Within less than perhaps the past decade, Europe has seen a wave of xenophobic, nationalist populism sweep across its shores – indicating that our world is seemingly becoming less and less tolerant at the same time as diversifying.
Core issues which are common across the board include a range of scepticism to hatred of the EU, anti-immigration focuses and a strong, nationalist sense of ‘lost’ pride, often manifesting itself in the form of xenophobia.
The European Union (EU) is a common sticking point – a politico-economic union born in its current form in 1993, seeking to establish the free movement of people, goods, services and capital across its 28 European member states.
It is seen, however, by right-wing populists – among others – as a part of the existing political establishment, a super-government trying to create a ‘European superstate’, thereby eliminating the independence of its member states and the cultures of their people.
Immigration is also seen as a common adversary. Immigration from non-EU – and frequently Muslim – countries is seen as bringing people, traditions and cultures alien to and incompatible with their destination countries. Particularly in the wake of the European migrant crisis, immigration has become an incendiary, cornerstone issue for such parties, who see opposing and curbing immigration as an essential step in protecting national culture, heritage and identity and protecting the rights and livelihoods of the native population.
The rise of this unfortunate political phenomenon is not exclusively European, however. It seems that the entire western world is experiencing a backlash against multiculturalism – sometimes termed as ‘post-multiculturalism’.
This has happened most prominently in the US – where Donald Trump won the election on the basis of promises including banning all Muslims from entering the US, the deportation of all illegal immigrants, a wall being built between Mexico and the US, the reinstatement of torture on behalf of the government and the prosecution of his electoral opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Looking specifically at Europe, however, the situation is no less reassuring.
The turn of the 21st century saw a continuation of a far-right presence in British politics. The formerly influential National Front faced rapid decline but was replaced by the British National Party, who support the repatriation of ethnic minorities as does the National Front, but on a voluntary rather than compulsory basis.
The 2006 general election saw the best-ever return for a far-right nationalist party in the UK, with the BNP winning 33 councillor seats, with 12 seats in Barking and Dagenham alone. This increased to 100 seats in the 2008 local elections, including a seat in the Greater London assembly. Furthermore, at the 2009 European Parliament election, the BNP gained two Members of the European Parliament.
The following few years saw the expulsion of party leader Nick Griffin and the gradual decline of the party into obscurity.
Other parties have, since, emerged from the shadows of the BNP, but with limited success. These include the English Democrats, the English Defence League and Britain First. These parties, however, have largely remained fringe parties and have only received media attention on the basis of sensationalist and sometimes extremist methods and tactics, as opposed to realistic and feasible policies.
The German manifestation of the continent’s political shift takes the form of the Alternative für Deutschland, or ‘Alternative for Germany’ party (AfD).
The party was initially formed along anti-EU lines late in 2012, with a particular focus on the Euro-zone and the opposition to the Euro. Initial supporters of the AfD were thus economists, business leaders, journalists and some former supporters of Germany’s mainstream Christian Democratic Union – all sharing common grievances against German Euro-zone policies.
Over time, the party’s anti-Eurozone focus shifted towards an emphasis upon nationalism – upon regaining a sense of lost German pride and rejecting the culture of national shame borne of Nazi WWII atrocities. This became a powerful part of the AfD’s populist appeal.
In 2015, the brand developed, with the AfD adopting its distinctive far-right, xenophobic brand of nationalism. This came with Frauke Petry replacing former party co-founder Bernd Lucke as party leader after months of in-fighting. This lead to a party shift towards an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and pro-Russian ideas.
This led to the resignation of Lucke and several other prominent party members, who then formed a group of their own, which may have looked to have heralded the weakening of the party.
This however was the year which saw the ‘European migrant crisis’ burst out onto the European political stage, which led to a surge in support for the AfD. As a result, the following year, the AfD came second and twice third in three German state elections, also adopting the slogan ‘Islam is not a part of Germany’ and calling for the ban of burkas and minarets.
The AfD’s anti-Islamic appeal was further exacerbated by incidents of extremism in Germany, attributed by many to the ‘threat of Islam’, whipping up anti-migrant, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic sentiment, and thus playing directly into the hands of the AfD. For example, though the party only won 4.7% of the national vote in the 2013 federal election, a poll conducted in the aftermath of the 2016 Berlin attack revealed that support for the party had jumped to 15.5%.
The 2017 federal elections saw the party win 12.6% of the popular vote and 94 out of 598 seats. Petry – in a surprise move – resigned very soon after as a result of party in-fighting.
The party however continues to enjoy a strong support base.
France has witnessed a series of devastating terrorist attacks in recent years, including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and then Paris attacks, as well as the Bastille Day truck ramming the following year. These purportedly being carried out in the name of Islam and occurring against the backdrop of a huge influx of migrants from Muslim-majority countries lead to growing suspicion and ill-feeling among sections of French society. The Paris attacks specifically played a key role in driving up support for the party.
France not having the same dark recent history with the far right as Germany means that the far right was born into French politics long before the AfD in Germany. Founded back in 1972, the Front National – or ‘National Front’ – was led by Jean-Marie le Pen until his resignation in 2011.
The National Front has been the recognisable front of French nationalism since the eighties, but le Pen’s daughter Marine becoming party leader in 2011 heralded a new age of the party entering mainstream French politics.
She began a process of ‘de-demonising’ the party by distancing it from her father and former leader, who garnered significant notoriety for, among other things, being convicted several times of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The party still, however, kept its core anti-immigration policies, but with an increased anti-Islamic focus.
In 2014, the party achieved unprecedented success in the 2014 national EU elections, winning very nearly a quarter of the popular vote and 24 of France’s 74 seats – a watershed moment in French politics.
In the 2017 presidential elections, the party won over a third of the national vote, though this was followed by a poor showing at the subsequent parliamentary elections, where it actually suffered a marginal fall on the 2012 election results. The party however remains the main opposition party to the French government.
The Dutch equivalent is the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) – the ‘Party for Freedom’. Led by the controversial firebrand Geert Wilders, the party had courted considerable controversy and garnering widespread support.
Similarly to the AfD, the party was formed as a result of disgruntlement towards the establishment’s openness towards the EU but later evolved to adopt a distinct, bitter anti-Islamic drive.
Founded in 2006, it gained nine seats in the general election of the same year, making it the sixth-largest party in the national parliament. Four years later, party strength increased to 24 seats, making it the third-largest party. In the elections of this year, despite the party’s number of seats decreasing to 20, the PVV became the second-largest party of the Netherlands.
The PVV is sadly peerless in its opposition to Islam – it is the party’s base and essence. In 2008, Wilders, while leader of the party, released a short film called Fitna, which accused Islam of encouraging terrorism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and Islamic universalism.
In a subsequent trial, Wilders faced five counts of criminal offences for various remarks such as calling Islam ‘a fascist religion’, comparing the Qur’an to Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and (God forbid) calling the Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" ‘the devil’. Wilders was, however, acquitted of all charges, though facing criticism. In the PVV’s party manifesto for this year’s general election – its programme or government outlining/detailing exactly what it will seek to achieve in office if elected – was merely one page long. It featured only 11 pledges, of which the first was a commitment to the ‘de-Islamisation of the Netherlands’ (where only 4.9% of the population is Muslim’. This pledge includes eight sub-points – the only pledge to include any. So unjust and excessive has Wilders been in his vitriolic campaign against Islam that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) issued him a direct and grave warning:
“Listen carefully – you, your party and every other person like you will ultimately be destroyed. But the religion of Islam and the message of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) will remain forever. No worldly power, no matter how powerful and no matter how much hatred they bear towards Islam, will ever succeed in erasing our religion.”
Suffering for over a decade from a debilitating economic crisis and, more recently, dealing with a huge influx of migrants, Greek land has proved to be fertile ground for the growth of the ultra-nationalist – also labelled extremist, fascist and neo-Nazi – ‘Golden Dawn’ party.
Despite being initially founded in the eighties, the party remained in the depths of political obscurity until it first came to international attention in 2012, when it entered the Hellenic Parliament for the first time, winning 18 seats. Three years later, in the 2015 national elections, despite the party’s seat share falling by one to 17, Golden Dawn became the third-largest party in parliament, winning around half a million votes.
The party is notorious for being linked to violence and openly using intimidation. The party founder, Nikolaos Michaloliakos and several other Golden Dawn MPs and members were arrested and held on remand after an anti-fascist rapper was murdered by a party supporter, with the trial currently ongoing.
The party has also resorted to intimidation, with several Greek parliamentarians have been subject to abuse both inside and outside of parliament. Golden Dawn is closely associated with the Greek hooligan firm Galazia Stratia – both were found collectively guilty of a number of incidents of violence across Greece against Albanian immigrants.
Party spokesperson, Ilias Kasidiaris – bearer of a swastika tattoo – for example, during a live-aired TV discussion show in 2012, threw a glass of water at one woman and slapped another three times – after the latter struck him with a piece of paper – during a heated discussion. He reportedly also threatened the television crew and other employees present – and assaulted others – before leaving.
These are some of the major populist parties enjoying electoral success in Europe. There are, however, several more – existing in countries such as Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Italy. Despite being restricted in many countries, immigration to Europe is still happening en masse, unfounded fears of which such parties will stoke and exploit for the furthering of their own political agendas. While most significant initial impacts of the global recession are now a thing of the past, the after-effects remain with the European economy, resulting in palpable tensions arising from a sense of disgruntlement and aggravation at economic inequality – which as we have seen often persuades people to turn to more radical solutions for government. The primary issue here is not the existence of these parties – a range of opinions is part of any pluralistic society. The issue is governments failing to address long-standing issues of integration and equality of opportunity – opening the door to the ‘protest vote’ as a means for people to vent their frustrations at the political establishment. What is seen as indifference towards popular grievances can lead to dangerous consequences at the ballot box.
The teachings of Islam are exemplary
The teachings of Islam are exemplary in this regard – illuminating a clear middle path between the seemingly-adversarial principles of nationalism and internationalism.
As is evident from the saying of the Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him": “Love of one’s country is a part of faith” – being a pro-active, loyal and obedient citizen is a distinctive quality of a Muslim. Gratefulness to people, in Islam, is an essential part of being grateful to God – and the practical rendering thanks of a Muslim to their country is doing everything in the capacity for its protection and betterment.
Islam, however, never allows for patriotism to degenerate into chauvinism – a Muslim must never forget the importance and value of charity. The Qur’an gives the most beautiful example of the Medinite Muslims’ incredibly open-hearted welcome for the Muslims migrating from Makkah the time of the migration of the Holy Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him":
“Those who had established their home in this City and had accepted the Faith before them. They love those who come to them for refuge, and find not in their breasts any desire for that which is given them (the Refugees), but give preference to the Refugees above themselves, even though poverty be their own lot. Whoso is rid of the covetousness of his own soul – it is these who will be successful.”
When the Muslims of Makkah emigrated to Medina, the Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" established 45 Meccan Muslims as brothers in faith to 45 Medinite Muslims – one Meccan Muslim the brother of one Medinite Muslim. The Medinite leaders of families would each provide accommodation and living costs for a Meccan family, and the two brothers in faith would work together and share what they earnt. These Medinite Muslims shared everything they had with – often even giving a whole half of their property to – their Meccan brothers, so much so, that when the Medinite brother passed away, his Meccan brother would be one of his inheritors along with the deceased’s family.
This is a most excellent example of charity and love for humanity which the Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" and his Companions set for the world over 1400 years ago. And so were they blessed for this, that, within 10 years, Allah caused them to return victorious to the same town from where they were cruelly forced.
Adopting this kind of love for others allows us to break down walls, barriers and borders and would make the world a much better place to live in for all.