Thirty years ago, protests, riots and murders followed the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Three decades later, we recognise the Satanic Verses controversy as the opening act in Europe’s crisis of immigration, Islam, and identity politics. Daniel Pipes, my guest in ‘The Green Room‘ this week, is an historian, the president of the Middle East Forum, and an analyst of Islam in Europe. We talk about how Europe got to where it is, what’s going on now among the new nationalist parties in Europe, and what might happen next.
Pipes calls Europe’s new nationalist parties ‘Civilisationists’. These parties come from various backgrounds, and not all of them are on the right. Many of them have backgrounds chequered by Europe’s violent twentieth century. Their common denominator, Pipes argues, is their shared determination to preserve Europe’s historic culture in a time of mass immigration and cultural fragmentation. Pipes is candid about the shortcomings of figures like Viktor Orban, the illiberal Hungarian democrat who was received in the White House in mid-May. He also acknowledges that many of these parties have roots in antidemocratic politics. Austria’s Freedom Party, now a member of the government, was founded by an ex-SS officer. The Sweden Democrats, increasingly successful at the polls but still embargoed by the traditional parties, began as a neofascist fringe group in the 1980s.
But Pipes argues that the past is just that, the past. ‘Let’s not get caught up in the skeletons. Let’s look at what the policies are, and where they stand today.’All of these parties have distanced themselves from their origins as they have headed into the mainstream. And as he points out, it’s not only the new nationalist parties who have skeletons in their closets. In Sweden, the Social Democrats, the default party of government who boast of leading the embargo against the Sweden Democrats, have yet to reckon with their collaboration with Hitler’s Germany. In France, François Mitterrand, defender of the republic against Jean-Marie Le Pen, was himself an ex-collaborator with the wartime Vichy regime.
‘I fully acknowledge the faults of the Civilisationists,’ Pipes tells me, ‘but I note their faults are not unique.’ The question now, he reckons, is whether the Civilisationists can negotiate alliances with established centre-right parties. If they can, they will reshape the political map of Europe, and perhaps even restore the frayed trust between voters and politicians. And what, I wonder, are the long-term prospects of the tactical alliance of left-wing parties with Muslim voters, an alliance of some of the most and least socially liberal members of European societies?
Meanwhile, Pipes has some tough advice for European leaders. In Europe, the nation is tribal, a ‘big family’ which excludes latecomers. The exclusion of immigrants can only be addressed with major programmes of investment, education and, he says, the fostering of ‘a reformed Islam, and not the extreme version known as Islamism’. Ban the burka, he says, but not the burkini.