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Failure not an option against radical right July 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in EU, Yunanistan.
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FROM GREECE to Norway, disturbing political parties are emerging. The more successful ones blend extreme nationalism with a defensive perversion of liberal principles.

Our languages have yet to coin a valid descriptive term for these parties. The handy labels of “extreme right” or “populist” are inadequate and questionable.

Inadequate, since some, such as the Dutch Party for Freedom (15.5 per cent of the vote in the 2010 election), advance liberal, progressive policies on questions of personal freedom.

Questionable, as all democratic political parties must be populist, to use the dictionary definition, in representing the interests of ordinary people. Using populist as a derogatory term helps to validate the claims of these parties that our political leaderships have become divorced from their electorates.

There are obvious parallels with the rise of 20th-century fascism, but these parties cannot be dismissed as being neo-fascist, although some of them have absorbed neo-fascist groups.

They feed on fear, offering simplistic and sometimes sinister solutions to complex problems.

They share at least five major common elements: 1) anti- immigration/anti-foreigner 2) pro- Israel 3) anti-Islam 4) anti- Turkish EU membership and 5) exclusive nationalism.

They exploit the instinctive human fear of the foreigner, particularly the poor and racially distinctive foreigner. Where Europe’s fascist parties designated Judaism and Jews as the problem, their modern successors focus on Islam and Muslim immigrants. .

Since Israel is confronting Arab Muslims, it is at the forefront of the “clash of civilisations” between the Christian West and an oppressive and backward Islam.

This pro-Israeli stance also helps insulate some of these parties from charges of anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France’s Front National (10.4 per cent in 2007) is preparing an official visit to Israel.

This anti-Muslim and anti- immigrant stance is blended with a particular interpretation of the personal freedom element of liberalism. Islam, its approach to women and its position on homosexuality are portrayed as posing a threat to hard-won freedoms in our societies.

Hostility to Turkish EU membership comes as a logical extension and is central for the once-liberal Austrian Freedom Party (17.5 per cent in 2008).

A narrow, almost genetic, definition of the nation lay at the heart of last week’s slaughter in Norway. A nation can only be a fixed, almost isolated, group of people. The True Finns party (19.1 per cent in 2011) express this concept in its very name. If they represent the “true” Finns, then all others must, by definition, be “false”.

Both the Swedish Democrats (6 per cent in 2010) and Norway’s Progress Party (23 per cent in 2009) are opposed to their countries’ autonomous structures for the Sami people.

Our European welfare states can only survive, these parties argue, if poor foreigners are excluded. As Muslims tend to have larger families, this systemic threat grows yearly. The Swedish Democrats ran a clip showing young hijab-wearing Muslims elbowing a Swedish pensioner out of a benefits queue.

This medieval “let’s pull up the drawbridge” approach also covers considerable differences. The Norwegian Progress Party and the Danish People’s Party (13.8 per cent in 2007) grew from anti- tax formations. The Progress Party argues that Norway should use oil revenues to cut taxes rather than invest them to provide for future generations.

The Vlaams Belang (7.8 per cent in 2010) has a particular problem with non-Flemish speaking foreigners spilling out from Brussels. The Slovak National Party’s (5 per cent in 2010) main fixation is on its country’s Hungarian minority.

The People’s Orthodox Rally in Greece (5.6 per cent in 2009) values religious affiliation.

Little of this is grounded in reality. Estimates suggest there are about four million Muslims in France, or 6.5 per cent of the population. Twenty per cent of these regularly attend Friday prayers. This proportionally matches the 51 per cent of French people who describe themselves as Catholic, about 10 per cent of whom are regular Mass-goers.

Norwegian figures suggest that there are about 100,000 Muslims in the country, or 2 per cent of the population.

Faced with a choice between prejudice and reality, the prejudiced often prefer to alter reality. Burning Sarajevo’s national library in 1992 was an attempt to obliterate centuries of Bosnian intercultural heritage.

PSNI constable Ronan Kerr was murdered by those who would not accept a man could be both a player of Gaelic games and a Northern Ireland policeman.

Anders Behring Breivik killed teenagers because they were working for a different Norway than the one of his prejudices.

These parties’ growing support challenges and potentially threatens our societies.

We must address the causes of their support if we are to effectively deal with that potential threat. Failure is not an option.

All of this ignores the courage of the millions of Arab Spring campaigners who are struggling for democratic freedoms from Morocco to Syria.

It also ignores the dedication of those opposing the Iranian autocracy who, as activist Kouhyar Goudarzi (25) told Der Spiegel, “drink to the freedom that will most certainly come one day”. But it never does to let reality get in the way of a suitable prejudice.

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