Tag Archives: fascism

So how’s Europe doing?

It is well known how deeply concerned European states and the EU are about anything Israel is doing. The Europeans worry about every apartment building approved in a Jerusalem neighborhood, they worry about the treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens – indeed, their “to worry” list is so long that even the way chicken are raised in Israel is considered a newsworthy topic by a major media outlet…

It is in no small measure due to Europe’s keen interest in every Israeli move that, as Alan Dershowitz recently noted, the “sad reality is that there are no purely domestic issues in Israel.” In part, the lavish attention Europe devotes to Israel is motivated by Europe’s desire to be a player at the world stage.

Arguably, Europe is not just engaging in empty talk: as noted in a recent Jerusalem Post editorial, European governments reportedly “spend more on left-wing NGOs operating in Israel – between $75 million and $100m. a year – than their total contributions to nonprofit human rights groups in other Middle East countries.”

How’s that for priorities?

Unfortunately, it seems that in their dedication to keeping Israel on the right (i.e. left) political track, Europeans haven’t gotten around to dealing with some very worrisome developments closer to home.

As Walter Russell Mead writes in a recent essay under the ominous title “‘Fascist Zombies’ From Hungary Threaten EU”:

We already have 1930s style economic problems in much of Europe; is fascism next?

If the current Hungarian government gets its way, maybe so. The government of Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party, is pushing the country away from democracy and toward authoritarian nationalist rule with anti-Semitic undertones. […]

These developments are troubling in themselves; even a mild and watery form of fascism should have no place in Europe today. But the problem with Hungary is more than a local problem. It testifies to the impotence and weak governance of Europe as a whole. The laws and regulations of the EU fill thousands of volumes and binders and the lush growth of its many institutions and bureaucracies is the envy and inspiration of civil servants around the world.

But as we have seen, Europe is incapable of managing the problems of monetary union; and as we are learning in Hungary, its resources to defend democracy in an erring member state are not great. The EU is better at writing laws than enforcing them, better and enunciating grand principles than at working things out on the ground. […]

Hungary could be to Europe’s political project as Greece has been to its economic goal — a small country whose failures exposed the weakness of the wider European agenda. The rise of fascism in a European country is a greater threat to the EU project than the prospect of bankruptcy in some peripheral economies; it is not at all clear that the EU could do anything at all about the destruction of what remains of Hungarian democracy.

 

UPDATE:

Commenter N.Friedman provides a very interesting link to a 2006 article by Richard L. Rubenstein who argues that European policies towards Israel have been heavily influenced by “Europe’s surrender” in the face of the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

In his conclusion, Rubenstein writes that “Europe’s new anti-Semitism is the result of a foreign policy rooted in European dependence on Arab oil.” While I think there is much merit to this argument, I believe there are additional factors that are entirely independent of Europe’s energy “Realpolitik”. Rubenstein himself quotes the results of a German study conducted by the University of Bielefeld that showed in 2004 that 68 percent of native Germans believed “that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians, while 51 percent believe there is not much difference between what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians and what the Nazis did to the Jews.”

In order to appreciate these results, it’s important to note that in German, the term “war of extermination” clearly refers to the “Vernichtungskrieg” conducted by the Nazis; another point to keep in mind is that the results must be evaluated against the background of the media coverage on the so-called “Al-Aqsa” intifada, which was arguably also reflected in the results of a 2003 Eurobarometer poll that found that 59 percent of EU citizens regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.

While embarrassed European officials tried to dismiss these poll results as some kind of aberration, subsequent polls showed similar results. To quote just one example: A BBC poll published in March 2007 revealed that Israel was viewed as the country with the most negative influence in the world; interestingly, Germany was the European country with the largest percentage of respondents who viewed Israel in these terms: 77 percent of Germans rated Israel’s influence as negative — even in some Muslim countries, Israel actually fared slightly better.

For Europeans, and Germans in particular, there is an obvious psychological “benefit” to viewing Israelis as comparable to the Nazis, because it helps to retroactively cast the victims of European and German antisemitism as people who might have done a lot of harm had they lived to get the chance.

In other words – and to put it bluntly – there is a “politically correct” translation of the Nazi slogan “die Juden sind unser Unglück”, i.e. the Jews are our misfortune: unfortunately, even without Arab prodding and irrespective of Muslim sentiments, all too many Europeans are inclined to believe that the tiny Jewish state that, ever since its modern rebirth, has been surrounded by implacably hostile neighbors should be compared to the Nazis and be seen as a frightening threat to the world.

This is arguably one major reason why criticizing Israel is much more popular in Europe than paying attention to some of the alarming developments in Hungary.  

 

If there was a Christian Brotherhood…

Have you heard the one about the Muslim Brotherhood being just like European Christian Democratic parties? Well, in any case, we all had by now many many opportunities to read or hear how moderate the Brotherhood really truly is.

A few hardy souls remain unconvinced, though. Commenting on news reports that Egypt’s Islamists are doing extremely well in the country’s elections, Michael Totten emphasized that it is ridiculous to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate.” Totten argued that they are instead “authoritarian theocrats” and pointed out: “If a Christian counterpart existed in the United States, they’d be called fascists.”

Obviously, you can’t get more politically incorrect than this: in polite circles, it is strictly verboten to even think of anything to do with Islam or Muslims as fascist. Critics of the term “Islamofascism” claim it is just “an empty propaganda term” used by proponents of the “war on terror.”

But Totten cannot be easily dismissed as a “propagandist.” He has established a solid reputation as a knowledgeable and insightful Middle East commentator and his just published article on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood at The American Interest provides an excellent example of his thoroughly researched work.

There is little doubt that the very same people (and media outlets!) who would object loudest to describing the Muslim Brotherhood as fascist would prove Totten right by eagerly adopting this description for any “Christian Brotherhood” in the West. As Walter Russell Mead once put it so wonderfully:

For decades now, shocked lefty journalists have gingerly ventured into the dark American interior, emerging with terrifying tales of “Christianist” plots to hijack American democracy and install theocratic rule. There’s an endless appetite for these stories on the secular left, and the fact that none of these Christianists dictatorships ever appear doesn’t seem to diminish the credulity with which each new “revelation” is greeted by the easily spooked.

On the other hand, it turns out that – after all the endless enthusiasm about the “Arab Spring” – serious Middle East experts knew all along what to expect.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, explained in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:

“I don’t think liberals have a natural constituency in Egypt. ‘Liberalism’ has a negative connotation here. I’m not even sure what liberalism means in an Egyptian context – try even asking liberals and they’ll have trouble answering,” he said. “All ‘liberal’ means in Egypt is someone who’s not an Islamist. That might get you 10% – people who are afraid of the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] – but that’s not a positive, affirmative message that will win a lot of votes.”

Hamid said liberals need to learn to speak the language of the religion if they hope to cut into the Brotherhood’s support base: “All the polling that’s ever been done in Egypt suggests Egyptians are very religiously conservative, and they want Islam to play a larger role in public life. I don’t know how one gets around that.”

So maybe Egypt’s marginalized liberals will eventually become just like European Christian Democratic parties?

For the time being, however, it seems that Egyptian liberals are engaging in some wishful thinking by trying to convince themselves that it’s not yet time to panic. But as Issandr El Amrani acknowledges in his post at The Arabist:

“That the Muslim Brothers would perform well was expected […] They may very well pass the 50% mark, having decided to contest a lot more seats than initially expected. […] The success of the Salafists is more of a surprise, and must reflect their grassroots presence in Egyptian society. But it is deeply worrisome, because the Salafists have made clear in their statements that they are an illiberal party with extreme views on many topics […] they should have never been legalized, on the same grounds that far-right parties are often forbidden in European countries.”

But since Egypt isn’t Europe, I guess the politically correct translation would transform the Salafists into hard-line moderates.