European populists of every stripe have been brandishing the bogeyman of Islamism, appealing to native fears and phobias. And it pays off in votes!
Gains by far-Right candidates in Sweden's September elections were signs of a trend. The nationalist Sverigedemokraterna Party (SD, Sweden Democrats) campaigned on a platform of rights for the elderly… at the expense of the rights of immigrants. An SD commercial – finally censored by Swedish television – featured an elderly Swedish lady laboriously pushing her walker towards the government pension window. Suddenly, she is shoved aside by a crowd of burqa-clad foreign women, their hands held out to receive the bounty of the welfare state.
Apparently, in Europe, stigmatizing a community or religion is still an excellent way to improve your voter appeal, and not only on the nationalist lunatic fringe.
In Berlin, a huge sign reading "Sarrazin was right" was displayed on the façade of the headquarters of the NPD, the German nationalist party. Were the German neo-extremists paying a posthumous tribute to the medieval Saracen invasions? No, they were acclaiming racist ideas put forth by a politician named Thilo Sarrazin.
This former member of the Bundesbank board of directors is the author of the book entitled Deutschland schafft sich ab (clumsily translated as "Germany Does Away with Itself"), in which he argues that the growing Muslim population in Germany is among the causes of the country's decline. The economist claims he has simply done the math. He assumes that intelligence is 50-80% hereditary, and that certain communities, for cultural or genetic reasons, are less intelligent than others. These subgroups, which are usually Muslim, have a much higher birth rate that Germans. Ergo, Germany is doomed to stupidity.
Yet Thilo Sarrazin belongs to the mainstream German Socialist party SPD (although the Socialists have debated throwing him out). He refuses any affiliation with German neo-Nazism, and eventually, the poster on the NPD headquarters was removed. Nevertheless, in the weeks which following the Thilo Sarrazin scandal, 18% of German voters were ready to elect him as chancellor.
Spain: Towards a ban on the burqa
In May 2010 in Spain, Lereda was the first municipality to vote a ban on the full-face veil in public buildings. This Catalan town is a bastion of the PSOE, Prime Minister Zapatero's Socialist party. With regional elections coming up on November 28, several other towns in Catalonia, ruled by both left and right, are following suit. Now the anti-veil fever is spreading to town councils in Andalusia.
Is this simply a cheap vote-getting ploy? Fatima Mohammed, who represented the centre-right People's Party on the Gines town council (near Seville) for eight years, claims that she was immediately repudiated by her party for refusing to take off her hijab at council meetings. The locals won't let her run on the Partido Popular ticket in May 2011.
Netherlands: A tax on Islam?
Dutch politician Geert Wilders is also making hay out of hatred of Islam. He leads the PVV ("Party for Freedom"). Despite their name, their platform includes banning the Quran and taxing the hijab, and Wilders's 2008 film Fitna went so far as to compare the Quran to Mein Kampf. At a 9/11 "Stop the Islamization of America" rally in New York, he was cheered by a crowd of American Tea Partiers, galvanized into action to combat the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero – which is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero. But details like that aren't important when the point is to fight Barack Obama and NY mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Dutch Liberal MEP Bob van den Bos, also a sociologist, offered this explanation of the growing hostility to the Muslim community in his country:
"Dutch culture is based on the duty to be normal, to conform. Wilders strives to connect young vandals with Islam. He is targeting older voters who are more sensitive to the traditional respect for Dutch good-citizenship."
Back to the Crusades
Led by MEP Mario Borghezio, the right wing of Italy's Northern League has also jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon. In 2008, Borghezio joined a sit-in at Genoa's San Giovanni di Pré church to protest mayor Marta Vicenzi's plans to convert an almshouse in the compound into an interfaith chapel. Without blushing, Borghezio declared, "As Knights of Christianity, we vow always to defend these premises from Islamic invasion and desecration!"
Oddly enough, even after a 2005 conviction for setting fire to some homeless immigrants' bedrolls in Turin, Borghezio holds a seat on the European Parliament's Commission on Civil Liberties.