Islamophobia: Bad For The Jews

Continuing on the subject of Eli’s last post, it might be worthwhile to examine in more depth the burgeoning alliance between right-wing supporters of Israel and the European far right. The importance of this topic was driven home by the publication of a new Gallup poll on Americans’ attitudes towards various religions. The poll, which found that over half of Americans view Islam unfavorably, also found that “the strongest predictor of prejudice against Muslims is whether a person holds similar feelings about Jews.”

While the poll deals with the American rather than the European context, it is a reminder that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have typically gone hand in hand. This is worth remembering when looking at the rise of European far-right leaders like Jean-Marie Le Pen of France and the late Jorg Haider of Austria. Hostility to Muslim immigrants forms the centerpiece of their political stance, but their parties have also tended to espouse anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial — a reminder of their neo-fascist roots.

But this anti-Semitism has quite naturally prevented them from making common cause with neoconservatives and other right-wing Zionists in America, whose militant stance towards “Islamism” (very broadly defined) would otherwise make them natural allies of the European far right. Hence we have seen in recent years that the savvier of the European far right leaders — such as Filip Dewinter of the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang (VB) — have dropped the explicitly anti-Semitic elements of their platforms and doubled down on Islamophobia. They realize that by portraying themselves as staunch supporters of Israel and allies in the war against Islamofascism, they can acquire a new set of influential and well-connected supporters in America — the likes of Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn, Frank Gaffney, etc. (Eli, Ali and I wrote about the connections between Wilders, his U.S. supporters, and the VB this past February.)

While focusing on Islamophobia rather than anti-Semitism is certainly a savvy move, whether it is sincere is another question. The VB, for example, is a successor to the Vlaams Blok, which disbanded in 2004 after being convicted of “repeated incitement to discrimination”; its fall was precipated by top VB official Roeland Raes’s widely-publicized Holocaust denial on Dutch television. Despite the VB’s claims to have cleaned up its act since the Raes scandal, the Belgian Jewish community isn’t buying it. They maintain that, regardless of whatever philo-Semitic noises the top leadership makes in public, the group has a clear pattern of associating with anti-Semitic and neo-fascist elements. (Right-wing apostate Charles Johnson has in recent years provided the most thorough coverage of the devil’s bargain that the American Islamophobic right has made with the European far right.) Similarly, although Wilders himself does not come from the neo-fascist milieu, there can be little doubt that his base of popular support contains many of the same elements as Le Pen’s and Haider’s.

All this is to say that Daniel Pipes and his compatriots are playing with fire when they embrace Wilders and other European Islamophobes. While the European far right has proven increasingly willing to say the right things about Jews for tactical reasons, all indications are that hatred of Muslims frequently goes hand-in-hand with hatred of Jews.

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Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.

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11 Comments

  1. Anon,
    You make fair points — although I would dispute the extent to which immigration is really causing a “cultural revolution”. (For a good rejoinder to a lot of the “Eurabia” hysteria, see this recent Foreign Policy article: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/01/04/eurabian_follies)

    My point is not that it’s morally impermissible to be concerned about integration of Muslims in Europe, but that those who are so concerned should be very careful about who they get into bed with. A disconcerting number of prominent figures have either embraced the European neo-fascist right, or at least engaged in apologetics for them. (See Charles Johnson for more info on this.)

    So as always I think that people who consider themselves defenders of “liberal values” should be wary of picking allies whose primary motivation is hatred of Muslims rather than any particular interest in liberal values as such. E.g. Wilders, who has been portrayed by his apologists as a “free speech defender” despite the fact that he wants to ban the Koran.

  2. Okay, duly read. I’m not especially persuaded; he cites a lot of academic studies which claim things are ticky-boo, without going into any details. I’d be happy to believe that Caldwell is way overstating the dangers, but would really need a more substantive argument. I agree there is a lot of simple bigotry and Islamophobia in tracts like Fallacci’s and Melanie Phillips. But what do you think when you read of the Danish cartoonist who need a panic button to call police in every room of his house (and which he had to use recently)? If there was more intermarriage, that would point to an integration being assimilated. I don’t think there is much. Of course, part of me would welcome a Europe that stood up to American foreign policy more vigorously. . . but for European reasons.

  3. Hmm, I’m not sure how much we’re disagreeing so much as talking past each other. I am by no means saying that there is nothing at all troubling about the rise of radical Islam in Europe (although, again, I would argue that the scale of the phenomenon is widely exaggerated, particularly in the U.S. media.) On issues like the Danish cartoon controversy, for example, I actually take a position close to many on the right. While I don’t particularly believe that Europeans should go out of their way to antagonize and offend Muslims, the cartoon controversy does present a clear free speech issue.

    But none of this affects the basic point of my post, which is that U.S. Islamophobes are getting in bed with some very unsavory people. If you concede that Fallaci and Phillips are guilty of “bigotry and Islamophobia,” isn’t this unquestionably more true of Dewinter and Wilders? If we are genuinely concerned to staunch the spread of radical Islam and defend “liberal values” in Europe, isn’t making common cause with bigots the worst possible way to do so? Making Wilders the face of the movement simply sends the message that it is not radical Islam but Islam as such that we see as the enemy, and seems like a surefire way to alienate the very people that we want to win over.

  4. Yes, I agree. I tend to be frustrated by the view that opposition to war in Iran or Iraq has to go with a fervent embrace of immigration fueled multiculturalism. But you’re right, you’re not expressing that. I’m not a Catholic, but I kind of sense the current Pope is expressing something like my POV.

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