The alarming rise of right-wing political parties and their electoral successes in an increasingly diverse Europe have led to worries that the Clash of Civilisations theory is likely to become a reality in this part of the world.
There are striking similarities in the way all these right-wing parties transitioned from their fringe past into mainstream political parties with significant representation in their respective parliaments and an even better presence in the EU parliament.
A snapshot of the current state of these parties will remind the reader why there is so much concern: In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National has the highest number of French lawmakers in the European Parliament and has the potential to be the biggest nationalist challenge to Europe’s liberal democratic traditions.
Behind the momentum achieved by the anti-Muslim Pegida movement in Germany, a right-wing political party established just three years ago — Alternative for Germany — has seats in half of the German state parliaments.
In Italy, the anti-immigration Northern League made significant gains in local elections last year and is no longer confined to its traditional power base. The Netherland’s Party for Freedom — led by Geert Wilders — recently surged to the top of Dutch opinion polls.
In Sweden’s 2014 general election, the nationalist Sweden Democrats became the third largest party, winning 13 percent of vote. The situation is worse in Switzerland where the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party won 65 of 200 seats in last year’s general election.
The far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer almost became Austrian president in April, while the eurosceptic Danish People’s Party came second in last year’s election with 21 percent of the vote.
Right-wing anti-immigration and anti-Muslim parties are also in the ascendancy in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia.
Here in the UK, the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party is the largest British party in the European Parliament and although it took just one seat in last year’s parliamentary election, it secured 13 percent of the vote, the third largest share of any party.
One may ask why we should worry if a party gains support through democratic means in a democratic country. Of course, we have to accept the will of the people but there is a genuine cause for concern when extremist ideologies receive mass support in societies that pride themselves on possessing liberal, tolerant, peaceful and democratic values. Despite local differences, almost all these parties are anti-Muslim and anti-immigration, and some even use directly racist and Islamophobic language in their rhetoric. For example, French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen said in 2010 that the sight of Muslims praying in the street was similar to the Nazi occupation of her country.
Frauke Petry, the leader of Alternative for Germany declared that Islam “does not belong to Germany” and called for the border police to shoot illegal migrants if necessary.
It is important to look into the covert contribution to the rise of these right-wing parties by Western governments and the mainstream media. For a long time, the so-called centrist parties took their voters for granted and overlooked the increasing social inequalities in their communities.
They rightly allowed immigration to grow but failed to convince the people of the benefits to society. When people showed concern over immigration, they either ignored it or capitalized on community tensions for their own political gains. Parliaments began to be filled with career politicians who came from wealthy backgrounds and had enjoyed private educations that gave them little understanding of the struggles of the common people.
With an increasing diverse population due to immigration, these politicians played little role in facilitating integration between the host and immigrant communities. In this situation, right-wing parties and their leaders were able to position themselves as anti-establishment and preyed on the population’s anger with nationalism and patriotism.
The media also played a major role in creating divisions.
Anti-immigration and anti-Muslim propaganda in the right-wing media increased community tensions and turned a significant section of working class indigenous communities against immigrants. The media campaign has been such that immigration began to be blamed for every social problem and Islam was shown to be incompatible with Western values. If a murderer happened to bear a Muslim name, then he is termed as a “terrorist” but when an anti-Muslim racist such as Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway is merely called a “lone wolf”.
Right-wing and racist parties have been the greatest beneficiaries of this anti-immigration and anti-Muslim agenda. Whether right-wing politicians and their supporters like it or not, immigration is a reality in contemporary Europe and the number is certain to rise in the coming years. The refugee crisis Europe finds itself in at the moment is not going away soon.
Europeans have no other option but to accept a significant increase in the immigrant population in their countries. What benefits will their hatred bring to society? Ninety-nine percent of immigrants are hardworking and peace-loving people. What will these politicians achieve by turning their indigenous populations against them? The overwhelming majority of the immigrants are Muslims. What contribution are these politicians making to the society by spreading Islamophobia? Many believe that Huntington’s theory of a Clash of Civilisations was a key factor behind George W Bush’s so-called War on Terror, which is the root cause of the mess the Middle East finds itself in at the moment.
Huntington argued that after the fall of the Soviet Union, it would be Islam that would emerge as a threat to the Western civilisation. Overnight, millions of Muslims living in Western countries and contributing to every aspect of the society were turned into a threat by this theory.
With terrorist attacks perpetuated by some people calling themselves Muslim, the right-wing found an opportunity to present Islam and Muslims as inherently violent when not even one percent of the world’s Muslim population indulge in these heinous tasks.
The effect has been catastrophic in some places, with a sharp rise in hate crimes against immigrants and Muslims. Right-wing politicians and the right-wing media in Europe seem to have brought Huntington’s theory into the heart of Europe. On the one hand, immigration is increasing and the population is becoming very diverse and on the other we are seeing an alarming rise in antagonism against immigrants and Muslims.
If right-wing parties continue to gain momentum, societies will surely become more intolerant towards each other. This may even lead to violent conflicts.
Anyone with mainstream Islamic knowledge will agree that there is no clash of civilisations here. In fact, Islam is compatible with the majority of the positive moral values in the West. Unfortunately, there are few politicians or media institutions ready to pass on this truth to the common people.
Published in The Peninsula, Qatar on 19 October 2016. url: https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/opinion/19/10/2016/Does-Europe%E2%80%99s-right-want-clash-of-civilisations