European racism and economic decay

From the January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters

On Jan. 7, two French terrorists, Cherif and Said Kouachi—brothers who identified with al Qaeda and trained with them in Yemen—massacred 12, mostly journalists, but also a Muslim police guard, at France’s satirical, iconoclastic publication Charlie Hebdo. As they died in a shootout with police two days later, their associate, Amedy Coulibaly, took hostages at a Jewish market in Paris, killing four, before being killed. His wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, a suspected accomplice, apparently fled to Syria to join the barbaric IS terror-state to which Coulibaly had declared allegiance in a video.

The slaughter brought out hundreds of thousands in a show of solidarity and support for freedom of expression, including from France’s substantial Muslim community, who, along with Muslim minorities throughout Europe, are increasingly the victims of racist violence and discrimination in the midst of deep unemployment and permanent economic stagnation. New incidents of a widespread and ongoing anti-Muslim terror were reported throughout France—from three grenades hitting a mosque in Le Mans to gunshots fired at a prayer room in Aude. This did not stop 20 imams from France’s Muslim federations who visited the Charlie Hebdo office and, without qualification, condemned those who killed the journalists and others as “criminals” and “barbarians.”

TERRORISM BOOSTS RIGHT WING

A demonstration of national unity on Jan. 10 drew 1.5 million people as well as leaders from around the world to Paris. Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN), a neo-fascist, anti-Islamic party with anti-Semitic roots, was pointedly not invited. Le Pen, who is an admirer of another neo-fascist, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who helped her finance her last campaign, hopes to get a boost for her anti-immigrant, anti-Islam hate movement against France’s five million Muslims, many of whom are in France as part of the legacy of the brutal French colonial subjugation of Algeria and other parts of Africa. The unprecedented gathering, reaffirming the values of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” that go back to the 1789 French Revolution will be tested in human relations where many French citizens are treated as “other” and scapegoated for the economic crisis.

An ugly fact is that Le Pen’s Muslim-hating FN is rising in the polls. The current “socialist” President François Hollande has done little to lessen the economic crisis and austerity policies that perpetuate deep unemployment, giving youth, especially minority youth, little hope for a future. Religious fanatics’ nihilistic acts of terror and Europe’s resurgent fascism mutually reinforce each other.

NEW MOVEMENTS FOR TOLERANCE

In Sweden participants in a fascist anti-immigrant movement hurled petrol bombs at mosques, injuring and terrorizing those inside. There were three firebombs in a single week over the holidays. The thugs have not been caught, but they have awakened a new movement where thousands take to the streets to demand tolerance and the welcoming of immigrants. In Uppsala, locals responded with “love bombing” a damaged mosque with messages of support and appreciation.

In Germany thousands marched against the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West” (PEGIDA), vastly outnumbering them in Berlin and Cologne—but not in Dresden, where 18,000 PEGIDA supporters demonstrated in spite of an appeal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to shun the growing “right-wing extremism, hostility towards foreigners and anti-Semitism.”

On Jan. 10, however, 35,000 came out to protest PEGIDA even in Dresden. PEGIDA has allies in the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party, whose chant that Germany is for the “volk” (people) explicitly excludes the millions of Turks and others who have been in Germany for generations, doing the jobs Germans won’t.

Merkel is right to condemn the anti-Muslim marchers as having “hearts full of hatred” and to stand up to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is trying to renegotiate provisions in the European Union to help him exclude non-English from entering the UK. Psychological and physical anti-immigrant bashing also pervades England, where the growing UK Independence Party wants to withdraw from the European Union in order to “take back control of the UK borders.”

Yet Merkel’s economic policies and oversized influence over Europe’s whole economy—in particular, imposing austerity policies on countries in the Eurozone—have greatly exacerbated the suffering of the poor and minorities. Europe’s economy is sick and has sunk back into recession, never gaining even the anemic level of recovery the U.S. has achieved since the 2008 global collapse. In December, the Eurozone dipped into outright deflation, signaling an intractable stagnation with no end in sight and a possible downward spiral in an economy that still has 11.5% unemployment.

BARBARISM OF WAR HAUNTS EUROPE

The European economic union and the single currency Eurozone were designed to integrate Europe economically and overcome the 20th century tendency to degenerate into vile nationalism, genocidal racism and the barbarism of total war. Yet those very specters haunt Europe in today’s protracted economic crisis.

Depression-level unemployment in countries like Greece and Spain has raised expectations that radical Left parties like Syriza in Greece may gain power in upcoming elections with a promise to renegotiate their externally imposed austerity. We can only hope that Europe’s crisis will be a moment of truth to go beyond electoral politics to break totally with capitalism and reconstitute reality beginning from borderless human solidarity on the ground.

—Ron Kelch

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