The ‘Others’ Enter Europe – How Populist Leaders Legitimize Their Arguments

Wesley M.

Europe is full of many cultures and in our contemporary era there is much ongoing debate over which culture will be predominant or whether all these separate cultures can actually coexist peacefully. The far-right European populist groups do not want to see that happen, rather they would want to see their own version of a culturally homogenous Europe be fulfilled. The populist playbook for uniting and vastly diverse populace is quite simple set them up against an enemy, in this case, the far-right chooses to target a wide variety of ethnic migrants that are of the Muslim faith within Europe as a threat against European hegemonic culture.[1]

            The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 left a power vacuum in Europe, in terms of an enemy to fight as well as issues reconciling supposedly defunct claims of European cultural superiority, in turn leading to tensions over the next three decades. Part of this tension has to do with the growing number of Muslim migrants that are coming into Europe and are seen as a threat to the formally Christian European culture. The modernity that Europe has traded itself is bringing to the Middle East appears to be no longer applicable as the transnational network the migrants have as a result of their Muslim identity uniting them across borders has led to religious and secular tension, a debate over religious clothing, and in the view of the Nilüfer Göle’s article from 2012, she believes these cultural tensions could possibly be resolved through Turkey serving as a mediator to unite the Middle East and Europe into a state of cooperation and coexistence.[2] Suffice to say given Turkey’s current political issues and in general a serious democratic backsliding within the Middle East as a whole, it would appear that Göle’s theory has been proven currently inapplicable.

            Part of the reason for the cultural tensions of course is far-right nationalism. Dan Stone argues that Eastern Europe’s issues coming from them not reckoning with their Nazi collaborating past has allowed for populists to blame inherent state problems on an influx of migrants as a result of the European crisis, which he argues is somewhat legitimized by the fact that Europe as a whole doesn’t actually want to take in refugees.[3]

This reticence by Europe to accept Islamic culture allows far-right beliefs into acceptable mainstream politics by portraying themselves as being against what many Europeans see as being a legitimate target: such as QAnon adopting the blood libel myth within their conspiracy theories.[4] In a more straightforward example, Ivan Kalmar’s article argues that Viktor Orban’s use of Anti-Anti-Semitism (helped by Netanyahu’s support for him) against claims of him being an anti-Semite for his campaign against George Soros has allowed Orban to legally promote Islamophobia and anti-immigration policies against Muslim migrants, as well as anti-Semitism, without the resulting negative fascistic label such actions would normally receive.[5]


[1] Somewhat like a very early seasons Game of Thrones parody: A fringe and crazy Night’s Watch guard Westeros against a disbelieved cultural threat (the ‘Others’), given how the legitimacy of populists is questioned: what will happen in the next few years will be crucial to the overall result.

[2] Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

[3] Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door:”: 234-240.

[4] VICE News, How This TV Chef Turned COVID Truther Helped QAnon Boom in Germany, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg.

[5] Kalmar, “Islamophobia and anti-semitism:”: 185-194.

Bibliography:

VICE News. How This TV Chef Turned COVID Truther Helped QAnon Boom in Germany, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg.

Göle, Nilüfer. “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” New Literary History 43, no. 4 (2012): 665-685. doi:10.1353/nlh.2012.0041.

Kalmar, Ivan. “Islamophobia and anti-semitism: the case of Hungary and the ‘Soros Plot” Patterns and Prejudice Vol. 54 (1-2) (2020): 182-98.

Stone, Dan. “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

2 Replies to “The ‘Others’ Enter Europe – How Populist Leaders Legitimize Their Arguments”

  1. I agree that Europe wants to see itself as being multicultural and are happy to welcome people in until it impacts the populists idea of what European multiculturalism should be. As you mention populists feel that when too many Muslims are coming to Europe, it threatens to overpower the historically Christian Europe. Populists only have issue with things when it goes against what their views of Europe should be.

  2. Hello Copeej (Anteresting alias. I admit I’m mildly curious how you chose that one?),

    I’m glad that we agree,

    If it’s alright, I should like to add to your point as I am enjoying this discussion.

    Anti-migrant sentiment is not solely a populist ideal, but populists certainly overtly express it, while other groups express subtly. I’d argue that European Multiculturalism is itself a myth, that is entirely rooted in a reaction to the horrors of World War II and wanting to avoid a repeat.

    The very idea of any distinctly united European culture with the belief they can all successfully coexist with each other is rather laughable (If we look at the UK as example, the only thing that the differing portions of it have in common is a dislike of each other, the Irish hate the Scottish, vice versa, and both truly hate the English (granted there are obvious exceptions on an individual level but on a state level: it’s a relatively accurate statement). All European countries to a certain degree dislike and distrust each other, while they will ally with each other it’s temporary at best, the EU has offered a rather longer alliance than European countries have managed to keep in the previous century but with its fracture, what happens next is really up for debate)..

    All of this is without even adding sentiments of populists calls of anti-migrant deportation (or worse) arguments to the European migration crisis.

    I am trying to say that while populists call for it openly the other groups give multiculturalism mere lip service and generally use immigration requirements to limit what they also view as less than ideal cultural immigration. So in other words it is not populists but rather Europeans that have issue with things when it goes against what their views of Europe should be, populists merely express it more openly.

    Thoughts?

    wthomwell

    P.S.

    If you’re curious as to my alias, I’ll give you a hint it’s based on a rather famous or infamous historical Englishman, can you guess who?

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