Rethinking secularism, World affairs:
"The new faces of the European far-right"
by Nilüfer Göle
May 11th, 2011
Two hitherto marginal but rising forces proved pivotal in the 2009 European elections: a burgeoning Green movement and a renascent far-right. On one hand, the British National Party won its first entry to the European Parliament, while in the Netherlands a rich multicultural heritage has been challenged by the electoral victories of the nativist Party for Freedom (PVV). On the other hand, the breakthrough of environmental groups on the political scene was celebrated everywhere in Europe. In Germany, where there was already a strong Green tradition, and in France, they outstripped the center parties in unprecedented fashion. But since the election, the actions of the Greens have remained virtually invisible, while the far-right never ceases to occupy the public stage, shaping societal debate across Europe and positioning itself as a viable alternative political force...
Republicanist France, which believed itself immune to the ominous rise of far-right political parties, is no exception. With the ascent of Marine Le Pen to the head of the National Front and her growing popularity in the polls, France joins the surge of nationalist parties that is sweeping over all of Europe. We must understand the new dynamics that underlie this relapse toward a continent-wide far-right movement: in its latest change of face, the far-right misappropriates the legacy of 1968 at the same time that it targets Islam under the guise of defending national values, just as its leaders claim to embody the value of personal liberty all the while asserting their belonging to the “land” of popular imagination, thus forging a new rhetorical repertoire and introducing it into European political culture. The movement is garnering newfound legitimacy by taking up themes of identity that have, for a decade, continued to gain purchase in European public debates. The far-right parties' entrance into these debates procures, in particular, an audience for their spokespeople, who stand out in these arenas through their combativeness toward Islam and through their irreverence, which breaks down former taboos surrounding multiculturalism.
The new faces of the far-right have gained power in their political parties by virtue of their capacity to make a place for themselves in debate—in other words, by manufacturing public personalities—as well as by stirring up controversies over the presence of Islam in Europe. They take great care over their self-presentation, which is given precedence over their political representation and their function in the party. We are witnessing a process whereby the presence of actors in the public sphere and the media determines the place they occupy in the political arena. However, public popularity and political engagement do not always follow the same logic, and, indeed, they sometimes come into tension with each other. There are those among the French public, for instance, who declare the National Front an obstacle to the popularity of Marine Le Pen.
Hence, we face a movement that has been revived politically by its entry to the public sphere, through which it acquires legitimacy for its ideas and puts an end to the stigma of the far-right. These parties are no longer at the end of the political spectrum but seek their political legitimacy at the center of public opinion, and they do so in large part by making Islam a common enemy. Thinkers from the republican right and intellectuals from the left both express perplexity over the rise of right-wing movements that do not hesitate to endorse egalitarian, feminist, and secular ideas. They have been dispossessed of the ideas that previously guaranteed the far-right's restriction to the margins of the political system.
The rising stars of the European far-right, such as Marine Le Pen in France, in fact scramble the divide between right and left, thus distinguishing themselves from the preceding generation of conservatives. They sometimes display a habitus evocative of European counter-culture—something completely out of step with the style of their predecessors. The leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, who often sports a tee-shirt emblazoned with an effigy of Che, and the Swiss politician Oskar Freysinger, who wears his long hair in a ponytail, do not hesitate to borrow the emblems of cultural revolt. In choosing Islam as a target, they make themselves out to be defenders of sexual equality, feminism, and freedom of expression, as well as supporters of the fight against homophobia and anti-Semitism. Hijacking the cultural legacy of the left, they promote those values to which the preceding, patriarchal, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic far-right was hostile.
Similarly, Marine Le Pen, while profiting from her lineage, aims for political renewal by breaking away from her father's tradition and its representation of the “real” (i.e., Catholic and working-class) France. If the father made himself spokesman for the “little people,” in opposition to the established elites associated with the Grand Écoles education system, the daughter, a lawyer and Member of the European Parliament, does not oppose the Republic's elite but, on the contrary, claims to be a defender of its values. She even goes so far as to claim to embody those values; she emblazons herself in republican ideals, defending secularism and adopting a feminist stance. She does not hesitate to endorse ideas that were introduced by a specific, and influential, form of feminism in support of her fight against the Islamic veil and the perceived threat of Muslim communitarianism.
Marine Le Pen has established herself through her declarations on controversies surrounding Islam. She attracted public attention by comparing Friday prayers on rue de la Myrha in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, which is home to a significant number of Muslims, to the German occupation. This comparison earned her a complaint for inciting racial hatred but also assured her a bill of entry to the public arena. She denounces the burkha and then demands even more comprehensive laws, setting herself up against “mosque-cathedrals,” polygamy, and the proscription of pork from public cafeterias. In her eyes, all Muslim religious practices constitute an instrumentalization of religion for political purposes. And according to her, any tolerance of Muslims or minority rights leads to discrimination against those of “French” descent.
It was likewise by arousing a sensitive debate around the construction of minarets in Switzerland that Oscar Freysinger, hitherto a relative unknown in the political landscape, won popularity on a European scale. Moreover, Switzerland, a neutral, non-EU country that willingly places itself at Europe's margins, also made an entrance into European politics through this debate. The Swiss referendum became a major reference point and moved to the center of European public discourse. A Swiss poster opposing the construction of Minarets that was used during the referendum, and which depicts the Swiss flag pierced by minarets in the shape of bullets and overlaid by a woman wearing a burkha, has been appropriated and used by almost all the other European far-right parties. Its graphics communicate a feeling of invasion and menace to the nation posed by foreign forces—a representation of Islam that is far from the realities of Muslims in Europe, a dehumanized version of Islam, faceless and faithless.
In the Netherlands, a short film titled Fitna (an Arabic word that signifies social disorder or chaos), produced by Geert Wilders, current leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), in 2008, takes up the theme of the purported Islamic menace in terms of the question of women in Islam. In this film, images of Islamic terrorism and stoning are intermingled with images of women in burkhas. Wilders explicitly invites Europeans to “defend their freedom by halting Islamization.” In order to do so, he suggests a ban on the sale of the Qur‘an, which he compares to Mein Kampf.
Thus, like Marine Le Pen, the other leaders of Europe's far-right parties have constructed their careers and redefined the political agenda on the basis of controversies over Islam. The Austrian Freedom Party organizes anti-mosque campaigns; the Lega Nordin Italy initiates “pig parades” to desecrate land reserved for the construction of mosques; in France, the Riposte Laïque makes appeals for people to rally around an “apéritif saucisson pinard” for the celebration of June 18, the anniversary of de Gaulle's famous speech to the people of occupied France. In other words, we see a repertoire of action that takes its inspiration and draws its references entirely from a battle against Islam. National values are thus defined in opposition to Islamic culture; accordingly, these movements valorize emblems of local French cuisine such as cochon (pork) and pinard (cheap wine), both of which are haram.
Indeed, the rise of neo-populist movements illustrates well the concern over a sense of national identity and belonging, that is, the concern over a conception of identity that posits the national community as a homogeneous group of white Christians that is thus incompatible with Islam. Meanwhile, the difficulty in naming these movements indicates a change in the rhetorical register of the far-right. We can no longer trace a direct evolution of xenophobic and anti-immigration policies to the 1970s. Today, the category of race assumes religious overtones. Patriarchal conservatism and anti-Semitism have been overshadowed in favor of the so-called national (i.e., supposedly, not universal) values of personal liberty, freedom of expression, and sexual liberty.
These movements converge at the European level, yet the themes vary according to national context. Nordic countries, which are more concerned with sexual liberties, highlight the fight against homophobia, whereas France, with its attachment to its secular heritage, defends republican education. Muslims are under pressure to prove their national loyalty by demonstrably subscribing to these values; sometimes they are put to the test by demands of feminism, sometimes by tolerance of homosexuality. European democracy, as Eric Fassin has written, is becoming a “sexual democracy,” where questions of gender and sexuality provoke and promote numerous public controversies.
The term populist is no longer suitable for grasping the significance of these movements. As Jacques Rancière states, racism today is not a “popular passion” but simply a “racist passion on high.” This logic of the state, he writes, will be “supported primarily not by what we know as backwards social groups but by a large section of the intellectual elite [. . .], by an intelligentsia that is known as a leftist, republican, and secular intelligentsia.” The intellectuals of this line submitted to the logic of the state and wound up accomplices in the narrowing of public space and the legitimization of prohibition and exclusion. An entire intellectual and political arsenal for thinking about the relationship between the public and cultural and religious difference is falling into disuse. The principles that guarantee democratic pluralism and allow new social groups to integrate as citizens are criticized and even attacked head-on. Thus, ideals such as religious minority rights, freedom of worship, and multiculturalism are no longer used to think about difference. Muslim citizens suffer the loss of a viable political language and access to the public sphere. They are not invited to participate, except for those who attempt to adhere in mimetic fashion to the ideas of the secular, republican, and feminist intelligentsia, and thus turn away from Islam.
Muslims are issuing forth from their immigrant status and seeking, in this post-migratory phase, to establish the conditions of their citizenship by making their religious signs visible in public space. Presenting themselves as guardians of this public space, new faces have emerged on the far-right to bar entry to these new citizens. And any talk that calls into question the use of the term “Islamophobia” only contributes to the ascendancy of the new figures of nationalism and nativism in the public arena. We could soon see the sign “No Entry to Muslims” on the doors of the European public sphere.
"La montée du néopopulisme en Europe illustre le souci d'un entre-soi national"
Avec l'accès de Marine Le Pen à la tête du Front national et sa popularité croissante dans les sondages, la France rejoint la vague des mouvements nationalistes qui traverse toute l'Europe. Il faut bien comprendre les nouvelles dynamiques qui sous-tendent la récidive du mouvement d'extrême droite : ce dernier change de visage, cesse d'être marginal, détourne l'héritage de Mai 68, prend l'islam comme cible, défend les valeurs nationales et introduit un nouveau répertoire politique.
C'est un mouvement qui est en train d'acquérir une nouvelle légitimité, reprenant les thèmes identitaires qui, depuis une décennie, n'ont cessé de gagner du terrain dans les débats publics européens. C'est leur entrée dans ces débats publics qui procure une audience particulière aux porte-parole de ces mouvements. Ils se démarquent dans ces débats par leur combativité contre l'islam et leur irrévérence, en faisant tomber les sujets tabous du multiculturalisme. Ils prétendent incarner les valeurs de libertés individuelles tout en réclamant leur appartenance au "terroir", à l'imaginaire populaire.
L'entrée de ces mouvements dans la sphère publique se fait par l'acquisition progressive de la légitimité sur le plan des idées et met fin à l'ostracisme envers l'extrême droite. Ils ne se trouvent plus aux extrémités de l'échiquier politique mais cherchent leur légitimité auprès de l'opinion publique. Aussi bien le républicanisme de droite que les intellectuels de gauche expriment leur perplexité face à la montée de ces mouvements, qui n'hésitent pas à faire leurs les idées égalitaristes, féministes et laïcistes.
Ils se trouvent dépossédés de leur répertoire d'idées, qui garantissait jusque-là la circonscription de l'extrême droite, en marge du système politique.
Ces visages inédits brouillent les clivages gauche-droite et se distinguent de la génération précédente, conservatrice. Ils affichent parfois un habitus proche de la contre-culture européenne. Le leader du parti d'extrême droite autrichien FPO, Heinz-Christian Strache, vêtu d'un tee-shirt à l'effigie du Che, et le Suisse Oskar Freysinger, portant de longs cheveux, n'hésitent pas à emprunter des emblèmes de révolte culturelle. Ils se font défenseurs de l'égalité des sexes, du féminisme, de la liberté d'expression, de la lutte contre l'homophobie et critiquent l'antisémitisme en choisissant l'islam comme cible de combat.
Ces nouvelles figures font leur entrée dans la vie publique par des controverses, qu'ils provoquent, autour de l'islam en Europe. C'est en suscitant un vif débat autour de la construction des minarets en Suisse qu'Oskar Freysinger, jusque-là inconnu dans le paysage politique, a gagné de la popularité à l'échelle européenne. Le référendum suisse devient une référence majeure et se trouve au centre du débat public européen.
Aux Pays-Bas, le court métrage Fitna, "discorde" en arabe, réalisé en 2008 par Geert Wilders, actuel dirigeant du Parti pour la liberté (PVV), reprend le thème de la menace islamique articulée autour de la question de la femme dans l'islam. Il invite les Européens à "défendre leur liberté en stoppant l'islamisation".
Pour ce faire, il va jusqu'à demander l'interdiction de la vente du Coran, qu'il compare à Mein Kampf. En France, le thème de la menace islamique est exploité par Marine Le Pen. Elle attire l'attention en comparant les prières du vendredi dans la rue Myrha, dans le 18e arrondissement de Paris, où se trouve une population importante de musulmans, à une "occupation".
Le Parti autrichien de la liberté (FPO) organise des campagnes antimosquées ; la Ligue du Nord, en Italie, organise des parades de cochons afin de profaner les terrains réservés à la construction des mosquées ; en France, l'association Riposte laïque lance un appel de rassemblement autour d'un "apéritif saucisson-pinard" pour la commémoration du 18-Juin. Les valeurs nationales sont ainsi définies en opposition avec la culture musulmane, ils valorisent les emblèmes du terroir, du "cochon" et du "pinard".
En effet, la montée des mouvements néopopulistes illustre bien le souci d'un entre-soi national, autour d'une conception du communautaire par le semblable, chrétien et blanc, contre l'islam. La catégorie de la race revêt aujourd'hui des habits religieux. Le conservatisme patriarcal et antisémite est abandonné au profit des valeurs dites nationales (et non plus universelles) de libertés individuelles, d'expression et de sexe.
L'appellation populiste n'est plus appropriée pour saisir la signification de ces mouvements. Car, comme le défend le philosophe Jacques Rancière, le racisme aujourd'hui ne résulte pas d'une "passion populaire" mais d'une "passion raciste d'en haut". Cette logique d'Etat, selon lui, serait "soutenue au premier chef non par on ne sait quels groupes sociaux arriérés, mais par une bonne partie de l'élite intellectuelle, (...) par une intelligentsia qui se revendique comme une intelligentsia de gauche, républicaine et laïque".
Les intellectuels qui se trouvent dans cette lignée se sont soumis à la logique étatique et ont fini par être complice du rétrécissement de l'espace public et de la légitimation des logiques d'interdiction et d'inclusion.
Tout un arsenal intellectuel et politique pour penser au lien public, à la différence culturelle et religieuse, tombe en désuétude. Les principes qui garantissent le pluralisme démocratique et permettent aux nouveaux groupes sociaux de s'intégrer en tant que citoyens sont critiqués, voire attaqués. Ainsi les idéaux comme les droits de minorités religieuses, la liberté de culte et enfin le multiculturalisme ne servent plus à penser la différence.
Nilüfer Göle, directrice d'études à l'Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) Article paru dans l'édition du 30.03.11
On why European Muslims should regard Holocaust memory as their own history
Today we cannot talk about the Europeanness of Europe without historical consciousness of the Holocaust. We cannot be a citizen of Europe today without this memory, so it affects all citizens of all faiths, including immigrants who become European citizens or countries such as Turkey who want to join the European Union. This memory is part of Europe today and so it is imperative to make it one's own as part of European historical consciousness.
I feel concerned not only as a European citizen, but also due to my own experience as someone from Turkey, bringing to mind the events of 1915 and the issue of the Armenian genocide.
I therefore ask myself what have we to learn from intertwined memories, from histories, without of course identifying all genocides and all massacres with the Holocaust. That brings me back to the question: Is there a single politics of memory for Europe? Or can we speak of plurality of politics of memory? Let's take the example of Bosnia, where between 1992 and 1995, Europe's most assimilated Muslims were subjected to ethnic cleansing and massacres. It's all in the archives, but it's not part of the collective memory today. So, there are memories that are recalled, commemorated, worked upon, and memories that have been somewhat forgotten, sometimes denied. There is a void here that needs to be addressed, as Bosnia is part of Europe.
I also think that the Jewish experience is an indicator, a changing cursor in the encounter between Europe and Islam in the sense that once again there is an oppositional encounter, this time over Muslim presence in Europe. I say the Muslim presence because we talk about citizens of Muslim faith and the emerging visibility of the symbols of the Islamic difference and it creates a different configuration in Europe between different faiths, different ethnicities, and different people. Today there is a growing trend to define Europe as a Judeo-Christian civilization, but when you look at the painful realities of the past and the Holocaust, it's rather questionable, as it's also a way to distinguish oneself from, and oppose to Islam.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Covering and praying, two Islamic prescriptions ,bring religion into public life and debate in Europe. Praying in Europe where Muslims are in minority becomes a public issue. From the perspective of the liberal discourse on religious freedom and the freedom to exercise one's faith requires a place for worship. The author selects three different practices of praying that have provoked a public debate to illustrate the specificity of contesting religious practices in a European context. Confrontation with Islam carries also European citizens and countries that were considered to be in the periphery of Europe to the Center. Switzerland, a non-EU member, becomes European, enters into the center of European debates by the Islamic door.