The far right is reviving the prejudices that used to dominate mainstream European politics
Wednesday October 24, 2007
In a few days time a cluster of far-right groups under the name the Stop the Islamisation of Europe alliance will hold rallies in London, Copenhagen and Marseilles to demand an end to what they call "the overt and covert expansion of Islam in Europe". Although the events are likely to attract no more than a handful of protesters, their message resonates widely. On Saturday the rightwing People's party, notorious for its virulent hostility to ethnic minorities and Muslims, emerged as the victor in the Swiss elections, taking 29% of the vote, the best electoral performance by a party in the country's elections since 1919.
The far right is on the ascendancy in many parts of Europe. Beyond its explicit party political expressions, this assumes a more worrying form. What had been traditionally confined to the margins of dominant political discourse is progressively penetrating its mainstream, with parties of the centre absorbing much of the far right's populist rhetoric. This underlies the complaint by Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the racist National Front, that Nicolas Sarkozy had "stolen his clothes". Across the Channel, the Tory candidate for the London mayoralty, Boris Johnson, believes that "to any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia - fear of Islam - seems a natural reaction".
We are witnessing a reversion to the type of cultural essentialism that dominated political and academic discourse until the mid-1900s. Its central theme, the purity and superiority of European culture, was dealt a powerful blow by the tradition of post-colonial studies and radical critique of Orientalism. The trend brought together progressive, leftist voices from Europe and the US with others from the south amid the dismantling of modern-day empires and the rise of developing world liberation movements.