There are many reasons to be worried about the Swiss minaret ban, but one of the most important – and least discussed – is the fact that a far right party was successful in mobilizing people to institutionalize racism. The success of the Swiss People's Party in this endeavor points to the dark truth that fascism isn't dead, but instead remains a potent political force through the power of anti-Muslim racism.
The party itself isn't technically a fascist one, but it does belong in the pantheon of a far right movement that contains the nucleus for a future mass-based fascism with the possibility of undermining democracy and the enlightenment, much as Mussolini and Hitler did in the early 20th century.
As the Jewish Virtual Library put it on its website, "most of these right-wing nationalist political parties denied any connection to fascism or neo-Nazism, yet they echoed many of the same xenophobic (and sometimes antisemitic and racist) themes, and provided a recruitment pool for neo-Nazi organizers."
Among those "nationalist political parties" was the Swiss People's Party.
For years the far right has been advancing in Europe with an anti-Muslim agenda as its primary impetus. Under the guise of immigration and security, the specter of Islamization of the continent has led in part to these parties crawling out from the margins into the mainstream, as demonstrated by last summer's European Parliament elections.
A case in point is the British National Party.
The British National Party's neo-Nazi past (and present) is no secret, yet it won seats in the European Parliament in large part on the party's anti-Muslim program, which evolved from an explicitly anti-Jewish position espoused by Chairman Nick Griffin. Griffin — who once denied the Holocaust as a historical fact and has spoken in the past at neo-Nazi events in the United States — wrote in an essay last year:
"It stands to reason that adopting an 'Islamophobic' position that appeals to large numbers of ordinary people — including un-nudged journalists — is going to produce on average much better media coverage than siding with Iran and banging on about 'Jewish power', which is guaranteed to raise hackles of virtually every single journalist in the Western world."
Or, as he put it at a branch meeting of his party in March 2006:
"But we bang on about Islam. Why? Because to the ordinary public out there, it's the thing they can understand. … If we were to attack some other ethnic group — some people say 'We should attack the Jews' … — it wouldn't get us anywhere, other than stepping backwards."
It was this evolution that led the BNP to forge links with groups like the Arch-Conservative Young Americans for Freedom, which hosted a speaking engagement for Griffin at Michigan State University during the David Horowitz-inspired Islamofascism Awareness Week in late 2007. The group also sought out Jewish support in Britain by appearing pro-Israel, as noted in an April 10, 2008 article in the Guardian newspaper.
"I'm in the BNP because no one else speaks out against the Islamification of our country," said the party's only Jewish member, Pat Richardson.
As a result, the BNP elected two Members of the European Parliament, including Griffin himself .As part of his duties, he represented the European Parliament at the Copenhagen climate change summit. It's a place he couldn't have arrived at if he had continued with his neo-Nazi past — like running the National Front and hosting Nazi skinhead bands like Skrewdriver on his farm in 1986; anti-Muslim racism got him there and he knows that.
To dismiss the far right's embrace of Islamophobia as only an electoral strategy however, is a failure to appreciate the power of the idea of an Islamic Specter haunting Europe. It's a conspiratorial worldview that has many of the hallmarks of traditional anti-Semitism, complete with books and movies that claim to reveal an Islamic plot to take over Europe and the United States. Tomes like "Eurabia" by Bat Ye'or, Melanie Philips' "Londinistan" and films like "Obsession" and "The Third Jihad," have aided in spreading this irrational worldview.
And that's precisely what drove the Swiss referendum — irrationality. Switzerland has a relatively small Muslim population — only 4.26 percent — and no history of Islamist terrorism or occupying a Muslim country, so what else could have accounted for the Swiss vote?
Meanwhile, the far right gets support from various non-fascist quarters that support this growing reaction because of the shared anti-Muslim prejudices and irrational fears. Among those are the "un-nudged journalists" that Griffin spoke of. One such writer is Anne Applebaum, who wrote in the "Towers Of Fear" that:
"As grotesquely unfair as a referendum to ban minarets may have been to hundreds of thousands of ordinary, well-integrated Muslims, I have no doubt that the Swiss voted in favor primarily because they don't have much Islamic extremism — and they don't want any."
In other words, additional minarets will somehow invite the growth of a homegrown Al-Qaeda. Only because of the Muslim angle is she able to get away with something as unfounded as that in the pages of a major American newspaper.
There are other examples of American writers supporting "reformed" Nazis.
Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal praised a similar party — Belgian Vlaams Belang — for altering its traditional neo-Nazi, anti-Jewish past into its pro-Israel, anti-Muslim present in an August 27, 2006 op-ed in the Journal:
"Meanwhile, the real fascists in Belgium are gaining strength, largely protected from scrutiny by the country's "antiracism" legislation," he wrote, describing the Muslim community there.
Diane West of the Washington Times echoed similar sentiments.
"America must start paying attention to Europe. And to Vlaams Belang," she glowingly wrote in a March 19, 2007 article.
On a post on her blog, "Death Of A Grown Up" on Jan. 5 of this year, she described "the labeling of Vlaams Belang as 'neo-Nazi' is a vile slander that has been used repeatedly in an attempt to discredit the party."
Slander only because they shifted from their roots as the Vlaams Blok, a party founded by Flemish collaborators of the Third Reich and which their party vice-president Roeland Raes, in an interview on Dutch TV in 2002, downplayed the number of Jews killed by the Nazis in WWII. The party was banned for being racist in 2004, which prompted them to change their name to Vlaams Belang.
What the Swiss minaret ban should alert us to is the power anti-Muslim prejudice has as a recruiting tool for the far right and the potency this new anti-Semitism has in the ethos of modern Western nationalism.
Fascism is evolving and we should not blind ourselves to this new threat; it's no accident that the worst atrocities in Europe since WWII were the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s. Unless something is done to reverse this Islamophobic tidal wave, the Swiss minaret ban could very well be but one cobblestone on the path towards repeating history.
Original article published on Dec.24, 2009