What do Hungary and the UK have in common?

By Frank

I find Kalmar’s (2020) four steps of mainstream anti-Islamic populism to be a very helpful explanation of the phenomenon, although it is somewhat unsettling that mainstream politicians like Viktor Orban can descend into racism and xenophobia by following a few simple steps. What struck me was a parallel between the sanitization of racist rhetoric in contemporary cases like Hungary and those of late-20th century far-right movements like the British National Front.

According to Kalmar, the “sanitization” of Islamophobic rhetoric through the rejection of antisemitism allows populists to promote Islamophobia openly without the fear of being labelled Nazis. In the Hungarian case, the “Soros Myth” could be unapologetically touted by Orban and Fidesz, despite it’s antisemitic nature and roots in the Elders of Zion conspiracy theory of the early-20th century.

The National Front in 1980s Great Britain also voiced their anti-antisemitism through a statement issued to a Jewish organization, stating that they accepted Jews into their organization and were explicitly opposed to anti-Semitism (Bland 2020, p.121). Perhaps this was also a measure to deflect accusations about being Nazis and shield their xenophobic and ethnocentric rhetoric. Bland explicitly states that neofascism and neo-Nazi ideas were at the core of the National Front (p.109), and that they saw conspiracy theories like “Zionist Imperialism” as significant threats to Britain (p.118), demonstrating that their anti-antisemitism was disingenuous (what a surprise!). Moreover, anti-immigrant discourse was also espoused by Margaret Thatcher and mainstream British Conservatives, perhaps as a way of normalizing the rhetoric coming from groups like the National Front (p.110).

While it is unknown if Orban was aware the history of the sanitization of racist and xenophobic discourse in Europe, the fact that is being done by an increasing number of European politicians today is troubling.

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