Europe’s Radical Right Against Muslims – OpEd
By Iran Review
By Seyed Nader Nourbakhsh*
Following an armed attack in early January on the Paris offices of the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, and in spite of the fact that the attack has been widely condemned by French Muslims, violence against Muslims in France has been sharply increasing subsequent to the attack. For example, a mosque in the city of Le Mans was attacked by person(s) who launched three grenades inside the complex and damaged the building. In another incident, a bomb went off close to a mosque in the city of Villefranche-sur-Saone. Also, the severed head of a pig was found in front of the building of an Islamic center on the island of Corsica in southern France on which the attackers had written, ‘you’re next’.
In another incident, bullets were shot at a mosque in the town of Port-la-Nouvelle in southern France. Such acts of violence did not remain limited to France as three mosques were set on fire in Sweden as well.
Of course, such attacks were actually insignificant compared to what happened to Charlie Hebdo, but on the whole, they indicate that an atmosphere of hostility and hatred is taking shape against Muslims in France. It should be noted that Muslims account for about 10 percent of the population in France and it seems that the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo will claim the country’s Muslims as its main victims. On the other hand, Western media usually try to make the world believe that all terrorists are Muslims, though a closer look at the available statistics will prove the opposite. According to a report released by the Europol, most terrorist attacks in Europe have been carried out by separatist groups that are active in various European countries.
For example, out of 152 cases of terrorist attacks in Europe during 2013, only two incidents have been based in religious motivations and the rest of them have arisen from nationalistic and separatist reasons. However, such cases are hardly, if ever, reflected in the Western mass media.
According to another report, a total of 94 percent of all violent attacks in the United States in the time interval from 1980 to 2005, has been carried out by non-Muslims. Out of that figure, 42 percent of the attacks were carried out by special groups that are based in Latin America and 24 percent were committed by radical leftist groups.
Interestingly enough, based on general statistics released for 2013, the possibility of an American citizen being killed in accidental shooting by a child has been much higher than the possibility of the same citizen being killed in a terrorist operation.
During the past two years, underground terrorist groups like the National Liberation Front of Corsica (Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale Corsu or FLNC in French), or such leftist groups as Greece’s people’s militias, or the Italian Anarchist Federation have been behind multiple cases of bombing and murder in their respective countries, which have not been adequately covered by mass media.
The recent incidents have provided good grounds for the escalation of violent measures by the radical rightist groups against the Muslim people living in the West.
Following terrorist attacks on Twin Towers in New York in September 11, 2001, as well as subsequent to terrorist attacks in London and Madrid, European intelligence services put all their focus on extremism preached by such groups as Al-Qaeda. As a result, and quite unwittingly, they paved the way for the expansion of another form of radicalism, this time by radical rightist groups in Western countries. A blatant example of such activities was the terrorist attack in Norway in 2011, which was carried out by a Norwegian citizen called Anders Behring Breivik. As a result of the attack, 77 people lost their lives and 319 were wounded.
Just a short while following the Norway attack, the German secret services said they had discovered an underground neo-Nazi network, which had killed tens of Turkish and Greek emigrants during about 10 years of its activity. The network had gone totally unnoticed by German officials through all those years.
The concerning point here is that most victims of violent actions taken by the rightwing radical groups usually come from minority groups, especially Muslims. Since their operations are usually carried out on the suburbs of big cities and in places where immigrants are concentrated, their actions are not generally noticed by the public. On the other hand, even if such actions are prosecuted, they are not considered acts of terrorism, but are categorized as hate crime, which carries a more lenient sentence than terrorism.
The recent incident in France (the attack on Charlie Hebdo offices), which was actually triggered by the weekly’s insulting cartoons against the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has helped fan the flames of extremism in Europe. As a result, special conditions have been brought about in Europe under which radical forces have been able to outdo their rivals in committing acts of violence.
It seems that the existing atmosphere will finally give birth to a vicious circle in which Muslims will feel more isolated and discriminated against than any time in the past. Such a feeling of fear and humiliation is exactly the main factor that terrorist groups like the ISIS are trying to foment among Muslims and through which they can draw on the population of radical Muslim youth to attract new members. At present, more than any time before, there is a risk that people who had left Europe for Syria and Iraq and had joined the ranks of the ISIS may go back to their home countries and embark on violent acts of terrorism.
At a national level, however, such a situation will lead to the adoption of more austere immigration laws against Muslims by the European governments, which will also use this situation as an excuse to up their security measures and downplay the importance of personal freedoms of their citizens.
Of course, such austere measures will not simply affect Muslims, but will also leave their marks on all minorities, including gypsies, and other groups of immigrants in Europe.
Under such conditions, radical elements will have a wide maneuvering room in order to have their voice heard by their supporters.
Some analysts also believe that such incidents of terrorism highlight France as defenseless against terrorism before the world’s public opinion. On the domestic front, the French President Francois Hollande, who is already suffering from unprecedented loss of popularity, will be able to make the most of these conditions in order to mend his image.
Recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in France has provided radical rightwing parties and movements in all parts of Europe with a very good and unprecedented opportunity to boost their activities and has greatly increased their popularity. As a result, radical rightwing parties have put their focus on issuing renewed warnings about the risks posed by the influx of immigrants to Europe.
Some analysts have even warned that the terror attacks in Paris have made way for these parties to put more pressure on the governments to pass anti-immigration laws and further crack down on Muslim minorities.
In the meantime, the populist radical rightwing parties have been trying to show a vociferous reaction to these terror attacks by describing them as a direct result of the multicultural policies adopted by various European states.
Nigel Paul Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has charged Islamist groups as being a fifth column of London’s enemies in the country, while Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands Freedom Party, has noted that it is time to fight against the Islamization of the country. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front of France, has opined that the time is past for cover-up. Alexander Gauland, member of Alternative for Germany party, has noted that such terrorist incidents prove that those who tried to ignore the threat of Islam have been greatly mistaken. Such remarks are now resounding among the European public opinion more than any time before. It should be noted that the population of Muslims in Europe has increased from 30 million in 1990 to 44 million in 2010. In the meantime, Muslims account for a considerable chunk of population in some European cities, including 10 percent in Paris, 20 percent in Stockholm, and 22 percent in Birmingham.
Before the recent incidents, an opinion poll conducted by Le Figaro newspaper last month, showed that the popularity of Marine Le Pen, who is leading the rightwing radical elements of France’s National Front has greatly increased and is now even higher than popularity of the country’s President François Hollande. Many observers now believe that she is currently fit to run for president in the forthcoming presidential polls, which are slated for 2017.
Marine Le Pen, who has promised her supporters to turn the National Front into the main political party in France, has gained remarkable victories in 2014. For example, she won a local election in March as her party won mayor posts in a number of French cities.
Also, in an election for the European Parliament, which was held last month, her party was the forerunner from France by getting about 25 percent of the country’s votes. The development has led to extreme delight of and raised hope among radical rightwing and national parties in other European countries.
In a similar turn of events and in the political scene of Sweden, the government of the North European country has been under pressure from the radical rightwing Sweden Democrats Party to enforce more austere measures against the immigrants. Of course, the two sides finally reached a temporary compromise on this issue, but it goes without saying that the Sweden Democrats Party will not easily leave the political arena in Sweden, but on the contrary, has succeeded to increase its share in the elections from 6 percent in 2010 to 13 percent in 2014.
In Germany, a radical group called PEGIDA [which stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes in German, meaning the “Patriots against the Islamization of the West”] has been organizing mass protests in various cities in Germany in protest to what it calls the Islamization of Europe. The movement, which has announced its main goal as being to prevent Islamization of Germany, is considered a rightwing group. However, it has succeeded to distance from neo-Nazi groups and does not consider itself as following racist tendencies. The supporters of PEGIDA have been able to launch big rallies in the German city of Dresden.
The city of Dresden was the target of major air strikes by the UK and the United States in later years of the World War II, during which about 90 percent of the city was totally destroyed and a high number of civilians were either killed or wounded. Many observers believe that the air raids were among war crimes of the Allied forces in the World War II and the incident has been a focus of attention by the majority of supporters of radical rightwing groups in Germany.
According to the German police, a total of about 25,000 people poured into the streets in support of the PEGIDA on January 12 alone. On the other hand, it seems that the radical rightwing groups in Germany have reached the conclusion that they cannot reach their goals by putting the main stress on racism and neo-Nazi tendencies, especially in view of the country’s past history and special sensitivity that surrounds Nazism and Fascism. Therefore, the PEGIDA movement has been trying to openly distance from racist groups, at least outwardly, and has opted for another path which seeks to draw the attention of the middle class and the young people. This strategy is similar to that adopted by other populist rightwing parties in other countries in Europe.
The terror attack in Paris has provided leaders of the radical right in Europe with a good opportunity to tell their people that they had already warned them about the consequences of the Islamization of Europe. However, is the public opinion in France and other Western countries also aware of the fact that the mistaken intervention and policies of their countries in Syria and Iraq, has been the main reason that has practically turned these countries into fertile grounds for the growth of radicalism and terrorism? The media hype around Paris terror attacks has been so intense that everybody seems to have forgotten that one of the policemen killed by the terrorists in Paris was actually a Muslim.
At present, radical rightwing parties have won a sizeable share of parliamentary seats in Austria, Sweden, Hungary, and the Netherlands. At the same time, some people believe that the UK Independence Party, commonly known as UKIP, is more a populist party than a radical rightwing, despite its anti-immigration and xenophobic stances. In addition, Greece’s neo-Nazi party, known as the Golden Dawn, can be only cautiously put in the same category with other radical rightwing parties elsewhere in Europe.
At international level, the success of radical rightwing parties in European countries simultaneous with the ongoing standoff between the West and Russia over the situation in Ukraine, has led to more closeness and open support of Russia for these parties. Russia is supporting these parties because it sympathizes with anti-American and anti-European Union policies that are followed by them and this is why Moscow has been openly lending support to these parties.
For example, the National Front of France was given an 11-million-dollar loan by a Russian bank at a time that French banks had rejected the party’s loan request. On the other side, Le Pen and her party are in favor of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confrontation with the United States.
Putin had even invited a number of the leaders of European radical rightwing parties to oversee the referendums held by pro-Russia secessionist forces in the Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula for annexation to Russia.
* Seyed Nader Nourbakhsh
Ph.D. in Political Science & Senior Europe Analyst