Much has been written about the rise of the far right in Europe. However, this political backlash hasn’t come out of nowhere; like all ideologies it’s a product of timing and situations.
Anders Breivik’s massacre of 77 innocent people in Norway last July has been universally condemned. However, the politics of anti-immigration and Islamophobia behind it have not. Whether you read The Guardian, The Times or the Red Tops, the comments were the same; “I don’t agree with what he did but I can see where this guy’s coming from”, “We need to put a stop to all immigration from Muslim nations” etc. The last decade has seen the rise of what can almost be defined as flippant Islamophobia. Citizens don’t necessarily fear their friendly neighbour who happens to also be Muslim but the idea of a faceless other, a convenient scapegoat.
Terrorist attacks marred the early 00s. Then came economic turmoil. The current economic climate has destabilized what many had taken to be a given. In an era of uncertainty two seemingly separate ideas can quickly become merged. As such, the fear of the other taking what you feel was once yours has caused an entire population, religion, or creed to feel disenfranchised. Parties have been quick to harness this growing resentment; whether it be the True Finns party gaining power, Geert Wilders calling for the Quran to be banned or Nick Griffin changing the BNP stance from anti-black to anti-Muslim. It’s not only fringe politicians but mainstream politicians who have discussed the so-called incompatibility of Islamic values with those of Europe or the West and the failures of multiculturalism, be that Sarkozy pandering to the far-right vote in France or Cameron’s immigration policies. As such, we have seen a trickling of far-right Islamophobic policies into more central/central-right politics.
We rightly look back on the atrocities of the Nazi regime aghast, however we continue to forget that the racist agenda of the Nazi party was rooted in systemic anti-Semitic beliefs throughout Europe at the time. These beliefs were used as a force to unify far-right parties across Europe, whether it be in the UK, Italy or France. Philosophers wrote extensively concerning the threat of Judaism and casual anti-Semitic remarks were not unheard of, especially with regard to increased immigration to the UK. The inflation and unemployment that followed the economic turmoil of the 1920s was blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. Then as now, citizens didn’t necessarily fear those they knew, but the idea of a faceless other.
The Home Office sees just as much a threat from Irish terrorism as it does from global or Islamist, and yet we don’t fear Irish citizens. Nor is there such casual racism towards the Irish as there was in the 60s. Allegations of racism towards young black men by the Met have caused outrage, whether that racism is endemic or not. Issues of racism towards those who have historically been victimized are now more likely to be called to account. But having a vocally anti-Islamic stance or anti-Immigration stance has become almost accepted. The mistake being made is that we tarnish all those who practice a certain religion with a minuscule minority of political Islamists. And because there is a genuine fear of a politically motivated Islamist attack we don’t admonish flippant Islamophobia. History should teach us that comments like those found on the articles in last week’s papers should be something we should question, not blindly accept.