IRR director contextualises the new report, Islamophobia, integration and civil rights in Europe at its launch on 14 May.
To borrow a phrase from another time, a spectre is haunting Europe – only, this time, it is the spectre of nativism. And, this time, it is being made flesh by the policies, propaganda, and plain prejudice of the governments of Europe and their media satraps, under the guise of Enlightenment values and a civilisation under siege.
Nativism – which the dictionary describes as protecting and reaffirming native, tribal cultures against acculturation – is, in our time of globalisation, market fundamentalism and robber baron capitalism, the first step towards fascism. Already Rome is in the charge of a far-Right mayor hailed as the new Duce. London’s mayoralty is at the mercy of a bourgeois gentilhomme whose upper-class contempt for Black people is revealed in his description of their children as piccaninnies and their smiles ‘water melon’ and who has wondered ‘if gay marriage was OK … why [not] a union … consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog’. France is in the hands of a Riviera playboy who once condemned the denizens of the banlieues as ‘scum’ and regretted the immigrant habit of slaughtering sheep in the bathtub. The Netherlands, under cover of a phoney separate but equal pluralism that smacks of apartheid, has bred a culture of righteous racism which justifies the demonisation of Muslims across the board. And the whole of Italy is in the gift of one man who, through his ownership of the press and TV and in coalition with the Northern League (whose boss, Umberto Bossi once urged the navy to fire live rounds on immigrants), now controls both houses of parliament. ‘We are’ boasted Berlusconi on winning the recent election, ‘the new Falange’, echoing Franco’s Spain.
What we are witnessing here is the emergence of a fascist trend which is not confined to the extreme Right but has entered the political blood stream of Europe. The cause for which has to be sought not in an analogy with the ’30s but in the steady erosion of the infrastructure of democracy today. And here I am not talking about electoral democracy, which is exactly what today’s far Right use as their vehicle – through populism to power – and has, in any case, been shown to be a sham by Bush, Berlusconi and Mugabe in their different ways. I am talking about the bedrock of democracy, the underpinnings of democracy in social welfare, local government, civil liberties, rule of law and the like.
But the nation state under globalisation is no longer the welfare state working in the interests of its people but the market state regulated by, and working in the interests of, transnational corporations. To put it another way, globalisation needs a free market. But the market needs the state to set it free through deregulation, privatisation, and financial flexibility – all of which militates against the welfare state.
Equally antithetical to market fundamentalism is local government which in Britain has in the last three decades been stripped of much of its remit and replaced by Thatcherite quangos and Blairite placemen and women. But local government is the very essence of democracy; it is there that people learn to take a hand in their own affairs, where the issues on the ground on which you stand bring you together as a cohesive community, where you can see your vote make a tangible difference, where the pyramidal structure of authority from parish and village council up to county authorities resonate with democracy. Local government is the kindergarten of democracy.
Over and above all these set backs to democracy, however, is the systematic dismantling of civil liberties mounted on the politics of fear, of the enemy within and Islamophobia – all in the name of fighting terrorism – the first steps towards which, one would have thought, is to get out of Iraq, stop bleeding Palestine to death and cease the cultural cleansing of European Islam.
In sum, Islamophobia is intrinsically tied up with the loss of civil rights and the erosion of democracy. Hence the fight for civil liberties must incur the fight against Islamophobia. Conversely the fight against Islamophobia must incur the fight for civil liberties and democracy. There are no separate struggles here, but there are on the ground. That is why, whatever the particular struggle we are involved in – whether against war or poverty or Islamophobia or anti-Semitism – we must not lose sight of the larger struggle. And it is only then, in the process of coming together as communities of resistance, that we arrive at community cohesion. Integration and community cohesion cannot be imposed from above. They must grow from below.
IRR News Story: New report says Islamophobia warps integration efforts
Download the introduction to Integration, Islamophobia and civil rights in Europe (pdf file, 44kb)