Expatica news

Anti-Islam rant sees far-right fly high across Europe

Brussels – An internet game targeting minarets and mosques, women in burqas in hot pursuit of an elderly white pensioner; across Europe far-right parties are flying high thanks to anti-immigrant, anti-Islam rants.

The burqa-versus-pensioner TV ad devised by the far-right Sweden Democrats, who scored a maiden entry into parliament this weekend, was modified in the end by law-enforcers and Austria’s website shootout at Islam was shut down by the authorities.

Yet Sweden and Austria are on a growing list of nations where far-right politicians are notching up impressive gains thanks to spin-off from 9/11, as well as fallout from the global economic crisis.

“Politics is becoming nationalistic and nativist in many parts of Europe,” said cult economist Nouriel Roubini, “reflected in an anti-immigrant backlash, raids against the Roma, Islamophobia and the rise of extreme right-wing parties.”

Far-right parties are currently in government in Italy and sit in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden and The Netherlands.

In France, where the far-right regularly grabs 10 percent of the vote, a ban on wearing a burqa in public was passed last week – a move submitted to Italy’s parliament a couple of days later.

In liberal Netherlands, where the anti-Islam Freedom Party came in third in June elections, leader Geert Wilders hopes to secure a place in a minority government though he stands trial next month for inciting hatred of Muslims.

Pollsters currently reckon the group to be potentially the nation’s biggest — able to snatch over 30 of 150 parliament seats if elections were held today.

“After 9/11, and especially after the economic crisis, there’s been a change of attitude in industrialised countries,” Melita Sungic, of the UN refugee agency, told AFP.

“Human rights are perceived as a security question, not that people need EU protection, but EU people need to be protected from them.”

But the paradox lies in the numbers.

In some of the most virulent anti-immigrant states, the proportion of foreigners is tiny. In Finland, where the far-right True Finns swelled from one percent a decade ago to 10.7 percent earlier this year, only 2.7 percent are foreigners. In Sweden, on the other hand, 14.3 percent of the population was born abroad.

And despite the groundswell of foreigner-phobia, the actual numbers of illegal migrants slipping into border-free Europe is on the decline.

The EU agency that manages the 27-nation bloc’s external borders, Frontex, said irregular migration fell 36 percent in the first three months of 2010 compared with the last quarter of 2009, and 39 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Boatloads of migrants from Africa and Asia – images that move some and upset others – likewise, are no longer getting through in mass. Some 3,300 people landed illegally on European shores the first three months this year, compared to 33,000 in the first quarter of 2008, Frontex said.

“Politicians are using numbers to give a distorted vision of reality,” said Sergio Carrera of the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank. “They say Europe is being invaded, but if you look at statistics, that’s just not so.”

“No one is giving a clear picture of what’s really happening,” he added.

And French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial crackdown on Roma Gypsies, he added, concerned a few thousand people in a country of 63 million.

“What’s the problem when a welfare system such as France’s cannot provide an answer for people living in poor settlements?” Carrera said.

“Because of the crisis and dearth of jobs,” said researcher Shada Islam at the European Policy Centre, “politicians are playing on emotions to win votes, looking for scapegoats.”

Analysts say that in the wake of the crisis, some European governments are playing up far-right policies to serve national political interests.

“It’s the European version of the Tea Party movement, a very reactionary response to the crisis,” said Fabrice Pothier, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank, referring to a US ultra-conservative faction.

The expectation was that the crisis would see the public demand more social welfare policies, triggering a left-wing comeback, he said. “Instead public opinion is concentrating on domestic issues, creating an environment for right-wing parties.”

In Spain and Belgium, frustration and discontent were expressed through separatist movements, in Britain through the explosive language of the tabloids, he opined.

But the connection between local domestic issues and foreign policy is becoming a real problem for Europe, Pothier said.

“Europe is trying to redefine its role in the world … but is lost in its own divisions and contradictions.”

“We lecture people overseas, we talk of democratic values, human rights, but we have policies that undermine these values. We have to look at ourselves before we start lecturing the world.”

Claire Rosemberg / AFP / Expatica