“Unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration. Bullshit! Come off it! The enemy is profit.”
As recession bites across Europe it may be time to revamp that old chant from the antiracist marches of the Thatcherite 1980s. Europe’s far right has been bubbling just off the boil for some time now. In France, Germany and Britain mainstream conservatives are playing a dangerous game, using Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric to woo working-class voters angered by cuts and job losses and offered no alternative story by politicians on the left.
Europe’s far-right groups don’t (yet?) form a movement. Though they share a hostility to immigrants and Muslims, they occupy different zones on the political fringe. The anti-Muslim Dutch MP Geert Wilders, for instance, on trial in the Netherlands for hate speech, turned his back on support from the street-fighting English Defence League at a rally last year: Wilders plays to the high ground with the free-speech card beloved of racists everywhere—and is busy chatting up the far right in the United States. (Banned from entering Britain, Wilders has been welcomed as martyr by Tea Party sympathizers; last month his claim that Islam is not a religion but a totalitarian ideology graced the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. Compare that piece with this more explicit attack on “an ideology that can produce only deserts,” posted approvingly on Radio Patriot.) But the more they’re invited to tea by polite conservatives, the likelier they are to learn to play nicely together.
In France it will be illegal from next month for a woman to wear a veil that covers her face in public, even though only a few hundred women in the country do so; any woman caught outdoors in a niqab will be fined 130 euros and made to take a “citizenship class” on French republican values. This is no feminist measure: it penalizes women directly and restricts a choice which, in any case, may or may not be theirs. (Those who coerce women into wearing the niqab face much higher fines and a year in jail, but I doubt very many will ever be prosecuted.) President Nicolas Sarkozy is desperate to win the far-right vote in next year’s presidential election: Marine Le Pen, leader of the neo-fascist Front National and daughter of Jean-Marie, who recently compared Muslims praying outside overcrowded mosques to the Nazi occupation of France, is currently leading the polls. Marine’s no fool; she’s very pleased with Sarkozy’s strategy: “Every time he goes blah blah, my ratings jump five points.”