On Wednesday morning, extremists attacked the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and leaving many more seriously injured. According to witnesses, the gunmen shouted "Allahu Akbar!" and "The Prophet is now avenged!" as they were leaving the scene.
We asked our European offices how their nation's far-right and conservative parties had reacted to the massacre in Paris.
An estimated 100,000 people gathered spontaneously across France yesterday to pay tribute to the journalists and policemen who were murdered. These tragic events, which unfolded on what is being called the "the French press's darkest day," have sparked off many emotional reactions from Charlie Hebdo's contributors, readers, and mourners, as well as French politicians.
The political bureau of the far-right group Bloc Identitaire responded by publishing an article on their website that said that "no one could pretend they were fighting jihadism without questioning massive immigration and Islamization." When we asked for a comment, they refused to speak to us. The same goes for Égalité et Réconciliation, the far-right group led by the strongly anti-Semite polemicist Alain Soral.
As of now, the Front National—France's biggest far-right party—have been pretty quiet about yesterday's events, keeping to the relatively politically correct position that they've been using since Marine Le Pen replaced her hard-line father as head of the party.
In her speech yesterday, she described the events as "an awful attack." In a three-minute video she published in the evening, she said: "These attacks are the work of a murderous ideology that currently kills thousands of people around the world… It's my responsibility to say that this attack must release our word against Islamic fundamentalism. The absolute refusal of Islamic fundamentalism must be loudly proclaimed by whoever holds life and freedom among their most precious values."
She also strategically put an emphasis on the fact that "no one wanted a confusion to be made between our Muslim compatriots and those who think they can kill in the name of Islam. But this obvious denial of any amalgamation should not be an excuse for inertia." During an appearance on France public television, she stated that she " wanted to offer a referendum on reinstating the death penalty," adding that she personally thinks that "such a possibility should exist," which provoked many outraged reactions from French Twitter users decrying a tacky attempt to score political capital from yesterday's events. Shortly after, she expressed anger on Facebook when she learned that her party had been excluded from the Republican march that will be held in Paris next Sunday, stating that the other parties "have managed to transform a national unity moment into a symbol of division and pious sectarianism."
Germany has been strongly divided over the subject of Islam in recent years. A study published today claims that 57 percent of the population take a "skeptical" attitude towards Islam, either viewing it as "dangerous" or "very dangerous." Growing anti-Muslim sentiment has given birth to the PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Western World), who attracted a whopping 18,000 protesters to a march against Islam in Dresden last Monday. Luckily, the rest of Germany seems to be incredibly shamed by this xenophobic movement and takes to the streets in counter protests, showing solidarity with Muslims. Dresden aside, all other German cities saw counter-protesters outnumber PEGIDA, rendering their claim: "We are the people" ridiculous.
Unsurprisingly though, PEGIDA is already starting to use the Hebdo attacks as a means to swell its support, as are others. Erika Steinbach, the German soulmate of Marine Le Pen, just took to Twitter with a winky face and a bad joke (I think?) about the Catholic Church being the only institution anyone could criticize. And obviously the NPD—Germany's far-right party—and other right-wing extremists had to jump on the bandwagon too, co-opting the "Je suis Charlie" Facebook banner and condemning the attacks while claiming they've seen it coming. In the video, their chairman Frank Franz says that "what happened in France is exactly what the NPD has been warning about for years… Islamization and foreign infiltration have to be stopped."
What might be the most cynical aspect of the far-right reaction to the Hebdoattack so far is that normally they're all so quick to slur the media as a bunch of corrupt lefty propagandists. Now, they're using an attack on what they call the "Lügenpresse" [a Third Reich term that translates as "lying press"] to justify their racist agenda.
The main political story of the last year or so in Britain has been the ascent of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party). Their main schtick is their hatred of the EU, mainly because the UK's membership in it allows immigrants to come to the UK to seek work and housing. They also possess a full house of reactionary opinions; their members generally don't like gay marriage, women who have jobs, or human rights, and they think climate change is a big ol' hoax.
While not being overtly racist, they seem to constantly need to kick out their own members for making racist remarks, such as the councillor who recently said she had a "problem" with "negroes" because there was "something about their faces." Yet they never seem to wonder why these people are attracted to the party in the first place.
And so, when two or three Islamo-fascists carried out their murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices yesterday, it was only a matter of time before Nigel Farage, the party's cig-mad, ale-mad, hey-I'm-just-an-ordinary-bloke leader, was going to say something inflammatory.
Sure enough, he made an appearance on last night's Channel 4 News, putting the attack down to, "having a fifth column living within these countries… holding our passports, who hate us." And perhaps, when it comes to these extremists, that's true enough. Obviously, these guys hate the West. Less convincing is Nige's theory as to where that hatred stems from: "It does make one question the whole really gross attempt at encouraged division within society that we have had in the past few decades in the name of multiculturalism."
That's right: All those non-white, non-Christians who have been trying to live here while maintaining links to their culture, and any Brits who have been cool with that should all be having a long, hard think about what they've done. Look what's happened—all those multi-faith prayer rooms in airports and Eid celebrations on Manchester's "Curry Mile" are somehow culpable. With each rubber-stamped planning application for a new mosque, the attack on Charlie Hebdo became more and more inevitable.
With the exception of those on the extreme-right fringe, everyone else was quick to condemn Farage's statement. However, to his many fans, this will probably further solidify his image as the only public figure brave enough to "tell it like it is."
Almost as soon as news of the Hebdo shooting had broken, the Italian right-wing began hurling abuse at the entire Islamic world. The politician seeking to take maximum advantage of the situation is Matteo Salvini—a member of European Parliament, secretary of the xenophobic Lega Nord party, and one of Marine Le Pen's primary Front National allies. Within just 24 hours of the attack, Salvini was being broadcast across Italian TV and flooding his social networks with statements such as: "We are housing our own enemies." If it needed any underlining, he declared that he thought Europe should: "Block the illegal immigrant invasion, NOW!"
Salvini's "we are housing our enemies" claim was endorsed by right-wing newspapers: Libero, for instance, put the screenshot of the policeman's execution on its front page beneath the headline, "This is Islam." Meanwhile, another politician appearing on every TV channel and news show was the Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam—a former Muslim converted to fundamentalist Catholicism. He declared, "We have to hit the very heart of terrorism's supply chain: mosques, websites, Islamic schools."
The massacre was also exploited by openly fascist movements. Roberto Fiore, the leader of Forza Nuova, said that "the Paris massacre is an act of war against Europe. It is mandatory to respond adequately." In order to do so, Fiore suggested "shutting down Saudi Arabia and Qatar's embassies in Europe" because these countries are "major financial supporters of ISIS." Fiore also wanted to conduct a census of all the Muslims living in Europe, before finally expressing his wish for the creation of PEGIDA-like movements across the continent, declaring that "the days of indulgent chatting are over."
While widespread violence against Muslims seems unlikely, this cumulative level of seems likely to end up producing a sort of collective "cultural" punishment for Muslims in Italy—and that's obviously the last thing that a minority which is already quite marginalized in the country needs.
The blood at the Charlie Hebdo offices was still fresh when a new wave of xenophobic rhetoric was emerging in Greece. With the national elections just three weeks away, some of the politicians there saw the massacre as a great opportunity for political gain.
Antonis Samaras, Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing New Democracy party, stated in a public speech: "You see what is happening in Europe: Everything is changing dramatically… In France, the Socialist [Prime Minister] Hollande has sent his army onto the streets… there was a massacre in Paris today and in Greece, some people [his opponents, the left-wing SYRIZA] are inviting illegal immigrants and handing out citizenships."
Former Minister of Health and New Democracy MP, Adonis Georgiadis, tweeted: "Some didn't even want the fence on Evros," referring to a fence that runs across the Greek-Turkish border to prevent undocumented migrants from entering Europe. A few minutes later, he tweeted again: "The attack on Paris could mean the end of the innocence of Europe about Islam. SYRIZA want to open the borders." Many users condemned his comments, saying that it's a shame to use such a tragic event for political purposes.
It's not the first time that Islamophobia or xenophoba has prevailed in the country. Greece is the gateway to Europe for millions of immigrants. It is facing an economic meltdown and is unstable politically. It seems obvious that certain conservative political forces will try to exploit public anger and fear for political gain. Within just a few years of existence, the fascist Golden Dawn—in prison for the time being—managed to increase its share of the vote to 7 percent.
On the 25th of January, Greeks will be called upon to take part in one of the most important elections in the modern history of the country. With the polls currently giving a lead to SYRIZA, conservative powers are using everything—even such a tragic event—to win themselves more votes.
Yesterday evening, around 300 people gathered in front of the French embassy to offer their condolences to the victims' families, a few thousand feet from the VICE Alps office. The crowd weren't fearful about the prospect of domestic attacks by Islamists. They were more concerned with the welfare of Austrian Muslims. We saw a woman wearing a hijab being guided across the street by young men, as if to protect her from possible assailants. The tension was palpable.
Even though the "Je suis Charlie" crowd were united in their cause, their couldn't have been less of a consensus on what had caused the massacre and what should be done about it. Besides journalists and others showing their solidarity, there was also a block of members of the Identitarian movement on the scene. One the one hand, they were participating in the silent show of respect towards the victims. On the other, they were taking part in their own protest against "the Islamification of the contintent."
"We condemn this cowardly attack that cost 12 lives," Alexander Markovics, chairman of Austria's Identitarian Movement, told us. "This is not only an assault on freedom of speech—it's an attack on all Europeans that defend themselves against the Islamification of their homeland. For decades, we decided to ignore the threats of mass immigration, especially when it happened under the pretext of asylum seekers. This is the final consequence of our Europe-wide politics of ignorance." According to him, the time for "humanity" and "more of the same everybody's-welcome culture" is up: "Jihadists are attacking our freedom with Kalashnikovs—this calls for a defesce of what's ours. It calls for self-preservation." However, he wasn't any more specific when it came to actual political action—just as the War on Terror was all about rhetoric, so are the current slogans of IM.
Meanwhile, the leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, tried to tiptoe around the issue and simply shared an article about the massacre on his Facebook page (notably from Austria's largest left-wing newspaper), along with the message "Wake up!"—as if to please all parties involved. Sadly, this also tells us something about the state of political discourse in Austria: As long as you are only remotely Islam-critical and latently xenophobic, you're on the safe side of public debate. Just as the far-right's support throughout Europe continues to grow, their ideology seems to arrive at the political center.
In another posting, Strache went on to say, "The PEGIDA movement gains more and more followers all over Europe. People are asking for a clear division line between Europe and radical Islam." Of course, this division line already exists. But so does the vague feeling among the frustrated, saddened people that something still has to be done and some statement needs to be made against the invasion of our freedom from unknown groups with unknown goals and even less well understood ideologies.
Virtually no party or political movement throughout Europe asks for tolerance of radical Islam or Islamic terror. However, this fact is beyond the point. It just needs one Heinz-Christian Strache and a couple of disillusioned Identitarians to call for a division line that already exists, to make everybody believe that it doesn't.
The Charlie Hebdo attack really snatched at the heartstrings of Denmark, a country where the immigration debate rages and the right-wing Danish People's Party recently topped the polls. It's less than ten years since newspaper Jyllands Posten published the Mohammed drawings—a series of 12 satirical cartoons that were supposedly intended to contribute to the debate surrounding the criticism of Islam and media self-censorship but led to violent protests throughout the Middle East.
The events of Wednesday brought about great sorrow from bystanders and media folks alike, and, unsurprisingly, re-ignited the debate on whether or not it's appropriate to publish such cartoons. On whether it is a matter of freedom of speech or just provocation for the sake of provocation.
Pia Kjærsgaard, founder and former leader of the Danish People's Party, told TV2 that given the tragedy in France she believed the cartoons should be reprinted in order to "show who we are" and that "we wouldn't be threatened." Newspaper BT's editor-in-chief Olav Skaaning Andersen strongly disagreed and insisted that there was "no journalistic grounds" on which to do so.
The right wing have been quick to link the incidents to religious fanatics and claim it as an attack on free speech. Kristian Thuelsen Dahl, current leader of the Danish People's Party, was unavailable for a quote but his Facebook status left no doubt as to his opinions:
There's barely any doubt that the attack on the magazine happened in order to suppress freedom of speech and is based in religion. It shows, that we're up against terror-types, that will stop at nothing in their war against freedom and the freedom of speech
But for the rest of us, the fear is that this will, again, compromise freedom of speech and that the assailants will be successful in their endeavor. This must never happen! We must rethink our method of defense to secure our right to freedom!
His sentiment in rethinking "our method of defense" was echoed by Pia Kjærsgaard in an interview with tabloid Ekstra Bladet. When she asked what to do if current laws couldn't prevent such atrocities, she responded: "It's quite possible that we have to start using other methods. Maybe we need to resort to necessity. It isn't reasonable that Danes in Denmark need to be under police protection. We're the ones locked up, as if we're in a prison."
This need to "resort to necessity" and to "rethink our method of defense" is disconcertingly vague and hard to fathom in any setting other than vigilantism, a path that is not known for its ability to foster social integration. The immigration debate here in Denmark has been given credit for raising the Danish People's Party to new levels of popularity and imaginably the Charlie Hebdo tragedy may act as a scapegoat that will only further their agenda.
Spain's extreme-right parties don't possess any real power (for now), but of course they feel justified by the Charlie Hebdo massacre. "Multicultural societies are multi-troubled societies," declared Robert Hernando from Plataforma per Catalunya, a Catalan extreme-right party. "This is something that everybody can see except the guys who are in charge." Hernando was speaking last night at a solidarity demo in Barcelona that was also attended by leftist parties. "I am ashamed to be in this demonstration with people who are accomplices of this shameful colonization we are suffering in Europe. I am not used to being surrounded by such hypocrisy and opportunism."
Manuel Candela, President of Democracia Nacional, also declared: "What happened yesterday in France only strengthens our thesis. Multicultural societies have failed. A society can't live with its enemies. It is just a matter of time that this conflict between Europe and Islam will tear our continent in a bloody war. And there is only one solution: Muslims should return home. EUROPE FOR EUROPEANS!"
But in Spain these far-right groups resemble crazy preachers in the desert. The main political parties—even the moderate right-wing People's Party, who are in government and have been investing millions into strengthening Spain's borders to Africa—haven't publicly sought to use the massacre to their advantage.
Spain has a long and sad tradition of terrorist attacks: 191 died in the Islamic attack in March 2004 in Madrid, and more locally we had ETA to contend with for many years. The response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre has been the same as always—condemn and unify.
The drawings of Charlie Hebdo showed us the exact world we live in, but with an added punchline. No one is enough of a saint and no one is safe, either. Twelve people are dead because of the way they used to express themselves. It's a tragedy and we mourn those deaths.
But in Poland, for some right-wing parties like Ruch Narodowy, the attack was just another reason to blame everything on Western Europe because they "tolerate the growth of Salafi movements, allowing Wahhabi sect mosques to be built throughout the continent." Another conservative party, Kongres Nowej Prawicy, has its own problems to deal with; two days ago their leader was accused of having two illegitimate children, so they didn't have much to add to the discussion.
Life goes on in Poland, and no political parties have really concerned themselves with the attack.
When Sweden's general election took place in September 2014, the far-right Sweden Democrats became the country's third most popular party, taking 13 percent of the votes. The party is often mistaken for an anti-immigration party, focusing only on one political question. However, journalists such as Niklas Orrenius at the newspaper Dagens Nyheter maintain that Sweden Democrats is nationalist and its that concerns with immigration are based on a nationalist ideology.
At a press conference in December 2014, Richard Jomshof—an MP and the editor of the Sweden Democrats' in-house magazine said, "We [SD] look at Islam and Islamism as a threat. There is something very problematic with Islam."
Christmas and New Year's in Sweden saw a series of arson attacks on mosques in Eskilstuna, Eslöv, and Uppsala. The motives are not yet confirmed, but they don't appear to have been coordinated. They should nevertheless be viewed extremely seriously. As "Je Suis Charlie" is becoming the saying on everybody's lips, it's also a reminder of how society is splitting apart. Sweden Democrats' growing popularity walks hand in hand with a growing normalization of Islamophobia, which could divide the country in devastating ways.
Last night and this morning, small groups of Romanians went to the French embassy and left a few candles in the snow, in front of the building, to commemorate the people who were killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
One of the first political reactions to the attacks was a moderate status posted by president Klaus Iohannis, which culminated with the idea that "religious and ethnic tolerance, as well as free speech, are the basis of modern civilization, which is built on democratic principles." After that there were several reactions from the local Muslim community who went on TV to distance themselves from the terrorist attacks. Thankfully, Muslims are pretty well integrated in Romania and there haven't been any conflicts with them for over a century. A lot of them run businesses here and the person who now runs the country's Medical Emergency Services and once led the Ministry of Health is a Palestinian.
Far-right movements in Romania are very obscure. Most of them steer clear of Muslims, and are more preoccupied with the Roma and the LGBT communities. But there were some members of the right-wing media who had racist reactions towards the attack. Lucian Mîndruță, a libertarian journalist, posted: "Allowing cultures which demolish churches and kill Christians to build mosques on our soil and impose their laws here is a suicidal idea." His ideas are also shared by Dan Tapalagă, another right-wing journalist who thinks that "they have no right to force us to think otherwise with death threats, from under a veil or a turban, or while reciting verses from the Qu'ran."
Surprisingly, there were more xenophobic reactions from Christian politicians against French secularism, which they see as the cause of the attack, than against the Muslim community. Adrian Papahagi, a Romanian politician, whose movement is a part of the European Popular Party, said that, "Making fun of sacred things is popular in secularist [anti-Christian] France," as a sort of excuse for what happened at Charlie Hebdo. He was seconded by another conservative Christian politician, Iulian Capsali, who commented on his Facebook page that "in France, Christians are persecuted by the secularist state, not by Muslims." These reactions were backed up by a large number of people who say the journalists at Hebdo provoked the French Muslim community.
A group of Belgraders gathered outside the French embassy at the center of the city last night to lay flowers and light candles honoring the victims of the attack. Another vigil is planned for tonight—this one called by the Independent Union of Journalists.
After a decade of war in the Balkans, Serbian society has changed radically. The once far-right extremists pledging to ethnically cleanse neighboring Bosnia of Muslims find themselves in power these days as moderate pro-Europeans, preaching tolerance and Western democracy. Those who remained loyal to nationalism are largely ignored, only paid a small amount of attention when the government of conservative centrist Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic needs a scapegoat to mask unpopular decisions.
Those who did mention the massacre in Paris on social media or their websites mostly blamed the West and the "unjust and merciless" 1999 NATO bombing campaign on Serbia, launched to end Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Today in the Netherlands, everyone thinks back to the local war between free speech and Islamic fundamentalism that took place ten years ago. In 2004, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed by a Muslim extremist, an event that gave rise to a decade-long discussion about radical Islam.
In the intervening years, politician Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), has set the tone for the debate about Islam in the country. By packaging his message in witty soundbites and memorable quotes, he has managed to insert his message of Islamophobic and anti-EU sentiments into the mainstream political debate. Because of his fiercely populist politics and tactics, his more traditional opponents find it difficult to handle or react to him.
Wilders adheres to strict media blackouts, waiting for the shit to hit the fan before he shows up for a few minutes to tell anyone with a microphone how right he turned out to be. He started his media blitz about the attacks in Paris yesterday with the tweet: "When will Rutte and other Western government leaders finally understand: This is war."
While Wilder is declaring an all-out war, his opponents are pleading for moderation and peace. Some local Muslim organisations such as the Dialogue Between Muslims and Governments (CMO) and the Cooperation Moroccan Dutchmen (SMN) have rushed to condemn the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Spokesperson Farid Arzakan branded the attacks "terrible" and called on everyone to choose their words carefully when responding to the event. "We shouldn't be using terms like 'war'; that seems very inappropriate."
After the murder on Van Gogh, a "shouting demonstration" organized by Amsterdam's mayor took place in the city to show the country's anger. Yesterday, on the same Dam Square, people quietly chanted "Je suis Charlie" and emphasized that they were there to commemorate, not demonstrate, and most certainly were not anti-Muslim.