“The Return of the Fascists” could be the title of a dreary Hollywood move, yet sadly the “F’ word is becoming all too common currency in an era of vicious politics. To be called a fascist is a half rung down the ladder from the label of Nazi, though sadly some see this as a badge of honor.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been called a fascist not just by his likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, but by the likes of actor George Clooney and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. I doubt he cares.
A French court has ruled that it is permissible to label Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, a fascist. Avigdor Lieberman has become Israeli defense minister, now the effective master of millions of Palestinians. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, hardly a dove, has described the coalition between Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “exhibiting signs of fascism.”
Smiling from the sidelines, or worse fanning the flames, are the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A President Trump may be delighted to find soulmates in the ultra-nationalist far right in Europe and elsewhere.
The leader of the Italian Northern League endorsed him with a hearty “Go Donald, Go!” The suspicion is that if Trump were to try to ban Muslim immigration to the United States, the same demands would be made in Europe.
Even if far-right parties do not form governments, they have already succeeded in changing politicsChris Doyle
The European far right has truly prospered, with far-right parties often getting 20-30 percent of the vote. Only a few votes the other way in Austria prevented the first fascist leader being elected in Europe since 1945.
Fortunately, Norbert Hofer and the Freedom Party did not win this time. It comes only a few months after the far-right anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (called Nazis by Germany’s central council for Muslims) made huge gains in regional elections.
It is a realistic prospect that Le Pen in France and Gert Wilders in the Netherlands could do well in 2017 (though he sees himself as a liberal!). In Hungary, it says something when the far-right Prime Minister Victor Orban is having to face off neo-fascist Jobbik, the third-largest party. No country in Europe is immune. The archbishop of Canterbury has just sounded the alarm that racism is deeply embedded in British culture. The extreme-right party UKIP still flourishes.
This is not the fascism in the 1930s sense, yet. Some will argue that neo-fascists have simply swapped their jackboots for suits, abandoning some of their more lunatic ideas for the sake of populist nationalist rhetoric. Le Pen claims to have moved away from her father’s overt racism. They point to the background of austerity politics and economic recession. Fear is playing out well for the far right, just as it is in the United States and Israel.
But is it that bleak for progressive politics? The successful candidate in Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, ran on a pro-refugee platform. We are about to witness the conclusion of the second term of the first black American president.
The newly elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is Muslim. Many have reacted incredibly warmly to the refugee crisis. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has shown that even a socialist has a chance to go far in US politics.
The whole identity of Europe is being shaken, not least perhaps because that identity was never that strong. What is it, after all, to be European? It seems people are running to the lifeboats of their core ethnic identities at the cries of floods of immigrants, notably Muslim immigrants and refugees. Sadly, amid warnings that Christian Europe is under threat, many have chosen to behave in a very un-Christian fashion toward refugees.
It is a crisis of mainstream center politics that risks being hollowed out. In many countries in Europe, the center ground is carved up among numerous smaller parties that are squeezed from the hard right and hard left, such as Syriza in Greece.
Even if far-right parties do not form governments, they have already succeeded in changing politics. More mainstream right-wing politicians have played to this gallery. Prime Minister David Cameron referred to refugees arriving in Britain as a “swarm.”
Politicians from the center share much of the blame. At times, many have indulged in stoking unnecessary fears on immigration, but also not ensuring that the systems in place are fair and efficient. For too long, especially in electoral systems that pretty much guaranteed them a spot in government, they have had it too easy, but now with challenges from the right and left, the center is being hollowed out.
Austria may be the final warning. European political elites have to react to stave off the impending breakup of the continent. Its outdated institutions have to be reformed to be more effective and accountable. A more flexible arrangement between states is needed, which permits great national decision-making while preserving Europe’s democratic nature.
Above all, rather than cave in to the populist nativism of these extremist groups, the issue of immigration has to be addressed with sense and humanity, not by abandoning our values. Europe’s future must not be a return to the 1930s that these groups represent.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He tweets @Doylech.