CALL it “insult fatigue”. Only a few months ago, abusive insults and rants hurled at Muslims by Europe’s far-right parties — and by some Eastern European leaders who are equally fanatically anti-Muslim — had the power to anger and shock.
No longer. True, journalists are still reporting on some of the more outrageous comments by the motley group of Islam-haters. And the anti-Muslim diatribes of the far right on Twitter and other social media sites still get traction among their devoted followers.
But the truth is that for many average Europeans, it’s all turned a bit tedious. Far-right leaders, who were once seen as charismatic and worthy of 24-hour media coverage — including “blonde bombshell” France’s Marine Le Pen and her Dutch fake-blonde male counterpart Geert Wilders — have become much too predictable. They haven’t changed their tune. It’s the same old, same old, toxic song.
The far right’s demands to “keep Muslims out, send them home” have become ordinary and routine as have their claims that all male refugees are potential rapists and the women are submissive, oppressed and complicit.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that refugees from the Middle East are really “Muslim invaders” in disguise. The far right Freedom Party in Austria is part of the government and its interior minister wants to “concentrate” asylum seekers in special camps.
So what? Big deal. After all, it’s 2018, folks and ordinary people have other things on their mind.
The optimist in me is reassured by the European public’s collective yawn at the shenanigans of the far right. This collective European shrug shows a certain degree of maturity and sophistication. Doesn’t it?
And if they are ignored, the far right will stop trying to be so obscenely poisonous about Islam and Muslims and go back to being obnoxious in other ways. Won’t they?
There’s no doubt that Europe’s Muslim bashers are become boringly repetitive. US President Donald Trump may have turned Muslim-baiting into a global sport, causing hysterical excitement and emulation among his European fans, but the novelty is wearing off.
Whisper it softly, but Trump and his wannabes in Europe have lost their lustre. After all, most Europeans, like most Americans, are not racists or Islam haters. Many are welcoming refugees into their homes, recruiting them into their companies, helping them integrate and become “good” citizens. Governments are working hard on revamping their migration policies. The refugees, meanwhile, are getting on with life. It’s getting better all the time.
If only it were that simple. The lack of public anger at the far right’s racist, xenophobic and inhumane rants is not a good thing. It betrays a tragic numbness in the face of repeated verbal aggression, an acceptance of the unacceptable.
In fact, the lack of reaction from other EU leaders when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says all refugees seeking entry into Europe are “Muslim invaders” is disappointing.
It is sad that given his nasty views, Orban was invited to attend a meeting hosted by the German Christian Socialist Union (CSU), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners. Orban also continues to be feted by the European Peoples Party, the leading conservative political group in the European Parliament.
And as for Austria, the country’s new Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz has been received and welcomed — and congratulated — for this “pro-European” views by top EU leaders, including European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker.
The Commission chief has remained silent on the fact that Kurtz’s government includes the far right Freedom Party whose interior minister Herbert Kickl has said he wants “basic services centres, suitable infrastructure that enables us to concentrate people in the asylum process in one place”.
The comments have provoked outrage, with Alexander Pollak, head of migrants charity SOS Mitmensch, calling it a “deliberate provocation” and left-wing essayist Robert Misik saying “a Rubicon has been crossed”.
The opposition Green Party warned against the “language of National Socialism creeping into our way of thinking and feeling”.
But the silence of others in Europe has been deafening.
There is some hope, however. Heads of states from seven of the EU’s southern members last week issued a joint declaration calling, among other points, for a more integrated migration policy and asylum system.
The leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain met in Rome and released a statement, saying they were “firmly committed to a common European policy on migration”.
The “Southern Seven” are understandably angry at having to bear the brunt of the number of refugees arriving on Europe’s shores.
But Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have refused to take in migrants under an EU quota system. “In terms of migration and quotas that were to be imposed on [EU] member countries we strongly reject such an approach as it infringes on sovereign decisions of member states,” Morawiecki told a joint news conference after recent talks with Orban in Budapest.
Austria’s Freedom Party may be the only far-right party in government in Western Europe but similar groups are making inroads in other countries.
In neighbouring Germany, the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered parliament for the first time, winning 94 seats.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party came second in elections last March and in France Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) reached the run-off for the presidency but was defeated by the liberal Emmanuel Macron.
The initial buzz created by Europe’s far right may have died down but the parties themselves are alive and kicking — and waiting for the next election, possibly in March in Italy, to get back in the spotlight.
No, Europe’s far right is no yawning matter.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2018