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The Anti-Islamic Culture War of EU Populist Leaders: Déjà Vu?

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“Multiculturalism is a charade”–Angela Merkel

Across Europe, populist leaders of various right-wing parties are pointing a finger of blame at Islam for threatening domestic cultures and security even as critics decry such statements as a serious threat to freedom of religion and minority rights. That this phenomenon is having an effect on the general population of EU member countries can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the above poll.

Let’s take a look at the statements made by some of those extremists in nine countries of the EU (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, the Check Republic, Slovakia, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary. I have eliminated the UK since it no longer is a member of the union, but there too there has been, and continues to be, plenty of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. In any case, anti-Islamic sentiments are not exclusive to those nine countries; they are present in varying degrees in most of the 26 EU countries, not excluding northern Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, long considered a bastion of liberal thinking.

In Germany we have Alexander Gauland, deputy chairman of the Alternative for Germany party who has said this about Islam: “Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but a faith linked intellectually with a takeover of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany is a danger.”

In the Netherlands we have Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Party for Freedom who said this: “Recently thousands of Arab men sexually attacked, humiliated and raped hundreds of women. All women are fair game. I call the perpetrators ‘testosterone bombs.’ We have seen what they are capable of. It’s sexual terrorism. A sexual jihad. And it is happening all over Europe.”

In Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico said this: ““Islam has no place in Slovakia.”

In Austria, former Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer said this: ““We must stop this invasion of Muslims.”

In Austria, Johann Gudenus, vice mayor of Vienna, said this: “The new fascism in Europe is Islamism.””

In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party said this: “We have to oppose all demands that aim to shatter secularism — demands for different clothes, demands for special food, demands for prayer rooms. Demands that create special rules that would allow Muslims to behave differently.”

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this: “Islam was never part of Europe. It’s the rule book of another world.”

In Poland, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said this: “There are already signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoans, which aren’t dangerous in the organisms of these people but which could be dangerous here.”

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, federal secretary of the Northern League party, when asked to opine on the election of a the first Moslem major of London, said this: “For me it is a worrying sign. … I think of London itself, where there are already some abusive courts applying Islamic law.”

The above statements speak for themselves and need no comments. But they do need some historical interpretation. Without an historical context they will surely be misinterpreted. Many of their proponents are in fact counting on such a misinterpretation. One of them is that of blaming the present turmoil on the refugees seeking asylum, when in fact they are the victims of a vicious war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, often enough stirred up by the former colonial powers who drew misguided nationalistic borders ensuring ethnic strife, and are now parading as saviors and harbinger of democracy and freedom.

The above quote by Angela Merkel is indicative. She is decrying there the lip service given to multiculturalism, all but violated in practice. It is an ironic statement. But there are more cynical approaches and those are not necessarily from fascist-leaning extremists, but also by those who are part of the established political order. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating attack in Nice, Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, (a member of Law and Justice Party) told reporters that the blame lay with the embrace of multiculturalism. “Have we not learned lessons from previous attacks in Paris and Brussels? This is a consequence of the policy of multicultural politics, and political correctness.”

There is little doubt that France has embraced multiculturalism and diversity better than Poland. The French like to portray themselves as largely tolerant and indifferent to ethnic and racial diversity. They also feel that they have a more positive view of Muslims than much of the rest of Europe. It has in fact one of the largest Muslim population in Europe (probably 10% of its total population). This tolerance may also be partially true for England and Germany, but it may not be the case in Hungary, Poland, Italy or Greece, as the above statistics bear out. In any case, it is all relative to what is being compared. To have one eye is better than being blind but it is not an optimal situation.

France’s relationship with its Muslim minority is a complicated one and it has to do with secularism vis a vis religion, as I, for one, have repeatedly argued in the pages of this magazine. Despite the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution regarding equality, freedom and brotherhood (noble sounding principles in the abstract), research reveals that Muslims face discrimination in the French job market and Muslims, similar to the Blacks in the US, make up a disproportionately large percentage of its prison population. France has passed laws prohibiting the wearing of full-face veils, which Muslims interpret as religious discrimination against them.

What seems to be at work is the normative level of French identity which is not based on its Christian heritage, largely ignored and even debunked as retrograde and “medieval”, but on a guarantee of diversity and neutrality based on a secular citizenship. To be sure, religion is tolerated and even protected but it is to remain a private affair with no voice in the public square. This might have worked if it were wholly voluntary, but many Muslims feels that it is imposed on them as a political ideology. They perceive France’s secularism as a schizophrenic attitude: it wants to foment ideals of liberty, tolerance and solidarity, but it also wants to impose secular norms on its minorities in the name of modernity and progress.

The situation in Germany, the other EU country with a large Muslim population does not fare any better. Once a libertarian force opposed to the euro and Greek bailouts, the fast-growing Alternative for Germany party has now squarely joined the anti-Islam ranks. In recent weeks this party has unveiled a scathing denunciation warning against “the expansion and presence of a growing number of Muslims” on German soil. Its rationale, if indeed there is one, is that it wants to protect women’s rights, national security and German culture. The party is fast growing and is now supported by almost 1 in 6 voters. It is is calling for a ban on headscarves at schools and universities and is preparing to release an anti-Islam “manifesto” based on “scientific research.” Echoes of Hitler’s “scientific” racial laws? In the formerly communist east meanwhile, the party has gone even further, startling local Muslims by launching an effort to stop the construction of Erfurt’s first mosque. Many of these Germans who wish to protect German culture, don’t usually bother worshipping on Sunday; they may identify as Christians in mane, but their religion seems to be soccer games on Sunday; some 75% of Erfurt’s 200,000 residents declare themselves as non-religious, but then they wish to prevent the construction of mosques because they do not fit well with ancient traditional Christian churches. Here again, cultural schizophrenia seems to be at work. It may indeed have to do with religion reduced to nothing but cultural embellishment, to mere “patriotism,” a religion bereft of its transcendent symbolism and mystical vocation.

There are even more ominous signs harking back to the Germany of the 30s and its treatment of the Jews. At least two German universities have closed Muslim prayer rooms, arguing that places of higher education should be secular and that Islam should not receive “special treatment.” They are encouraging Muslims who want to pray to use generic “rooms of silence” designed for all students. In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism. It may be worth remembering that the crematoriums for the concentration camps were built in Erfurt; that the Buchenwald was here. Here the majority, meted out terror and injustice on a minority, their fellow Jewish citizens. The question arises: will Germany allow this outrage to happen again?

Also alarming on a global scale is the rising opposition to Moslems, which has overtones of racial and religious persecution, as a campaign issue in the US (where Trump wants to prevent all Muslims from entering the country), in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and other nations of the EU. Just to give a few examples of what have become fierce campaign issues: In France, acts of violence against Muslims surged more than threefold in 2015, jumping from 133 incidents to 429, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. In May, Polish police entered university dorms in Krakow to question a number of foreign students about connections to terrorism, prompting allegations of racial profiling and Muslim-bashing. In January, the Danish city of Randers passed a resolution requiring public institutions to serve pork. Supporters rallied in favor of the bill by saying Danish food culture should trump the religious requirements of Muslim immigrants. In April, the Italian province of Veneto adopted a change in a law that critics say makes it harder to build mosques. “I’m absolutely against the construction of new mosques,” Luca Zaia, Veneto’s governor from the right-wing Northern League, told the Nuova di Venezia newspaper. “I’ve already met some of these preachers, and I told them clearly that sermons need to be pronounced in Italian, for reasons of transparency.”

In an open letter to these extremist anti-Moslem groups Mina Ahadi, an Iranian dissident and critic of fundamental Islam, writes that they “basically represent the same authoritarian, homophobic and sexist — in short: inhumane — position as ultraconservative Islamic associations.” In response the Alternative for Germany party is relying on authorities such as Tilman Nagel, a former professor of Islamic studies at Göttingen University, who in a telephone interview, lashed out at political correctness and stated that “The fundamental principles of Islam can’t be reconciled with our free constitution.” One can wager that the same professor, if placed in an academic setting, will proceed to wax eloquent about freedom of religion and respect for foreign cultures and civilizations. Talking of schizophrenia! Europa, nosce te ipsum.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

***

The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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