Rise of right wing in Europe means Islamophobia is here to stay

Hari Ravikumar
Hari RavikumarMay 05, 2016 | 20:22

Rise of right wing in Europe means Islamophobia is here to stay

The connotation of the term "right wing" varies across place and time, and also across disciplines - political science, economics, and sociology. We know from history that the political right wing first emerged during the French Revolution. In 1789, at the États Généraux (legislative assembly of the different classes of French society), the pro-royalty group sat on the right of the president and the pro-labourer group sat on the left. Over the years, however, the term has changed in many ways. It is important to understand the term in its context; for example, India doesn't have a political right wing (although the term is freely used) but there is an economic right wing.


In the context of Europe today, what is generally called right wing or far right - often as a pejorative and not merely an identifier - is the tendency to strongly favour nationalism, be xenophobic, and draw from Christian religious values (sometimes resulting in anti-semitism or Islamophobia). The right wing rhetoric claims that the economy of the country, the cultural values of the society, and social security benefits for natives are all under threat. Some of those on the right wing in Europe even feel that if they detach themselves from the European Union (EU), their problems would be solved.

The rise of the right wing

In the recent past, there has been an unprecedented rise in Europe of political parties which represent this kind of right wing (including those on the far right) ideology. Several of these parties won seats in the European Parliament after the elections in 2014. This came as a shock to many. Since then the right wing has only grown stronger, and more so in the wake of jihadi attacks on Paris and Brussels.


In Germany, a fanatic group called Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Pegida, for short) attracted thousands of supporters within months of its inception in October 2014. Soon the Alternative für Deutschland party began connecting with Pegida members in a bid to stop immigration by Muslims.

In Sweden, the Sverigedemokraterna garnered a great deal of support in the wake of the migrant crisis. Started in the late 1980s with roots in neo-Nazi ideology, the party was despised for years by the people of Sweden for being racist and supremacist. Now it is said to have the support of a quarter of the country's population.

Migrants hold up a babies as they look towards Macedonia through the Greek-Macedonian border fence.  

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the founder and leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid has been vocal against Islam for quite a number of years (for instance, he went as far as calling the Quran a fascist book, comparing it with Hitler's Mein Kampf). With the mounting refugee crisis, he is opposed to accepting any immigrants from the Islamic world.

Right wing parties like Dansk Folkeparti (Denmark), Perussuomalaiset (Finland), Framsóknarflokkurinn (Iceland), and Høyre (Norway) are part of the governments in their respective countries. Two-thirds of all European countries have a right wing party in power - ranging from centre-right to far right.


Some of the prominent right wing parties that came to the forefront in Europe in recent years are Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Austria), Laïkós Sýndesmos - Chrysí Avgí (Greece), Lega Nord (Italy), Vlaams Belang (Belgium), and L'udová strana - Naše Slovensko (Slovakia).

In Poland, the radical Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc came to power last October and party leader Kaczynski went as far as to say that Muslim refugees carry parasites and protozoa (and hence are dangerous for their country).

In Hungary, the neo-fascist Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom gained entry in the parliament and the ruling right wing Fidesz - Magyar Polgári Szövetség has responded by leaning a little more to the right. Prime minister Viktor Orbán said that Hungarians had a right to decide if they didn't want a large number of Muslims in their country.

The unexpected ascent of the far right has caused even non-right wing parties to take "rightist" decisions that they wouldn't have taken under ordinary circumstances. In the UK, prime minister David Cameron agreed to rethink the country's association with the EU in a bid to counter the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which was quickly gaining traction. In France, while it is Marie Le Pen's National Front that is in the right wing space, some of president Francois Hollande's decisions appear to be rather aligned to the former's stance.

Reasons for the rise

Political analysts have suggested several reasons for the extraordinary climb of the right wing in Europe - insecurity among people owing to the grave situation of the European economies, the flooding of refugees causing a "culture shock" to native Europeans, a huge turnout of Generation X voters, inability of immigrants to handle multiculturalism because of innate religious beliefs, and so on.

Analysts and scholars differ on which factor holds more sway. Timothy J Hatton (University of Essex) suggests in his paper "Migration and Public Opinion" that economic breakdown matters much more than the refugee crisis.

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten (University of Bergen) suggests in her paper "What Unites Right Wing Populists in Western Europe?" that the grievances arising out of the immigration crisis is the main reason for the coming together of the political right.

While all these factors are definitely triggers for the crisis in Europe, they don't really account for the strong anti-Islamic sentiment (see the Pew Research Center reports). What many analysts seem to ignore is the role of the left wing, the so-called "liberals", and the public intellectuals, who have, in the name of political correctness, refused to have an open discussion on Islam and its tenets. They refuse to even consider the possibility that jihadi attacks all over the globe (which are, incidentally, the highest in Islamic countries) are somehow connected to Islam, the religion and not to Muslims, the adherents.

Why don't rich Islamic countries take in more Muslim refugees? How to counter home-grown jihadis? If Islam truly believes in fraternity, why are Muslims killing each other every day? When a terrorist claims that he's drawing his inspiration from his holy book, could he be speaking the truth? A person who raises such questions is instantly branded an Islamophobe and ostracised. This is why even many of the right wing politicians don't speak about the link between Islam and terrorism. And this is perhaps why those who dare to, get heard.

The ticking time bomb

The anti-immigrant sentiment might have started with a contempt for refugees from West Asia and North Africa, but the hatred can easily spread to other non-Europeans. Let's say an Indian programmer works in a Warsaw-based company. At a societal level, skilled labour from India helps the Polish economy but at an individual level, that Indian programmer could be seen as a threat. This doesn't help either Poland or the programmer.

Further, it is possible that an Indian Hindu or Sikh can find a way out, but what about a simple and devout Indian Muslim? Unless he tears himself away from his Islamic identity, he will always be seen as a threat and his host country might not gain from his knowledge.

The unplanned and indiscriminate intake of refugees coupled with the obstinate refusal of Muslims to blend into mainstream society leads to the formation of ghettos. Islamic ghettoisation can be observed in many parts of the non-Islamic world. Ghettos that grow in size become obvious targets for surveillance and public disdain. This helps neither the Muslims nor the local population.

Even for those who are strongly opposed to Islamist terrorism, the rise of the right wing in Europe is not happy news. Many of these political parties have a dark history, with roots in racism, Nazism, and fascism - all of which are necessarily linked to ghastly violence. And they are making a fanatic attempt to take on Islam, which is also linked to ghastly violence. It might not be all that strange if one foresees a Third World War as Crusades 2.0.

In spite of its ascent, the far right still represents only a small portion of Europeans. A majority of them are still opposed to such parties and ideologies, which is heartening. However, their reaction to the right wing has been a blind rejection of anti-immigration policies, disregarding the facts and the data about the migration crisis altogether. They fail to recognise that allowing immigrants is not an automatic right; no country is obliged to take in refugees.

The way ahead

While much has been spoken about the socio-political and economic milieu of Europe that has driven people to support the right wing, the religious angle is not discussed as much. If there is unwillingness among European intellectuals to discuss the fundamentals of Islam, it is not without good reason. Delving deeper into the canonical texts of the Muslims will lead the seeker into the dark recesses of the Abrahamic religions and their inherent hostility to pluralism, multiculturalism, and liberalism. The leftists are equally unwilling because communism is closely aligned to semitic faiths at its core. Like their religious cousins, the communists are also intolerant of "the other".

While such is the nature of the revealed texts, the practice of the adherents can be quite different and harmless. In light of this truth, militant atheism also cannot find a solution to the problem. What is needed is an open discussion about the origins, history, and practices of opposing religions in order to, at least, reach a point of tolerance. Such discussions have to be moderated by people who have objectivity as well as compassion.

Traditional practices of Hinduism like yoga, pranayama (mindful breathing), and dhyana (meditation) as well as modern practices such as non-violent communication and focusing should be implemented and their impacts should be observed. While these might be more effective at an individual level, an attempt should be made to implement them at the level of institutions and groups. Actively promoting the classical arts is another way to bring together people from different backgrounds.

Finally, it is imperative that the law moves farther away from religion. While every person should be free to practise his/her religion, it is important to ensure that there are laws to control discrimination, crime and violence (irrespective of whether the motivation is religious or not).

We know from history that Hinduism influenced generations of legal systems in India but the composers of the dharmashastras were insightful enough to emphasise that every legal framework is bound by space and time and should not be considered monolithic.

As a result, over the years, the law in India has undergone several changes and today it is largely secular, much like that in the Western world. On the other hand, the sharia remains unchanged in parts of the Islamic world. The sharia is a regressive legal and moral system that must be eased out if Islamic society has to evolve and be compatible with the rest.

The solution to the European crisis cannot be found in the realm of violence or pacifism. It needs a new paradigm that embraces truth and boldly calls out the bluff of those with vested interests and devious minds.


I am grateful to TR Ramachandran and Sandeep Balakrishna for their astute feedback on this article, which itself was a result of my discussions with Jaikar Mohan, Lars Dietzel, and Shankar Venkataraman.


1. Anti-Muslim prejudice 'is moving to the mainstream'; by Mark Townsend; The Guardian, December 5, 2015.

2. Brussels terror attacks embolden Europe's right wing; by Thomas K Grose; US News, March 22, 2016.

3. How the refugee crisis is fuelling the rise of Europe's right; by Nick Robins-Early; The Huffington Post, November 2, 2015.

4. ISIS and the refugee crisis: What the world thinks should be done; by George Arnett; The Guardian, 4 January 2016.

5. Migration and public opinion; by Timothy J Hatton; Economic Policy, March 31, 2016.

6. Refugee crisis: Where are the Gulf countries? by Afzal Ashraf; Al Jazeera, September 6, 2015.

7. Right wing parties are on the rise in central and eastern Europe; by Adam Lebor; Newsweek, March 15, 2016.

8. The rise of Europe's far right; by The Week staff; The Week, September 12, 2015.

9. The rise of Europe's far right threatens peace on the continent. Just ask the Jews; by Moshe Kantor; Newsweek, March 21, 2016.

10. These 5 facts explain the worrying rise of Europe's far right; by Ian Bremmer; Time, October 15, 2015.

11. Why are right wing parties thriving across Europe? by Tim Wigmore; New Statesman, October 8, 2015.

12. Why the German far right's big electoral win matters; by Zack Beauchamp; Vox. March 14, 2016. 

Last updated: May 06, 2016 | 19:07
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