Europe: the dangerous rise of xenophobia & racist discrimination

Xenophobia is becoming a serious threat for Europe, as the brutal attack in Norway has shown. Human rights groups and experts warn that far-right political parties have played an important role in bringing the threat posed by extremist groups to the extent it has reached today.

Norwegian police believe a 32-year-old Norwegian suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, is to blame for the attacks on Norway’s government headquarters and a youth retreat that left at least 93 dead. Breivik was described as a fundamentalist Christian and Muslim-hater.

He had connections to the Norwegian far right, was a member of a Swedish neo-Nazi internet forum and hailed the anti-Islam PVV movement of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as “the only true party for conservatives”. According to sociologist Hikmet Aydın, the educational system in Europe and the attitude of governments towards Muslims in recent years have created a fertile ground for the emergence of vicious killers like Breivik in Norway.

In a report titled: “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted last year -- with deep concern -- that in many of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, Muslims feel socially excluded, stigmatized and discriminated against, stressing that they have become victims of stereotypes, social marginalization and political extremism because of their different religious and cultural traditions.

The report lambasted some member states where far right-wing parties have changed their traditional hostile campaign against immigration and foreigners and now exploit the public fear of Islam. The PACE report underlined: “Their political campaigns encourage anti-Muslim sentiments and the amalgamation of Muslims with religious extremists. They advocate the fear of Europe being swamped by Muslims.”

The rise of populist, xenophobic, nationalist far right parties in Europe and abroad is alarming. It's about 10-15 percent of the populations in many countries of Europe. Far-right parties gained seats in recent elections in Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Finland. Politicians started to capitalize on the fears of people, hoping that such a strategy will deliver them votes.

The populist parties emerging in Europe differ from traditional neofascist parties in that they have garnered a much broader voting base. The parties are able to do so by playing off the fear of rising immigration levels in their countries. The group found that “in some countries, they have even established themselves as the second largest party with around 30% of the votes, sometimes denying their rivals a governing majority.” These parties are quickly gaining momentum, which threatens the security of immigrants across the continent. Even those currently in power are actively participating in discrimination against immigrants and minority groups.

Far-right rhetoric is used not just by the extremist parties in Europe but by the mainstream parties as well. A negative attitude developed by Sarkozy at the heart of Europe was reflected on the streets. People started look for someone to blame for the all ills of the economy. They put the blame on new arrivals to the country and immigrants. It is a gross injustice and many immigrants now feel threatened and unwelcome, and rightly so.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Congress of the Young Christian Democrats said that, "This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed." These sentiments echoed by various politicians and pundits throughout Europe raise the heat on a plethora of issues, from immigration and minority rights to Islam and the Roma. The sentiment among many now is that Europe, once a beacon of hope for many foreigners and a rich, vibrant cosmopolitan society, is reverting back to nationalist sentiments.
According to the BBC, many Europeans feel that immigrants and Islam are attacking valued principles, mainly secularism and the notion of the unified, indivisible state and citizenry who are able to assimilate in the nation. The flash-points of these movements and the mobilization against foreigners are occurring throughout Europe.

France has been on the attack. According to the BBC, the National Assembly and the Senate approved a bill banning the Islamic full veil in public, a measure supported by a large portion of the population and the president Nicolas Sarkozy. The riots of 2005 caused by youth dissent also highlighted the race and immigrant relations, as well as the fear of Islam and immigrant communities by many in France. France has a vibrant far right party, the National Front. The party is nativist, protectionist and traditionalist, alongside being blatantly racist and downplaying the holocaust. According to PBS, in the presidential election of 2002, Le Pen received 17 % of the vote for the presidency. This may not seem like a large number for a national election, but the sole fact that 17 %of the French electorate would vote for an imbecile like National Front leader is beyond comprehension.

England has also been in the news for their increasing reactionary movements and parties. According to the BBC, the British National Party has increased in popularity over recent years, taking over half a million votes (an increase of 1.2 percent) in the UK national election in 2010. According to the BNP website, the policies they support that set them apart from the other parties are, "the threat to our security posed by Islam and the danger of the European Union to our sovereignty." Along with the rise of the BNP is the energetic English Defense League, whose goal is to prevent the "Islamification" of Britain.

According to MSNBC, Germany's chairman of the Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, has reaffirmed the need for strong immigration policies denying any more people from "alien cultures." The Netherlands have Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who claims that there is no moderate Islam and that anyone who is a Muslim will one day be radicalized. According to The Guardian, the ultraconservative Sweden Democrats received 6% of the vote in the national election in September, meaning they will get 20 Members of Parliament. The Guardian also reports that this party, which has support from Skinhead groups, bears the slogan "tradition and security," and is against Islamification. They too seek to crack down on immigration.

With the Swiss referendum in 2009, Islamophobia has become institutionalized, sanctioned by the constitution drawing an analogy to anti-Semitic sentiments of the 1930s.

The Roma people are under enormous pressure in many nations around Europe. There have been expulsions in France, Italy and attacks against them in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Many Europeans have forgotten the lessons of the past. The Holocaust, along with the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina to name a few, were a direct result of these nationalist, intolerant and racist beliefs.

While this occurs in Europe, it is also stirring movements in the United States as well. According to The Guardian, the English Defense League and Tea Party have forged ties, mainly against Islam and the supposed rise of Sharia law in government. These vivacious and populist parties are spewing their venom of hatred and propaganda and attracting many into their flock, including countless youth. We must stand up, voice our concern and let the radicals know that we will not allow them to take control. Do not be apathetic but show your care and concern for the poor, oppressed and minorities.

Never forget the words of Pastor Niemoller, who said that the German intellectuals had failed to speak up against Nazism. When the Nazi party attacked group after group and finally came for clergy members. "Then they came for me," he said, "and by that time no one was left to speak up."

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