Marcus Pretzell is a 43-year-old “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) member of the European Parliament. AfD is a new party of the German political party scene which was founded in 2013 by a group of economists and university professors. It was initially presented as a national-conservative bourgeois party, which supports anti-European positions (against Euro and the bailout programmes for economies in crisis). Nevertheless, it is now cultivating a xenophobic profile: it turns against the asylum policies and the open borders towards refugees, while it perceives immigration as an attempt for national and cultural adulteration as well as an appropriation of the welfare state by “non-natives”. A few minutes after the deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels became known, Pretzell wrote on twitter: “Everyone is in solidarity with the dead. When will you finally show some solidarity with the living?”
The cynicism and lack of elementary sense of empathy coming from a member of the European Parliament, while the ferocity of jihadists was still evolving, was shocking. Even more shocking than the content of the statement (and of similar ones that followed) was the attempt to instrumentalise the terrorists’ violent acts. In this attempt, Pretzell causes anything but a distinct dissonance in the family of far-right populists and extremists: from Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Donald Trump in the US and from UKIP in the United Kingdom to NPD in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, a corrupt and misleading explanatory motif becomes monotonously repeated: the open border policy is responsible for the development and outbreak of the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, while the solution to the problem lies in the sealing of the national borders and the adoption of the “Fortress Europe” model, according to far right-wingers’ of different parties claims.
Radicalisation fuels young Muslims, raised in western countries, with fanatic hatred. They are cases of people with (minor) criminal history and great internal need for social recognition, who were recruited in the heart of the western world by organised networks of international terrorism. An analytical error often made regarding those people is that they are considered as cases of failed social integration, while the real problem is not the inability to integrate them but their gradual isolation from the social and cultural environments. Furthermore, radicalisation in western societies is a wider phenomenon which also evolves beyond Islamist communities; indicatively, we mention the German neo-Nazis of the NSU or the group of Russians of the NS/WP who cold bloodedly murdered immigrants. As a phenomenon, radicalism signals processes of total rupture with the set of values of western civilisation and the democratic principles and traditions. It exists both in the western world and out of it.
The radicalisation of young Muslims is the most dangerous part of the phenomenon. However, phenomena like the subjection to extremism, which trigger internal processes of dehumanization, exceed the supply of developing terrorists of any kind. Another radicalisation process, more secret and covert, develops in the environments which are consciously addressed by politicians like Pretzell, Orbán or Trump for the purpose of fanaticizing them. Every version of radicalisation targets first and most importantly humanism, aiming to the rejection of everything that contributes to our human essence, the removal of sensibilities and the deactivation of the ability to empathize.
The opinion that terrorism is being imported by the refugees and immigrants and that jihadist terrorists can be found among them is widely spread within the far right. It attests, in fact, a convergence of views which takes place within the far right, with the main focus being on the matter of immigrants and refugees. If right-wing populists did not so far take an absolute anti-immigration and anti-refugee position, differentiating themselves from the extremists’ relevant positions, now these differences are being smoothed out. In AfD and NPD’s or Golden Dawn’s views on the matter of Europe’s stance towards immigrants and refugees, the differences are hard to find: “the dream of a colourful Europe is dead, accept it at last”, says AfD’s leader, while Golden Dawn supports the immediate deportation of all Muslims and the closing of the borders. Likewise, the head of the Party for Freedom (PVV) presents the need to “de-Islamize” Europe as the necessary condition in order to restore security within the continent.
The terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe justifiably cause fear and make the issue of further securing the continent against terrorism as pressing as ever. Nevertheless, this kind of danger will always have hidden aspects which will make the protection measures less effective against reality and the potentiality of this phenomenon. As a result, the cultivation of fear will always find fertile ground to grow. Jihadists’ suicide attacks solidify and intensify fear. The instrumentalisation of fear is used by the ones who are willing to give a face and shape to it. In a brief statement, Viktor Orbán presented the outline of this attempt for instrumentalisation: “Whoever says yes to immigration, does not work hard enough for the defence of Europe” against terrorism. It is, in fact, Europe and its principles and values that this ongoing double sided radicalisation of our times is turned against.
Vasiliki Georgiadou is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Sciences, Panteion University of Athens.