Brexit is evidence for this, where the likes of Nigel Farage of UKIP and Boris Johnson of the Tory party, hung their blag campaign on an immigration agenda. Immigration also raises cultural and security concerns. Left unaddressed, the rise of anti-immigrant, anti-internationalist sentiments, has shifted the political balance and caused a wave of far right messages to become normalised.
Considering immigration as a threat to security, several far right parties across Europe have exploited discussions about immigration, Islam and the role of the European Union to gather political support.
This trend peaked in 2017, where European politics began to reap the rewards of racist rhetoric and policies. In October 2017, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) won approximately 25% of the national vote. The FPÖ’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache claimed Austria is being “Islamified” and called for a ban on “fascistic Islam.”
In December 2017, Austria became the only European country to bring the far right into government. Further elections across Europe have marked some of the biggest political gains in decades by the far-right parties in decades.
In the last few years, France’s extreme right-wing Front National (FN) party made political gains on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim platform. The FN’s leader, Le Pen fared best with voters aged 35-49, and secured 34% of the vote among 18-24s. Le Pen ran on the nationalist campaign slogan “Choose France,” and has said she wants to make it illegal for Muslim women to wear headscarves.
Even a far-right party in Germany won seats in Parliament, with almost 13% of the vote in the September 17 election. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) used the slogan in its campaign, “Islam is not a part of Germany”. AfD is Germany’s fastest-growing party, attracting voters who are “anti-establishment, anti-liberalization, anti-European, anti-everything that has come to be regarded as the norm,” according to the German Council on Foreign Relations. Elated by the party’s election success, the leader of AfD pledged that the party would “take back our country and our people.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel barely managed to win her fourth term, her party received its lowest share of votes since 1949. Merkel’s party losses were in large part because voters and the media displayed their anger with her decision, to allow more than one million refugees into Germany within four years.
In the Czech Republic, the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) nearly came in second place in the election after campaigning for an outright ban on Islam.
In Sweden, there is an increasing surge in fascist sentiments. Sweden has accepted more asylum seekers per capita than any other European nation. However, there are signs that the anti-immigration, far-right Sweden Democrats party will make gains in the upcoming general election. Support for the party has been on their pledge to “Keep Sweden Swedish”. The founding party leaders of the Sweden Democrats were active in Sweden’s white supremacy movement during the 1980s. Opinion polls suggest that they could potentially double its 2014 vote share (13 per cent), which made it the country’s third-largest party with 49 seats.
Even European centre-right parties have been following the trend of far right populism. During the 2017 Dutch election, centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte cursed immigrants who “don’t want to adapt, attacking our habits and rejecting our values, who attack gay people, who shout at women in short skirts, or call ordinary Dutch people racist.” His charming message was, “Act normal or go away.” Mark Rutte, who leads the VVD party, which won the largest number of seats in the election, talked of “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Even though the well-known racist and Islamophobe Geert Wilders used the same language, it was populist parties who delivered the same message in a sugar-coated manner.
In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, who early in the 2018 campaign had pledged to serve as a counter-balance to the League’s radical anti-immigrant stance, ended up endorsing the deportation of more than 600,000 refugees who had arrived since 2015.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open the doors to refugees from Syria and other zones of distress sparked the rise of the anti-immigrant AfD. She justified her decision in principled terms against the backdrop of Germany’s history. But after the disastrous election of September 2017, which weakened Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) bloc, there were stronger calls to manage and limit migration to prevent a repetition of the 2015 refugee influx.
In the former East German city of Dresden, Pegida (an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) took over the streets in 2014 to protest immigration turning Germany into “Eurorabia.”
In Hungary and Poland, majorities in both countries are increasingly defining their national identity in ethnic and religious terms, with anti-Semitism in on the rise.
There are other views articulating the cause of the rise of the far right. In her book ‘Europe’s Fault Lines: Racism and the Rise of the Right’, Liz Fekete does not pin the upsurge of right-wing activity as a working-class reaction to worsening economic opportunities and weakened support from the state. She argues, it is an ugly mishmash of old prejudices re-inflamed by the war on terror, giving racism a new platform in European in the name of security.
European societies are, Fekete writes, “increasingly divided between citizens, demi-citizens and non-citizens,” some of whom are no longer guaranteed certain fundamental rights, depending on their race, class, religion, immigration status, incarceration, and political beliefs. These people include immigrants, Muslims, and the poor—in fact, anyone outside of the dominant ethnicity or the reigning political ideology.
As millions of refugees fled Syria into Europe, the right attacked the principle of freedom of movement within the Schengen Area of European Union; some countries started to impose passport checks at their borders with EU countries and many more sent police onto trains to detain brown and black passengers.
“The far right didn’t put immigration on the agenda, the refugee crisis did that,” said Cas Mudde, an expert on far-right politics at the University of Georgia. “If we didn’t have a far right we would have been talking about immigration and Islam, but they have had a very important [role] on how we talk about those things.”
European history is repeating itself, however the additional dynamic is Muslims. Media frenzies, dog whistle politics and xenophobia have become common place when debating Islam. The Muslim contribution to European society has been ignored by the apparatus that relay negativity which manifest itself in the far right. It is therefore surely time, to remind people what the contribution has been and why Europe’s problems have occurred.
- In Post-World War 2, it was immigration that rebuilt Europe. Britain was an example, where the labour shortage was filled by Commonwealth citizens. This included Muslims from across the former colonies.
- The Syrian Civil War alone forced people to flee the country on a scale the world has not seen since World War two. Indeed there is a refugee problem across Europe, but this is due to western intervention in the rest of the world, notably the Muslim world. It was the carelessness and the ambitions of European intervention in Iraq and Syria that displaced millions of people in Syria and Iraq. The exploitation of the Arab Spring and the subsequent political games, led to people having no choice but to leave their war ridden homes. If there is a blame to be made, it is towards the European leaders, not the poor families arriving with their babies and elderly.
- The western world lectures people on freedom, gender equality and religious expression. However when Muslims have been involved in the discourse, these ideals have been thrown in the rubbish tip. The contradiction needs to be exposed with rigour.
- The financial crisis was not due to Islam or Muslims, it was due to the greed of people living in the west. Fat cat bonuses and lack of financial regulation by people who made huge profit at the expense of the rest are massive factors in the financial crisis still plaguing Europe today.
- The Niqab is an Islamic tradition that is followed by many Muslim women. This tradition needs to be explained to wider society. This is not a subjugation of Muslim women, rather it is from a religious standpoint which has nothing to do with discriminating against women. It is from divine sources that Islam has mandated for all Muslims. The Niqab is being used as a political tool by all aspects of the political spectrum in Europe. The narrative relays myths against Muslims as a whole, without any context being applied. Muslim women are a beacon for the community and this needs to be explained clearly to all people in society.