The Politics of Projection in the West

To many on the political left, Europe’s new right-wing parties seem to represent the perils of Europe’s dark history.  The rise of new right parties in Europe during the past decade led to widespread panic among many Western observers.

When European right-wing parties gain in polls and win elections, newspapers overflow with articles declaring the end of democracy. Following the Swedish parliamentary elections in September 2010, Newsweek's Denis MacShane wrote :

Thus the arrival of a new politics in Europe. A decade ago extremist politics was confined to fringes and street protests. It has now arrived as a parliamentary force and is beginning to change how other parties behave and speak.

According to Daniel Sandström, the editor of the large Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan, Jimmy Åkesson, the leader of Swedish Democrats, “is a clever populist, careful not to cross the line and say anything that seems undemocratic. But his party has a tremendous acceptance of racism.”

New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen claimed that “hatred of Muslims in Europe and the United States is a growing political industry. It’s odious, dangerous and racist.”

However, True Finns (Finland), Swedish Democrats (Sweden), MSI (Italy), or PVV (Netherlands) are proponents of parliamentary democracy and individual rights. More importantly, they are political parties born out of a liberal political culture. None of the new right parties of Europe are advocating the limiting of personal freedoms or embracing fascism.

In 2010, one the vilified leaders of Europe’s new right, the leader of the Vlaams Belang party in Belgium, Filip Dewinter, said the following:

We can’t change the past. We can’t deny the dark spots in our history. But we are not prisoners of that history. This bitter experience has been a sobering lesson. We will never ever again believe the false promises of totalitarianism. One could only wish the left-wingers had learned that lesson too.

Today many Europeans celebrate the rise of democracy in the Middle East. However many are fearful of how the democratic will of the Europeans will manifest itself. Interestingly, these fears are not always applied to other parts of the world.

The Muslim Brotherhood received 36 percent of the vote and the Salafists 24 percent in the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections. When a right-wing party in Europe does well or even barely passes the electoral threshold, no one talks about the triumph of democracy. On the contrary, following a positive result for a right-wing party, many European newspapers are immediately painted with op-eds and headlines decrying the end of democracy.

In 2010, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammad Badie, declared in his weekly sermon that

Arab and Muslim regimes are betraying their people by failing to confront the Muslim’s real enemies, not only Israel but also the United States. Waging jihad against both of these infidels is a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded. Governments have no right to stop their people from fighting the United States. “They are disregarding Allah's commandment to wage jihad for His sake with [their] money and [their] lives, so that Allah's word will reign supreme” over all non-Muslims.

In the light of the statements by Badie and Dewinter, why are the self-proclaimed new-right parties of Europe labeled as threats to democracy when the self-proclaimed enemy of liberal democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not?

The impulsive, yet dramatically different reactions by Western intellectuals to events and movements in Europe and the Middle East are indicative of a particular world view.

How else would one explain Roger Cohen’s willingness to support the rioting masses in Cairo while Mubarak was still in power and while having no idea of the nature or political affiliations of these masses? According to Cohen “this Egyptian uprising is about the very individual rights Tehran flouted in 2009 and Western-backed Arab security states have denied: the right to vote, to the rule of law, to freedom of expression. Almost every conversation I’ve had on the streets of Cairo this past week returns to these themes.”

Interestingly, the European new right parties have stated that they want to increase individual rights by minimizing the influence of the European Union over nation-states, uphold the rule of law in the face of lawlessness in many European cities, and have freedom to express views freely, even if critical of Muslims. All of these demands are well within the parameters of liberal democratic discourse.

It is obvious that the European right-wing parties are not insular movements and they include several factions, some less liberal than others. However, they all operate within the framework of a parliamentary democracy.

Therefore it is surprising that many on the left are willing to support Islamists in the Middle East in the name of democracy but unwilling to grant the same support to European parties and their constituents who are committed to democracy.

Such behavior is worse than cognitive dissonance; it is intrinsically illiberal because it does not address the actual ideas espoused by the new protagonists in Europe and the Middle East.

Indeed, the impulsive reactions to surrounding events are attempts to cement a narrative, regardless of the applicability of the narrative. The Muslim Brotherhood is on the verge of becoming a liberal force in the Middle East, and the new right is about to embrace fascism.

This is the narrative. Facts are secondary.