Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Europe can defeat fascism

Europe can defeat fascism

Publication: The Observer, UK
Date: May 5, 2002

The Standard Comment is familiar. In an era of globalisation, governing parties have little room for manoeuvre, so meaningful political choice is close to non-existent. The government always wins. Broader voter apathy is giving disillusioned voters experimenting at the margins more influence. All over Europe, in response to crime and growing immigrant populations, there is are-emergence of fatal DNA in the European values gene, amurky cocktail of racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, anti-immigration and calls for ultra-hard-line criminal justice policies.

Europe, we learn from conservative Americans, commentators and British Eurosceptics, cannot be trusted. The pro-Palestinian leanings and too-ready critism of Israel by mainstream Europeans opinion, writers the Washington Posts commentators Charles Krauthammer, for example, is part of a general cultural disposition that incubates anti-Semitism and racism. France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, far from being an outlier and outcast as he rails against immigrants and crime alike, is, in truth, the standard-bearer of a European truth that dare not speak its name. Just as European peoples turned to fascism in the 1930s, so they are now playing with racism at home and anti-Israel policies abroad. The English- speaking peoples, always on the side of good against evil over the last century, must now keep their distance from Europe and express total solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism.

This will certainly be one of the undercurrents in the demonstration tomorrow in Trafalgar Square by an expected 20,000 British Jews concerned that the so-far isolated incidents attacks on individual Jews are the forerunners of much worse to come and that they must make a strong protest now. The BNP's winning of three council seats in Burnely is portrayed in the same light. Emotions are running high. We stand on the edge of a slippery slope.

If this porridge of views did describe reality it would be serious indeed, but the elision of a disparate trends into one great, allegedly growing recist, anti-Semitic. European force is to make a profound mistake. There are dangers ahead but they loom as much from Charles Krauthammer's US and Sharon's Israel as from Europe. We must never drop our guard against anti-Semitism or racism but sweeping generalisation make matters worse. We need to disentangle the various strands and hit hard at what needs to be tackled rather than invoking ghosts from the past.

In the first place, European democracy is robust and well entered.
American commentators need to be extraordinarily careful before launching attack on Europe when the US is so compromised: 4.5 million American felons, mostly black are disqualified from voting in the American South, a contemporary version of the Jim Crow laws that effectively disenfranchised black after the Civil War. Right-wing militias recruit violent members under anti-Jew, anti-Israel programmes that make Le Pen look moderate. Indeed, the Vichy sloganwork, family and patriotism- that is at the core of the heart of the Republican right, and just as menacingly justifies extravagant US nationalism and unilateralism, if Americans could but see it.

Le Pen may have given this supremely conservative credo a more overtly recist tinge, and sickeningly 17 per cent of French citizens voted for it, but nobody in Europe or the US should imagine that in similar circumstances (the peculiar French voting system, political cohabitaimmune. As impressive has been the French reaction. One million French hit the streets on 1 May in protest and the recognition that voting matters fundamentally has suddenly become the new common currency. In the English council elections, there was ax sharp rise in voter turnout where voting to block the British National party mattered. The indication in French, although we may be confounded are that Le Pen will not advance much beyond his first vote, a relying to the values of democracy and tolerance that is as inspiring as the initial vote was depressing.

Paradoxically, the votes for Le Pen, along with parallel parties in Holland, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Britain, are an important democratic signal. For the poor, urban, working class, especially those in port cities and regions particularly exposed to immigrant, ranging from Dover to Marseilles, fear of crime and concern about immigrants has become an overwhelming preoccupation. This needs to be taken seriously.

New Labour has been right to respond in a way that the European Left has not, even to the point of flirting with highly conservative responses; it gives the right wing nationalist parties little political opening. But even more sense of mobilisation against crime is needed along with a powerful public rhetoric that it matters, marrying a policy of both carrot and stick in response. Mentoring crime-prone families, providing disciplined educational structures for their children and equipping prisons with powerful rehabilitative programmes are as important as tough custodial sentences or, say, electronically tagging repeat offenders. The important political truth is to act, and to be seen to act, decisively and purposefully.

As for race, there are three strands in play. There is the longstanding concern about asylum-seekers. There is a second prejudice against Arabs in general and Islamic fundamentalism in particular, a culture which has been particularly impervious to well-intentioned efforts at integration and assimilation all over Europe. And, Lastly, there is strongly sympathy for the Palestinians despite the horrors of suicide bombing. But to critise the more powerful state in this cruel conflict is not anti-semistic .Israel's critics criticise it for its actions, not for Jewishness, a moving on from the old categories that is long overdue noxious anti-Semitism does exit in the refugee camps but this has an obvious cause -and obvious remedy.

The more festering racist concern in Europe, including Britain, is anti-Islamicism: at least as many, if not more, mosques as synagogues have been vandalised, made much worse by the hostility around since 11 September.

One of the reasons for the West scrupulously observing international law and resection international rules of justice in Afghanistan, the West Bank or in any action Against Iraq is that we need the Islamic community, whether in immigrant communities or within its own countries, to recognise that there are universal codes which it self needs to observe. The way it treats its criminals and its women alike cannot be justified by cultural mores or ancient religious texts; it need to conform to common universal standard of justice, of which on the West's side fair and transparent treatment of asylum-seekers would be part. Some delicate work needs to be done to persuade Europe's Islamic community that universal principles trump cultural exceptionalism, and that refusing to acknowledge this truth helps in part to legitimate an ugly backlash. Religious school which further these differences needs to be curbed rather than expand.

All this is emotional and cultural dynamite, but the lesson of the last six months is that inactivity is more dangerous. Before the irrationalities and high-octane emotionalism of those who foster racist hatred and those like Krauthammer who claim they can detect it, we have to stick to universal principles and a clear understanding of what really is at work. Better forensic mine sweeping than indiscriminate carpet-bombing.

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