Rightwing parties have made a strong showing in elections in a number of countries recently including Austria. Our correspondent examines the reasons and what this may imply for the future of Muslims.
As an Austrian citizen I did not share the surprise of the corporate media when Norbert Hofer, a right-wing presidential candidate got 49.7% of the votes during the latest presidential elections held in May 2016.
Hoffer who represents the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) did not emerge out of thin air. The views of his extreme right-wing political party and its chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, have been accepted as normal by the Austrian political elites and media since over a decade.
The great leap toward intolerance in Austria has been belatedly highlighted by the Council of Europe’s recent report from October 2015 that stressed the use of “clearly racist content” by the Austrian media and correctly pointed out that the traditionally ruling party, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has at times “given into the temptation to engage in hate speech.”
Among many of FPÖ’s xenophobic and Islamophobic campaign themes, which were normalized, were slogans like “Too many foreigners [or more literally: Too much foreign] does no one good,” “Homeland instead of Islam,” “We protect free women,” “The SPÖ protects the compulsory veil” and “More strength for our Viennese blood.” These slogans were rarely criticized by the ruling non- FPÖ politicians because they only targeted the “others,” namely Austrian citizens and residents of Muslim background, who are constantly vilified and degraded in the mainstream Austrian media.
In Canada the above hate-loaded slogans would never be allowed to become part of the mainstream political and media discourse. This partly explains why only 50–80 Canadians joined NATO-facilitated terrorist groups in Syria in comparison to 6,000 of Europe’s citizens.
Extreme nationalism has historical roots in Austria, not because Adolf Hitler was born there and began formulating his devilish ideas while in Austria, but because in the post-WWII environment, on ideological and educational levels, Nazism in Austria was confronted in a very superficial and simplistic way. Therefore, Nazism’s core foundations and its effects were not addressed in a sophisticated and in-depth manner.
In 2012 speaking to the Vienna Review, Dr. Stephan Grigat, political scientist and lecturer at the University of Vienna who specializes in research on nationalism, correctly pointed out that “the Second Republic was forced onto the Austrians by the Allied Forces, and Austrians showed almost no inclination to free themselves from National Socialism… today, in fact, 37% of all Austrians still believe this ‘Victim Theory,’ leaving a consciously distorted image of Austria having no responsibility for the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. The Austrian identity can probably never be fully understood without the connection to National Socialism.”
Apart from historical reasons there are contemporary aspects to this phenomenon, the primary one being an intentional “mistaken” identification of integration as assimilation.
Most Europeans mention integration but once they start talking, they are actually calling for total assimilation. In 1437ah (2016) assimilation and nationalism are bound to create conflicts, as the world today is far more cosmopolitan than ever before. Unfortunately the European xenophobes and nationalists do not think this far, but if they truly have their nations’ interests at heart, they should recognize the obvious: flaring up nationalism and intolerance within multicultural Europe is bound to create instability within the European societies they claim to protect. An assimilation agenda is a double-edged sword, as it will stoke intolerance and tensions that will affect its proponents as well.
No one can deny that the xenophobic forces are on the rise all over Europe. Their rise is not about economic downturn inflicted by refugees and immigration as the right-wingers often claim. In fact, HSBC and the World Bank have highlighted that Europe needs migrants for its economic growth. The rise of extreme nationalism in Europe has more to do with the overall crisis of the imperialist post-WWII system, which is coming to its economic, military, and political dead-end due to its extreme greed and aggressiveness.
In the EU’s specific case, the system is in deep trouble because what initially began as a reasonable economic and cultural project got subverted by Washington and its protégés into a political-military project with the primary aim of establishing a firm political and military footing in Eastern Europe and the territories of the former Soviet Union. Until this basic notion is acknowledged, Euroscepticism will continue to rise and the EU’s long-term sustainability will be in serious doubt. If the EU wants to sustain itself as a global economic powerhouse, it has to undergo a paradigm shift and return to its economic and cultural beginning and put aside expansionist political visions.
While the right wing and xenophobic forces have not yet officially come to power, this reality will probably change within the next four to eight years. Under the current global economic and political circumstances those that claim to oppose the rise of right-wing political parties in Europe have not put forward a practical socio-economic and political program against the slogans put forward by the FPÖ and its likes.
Austria is a deeply divided country and the type of divide manifested by the presidential election results in Austria is present in many if not most other European countries as well. Under these circumstances the governing non-right-wing parties will not be able to deliver the required policy results to win over the population and marginalize racist groups.
The above does not mean that FPÖ and its likes cannot be stopped from coming to power. In fact they can be and often by very simple political means as their programs are more about slogans than substance. For example, through basic public acknowledgments progressive European socio-political actors could easily address nationalist populism and deprive the racists of their key marketing slogans. The first crucial step would be to recognize that the current refugee problem in Europe is mainly due to EU’s catastrophic policies against Syria where they helped ignite a war to advance Washington’s imperialist agenda.
Another policy consideration should be to withdraw all support from autocratic and corrupt regimes in the Muslim world from which many people are forced to flee to Europe. Without external support and interference these unelected regimes would collapse within a few years, but to put these types of basic political policies into action, the EU needs a paradigm shift, the key ingredient of which will have to be revising its relationship with Washington. Without revising its blind political and economic allegiance to Washington’s imperialist ambitions the EU will not be able to truly reform itself and stop the rise of extreme nationalist parties from coming to power.
When Europe was divided based on nationalistic concepts, the continent was engulfed in two world wars. The establishment of the EU was a reasonably sophisticated preventive measure not to repeat the mistakes of the 1900s. Those that only publicly claim to pursue the politics of reason instead of hate and populism must not adopt the policies and views advocated by the extreme nationalists in order to sustain themselves in power. This type of shortsighted maneuvering will not only backfire, but will also embolden the extremist forces and legitimize their hate filled policies and Europe itself will be the primary victim. To save the EU from extremists, mainstream European political forces must first stop preaching the sugarcoated message of the nationalists and practice what they preach.