On the evening of Friday, Nov. 13, Paris was under attack. Suicide bombers and gunmen struck throughout the iconic European city, leaving 130 dead and many more wounded.
One of the suicide bombers had passed through Greece claiming to be a refugee. Like here in the U.S., the backlash against refugees, especially those from Syria, has been vicious, stoking the rise of extreme right groups in Europe. In order to secure the future of Europe as a unified and tolerant community of states, such parties must be kept from obtaining real power.
A widely shared cartoon in the wake of the Paris attacks perfectly captured the fears of the inevitable political backlash to come – a neo-Nazi with a swastika on his arm shakes hands with and thanks an ISIS terrorist holding a freshly fired AK-47.
Sure enough, for France, the backlash came shortly after the attacks when Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) made huge gains in December’s regional elections. The FN, an extreme-right political party known for anti-immigration stances and fear-mongering, called for complete closure of the borders in the wake of the attacks. They stunned France and Europe, winning nearly 30 percent of votes in the first round of the regional elections, projecting regional presidency victories in 6 of 13 regions.
In Germany, the anti-refugee party Alternative for Germany has seen a similar spike in support, jolting German politics by winning a significant share of votes in state elections last Sunday – unimaginable just a year ago. With more than 1 million refugees pouring in, violence against them has increased dramatically as a new right wing movement sweeps the country.
Many European countries are shutting their borders to refugees. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the few leaders that has mustered the courage to continue to shelter people fleeing war, and her party is paying the price for it. But history will not look kindly on European leaders that turn their backs on these refugees.
Feeding each other
Caving in to fear and pressures from populist parties will also undermine Europe in the long-run. The violence against refugees in particular, and the scapegoating of immigrants in general, plays right into the hands of extreme jihadist groups who recruit among disaffected second- and third-generation immigrants.
In a sense, the extreme right and the jihadists are in a perfectly symbiotic relationship working together to undermine a prosperous, united and tolerant Europe. They share the goal of bringing down a continent that has been tearing down walls and dismantling internal borders since the end of the Second World War.
Europeans need to deny power to the extreme right and to fight divisive populism resolutely. The French have already shown the way.
Parties from the right and the left mobilized to block the FN after the first round of regional elections, strategically withdrawing candidates in the decisive round, and advising their voters to support their opponents against the FN in order to defend liberal democracy. Ultimately, not one region passed into the hands of the extreme right.
The FN was blocked but not stopped. But France has a long tradition of preventing the FN from gaining real political power. “Vote for the crook not the fascist,” a popular slogan in the early 2000s, ensured Jacques Chirac’s reelection and stopped Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and the FN’s founder, from becoming president.
Germany has different electoral rules, but complex coalitions in state governments should keep the Alternative for Germany at bay.
Fear and anger are powerful motivators in politics, and they are wreaking havoc on both sides of the Atlantic. Legitimate fears and anxieties should be addressed, but divisiveness, intolerance and the inciting of violence should be condemned. Liberal democracy in Europe and the U.S. is at stake.
Bryan is a junior and Ceka is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Davidson College.