Europe Lurches Right—With the Left's Help

by Lorna Salzman

No one should be surprised at the growing successes of right wing parties in western Europe. But the reasons put forth by the heavy pro-EU hitters are missing most of the picture.

The proposed EU constitution went down to ignominious and completely predictable defeat. It is not for nothing that some countries still remain outside the EU and have rejected the euro as their currency. Unlike most Americans, European citizens are not naive or uninformed about their political leaders and the implications of the policies they promote.

The European Commission, for starters, is an appointed and unaccountable body --unaccountable to European citizens, that is. This is a commission of the usual bureaucrats and high-flying technocrats amenable to all that is globalization-friendly. In its clumsy attempts to impose sterile uniformity on Europeans in all aspects of life, it reveals its loyalty not to democracy or cultural diversity or the most admirable historical legacies of the numerous European countries, but to transnational corporations, the manufacture of wealth for the wealthy and power for the powerful, and the reinforcement of its own position and influence.

The requirements for EU countries to join that union have nothing to do with democracy but with the strict imposition of structural adjustment policies that mandate stringent adherence to uniform financial and economic policies, such as balanced budgets and prohibition against deficits. The poorer less developed countries are thus put in a position of having to choose paths to either humane generous social welfare benefits or caustic measures to reduce such benefits and thus impose hardship on the poor and middle class.

We in the USA most often see the most visible effects in the area of food and consumer goods. The European Commission spends a lot of its time trying to dismantle both the safety and cultural practices that support an agricultural and food system that not only proves the American food supply as tasteless and unhealthy by comparison but demonstrates the economic and social superiority of European crops and foodstuffs.

Anyone who has ever visited Europe will vouch for the fact that the smallest most remote cafe in western Europe serves better tasting food than anyone except the richest Americans can experience in this country: French artisanal cheeses and bread, ripe, sweet juicy Italian and French food, Spanish seafood, German and Czech beer, and vegetables that actually taste like vegetables. The depressing part about visiting Europe is having to come back to the USA and shop here for food.

The secular social democracies in western Europe have other things that make life there the best in the world: separation of religion and state, equality and enfranchisement of women, broad secularism, embodied Enlightenment values (resurrected with the defeat of fascism and communism and the help of the USA after World War II), cultural and educational opportunities, a respect for learning, outstanding free or cheap universal health facilities, modern rapid public transportation connecting all major cities and regions, low rates of violent crime, all co-existing with historic and ancient buildings, churches, castles, palaces and monuments that make western Europe the top travel priority for foreigners.

But Europe is not immune to the same problems facing the rest of the world, including financial scandal and corruption, drugs, unemployment, social inequality, and environmental degradation, including global warming. Added to these problems are those of immigration, from eastern Europe and from the Arab and Muslim worlds, especially from north Africa and Turkey. These immigrants were originally welcomed as cheap sources of labor; today they are seen as competitors for jobs and as alien cultures who want the benefits Europe offers without the commensurate responsibilities required by citizenship and civil society.

One wonders just what the European leaders were thinking when they opened their doors to eastern Europeans to fill the lower echelons of the work force and imposed a uniform currency, the euro, without considering the vast differences in the economies of western and eastern Europe. It was quite obvious that workers would flood the west for jobs, and foreign investment would remain in the west rather than the east. One also wonders just why, if one imposes a single currency, why one would not also impose uniform wages, labor and environmental standards, which would not only discourage immigration to the west but would level the playing field for development and investment.

Now, the issue of Muslims in western Europe is at white heat, as Muslims with families three to four times larger than Europeans take advantage of the generous social welfare benefits: housing, health care, education, unemployment insurance, while taking great pains to avoid any degree of social integration that might contravene their patriarchal and regressive religious and social practices...including female genital mutilation specifically, and the repression of women in general.

As global financial and economic conditions worsen, it is not surprising that right wing movements and parties rise up and take advantage. This happened (one hesitates to say) in Germany in the 1930s and led to the Nazi take=over, to Hitler, to World War II, and to the holocaust. There are some lessons that need to be learned from the failures of Europe between the first and second world wars.

There were no democracies in Europe. There were royal oligarchies, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there were parliaments but these represented groups and parties, not individual citizens. The notion of representative democracy and one-person/one-vote politics did not exist. The concept of democracy had not yet been embraced.

But there were political schisms between the right and left, with extremists on both ends, and often there were unexpected alignments with these, with divisions less clear to us today that only historians can explain fully. There were communists, socialists, social democrats, democratic socialists, as well as conservatives (some of whom did NOT support the Nazis), and centrist; like today, the leftists split political hairs and often worked at odds with each other. This was in fact one of the things that enabled the Nazis to consolidate power, in the broader unstable economic unease that permeated Europe. The Nazis exploited this insecurity brilliantly.

So today we have this early history repeating itself. But contrary to what the mass media report, the right wing victories in Europe are not solely due to the dire economic situation. You have to put together all the pieces: an unaccountable unelected central bureaucracy called the European Commission empowered to impose its will on individual countries; an attempt to impose an European constitution without democratic input and participation from the citizens (the left opposed it as much as the right); refusal by the Commission to acknowledge, respect and preserve the diverse histories and cultures of western countries; financial shenanigans by uncontrolled capitalism and corporations;

And last but not least, the mass entry of Muslims unprepared for secular democracy, resistant to women's rights and religious freedom for anyone but themselves, desperate to maintain their lethal patriarchal grip on their women and families, a grip justified by fanatic Islamic fundamentalism that provided them with an excuse to enslave and murder women at their whim.

All in all, these conditions are the proverbial Perfect Storm for the right wing to move in. And they are. But let us not forget that the way is being cleared for the European leftists. Many of these leftists are quite cognizant of the disasters being fomented by corporate globalization and its allies. They oppose, quite rightly, the transnational treaties and institutions such as WTO, World Bank, IMF, among others, as well as the proposed European constitution and the efforts of the European Commission to override and drown the traditions and cultural values of the individual European countries. They oppose, rightly, attempts to downsize the benefits of social democracy such as health and education, and efforts to undermine farmers and unions (the UK, under Thatcher and Minor succeeded in this, unfortunately). They defend the right of Europe to ban genetically modified crops and foods and keep out American meat laced with antibiotics.

But when it comes to radical Islam, terrorism, the enslavement of women, Islamic anti-Semitism, and freedom of expression that is critical of Islam, the left has given up. Instead, it has aligned itself with the most repressive, neofascist anti semitic movements and tendencies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestine Right of Return/International Solidarity Movement, umbrellas that are conducting worldwide propaganda campaigns against Israel, Zionism and the USA, and by implication against Jews. These leftist campaigns have attracted and provided cover for the most ignominious violent hate crimes, both in thought and deed, against Jews and against all critics of Islam, in western Europe: victims tortured to death in France, stabbed to death in the Netherlands, and blown to bits by Muslim bombs in Spain and London.

You can comb leftist blogs and journals and email postings till you are blue in the face, but you will never see these things mentioned. Not even 9/11. For leftists in the USA and Europe, Islamic terrorism does not exist. For them, the only terrorism that exists is in the form of American imperialism.Meanwhile, the right's anti-immigrant message gradually attracts more and more followers.

The irony of all this is that Muslim religious leaders visited and cooperated with Hitler and the Nazis; that they have printed and preached anti-Semitism starting in the 1930s; that Islam historically and today is violently anti-left and anti-nationalist/anti-populist; that Muslim leaders and groups were actively solicited by the USA as a way of counteracting communism and the Soviet Union (hence the American arming of the Taliban in Afghanistan).

Now, today, in western Europe, the left has the distinct dishonor of being aligned with forces at least as neo-fascist as those in Germany in the 1930s. But unlike those forces which sought domination in Europe, today's Fascislamists seek world domination not through occupying armies and air forces but through random premeditated murder of all non-Muslims. At ground level, there are two modes of violence, one with weapons, one with propaganda preached in mosques, printed in handbills, broadcast over radio and TV, and distributed in textbooks in schools and madrassas throughout the Muslim world.

Barely a word of dissent has come out of the left in the USA, the UK or the Netherlands....except from the right wing. Muslims themselves live in fear of their lives were they to speak out against Islamic violence. Most Muslims do not question their religion or religious leaders, and as they demand freedom to practice their own religion, they demand obeisance and submission (fitna) from everyone else, rioting in the streets when someone challenges them (Danish cartoons)

. Fitna succeeded admirably; most American and western media refused to reprint the cartoons. When the American journal Free Inquiry printed them, Barnes and Noble refused to sell the journal in its stores. Even liberal writers like Ian Buruma, in a recent NY Times Op Ed piece, stated that there were kinds of expression that no "civilized" person should use, ignoring the fact that it is UNCIVILIZED language that deserves protection, not simpering flattery or praise.

Yesterday NPR featured Christopher Hitchens on the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's 1984. There are a few other courageous people besides Hitchens - Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, Bernard-Henri Levy, Caroline Fourest - who understand the connections between democracy, freedom of expression, equality,tolerance and social stability. Europe has had the benefit of these, in the bright sunshine of the Enlightenment. Now the dark shadow of authoritarianism can be seen on both the left and the right. If the left does not speak out about Islam, secularism, democracy, terrorism and women's rights, it will bear a large share of the responsibility for whatever degree of authoritarianism the right imposes.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.