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Immigration Tensions Grow as Far Right Plots Pan-European League

  • Henry Ridgwell

Protester hold banners as people from anti-Islamic groups from all over Europe came together March 31, 2012 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Protester hold banners as people from anti-Islamic groups from all over Europe came together March 31, 2012 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Far-right groups from across Europe gathered in Denmark last week for a meeting that some analysts are describing as a watershed moment. It comes at a sensitive time on the continent after a series of deadly extremist attacks and rising tension over immigration.

Around 200 members of far-right movements from across Europe came together in Aarhus, Denmark last Saturday.

“This day will be remembered and etched into history, 31st of the third 2012. The date where people came together from all European countries to give birth to the European Defense League," said Tommy Robinson, one of the organizers. A member of the English Defense League, he took to the stage to hail the meeting.

Even if the numbers did not match the rhetoric, radicalism expert Matthew Feldman of the University of Northampton says the meeting was a landmark.

“It does represent the first attempt at a really pan-European linking of the ‘defense leagues’ to counter what they see as an Islamization of Europe,” Feldman noted.

Just days earlier, an Islamist gunman, Mohamed Merah, launched a series of attacks around the French city of Toulouse, killing seven people. Among the victims were three Jewish schoolchildren.

In addition, last August in Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off explosives in Oslo before carrying out a mass shooting at a youth summer camp - killing 77 people in all. He has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Analyst Feldman says right-wing groups like the English Defense League try to avoid being labeled as extremist by adopting new ideologies.

“What we see now is what’s called an ethno-differentialist perspective in the literature," explained Feldman, "which says, ‘We actually don’t think that any group is better or worse than others. We simply think that cultural mixing, that multiculturalism is the great evil, because it destroys both cultures that are mixing."”

Such ideas have long been espoused by far-right political parties like the Front Nationale in France. Its leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to do well in next month’s presidential election.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam platform gave his Freedom party more than 15 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections. VOA spoke to him before the poll.

“I have nothing against Muslims but I believe that Islam is a totalitarian ideology and it goes against our freedom,” Wilders said.

Feldman believes new technologies are changing the far-right politics of old.

“For example, the software Facebook, where it’s very easy to quickly coordinate something like a street demonstration or to be able to have the grassroots communicating with each other and with the leadership,” noted Feldman.

The analyst adds that the number of anti-fascist protestors who turned out to counter last week's rally exceeded the far right numbers by 20 to one.

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