Posted on February 3, 2009

The Rise of the Right: Europe’s Scary Solution to Immigration

Handan T. Satiroglu, Alternet, January 29, 2009.


If the old face of the Far-Right in Europe resembled that of a combative fascist, these new ordinary faces put those images to rest. Gone are the days when support for the radical right came from neo-Nazi elements in European society; they now come from ordinary citizens, concerned not only about bleeding social welfare programs, but also from worries about the continued influx of immigration–a feeling that is likely to worsen as recession hangs over the continent.

“I voted for the Freedom Party to stop immigrants from burdening our social welfare system,” says Lukas, a grandfatherly figure and government employee. A former supporter of the Social Democrats, he gestures towards the rushing pedestrians outside the café, “Austria has inhaled enough people. We are full.”

Echoing similar sentiments, 35 year old Brigitte, a nurse practitioner who is proud to have led a major campaign in her neighborhood against the expansion of an Islamic center, claims, “the center already attracts hordes of people a day, and causes enough problems with congestion.” Poised and confident, she continues: “The people who use the Islamic center do not try to integrate into society, or even socialize with us. None of the other parties would hear our concerns. . . . That’s why we voted for Heinz-Christian Strache.”

Not too far from the café, a mural reads: “Arab, go home.”

Such is the dynamic in today’s European race relations. A December Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports anti-immigrant, and especially anti-Muslim sentiments, to be growing steadily across the continent. Noting that the increase in Muslim prejudice has occurred over a period of decades, the report claims that nearly 52 percent of Spaniards expressed a negative opinion of Muslims–a view echoed by 50 percent of Germans, 46 percent of Poles, and 38 percent of French people. According to an April Georgetown University report, 67 percent of Dutch, and 80 percent of Danes agree with the statement, “the growing interaction between the Muslim world and the West is a menace to freedom.”


Once a welcoming multicultural haven, Denmark’s voters have given the Danish People’s Party its fourth consecutive hike in voting share, making it the third largest party in Europe. In Switzerland where the foreign-born population hovers around 20 percent, the nationalist Swiss People’s Party regularly receives 29 percent of the vote; in France, Nicolas Sarkozy grabbed the presidency after mimicking the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the unforgiving nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Netherlands, Sweden and Italy have all witnessed the rise of conservative discourse, while the second largest party in Norway runs on an anti-immigrant platform. And if there is anything that the Flemish and Walloons of Belgium can agree upon, it is the curtailment of the progressive Islamization of their society.

The term Islamization has gained much popularity in recent years, especially in the right-wing media. As European Muslims demand more mosques, state-funded Islamic schools, and even the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law) in their host countries, the term refers to the gradual process by which European society is becoming increasingly and visibly Muslim.


In just three short decades, Islam has moved from essentially being a nonfactor to a religion that challenges the European identity. Perhaps nothing illustrates this change more graphically than the omnipresent symbols of Islam sprinkled across European cities and towns: state-funded Islamic schools, halal butcher shops, Arabic signs in store fronts, ladies in burqas and headscarves, Turkish or Moroccan flags fluttering over residential buildings. Sharia courts have already been adopted in many cities in the UK after persistent demands by British Muslims.

Indeed, the sheer number of Muslim immigrants sheds some light on the newfound fear of the “bewildering Islamic cacophony,” as Johann Hari in a Dissent magazine article sardonically put it. By varying estimates, the European Union is now home to 15-20 million Muslims, with France hosting the largest number. Annually, half a million migrants flood the gates of Europe in search of work and an additional 400,000 seek asylum, many of whom are from the Middle East. Added to this mix, is the influx of between 120,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants.

High immigration from Muslim nations, combined with fertility advantages, means that ethnic Europeans might lose their demographic counterpoise: a fact that touches a raw nerve with many. {snip} With a Muslim population that is expected to grow to 40-50 million by 2050, the populations of major European cities would be half non-native within two generations.

Seizing on these numbers, Bernard Lewis, a leading historian on Islam, argues that Europe would complete its transformation into “Eurabia” by the end of the 21st century. Italy’s flamboyant and controversial journalist Oriana Fallaci once lamented that their province was falling prey to ‘a colony of Islam’–whereby a sense of surrender of fundamental European values such as freedom of expression and democracy were being felt.

The sense that Europe is under siege is further heightened by concerns over the welfare system being overtaxed by non-natives. American Bruce Bawer gave voice to these concerns in his book While Europe Slept, using statistics primarily from Nordic countries to highlight the issue of welfare dependency. In Denmark, for instance, he writes that immigrants from the Middle East “make up 5 percent of the population but receive 40 percent of welfare outlays”–among them public assistance, unemployment benefits, relief payments, child benefits, disability, cash support, and rent allowance. Statistics for other countries are comparable.

According to Bawer, about 15 percent of the Moroccan émigrés in Norway are on a disability plan when a quarter of them have actually returned to their own country. The Frisch Center for Socio-economic Research study, supported by the University of Oslo, also claims that as many as 50 percent of immigrants are “caught up in various forms of welfare benefits.” Further south in the Netherlands, rising unemployment rates have left 33 percent of the foreign-born population out of the labor market–and thus dependent on the welfare system, while unemployed Belgians and migrants have found themselves competing for the lower-end subsidized housing market. Pressure from national authorities to use objective criteria when placing individuals in government housing has meant that migrants, due in part to their larger families, lower wages and high unemployment rates, tend to qualify for housing before Belgians.

Unsurprisingly then, unemployment, insecurity and concerns about welfare burdens have been the vote-winning themes for the extreme right on the continent. {snip}

“Multiculturalism has, in practice, been a dismal failure,” says Esman [Abigail Esman, an American writer based in the Netherlands who specializes in writing on radical Islam and post-9/11 political tensions in the West]. Indeed, the integration of Europe’s new arrivals from non-Western cultures stands out as one of the greatest challenges facing European governments in contemporary times–a challenge that a growing body of citizens feel mainstream parties have not dealt with effectively. And insofar as left or centrist governments do not debate the limits and/or confines of multiculturalism, or take measures to fully integrate non-Western cultures into the ‘European identity’ to become fully at home in their host countries, we can expect individuals of all persuasions to flock to the far-right (whom they perceive as having “commonsensical” approaches to these issues.)

Though I don’t personally believe the far-right is a panacea to the continent’s woes, I do believe the time has come for a new kind of politics, not necessarily far-left or far-right, but politics that genuinely represent the interests and concerns of citizens; politics that make the diversity of Europe work. {snip}

The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.

The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.

Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam during the period of 2004-2008, when the data was gathered. They said that it also suggested a growing willingness among believers to describe themselves as Muslims because the western reaction to war and terrorism had strengthened their sense of identity.

Muslim leaders have welcomed the growing population of their communities as academics highlighted the implications for British society, integration and government resources.

David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, said: “The implications are very substantial. Some of the Muslim population, by no means all of them, are the least socially and economically integrated of any in the United Kingdom . . . and the one most associated with political dissatisfaction. You can’t assume that just because the numbers are increasing that all will increase, but it will be one of several reasonable suppositions that might arise.”

Professor Coleman said that Muslims would naturally reap collective benefits from the increase in population. “In the growth of any population . . . [its] voice is regarded as being stronger in terms of formulating policy, not least because we live in a democracy where most people in most religious groups and most racial groups have votes. That necessarily means their opinions have to be taken and attention to be paid to them.”

There are more than 42.6 million Christians in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics, whose figures were obtained through the quarterly Labour Force Survey of around 53,000 homes. But while the biggest Christian population is among over-70s bracket, for Muslims it is the under-4s.

Ceri Peach, Professor of Social Geography at Manchester University, said that the rapid growth of the Muslim population posed challenges for society. “The groups with the strongest belief in the family and cohesion are those such as the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. They have got extremely strong family values but it goes together with the sort of honour society and other kinds of attributes which people object to,” he said. “So you are dealing with a pretty complex situation.”

Professor Peach said that the high number of Muslims under the age of 4–301,000 as of September last year–would benefit Britain’s future labour market through taxes that would subsequently contribute to sustaining the country’s ageing population. He added, though, that it would also put pressure on housing and create a growing demand for schools. “I think housing has traditionally been a difficulty because the country is simultaneously short of labour and short of housing. So if you get people to fill vacancies in your labour force you also need to find places for them to live,” he said.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, predicted that the number of mosques in Britain would multiply from the present 1,600 in line with the rising Islamic population. He said the greater platform that Muslims would command in the future should not be perceived as a threat to the rest of society.

“We each have our own set of beliefs. This should really be a source of celebration rather than fear as long as we all clearly understand that we must abide by the laws of this country regardless of the faith we belong to,” he said.

The Cohesion Minister, Sadiq Khan, told The Times: “We in central Government and local authorities need to continue our work to ensure that our communities are as integrated and cohesive as possible.”

Growing numbers

The total number of Muslims in Great Britain:

2004: 1,870,000

2005: 2,017,000

2006: 2,142,000

2007: 2,327,000

2008: 2,422,000

Source: Labour Force Survey