Rightwing populism
Rightwing populism: Many European countries have shifted their immigration policies and are taking restrictive positions Image Credit: Gulf News

This year, the Easter weekend was marred by violent protests in many urban centers of Sweden. The unprecedented unrest continued for four nights. It was in response to planned election meetings of far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan, who intends to contest the parliamentary election in Sweden this autumn.

The election meetings of this Danish far-right politician, who has dual Swedish citizenship, are usually his monologues with anti-Muslim vitriols. As if the Easter weekend violent unrest was not sufficient for his political ambition, the far-right rabble-rouser had planned the burn the Holy Book in front of the only mosque in Sweden’s university town Uppsala on the 1st of May, which was thwarted by police.

Why does a politician repeatedly go to this extent in Sweden to express his bigotry? The simple answer is that Islamophobia has become an easy route to gaining political capital in Europe. Even in a country like Sweden, the far-right party Sweden Democrats has been the third largest political party in the Parliament since 2014.

To gain more extensive support among Swedish electorates, the Sweden Democrats party adopts a so-called zero-tolerance policy against its leaders publicly being racist; however, that principle doesn’t apply to their Islamophobic rhetoric.

Increasing crime rates

The party demands that Sweden end receiving refugees. It argues that unassimilated immigrants, particularly Muslims, are the reasons for the country’s increasing crime rates, economic difficulties, and expanding cultural divide.

Sweden has been for almost a century a haven for refugees and has received a sizeable number of people fleeing war and violence from the Middle East and North Africa. A country globally famous for its exceptionalism and prized welfare system has about 800,000 Muslims. It is far from the truth that Christianity is in danger in Sweden.

The Swedish economy is robust, the employment rate is among the highest in Europe, and law and order are among the best. But, the political rhetoric of the far-right in Sweden doesn’t need to rely on the facts when Islamophobia holds sway over European society.

Islamophobia in Europe is no more limited to the far-right political discourse; it has become mainstream. The traditional political elites compete to steal that recipe of electoral success from the far-right cookbook. Last month, Viktor Orban won the fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister with an increased majority. His government refuses to accept Bosnia as a European Union country because it has two million Muslims.

Similarly, in the recent Presidential election in France, though the far-right candidate Le Pen lost in the second round to the incumbent, President Macron’s last five years of rule dissolved the most prominent civil society organisation against Islamophobia in France.

Xenophobic nationalism

Right-wing extremism is gaining ground in a significant manner in most of Europe. Mainstream centrist parties have been unable to counter with policies or mobilisation against this xenophobic nationalism that aims to restrict immigrants’ rights in Europe. As the Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index shows, by 2019, almost 27 per cent of European voters have voted for a far-right party in the national elections, moving away from the traditional political parties.

These far-right political outfits are already part of more than one-third of governments in Europe. The trend has made the conventional centrist parties nervous and made them adopt and profess Islamophobic policies overtly and covertly. Thus, Islamophobia is no more an exclusive feature of far-right politics. The growing popularity of the far-right has resulted in new agenda-setting in Europe.

In the name of protecting national identity and culture, many European countries have shifted their immigration policies and are taking restrictive positions. Even the countries like Sweden and Germany have fallen into that trap. There is an increasing exclusion of minorities and immigrants from European societies, creating a form of cultural racism.

This bigotry has become the position of most political parties in many countries in Europe, reflected in their policies toward the immigration and integration of minorities. Protecting or promoting the so-called European way of life has become even the official mandate of the European Union. Migration management through militarising the border receives the highest priority in the EU budget.

In countries like Sweden, which had a terrific record of having an open-door policy toward refugees, the rise of the far-right parties has also encouraged the mainstream parties to pick up far-right talking points. Some of them openly advocate in favour of a tougher stance on migration from the Middle East and North Africa but keep the country’s door open to people fleeing from Ukraine.

While hate politics is being rapidly normalised and becoming the go-to strategy of many mainstream parties in Europe, far-right politicians like Paludan are engaged in all sorts of horrible Islamophobic antics to get noticed by the electorates.