It’s not easy to be a Jew or Muslim in Europe these days. French Jews are still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo and kosher grocery store attack, with their Muslim counterparts facing a spate of hate crimes aimed at them and an expected surge of support for the anti-Islamic (and historically anti-Jewish) National Front, now the country’s third largest party.
The outlook for Jews and Muslims across the continent as a whole doesn’t look much better. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army, it appears that a political appetite is growing for the worst of Europe’s political impulses. The anti-Semitic Jobbik Party continues to be popular in Hungary, forcing the ruling Fidesz further to the right. An anti-Islamic movement has picked up frightening steam in Germany. Last year observers were shocked by the stunning success of far right parties in European Union elections. The institutional and ideological consensus that has driven the largely peaceful (Venus politics that American neo-cons mock) in Europe since the creation of the modern European community is under threat from political parties that embody its most ugly history.
Its no secret that the economic crisis and the failed and brutal policies of austerity have led to a populist moment in Europe. While the far right shows the dangers of a social populism of xenophobia and bigotry, the crisis has also spurred the the creation of a number of anti-austerity leftist parties that have northern European powers crowing about an anti-capitalist insurgency that could bring down the existing economic order. But it precisely the staggering unemployment, the loss of social benefits and the widening wealth gap that has left the far-right make immigrants as the scapegoat. The anti-austerity leftist parties might make the austerity addicts EU bureaucrats scared, but it is precisely their bold post-Cold War left politics that will save modern Europe. In fact the robust democratic left has always been Fascism most powerful and effective foe in Europe.
Despite the well choreographed image of world leaders marching together for free speech in Paris, the reality is European fascism’s great foe has not been the mainstream, but the militant left. Europe’s leaders let General Franco have is way in Spain, while anarchists and socialists died trying to stop him. We rightly valorize the American lead liberation of France, but the European theater was primarily a war between the Nazis and the Soviets. In a famous debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky, Chomsky countered Buckley’s narrative that Greek communists posed a treacherous threat by pointing out they were there the only organized resistance to the Nazis in the country.
It is simply not a coincidence that the far right enjoys rising popularity in countries where there is no strong, organized left other than tepid Socialist International parties. The British Labour Party can longer inspire the nation’s beleaguered working-class, allowing the nationalism of the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party to dig in is roots. By contrast, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Greece has been thwarted both by legal action but the ascendance of Syriza, a left-wing anti-austerity party that breaks both from the mainstream SI affiliate, now a shadow of its former self, and marginal and self-segregating Communist Party.
The opening for populist politics across the Eurozone reflects a broader failure of modern European politics. The prime failure right now is a commitment to austerity that has only been tepidly challenged by center-left leaders in France and Italy. Most recently, the British Labour Party lost much of its support to the Scottish National Party, not because of an upsurge in mere nationalism, but a rejection of Labour’s embrace of austerity politics. The ascendence of the SNP is growing sign that the European public is hungry for a left alternative.
As long as the continent suffers from high unemployment, shrinking social systems, home dislocations and falling opportunity the politics of resentment and blaming the “other” will have appeal. Muslims are the main current target of this type of politics, Jewish communities are the greatest historical victim of this. The best solution is a way forward for Europe that ends the failed policies of austerity and rigid commitments to discredited economic dogmas. The policies of Syriza may be the only hope for Greece’s tortured economy but also to save Europe from a dark future that looks more like its nightmarish past. Jewish and Muslim communities and all who care about a open Europe should get the message.
Ari Paul is a journalist and educator in New York City, and has covered politics for the Nation, VICE News, Jacobin and many other outlets. Michael Brooks is a contributor to the Majority Report.
Europe’s Jews and Muslims Need a Strong Left — Now More Than Ever