by Sabby Dhalu, Stand Up To Racism Co-Convenor
The recent outburst of Victor Orban, President of Hungary claiming Hungary was “the last bastion against the Islamisation of Europe,” is yet another example of rising Islamophobia in Europe. Furthermore nothing could be further from the truth. Terrorist attacks in Europe emanating from ISIS or linked organisation are a huge problem and action is needed to stop these attacks.
Such awful attacks are not the product of Islam. Linking Europe’s entire Muslim population of around 25.8 million to such attacks is wrong and dangerous. Attempts to link Islam as a religion and Muslim people have proved disastrous with Islamophobic, far right racist, anti-Semitic organisations gaining dangerously high votes in recent European elections. Islamophobia was the cutting edge of high votes for far right and racist parties. Such arguments need to be robustly challenged not conceded to.
In Austria the far right Freedom Party is in the governing coalition with the right wing conservative People’s Party after polling 26 per cent with 51 seats in the National Council, in the October 2017 general election. The Austrian Social Democratic Party only polled a tiny fraction more votes with 26.9 per cent.
In Germany Alternative for Deutschland gained 12.6 per cent – a 7.9 per cent increase – the first time far right nationalists gained seats in the national legislature since the Nazis in the 1930s. Meanwhile the German Social Democrats SPD polled 20.5 per cent, a 5.2 per cent fall from the previous election.
The forthcoming general election on 4 March in Italy could be even more worrying. The last poll before the election puts Berlusconi’s far right bloc of Forza Italia, Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 37.2 per cent, the right wing populist Five Star Movement on 27.8 per cent and centre left Democratic Party behind on 27.4 per cent.
These recent elections along with Donald Trump’s election as US President and Marine Le Pen’s record high vote for the Front National last year indicate the biggest rise in racism since fascism’s rise to power in the 1930s – a sharp warning to all of us.
This year’s March Against Racism marking UN Anti-Racism Day – an International day of action against racism – could not be more timely. Demonstrations will be taking place in London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona, Warsaw, Athens and many more cities.
Britain is also experiencing a similar rise in racism as reflected in recent statistics on rising racist attacks. Hate crimes increased by 29 per cent to 80,393 – the biggest number ever recorded since such records began – in the year up to March 2017 and 80 per cent of these were racist attacks.
Incidents of anti-Muslim abuse and attacks in public areas rose by 326% in 2015, with women disproportionately targeted. More recently between 2016 and 2017 hate crimes targeting Mosques more than doubled from 47 between March and July in 2016 to 110 in the same period in 2017.
The Community Security Trust also recorded a 34 per cent increase in violent assaults against Jewish people in 2017.
However Britain is currently bucking the European electoral trend of growth in support of far right parties for two reasons. Firstly the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ approach has absorbed the bulk of the 12.6 per cent UKIP polled in 2015, so in 2017 UKIP polled 1.8 per cent with the Tories gaining 42 per cent.
Secondly the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has much more support amongst the electorate than its social democratic European counterparts, gaining 40 per cent in 2017.
Underpinning what is essentially a political crisis in the US and Europe is an economic crisis of slow growth and stagnation culminating in falling living standards for the bulk of the population.
In 2017, ten years after the 2007 financial crisis, total GDP in the G7 countries was 10.9 per cent. In the same period after the 1929 crisis total GDP for the same countries was much higher at 15.9 per cent. Five years later – fifteen years after 1929 – this rose astronomically to 61.8 per cent. Whereas in the next five years – fifteen years after 2007 – total GDP for the G7 is projected by the IMF to be 20 per cent. This is less than one third of that achieved in the equivalent period after 1929.
As a result of this crisis of living standards, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is whipped up to distract people from such problems, to divide people and pit communities against one another and to wrongly scapegoat Muslims, immigrants, black people, Jews, Mexicans and others for the crisis instead of those responsible – the government, bankers and the very wealthiest in society.
The only solution is a programme that invests in people, encourages growth, improves peoples’ living standards, understands that immigration benefits the economy, exposes the racist lies peddled by the far right and does not concede to racism. There is no other way to stop far right racists.
This is what distinguishes the current Labour leadership from social democrats in Europe and outlined in recent speeches by Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.
Corbyn said: “…in trade negotiations our priorities are growth, jobs and people’s living standards. We make no apologies for putting those aims before bogus immigration targets.’ He condemned the rise in racism after Brexit saying: ‘It was alarming that after the Brexit vote there was a clear rise in xenophobic and racist attacks on our streets. The referendum campaign was divisive and some politicians on the Leave side whipped up fears and division…”
Similarly Diane Abbott on negotiating a Brexit deal said: “In trade negotiations, our policy favours growth, jobs and prosperity.” Abbott also highlighted that in contrast other centre- left parties in Europe, Labour showed it was possible to win votes without scapegoating migrants and that Labour should not be afraid to change the conversation about the benefits of migration.
Only the approach outlined by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott can defeat the advance of racism. These lessons must be learnt by European social democrats.
Recent European elections indicating the biggest rise in racism since fascism’s rise to power in the 1930s and a rise in racist, Isalmophobic and anti-Semitic attacks show why the year’s March Against Racism marking UN Anti-Racism Day on Saturday 17 March is so important. Speakers at the London event include: Diane Abbott MP, Gary Younge, Emma Dent Coad MP, NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney, Roger McKenzie Unison Assistant General Secretary, Talha Ahmad (Muslim Council of Britain), David Rosenberg (Jewish Socialist Group), Claude Morales MEP and others. A powerful response uniting the labour movement, black, Muslim, Jewish communities and all those against racism could not come at a more crucial time. Join us on 17 March.
For further information visit https://www.facebook.com/events/124046068281319/ or www.standuptoracism.org.uk