The Rise of the Far Right
Type the words “Muslim” and either “Europe” or “immigration” into google and you will be inundated by articles with catchy headlines like “Ban homosexuality, 52% of Muslims say in a poll” or “Radical Islam is spreading across Europe”, although to find my personal favourite, “Muslim rape wave in Sweden”, you need to do a search combining the words “Muslim” and “Sweden”.
My first response to these waves of rhetoric was to come to the defence of Muslims who are clearly being pilloried by a particularly zealous breed of nationalist. This turned out to be a mistake; not because Muslims deserve even a fraction of the lies and exaggerations being hurled at them, but because a lynch mob running around with pitch forks and lanterns baying for blood, won’t be stopped by anything as mundane as common sense or as humane as compassion.
I was in the process of composing a (third) response to some of the angry claims circulating around the internet when I was struck by the sheer hopelessness of the task. As soon as you do the research into one of their claims (God forbid they do this themselves, and by research I don’t mean beating us over the head with raw statistics and the latest “poll” results) and discover that it’s supported more by hot air and shrill voices than careful reasoning and balanced interpretation, they’ve already moved on to another even more outlandish and shocking “fact”. Of course, when the bar for “evidence” is set this low, supporting details are never more than a ‘click and a cherry-pick’ away. At any rate, this article is an attempt to get above this never-ending stream of accusations and insults and glimpse the bigger picture.
The first thing I noticed was the fact that we are being inundated by a torrent of pseudo-facts and meaningless statistics which portray Muslims collectively as deluded, gang-raping religious fanatics is actually typical of another well-known phenomena; conspiracy theories.
Here’s a quick run-down on conspiracy theories. They tend to crop up in times of uncertainty and fear (terrorist attacks: check), they point the finger at a group of people whom we can collectively blame (Muslims: check), they give us a method of understanding and gaining control over the situation (ban/get rid of Muslims: check), they eschew a rational, obvious explanation in favour of a sinister ulterior motive (Muslim refugees aren’t fleeing war torn countries – they are an invasion force) and they often rely on copious quantities of poorly analysed but convincing-sounding facts (check, check, check).
So what’s the conspiracy pundits are theorising here? Muslims are trying to establish a global Caliphate and phase one is the takeover of Europe.
“But how can you deny this? They’ve already told us this is what they want; look at IS.”
I don’t doubt that a handful of dangerously deluded people do indeed want to see the world united under a primitive form of Sharia as exemplified by Wahhabi Islam. This isn’t the conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory arises when we think that IS represents the views of all 1.7 billion Muslims on earth. Surely not even the most dedicated anti-Muslim nationalist could seriously believe this.
And yet they do seem to believe something like this as evidenced by the fact that they never bother to distinguish between Muslims on the one hand and terrorists/extremists on the other. The former (all 1.7 billion of them) are collectively lumped together with the latter. How is this possible? Because they’ve forgotten that Muslims are individual people, just like you and me. Has no one else noticed that the extremists (of the right-wing variety) are running a classic smear campaign here? With calculators in hand, “Trumped-up” facts, statistics and poll numbers became horrifying claims, not about IS fighters or Muslim extremists but about “refugees” and “Muslims”, as if they all stand for exactly the same thing. Because, don’t you know, all Muslim males dream of raping a Western woman and all refugees are looking to create a global Caliphate because they were all so happy back in their home theocracies. Some scruple-free writer even coined the term “rape-fugees”, a slur as disgusting and indiscriminate as it is inaccurate. And it’s not just words. Every article is accompanied by a sinister-looking group of women in hijabs or burkas or an IS militant brandishing a gun and a black flag somewhere in Iraq (one particular article with a photo like this wasn’t even about IS
It’s time we realised that we are in the middle of a full-blown campaign aimed at dehumanising Muslims so that we don’t feel compassion for their plight or guilt over sending them back to the warzones they are trying to escape. You may have heard Westerners complain that these barbaric Muslim parents hide behind their babies in front of border patrols (there’s no way they could have been saying, “Don’t shoot, we have children”), these animals risk their children’s lives on unsafe dinghies and perilous night voyages (this could never be a measure of their desperation and hope to build a better life for their children), they rape our women and children, they do this, they believe that… All obvious ploys to create the perception that Muslims (plural; collective) aren’t humans like us.
We are steadily being conditioned through a wave of xenophobic propaganda to see the word ‘Muslim’ as synonymous with evil. It’s important to note that the rhetoric isn’t rallying against barbaric ideologies or values (an endeavour which I wholly support), such as those espoused by Islamic extremists; it’s rallying against individual people because some other people who happen to look like them or come from the same place as them are committing terrible crimes. That is a red flag… one with a big swastika on it.
The scary thing is we have seen these kinds of tactics before. Whites used them against blacks to justify slavery, the Hutus used them against the Tutsi (whom they compared to snakes and cockroaches), Christians used them against Jews for centuries and most disturbingly, in a classic example of nationalism gone awry, Hitler used them to mobilise millions of Germans against the hated Jews. What should we have learnt from this? Any time one group of people comes under a sustained and remorseless attack built on impressive-sounding but ultimately empty “facts” or “statistics” and we are encouraged not to see individuals, but rather to judge them collectively and by the actions of their worst members, we ought to be extremely wary.
The dehumanisation of Muslims and the conspiracy theory that sees them collectively as a foreign poison aiming to create a global Caliphate and subjugate the West, is an extremely dangerous combination; and one that conjures up memories of past demons we thought we had exorcised. The rise of the far-right nationalists inspired by the angry, alarmist rhetoric that is becoming more and more commonplace is a very disturbing portent of things to come.
IS has only just started its campaign of jihad. More terrorist attacks are certainly in the pipeline, there can be no doubt of that, and no matter how good our intelligence or how tight our security, it’s going to be tough to stop all of them. Some see this as a call-to-arms; a chance to expose a Muslim conspiracy bent on global domination and rise up to cleanse our shores of immigrant blood, blood which belongs to those waging war on us. Blood, race, religion, skin colour, belief (or lack thereof); these are all things which have been invoked in the past to justify unspeakable acts of violence and depravity. We would do well to keep this in mind before we pour more gasoline on the fires of racial or ethnic intolerance that are already growing out of control. We have been down this nationalist road before, we know where it leads and it isn’t pretty.
Something scary is happening in Europe, but it’s not a global Muslim conspiracy; it’s the resurgence of far-right, nationalist extremism. Many people have looked back on the early 20th century and wondered how one man was able to generate such hatred and anger in an entire country, not towards individuals guilty of wrongdoing, but towards an entire group of people. What perhaps initially started out as disapproval of the actions of certain individuals blossomed into an intense racial/ethnic hatred that scarred the Western collective consciousness for generations afterwards. This is the legacy bequeathed to today’s far-right nationalists who seem to be ignorant of the well-trodden path they are marching down.
Today, those of us not waving banners of anger and fear or supporting politicians who promise to ban an entire group of people from their country have a front row seat on history repeating itself. Ordinary people, people no different from decent German citizens in the 1930s, have become caught up in a vicious cycle that feeds on their deepest fears and most ingrained prejudices. Collectively generating pages and pages of angry rhetoric, they peddle it to each other, whipping themselves up into a frenzy of nationalist elitism characterised by an ugly hatred of the “other”. As the pitchforks and flaming torches come out, it is a chilling thought that future generations may one day study this period in history with the same shame and regret we feel at some parts of our own past.