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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Anti-immigrant far-right rising online in Europe

English Defence League march in NewcastleImage via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

A new generation of far-right, populist movements is growing in Europe, a new report has shown.

The report by the British thinktank Demos (which can be downloaded for free here) for the first time examines attitudes among supporters of the far right online. Using advertisements on Facebook, they persuaded more than 10,000 followers of 14 parties and organisations in 11 countries to fill in detailed questionnaires.

It comes a few months after the mass-murder by Norweigan Anders Breivik of 69 people, the investigation of which showed his extensive connections into this online, Pan-European far-right network - connections which far-right supporters have been keen to disavow.

Parties touting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideas have spread beyond established strongholds in France, Italy and Austria to the traditionally liberal Netherlands and Scandinavia, and now have significant parliamentary blocs in eight countries. Elsewhere, although parties haven't gained in elections street movements have, like the English Defence League (EDL) which has grown despite the failings of the nationalist British National Party (BNP). The ideology of parties differes considerably as well - some of the Scandinavian parties being strongly pro-welfare. What unites them is attitudes to Muslims and to multiculturalism and immigration and this describes the men - and almost all were men - surveyed for this report.

The report points out that sucess at the polls and even street demonstrations are like the tip of the iceberg. Underneath and online there is a new generation following these organisations and swapping ideas, particularly through Facebook. For most parties the numbers online saying they support them are much bigger than their actual registered memberships.

The report used Facebook tools to find that of 450,000 supporters of 14 organisations examined, almost two-thirds were aged under 30, against half of Facebook users overall. Three quarters were male, and more likely than average to be unemployed.

Contrary to what normal polling finds, amongst this group it was the younger ones who were most opposed to immigration, which concerned them far more than the state of the economy.

Matthew Goodwin from Nottingham University, an expert on the far right, told the Guardian:

"As an appeal to voters, it marks a very significant departure from the old, toxic far-right like the BNP. What some parties are trying to do is frame opposition to immigration in a way that is acceptable to large numbers of people. Voters now are turned off by crude, blatant racism - we know that from a series of surveys and polls."

"[These groups are] saying to voters: it's not racist to oppose these groups if you're doing it from the point of view of defending your domestic traditions. This is the reason why people like [Dutch politician] Geert Wilders have not only attracted a lot of support but have generated allies in the mainstream political establishment and the media."

The poll was conducted before the Eurozone crisis but that is likely to increase old 'north-south' racism within Europe. Says Goodwin:

"What we have seen over the past five years is the emergence of parties in countries which were traditionally seen as immune to the trend - the Sweden Democrats, the True Finns, the resurgence of support for the radical right in the Netherlands, and our own experience with the EDL."

Gavan Titley, co-author of the recent book The Crises of Multiculturalism, tells The Guardian that since 9/11 casual islamophobia from mainstream politicians has helped the far-right.

"Racist strategies constantly adapt to political conditions, and seek new sets of values, language and arguments to make claims to political legitimacy. Over the past decade, Muslim populations around Europe, whatever their backgrounds, have been represented as the enemy within or at least as legitimately under suspicion. It is this very mainstream political repertoire that newer movements have appropriated."

"As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century," said Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Says Jonathan Birdwell from Demos:

"Populist movements have a history of memorable and charismatic leaders, from fascists like Mussolini to revolutionaries like Che Guevara. These leaders have invoked appeals to 'the people' against the 'system' and the 'elite' to create a cult-like status, inspire a new generation of activists and galvanise political support. They offer the illusion of integrity, courage and passion against the backdrop of complacent bureaucrats and tired, out of touch political elites."

"The problem of every self-styled 'outsider' politician is that eventually to gain power they have to become part of the system. We saw this firsthand, particularly in our case study fieldwork in Denmark: the majority of radical populists we spoke to felt that the Danish People's Party had compromised too much and were now part of the system. By gaining power they immediately lose the virtue that brought them to power - their anti-establishment credibility."
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