Sylvie Kauffmann writes: On Monday, the Western world may well wake up to the news that, for the first time since the defeat of Nazism, a European country has democratically elected a far-right head of state. Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom Party, claimed 35 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 24. Now he is heading into the second round on Sunday with the two mainstream parties having been eliminated from the runoff and the Social Democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, having resigned.
One month later, Europeans may wake up to the news that British voters have decided, in their June 23 referendum, that their country should become the first member state to leave the European Union. Many observers fear that would be fatal to the European project itself.
And on April 24, 2017, exactly a year after Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory, the French may well wake up to the news that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has come out on top in the first round of France’s presidential election. That is what polls say we could expect if the election were held today.
In the meantime, it is not impossible that Donald J. Trump, however low his odds seem now, will have moved into the White House.
These are not Orwellian scenarios. Signs of defiance toward the old democratic order are so numerous that the news of Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory hardly reached the front pages of European newspapers. Remember when the election of President Kurt Waldheim in the 1980s, or the antics by the Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s were considered deeply disturbing? That was last century. Today, Austria’s weird politics are no longer isolated. They are part of a solid trend across Europe.
And not just Europe. The trend reaches across the Atlantic, too, with Trumpism threatening to split or take over the Republican Party. [Continue reading…]
Mehdi Hasan writes: As the votes in London’s mayoral election were being counted on May 5, almost every British Muslim I know seemed to have only one thought: Would Sadiq Khan pull it off?
He did. Mr. Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was elected as the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital city, with more than 1.3 million votes, in what is being called the biggest mandate in the history of British politics. And the Labour candidate managed his landslide even after his opponent, the Conservative politician Zac Goldsmith, smeared him as a “radical” and shamelessly accused him of giving “oxygen” to extremists.
Islamophobes are tearing their hair out as they decry the Islamization of Britain. But for all the Muslim baiting, London’s new mayor is part of an encouraging trend. He’s just the latest in a series of observant Muslims who have captured the hearts and minds of the British public. Last October, 14.5 million Britons tuned in to watch the smiling, hijab-clad Nadiya Hussain, the daughter of a waiter from Bangladesh, as she was crowned champion of “The Great British Bake Off,” a TV show. In April, Riyad Mahrez, who was born in Paris to an Algerian father and a Moroccan mother, was awarded the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year trophy after scoring 17 goals for Leicester City, which went on to a surprise victory in the Premier League championship.
In a perfect world, the faith of a TV cooking show star, an athlete or even a major politician would be irrelevant. But in our deeply imperfect — and, yes, Islamophobic — world, it isn’t. British newspapers are filled with alarmist headlines about “Muslim sex grooming” and “the rise in Muslim birthrate.” Earlier this year, Trevor Philips, the former chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, accused Britain’s Muslims of “becoming a nation within a nation.”
It’s harder to say that now. The tide is turning in the toxic debate on Islam, integration and multiculturalism. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Near the end of his Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque in December, Gill Parker Payne decided he had to take action.
Seated a few rows in front of him was a woman he had never met before. She was wearing a religious headscarf, known as a hijab, which Payne recognized as a Muslim practice. He stood up, walked down the aisle and stopped next to her seat. Looking down at the woman, Payne instructed her to remove the covering.
“Take it off! This is America!” Payne, 37, later recalled saying. When she didn’t do it herself, Payne did: He grabbed the hijab from the back and pulled it all off. Violated, the woman, identified by the Justice Department only as K.A., quickly pulled the hijab back over her head.
On Friday, as part of a plea deal with the federal government, Payne pleaded guilty to obstructing the woman’s exercise of her religious beliefs. “Because I forcibly removed K.A.’s hijab, I admit that the United States can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I intentionally obstructed K.A.’s free exercise of her religious beliefs,” he said in a written statement in the plea agreement.
Payne awaits sentencing. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.
“No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement. “Using or threatening force against individuals because of their religion is an affront to the fundamental values of this nation.” [Continue reading…]
Pankaj Mishra writes: Donald Trump became last week the presumptive Republican nominee in the U.S. presidential elections. But those condemned to agonizing suspense and anxiety until November should note that Trumpism, or the politics of hate and fear, also suffered a major defeat last week.
I refer to the election of former human rights lawyer Sadiq Khan as London’s mayor. That the son of a Pakistani bus driver, whose campaign team included gay men and Jewish women, should become the mayor of a great European city would at any time have signaled hope for our irrevocably mixed societies. Its significance in this era of politically expedient bigotry cannot be overestimated.
For, as Khan said a day after his remarkable victory, his Conservative opponents set out “to divide London’s communities in an attempt to win votes,” using “fear and innuendo to try and turn different ethnic and religious groups against each other — something straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.” [Continue reading…]
Carlo Bastasin writes: Migration, inequality, middle class decline, the euro crisis, mistrust of the establishment — there is no shortage of explanations for the angry message voters in European countries are delivering with their ballots. However, most of the time, we dismiss the message as a temporary burst of irascibility that will eventually self-modulate. For at least 20 years, we have deemed public irritation as a negligible price for democracy.
In reality, support for radical parties has only grown. Traditional parties favoring European integration — Christian democrat and social democrat — are threatened all across the Continent. New radical parties, particularly on the far right, are popping up everywhere. They represent a powerful and minatory force with time on its side. Every four years, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) loses one million voters for purely demographic reasons. The same applies to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Victims of the area’s high youth unemployment, young voters in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, and elsewhere often vote differently and unpredictably.
Those who claim that a new era is about to dawn have never understood the era in which they live. It is past time to consider these developments for what they are — a permanent change in the European political landscape. Last Sunday, Austrian presidential elections once again demonstrated that the traditional parties, elbowed aside by a xenophobic nationalist formation such as the Austrian Free Party, attract a negligible share of voters.
There are reasons to believe that this is not an occasional protest, but a step toward a new form of authoritarian populism. This trend is taking hold of Europe in much the same manner as what happened in the first half of the previous century. This may sound alarmist if not for the fact that European societies are on a slippery slope that provides momentum for authoritarian politics — a slope formed by the combined effects of the economic and migrant crises, which makes the prospect of closing national borders compelling for voters. We have already assented to barbed wire fences going up in Eastern Europe to keep refugees out. Now, Austria is erecting “walls” on the Slovenian and Italian borders. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The deputy head of the Israeli military has been forced to backtrack after appearing to compare some attitudes in present-day Israel to “nauseating trends” in 1930s Germany.
In a hard-hitting Holocaust memorial day speech on Wednesday evening, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) deputy chief of staff, Maj Gen Yair Golan, made remarks that he felt compelled to clarify overnight on Thursday, insisting he had not “intended to compare Israel to Nazi Germany”.
Both the timing – on the day that marks the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis – and the perceived comparison, touch on the most sensitive of issues in Israel.
Golan told an audience including a government minister and survivors of the Holocaust: “The Holocaust must lead us to think about our public lives, and even more than that, it must guide anyone who has the ability, not only those who wish to bear public responsibility.
“Because if there is anything that frightens me in the remembrance of the Holocaust, it is discerning nauseating trends that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us in the year 2016.
“After all, there is nothing simpler and easier than hating the foreigner, there is nothing easier and simpler than arousing fears and intimidating, there is nothing easier and simpler than becoming bestial, forgoing principles and becoming smug.” [Continue reading…]
Leonid Bershidsky writes: The record influx of Muslim refugees last year coincided with a sharp decline in the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents in major European countries, many of which bore the brunt of the refugee crisis.
The wave of so-called new anti-Semitism of recent years largely stemmed from anti-Israeli rather than racist beliefs, and had often been linked to the persistence of such attitudes among the growing Muslim population. Yet data from the 2015 report on global anti-Semitism, published on Wednesday by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, clearly show that as the refugees started coming in by the tens of thousands per day starting about a year ago, Europe became a safer place to be Jewish.
According to data collected by the Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola, France, the U.K. and Germany are the European countries with the biggest core Jewish population, defined as people who describe themselves as Jews. In France, the number of major violent anti-Semitic attacks dropped to 72 last year from 164 in 2014. The U.K. saw a similarly steep decrease, to 62 from 141. In Germany, there were 37 attacks, down from 76. Throughout Europe, anti-Jewish violence is at the lowest level in a decade. [Continue reading…]
BBC News reports: People are increasingly identifying themselves as global rather than national citizens, according to a BBC World Service poll.
The trend is particularly marked in emerging economies, where people see themselves as outward looking and internationally minded.
However, in Germany fewer people say they feel like global citizens now, compared with 2001.
Pollsters GlobeScan questioned more than 20,000 people in 18 countries.
More than half of those asked (56%) in emerging economies saw themselves first and foremost as global citizens rather than national citizens.
In Nigeria (73%), China (71%), Peru (70%) and India (67%) the data is particularly marked.
By contrast, the trend in the industrialised nations seems to be heading in the opposite direction. [Continue reading…]
Susan Dunn writes: “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”
It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan “America First,” the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler.
The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”
Their solution to the international crisis lay in a negotiated peace with Hitler. Other Yale students — including Sargent Shriver, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and Kingman Brewster, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, future president of Yale and ambassador to the Court of St. James — joined their isolationist crusade. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Austria is braced for political turmoil with fears that the landslide victory for a rightwing populist and gun-carrying candidate in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote could trigger snap elections.
Norbert Hofer, of the rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ), defied pollsters’ predictions to beat the Green party’s Alexander Van der Bellen into second place, gaining 36% of the vote. The two candidates will go head to head in a run-off ballot on 22 May.
While the presidential post is mainly a ceremonial role, Hofer has threatened to make use of a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections, warning other candidates in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]”.
Hofer, a youthful 45-year-old who is partially paralysed after a paragliding accident, has campaigned for disability rights and is seen as having lent a friendly face to a party that balances virulently anti-immigration and Eurosceptic messages with leftist stances on welfare issues, led by firebrand Heinz-Christian Strache.
Hofer, who claims to protect himself in the “uncertain times” of the refugee crisis by carrying a Glock gun, scored overwhelming victories in all of Austria’s states apart from Vienna. In Styria, Burgenland and Carinthia – border states most affected by the refugee trail from the Mediterranean to central Europe – Hofer managed to gain 40% or more. [Continue reading…]
Arwa Mahdawi writes: The skies are no longer a very friendly place to fly if you’re brown or “maybe-Muslim”. A few days ago, an Iraq-born researcher at UC Berkeley was removed from a Southwest Airlines plane for speaking Arabic. A passenger heard the guy end a phone call with “inshallah” and decided it must mean “this plane full of infidels is going down”. In reality inshallah (which translates as “God willing”) is a versatile Arabic phrase that can be used to mean everything from “hopefully” to “never going to happen” to “I’ve stopped listening now, kthanxbye.”
This isn’t the first time someone has raised suspicions simply by speaking Arabic – the world’s fifth most-spoken language – on a plane. Fearmongering around terrorism has ignited a vicious vigilantism in air travel. The 17th century had the Salem witch trials; the 1950s had McCarthyism; today we’ve got Mile High Hysteria.
Last November, for example, two Palestinian-Americans were blocked from boarding a Southwest flight after another passenger heard them speaking Arabic and felt “uncomfortable”. Shortly after that incident, Spirit Airlines kicked four passengers of Middle Eastern descent off a flight because one of them was making calls in another language.
You don’t even need to be speaking Arabic to raise suspicions among “concerned citizens”, you simply need to be doing something a little “terroristy”. Like not being white. Last month, Laolu Opebiyi, a (Christian) Brit of Nigerian descent was removed from an easyJet plane after another passenger saw the word “prayer” in his Whatsapp messages. [Continue reading…]
Karl Ove Knausgaard writes: Norway is a small country. It is also relatively homogeneous and egalitarian. This means that the distance from top to bottom is short, and that great disasters affect the entire populace. For example, every Norwegian knows someone who knows someone who died when the Alexander Kielland drilling rig capsized, in 1980 — I recall that my brother had a schoolmate whose father died in the disaster — or when, a decade later, a ferry, the Scandinavian Star, burned and a hundred and fifty-eight of the passengers died. There is also something deeply sincere, almost innocent, about Norwegian culture. Practically every time something about Norway or one of its people appears in the foreign press, the Norwegian media mention this with pride. And every May 17th, National Constitution Day, people don their nicest clothes, whether these be bunads, suits, or dresses, retrieve their flags and ribbons with Norwegian colors, and spill onto the streets to watch children sing songs about Norway, while everyone shouts hurrah and waves flags in a show of patriotism that encompasses every layer of society and plays out in every part of the country. The celebration takes place without irony and is essentially unpolitical — both the left and the right are united in this sea of flags and children. This says something about the country’s egotism, but also about its harmlessness.
It was out of this world that the thirty-two-year-old Anders Behring Breivik stepped when, on the afternoon of July 22, 2011, he set out from his mother’s flat in Oslo’s West End, changed into a police uniform, parked a van containing a bomb, which he had spent the spring and summer making, outside Regjeringskvartalet, lit the fuse, and left the scene. While the catastrophic images of the attack, which killed eight people, were being broadcast across the world, Breivik headed to Utøya. That was where the Workers’ Youth League had its annual summer camp. There Breivik shot and killed sixty-nine people, in a massacre that lasted for more than an hour, right until the police arrived, when he immediately surrendered.
He wanted to save Norway. Just a few hours before detonating the bomb, Breivik e-mailed a fifteen-hundred-page manifesto to a thousand recipients, in which he said that we were at war with Muslims and multiculturalism and that the slaughter of the campers was meant to be a wake-up call. He also uploaded to YouTube a twelve-minute video that revealed, with propagandistic simplicity, what was about to happen in Europe: the Muslim invasion.
The shock in Norway was total. After the Second World War, the most serious political assault in the country had been the so-called Hadeland Murders, in 1981. Two young men, members of a small neo-Nazi underground movement, Norges Germanske Armé, were killed. Breivik’s crime was radically different. The television broadcasts of the scene were chaotic; the journalists and anchorpeople were just as affected by the events as the people they were interviewing; one read in their eyes and their body language incredulity, shock, confusion. The usual detachment with which news is delivered had collapsed. Indeed, at that moment it seemed as if the world stood open. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage in 2011, lives in conditions that would seem luxurious by American incarceration standards: a three-room suite with windows that includes a treadmill, a fridge, a television with DVD player and even a Sony PlayStation.
But on Wednesday, a Norwegian court found that the government had violated his human rights, concluding that his long-term solitary confinement posed a threat to his mental health. Mr. Breivik has virtually no contact with other inmates and is subjected to frequent strip searches and searches of his cell. At a trial in March, he argued that his isolation amounted to torture.
Judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic of the Oslo District Court, who oversaw the trial, which was held at the prison for security reasons, found on Wednesday that prison officials had violated an article of the European Convention of Human Rights that prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” She directed the government to reduce the extent of Mr. Breivik’s isolation — though she did not specify how — and ordered the government to pay Mr. Breivik’s legal fees of 331,000 kroner, or about $40,600. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.
Mr. Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”
“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Mr. Makhzoomi said.
That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?” [Continue reading…]