Thursday, 28 July 2011
Slow and steady, further to the right.
The shocking news of Oslo being bombed made me feel disgusted. Why on Earth would anybody want to harm such a peaceful country? A country so open and so tolerant would not have figured on my list of places under the threat of terrorism. But I did the same mistake as all the others, I forgot that extreme Islamists do not have a monopoly over terrorism. I had been fed so many news, articles and studies on terrorist attacks committed by Muslims (I won't even go as far as saying by militant Islamists because many of them do not have a pure religious motif) that I immediately assumed that a terrorist attack would be the work of an Islamic terrorist.
The media agreed with me. All media agencies reported that terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda had hit Oslo. The terrorist experts invited on the set were ready to dismantle any doubts that I (and many others like me) might have had about the aggressor by finding a reason for all of this. The terrorists, they went to explain, attacked Norway because of its presence in Afghanistan and because other, more high-profile targets had become too vigilant and an attack on them would have been harder to plan. Well, if the experts say that's how it is, that's how it must be, right? But then came the information of the shooting on the Labour youth camp. And with that it became clear that the attack had a political cause. What happened next, we all know. The experts quickly changed their views (except for a few US based ones who continued to insist that the attack were the work of the Islamists), televisions changed their headlines to eliminate any mention of al-Qaeda and of Muslims. It was a few hours later, when the reasons for the attack became clear, that the Muslims became part of the headline again. This time as victims (though many who posted comments on websites continued to blame everything on the Arabs/Muslims/any other minority that is not white and Christian).
The blame, however, falls entirely on a white, local, Christian man. An insane person, if we're to believe his lawyer, but one that is a perfect exponent for the danger that is increasingly threatening Europe and, in a different way, the US. Namely, the movement of the political debate (and the popular opinion) towards the right and the far right. As the picture from the Guardian's Research Department shows, 22 of the 27 EU countries are now under the rule of right wing governments (that will soon be 24 as Spain and Greece will most certainly oust the ruling parties at the next elections ). The fact that right wing parties now control most of the EU governments is not, by itself, a dangerous one and shouldn't surprise many people. People tend to react to economic problems by becoming more conservative. But with the moderate right, the extreme right grew as well.
While Marine Le Pen of France's Front National is seen as the poster figure of the far right revival, I believe she is not to be feared at the same extent as other political figures. Yes, she might get into the second round of the presidential elections with a virulent nationalistic and xenophobic message but she will not govern France. A good result for her would be shameful for the French but will not have a significant impact on the way the country is governed. No main party will form an alliance with the FN. She will not gain anything else except more opponents.
The real danger come from former fringe parties. People know what the Front National stands for and, as it has been in the political spotlight for such a long time, the public has had a chance to see that the party is not very different from the 'centre' parties in its lack of honesty and capabilities. But other small far right parties around Europe have been helped by the economic crisis too. As they started growing, their message became increasingly presented to the public. Unlike the Front National, they did not yet have the chance to prove that they are as (or even less) capable to find solutions for the problems of their voters. Their only message seems to be that others are to blame for the difficulties that the country faces. The blame goes almost entirely towards the Muslim migrants and the EU. The vilification of the foreigner in times of crisis is normal. The response from the centrist parties is not. Fearing that they will lose votes (or in some cases, they would lose power altogether) mainstream parties have made concessions to the far right parties. They have even adopted some of their ideas (I wonder was Merkel was thinking when she declared 'multiculti' dead) giving even more legitimacy to the extremists' claims. As this spread across the EU, it became acceptable for Fidesz, the governing party in Hungary, to take policy decisions (while holding the EU presidency) that a few years ago would have cause strong responses from the EU institutions. It has also become acceptable for mainstream parties to flirt with extremists either by inviting them to form the government or by passing certain policies in exchange for political support.
This game of bargaining with the devil brought even more popularity for the far right as there was no real debate on the merits of their proposals. It was, of course, easier to blame the migrants for the problems of the country. They stole jobs and hurt the traditional society with their Muslimhood. And this all happened under the supervision of the EU which wants to bring national governments to their knees and humiliate the proud nations of Europe. This message is easier to sell than 'it actually is our fault'.
In this framework, a guy (naming him would only give him what he wanted) tried to transform himself in the savior of his country. He tried to open the eyes of his people by killing the ones he saw responsible for the perceived decadent state of his society. He did not manage to do that. So far, Norway has acted exemplary, condemning him and his ideas and standing firm against any threat to its openness and democracy. Others haven't been so inspired. Politicians from all the corners of Europe (Jacques Coutela- France, Front National; Mario Borghezio- Italy, Northern League; Iulian Urban- Romania, Democrat Liberal Party and, sadly, many others), journalists from both side of the Atlantic and other various public figures have tried to find an excuse for the terrorist acts. They deplore the loss of human life but agree with the reasons behind the attack. So the blames falls yet again on the Muslims for infuriating a mad man or on the EU for allowing the Muslims to infuriate a mad man. It is worrying that these views are expressed with so much openness. But even worse seems to be the response they receive. Looking at the comments from newspapers' readers, you can see that this is a wide spread phenomenon. A lot of people truly believe that the monster was right.
What does this say about our society? I guess it is too early to say. But for all those who think that far right claims have any kind of legitimacy, please remember what happened last time when we believed in them.