The far right French National Front leader Marine Le Pen wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times recently (if you are unfamiliar with the NF history or Le Pen, this is a good place to start.) Evidently the National Front has undergone quite a face-lift recently, modernizing and upgrading its image under Marine, the daughter of the founder Jean Marie, who was an unabashed fascist. She is the kinder and gentler fascist of today.
Her Op-Ed was quite interesting for the simple reason that it sounded surprisingly familiar to anyone who observes the right wing in American politics. She starts out by saying that until politicians are willing to condemn Islam, the terrorists will win. I confess I remain confused as to how using specific words is supposed to change anything for the better but everyone on the right (as well as some who like to call themselves "proper liberals") insists that this is absolutely essential.
She then goes on to list three problems she says must be addressed. The first is one that no American right-winger could ever admit: the proliferation of deadly weapons. In this respect, Europe is so vastly different from the U.S. that even the far right is compelled to use gun control for its own ends.
Another is France's relationship to countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which is actually more of a left-wing critique in the U.S. One could theorize that this is because of America's position as the world's only superpower, a position much beloved by the American right and that feeds the common delusion among them that the U.S. also calls the shots in these countries. One could imagine Rand Paul taking a similar line, however, so despite their adamant support for unfettered proliferation of guns everywhere, the libertarian right is not completely out of sync with the Europeans despite their hostility to guns everywhere.
On the last issue Le Pen is a very clever politician and ties her criticism of of the open flow of "goods," meaning weapons, across borders to the open flow of people across borders, which is her real beef:
The massive waves of immigration, both legal and clandestine, our country has experienced for decades have prevented the implementation of a proper assimilation policy. As Hugues Lagrange, a sociologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.), has argued, culture has a major influence on the way immigrants relate to French society and its values, on issues such as the status of women and the separation of state and religious authority.
Without a policy restricting immigration, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to fight against communalism and the rise of ways of life at odds with laïcité, France’s distinctive form of secularism, and other laws and values of the French Republic. An additional burden is mass unemployment, which is itself exacerbated by immigration.
This is a different argument than the one the right wing in America makes against immigration. In the U.S. the right would never celebrate "secularism" in any form. Indeed, secularism is itself considered a threat. However, one can easily see the more important similarities in the argument. Both Le Pen and the American right wing are arguing against the way "immigrants relate to society and its values." We just define those things in our own way.
Up until now we haven't seen a lot of this talk about Muslims in the U.S., largely as a result of the Republican Party under George W. Bush. To his credit, he went out of his way to tamp down such talk and despite some fairly obtuse right-wing protests like the silly "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy, America mostly kept calm and carried on after 9/11 when it came to mainstream Muslim bashing. And it surprisingly avoided demands that American Muslims publicly prostrate themselves before "real Americans" and disavow any associations with terrorism lest they become suspects. Even after the Boston bombing, which bears some resemblance to the Charlie Hebdo attacks at least to the extent it appears to have been perpetrated by a couple of misfit brothers who became radicalized by fundamentalist Islam and the lure of "heroic" terrorism, American didn't go off the deep end. The trial of Djokar Tsarnaev is happening right now in Boston with little national attention.
But suddenly we are seeing a lot of talk that resembles the rhetoric of Marine Le Pen, not so much in the ways I described above in which certain standard right-wing beliefs translate across the water, but in specifics. Take presumed presidential candidate Bobby Jindal who was in Britain this week and caused a major faux pas by parroting the attitude of the French National Front. First he passed on embarrassingly incorrect information gleaned from an overzealous Fox News contributor that Europe was riddled with "no-go" zones in which Shariah law was practiced and the government had no authority. Fox News apologized for the remark but Jindal did not back down from his comment.
His entire speech to the Henry Jackson Society in England has been ignored in the controversy over that one passage but it's worth looking at the whole thing. This excerpt captures the flavor:
Let's be honest here, Islam has a problem. If Islam does not support what is happening in the name of Islam, then they need to stand up and stop it. Many Islamic leaders argue that these are the acts of a radical few. Ok, it is their problem, and they need to deal with it.
Muslim leaders must make clear that anyone who commits acts of terror in the name of Islam is in fact not practicing Islam at all. If they refuse to say this, then they are condoning these acts of barbarism. There is no middle ground.
Specifically, Muslim leaders need to condemn anyone who commits these acts of violence and clearly state that these people are evil and are enemies of Islam. It's not enough to simply condemn violence, they must stand up and loudly proclaim that these people are not martyrs who will receive a reward in the afterlife, and rather they are murderers who are going to hell. If they refuse to do that, then they are part of the problem. There is no middle ground here.
Let's remember what we are talking about here. These terrorists are not soldiers who are fighting nobly on some valiant battlefield against an opposing army. No. These are cowards who are walking up to unarmed civilians—men, women AND children-- in the work place and the grocery store and murdering them with weapons of war.
And now that I have been politically incorrect with regard to radical Islam, I might as well go all in and say some less than flattering things about the Western world today.
One thing that must be addressed is the notion of assimilation. This is a problem not only in Europe, but in America as well. There is a way of thinking by many on the Left in America, which disturbs me greatly, and unfortunately I can view the fallacy and the folly of this way of thinking when I look at the situation today in much of Europe.
There was once a time when it was taken for granted in America that people who came to our country were coming to America to be Americans. They were not coming to be Norwegians who live in America but who do not identify with American values and customs and mores. They were not coming to try to set up regions where native Norwegian laws superseded American laws. They were not coming to try to develop regions where people spoke Norwegian instead of America's language of English.
Historians rightly referred to America as the great melting pot…and it was. But over time, a different philosophy has crept in, and that philosophy now dominates the thinking of the American Left, and perhaps even the mainstream of thinking in Europe. This philosophy holds the notion that assimilation is not necessary or even preferable. But it really goes further than that. This philosophy holds the view that it is wrong to expect assimilation, that assimilation is colonialist, assimilation is backward, and assimilation is in fact evidence of cultural bigotry and insensitivity.
They think it is wrong to expect that people who chose to immigrate to your country should be expected to endorse and abide by your laws. They think it is unenlightened, discriminatory, and even racist to expect immigrants to endorse and assimilate into the culture in their new country. This is complete rubbish.
I'm not here to tell any country in Europe how to handle its own immigration policies.
That is your business, not mine. But in America, immigration policy is a matter of very animated debate. As a governor, I am one of 50 men and women who every day deals with both the good and bad effects of our federal immigration policy. It is not a faculty lounge debate for us, but real issues that affect our citizens.It is my view that immigration can make a country stronger, or it can make a country weaker.
It really depends on whether the immigrants coming to your country are coming to join your culture, your mores, your laws, and become a part of your history. Or, are they coming to be set apart, are they unwilling to assimilate, do they have their own laws they want to establish, do they fundamentally disagree with your political culture?
Therein lies the difference between immigration and invasion.
Even Rupert Murdoch backed off a notorious tweet to the effect that all Muslims would be held responsible for the actions of a minuscule few until they stopped this terrorism. There is no word on what "they" are supposed to do, especially American Muslims who are quite assimilated and have as much of a relationship to what's going on the Middle East as Jindal has with the violence between India and Pakistan. There's a word for this and it's called collective guilt -- and it has a very ugly pedigree.
But Jindal didn't stop there. He conflated the Muslim extremist threat with the alleged invasion of our southern border by migrant workers. The "threat" grows. There is little doubt where he and others of his party stand on that issue.
Another presidential aspirant, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also gave a memorable speech in London earlier this year in which he forcefully declared:
To every extremist, it has to be made clear: We will not allow you to exploit our tolerance, so that you can import your intolerance. We will not let you destroy our peace with your violent ideas. If you expect to live among us and yet plan against us to receive the protections and comforts of a free society while showing none of its virtues or graces then you can have our answer now: No, not on our watch! You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by.
And if that comes as jarring news then welcome to civilization.
Perry likewise claims that terrorists are flooding over our own border, a refuted claim rated "pants on fire" by Politifact. His views of Mexican immigrants destroying our way of life are slightly less hysterical but that's likely due to the fact that a huge portion of his state happens to be Latino.
So, what's the point of all this? Well, it seems that the right is working itself up into a new round of xenophobia. In Europe this has been a problem for some time. There is no excuse for the kind of violence we saw in France this month or the violence we saw in Boston a couple of years ago for that matter. (Indeed, there's no excuse for the mass shootings we commonly see in workplaces throughout America.) But many analysts of the European situation see that the unwillingness to allow assimilation on the level it's traditionally been allowed in the U.S. has contributed to the threat from within. That may not be the primary reason but it makes sense that it would contribute to it.
So why in the world is the American right trying to create the same situation here? Even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney knew that was a daft idea. And unfortunately, it's not just confined to a couple of fringe presidential candidates on a Grand Tour of Europe. Here's a right-wing law professor from Vanderbilt University:
Islam has a problem with the West. Islam will never understand the freedoms that we live and die to preserve. If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.[...]
Civic education and other indicators of assimilation should be a prerequisite for remaining and advancing in this nation. We must be willing to recognize the dangers of the burka (head-to-toe garb worn by women in some Islamic sects), which allows individuals to completely conceal their identities.
If Muslims are to thrive in America, and if we are to be safe, then we must have ground rules that protect the people from those who disdain the freedoms that most of the world covets.
She goes beyond calling for the ritualized denunciations of extremism. She wants all Muslims to be "monitored" and "assimilation" to be enforced. "Islam" will never understand freedom. And if "Muslims are to thrive" (nice of her to care) she wants the rest of us to be protected from them. (In case you were wondering, Professor Swain is equally hostile to Hispanic immigrants.)
The right will likely point out that Swain is African-American. But then so is Ben Carson. And Allen West. And Bobby Jindal makes much of his Indian heritage as well. I don't know what psychology drives people whose race and ethnicity has been targeted in the past to take such stances and I don't think it's particularly relevant. The truth is that they are right. Extremism is on the rise and that's worrying. But their words show that it isn't just coming from Islamic fundamentalists. It's coming from them too.
Europe's far right has been vocal about all this for some time. And yes, their problems are different than ours. But we are now starting to see a similar impulse emerge in the U.S. as well, despite the fact that we managed to keep it somewhat at bay for nearly 15 years -- at least as a matter of acceptable mainstream discourse, if not reality, for many individual Muslims caught in the government maw. We are certainly no strangers to xenophobia and nativism and this fits nicely into that niche for a lot of rank and file right-wingers. But this also fits into another niche that fueled the conservative movement for many decades --- the original Threat From Within known as Communism. That paranoia, conflated with a free-floating fear of "the other" was one of the far right's most successful organizing principles. And it's that extremism that holds the real danger to our way of life if it once again finds its way into the conservative mainstream.
Islamic extremism and terrorism is a grave danger, no doubt about it. That it's mostly a danger to fellow Muslims doesn't seem to mitigate the West's increasing hysteria about it. But America isn't going to be instituting Shariah law or forcing women to wear veils any time soon. It might do some other things in reaction to that paranoia that are threatening to our way of life, however. We shouldn't forget that when it comes to extremism, these are the people who openly celebrate it as a virtue.