Understanding European extremism

International Affairs

| Staff Columnist

Typically, when speaking of European politics, Americans describe our friends on the other side of the Atlantic as being quite liberal. There is good reason for this. Spain, as an example, has extended basic rights to certain higher primates. France has three-year paid parental leave with job protection. And the United Kingdom has the world’s largest publicly-funded health care system. What a lot of American seem not to realize is that Europeans, of late, have grown frustrated with the status quo. In particular, the demographic threat posed by Muslim immigrants from Africa and Asia puts many at risk of being minorities in their own nation. Accordingly, many governments have taken steps to prepare for this population shift, and started to enact policies that pander to the Muslims they expect to be the largest part of their future constituency. Politically, this advantages those in power. But it comes at the expense of the average citizen, who is seeing his basic liberties slip away. Whether it be the recent decision to grant legal standing to Sharia courts in the United Kingdom, or the jailing of Finnish bloggers for demanding their leaders not behave like Dhimmis, but instead show spine, there is good reason for them to be concerned.

With the major parties unwilling to defend the national interest and stand up against radical Islam, that role has fallen to fringe parties on the far right wing of the political spectrum. A number of parties have gained greatly from this. Some, such as Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and Partij voor de Vrijheid (Denmark), are guilty of nothing other than poor PR efforts. But many of the parties making gains, such as the British National Party (UK) and the National Front (France) are populist hate machines who, in between their occasionally legitimate complaints about the EU, spew some of the most racist bile in the Western world. This was illustrated quite recently when Austria held elections on September 28 for the National Council. Together, Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs and the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich earned almost a third of the vote. Both of these parties are of the racist variety, BZO especially.

In recent days, this has again made headlines because BZO leader Jörg Haider died in a car accident this past Saturday. His party is, not surprisingly, in great distress since he was the most iconic bigot in European politics, and helped make extremism socially acceptable in Austria. Of course, for that very same reason, there aren’t many people elsewhere shedding tears over it. What matters is not so much the exact policy goals of his now mainstream racist party, but what allowed it to gain so much ground. And that is the unwillingness of the mainstream to take up the great issue of our lifetime: violent political Islam.

While our two-party system will prevent against a hardline xenophobic party from gaining serious political clout, both of the main parties in our nation have generally been ignoring the underlying issue. There are, of course, a few vigilant individuals, such as Senator McConnell and Senator Brownback, who deserve praise for their strong and factually-supported positions. But sadly, senators like them are too few and far between. To make sure that this grave international security issue is not highjacked by bigots, but is instead part of the standard political discourse of the mainstream, greater awareness must be raised.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe