Europe has been shocked and outraged by Donald Trump’s call to exclude Muslims from migration to the U.S. A petition to have him banned from Britain has garnered 200,000 signatures, more than enough to force Britain’s parliament to consider a debate on the issue. Yet what Trump had to say should feel outrageously familiar.
Populist bigotry about Muslims has already mainstreamed in Europe. Europeans haven’t been outraged enough about that.
Take Marine Le Pen, whose National Front just won 28 percent of the vote — more than either of the main parties — in the first round of elections to run France’s regional governments. Arguably, she now has a better shot at becoming president in France than Trump has in the U.S. She has talked of Muslim immigration as an occupation, comparing it to the German occupation of France in World War II.
“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of districts in which religious laws apply. It’s an occupation. There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents.”
There are no districts ruled by sharia law in France, a country where hijabs are banned from schools. Trump’s claim that there are police no-go zones in Muslim-populated parts of Paris and London is also a fantasy.
Le Pen has been way ahead of Trump, calling in a National Front statement last month to stop not just Muslim but all immigration. Like Trump, she thought this necessary to squelch the threat of terrorists hiding among Muslim refugees. Unlike Trump, her isolationism extends to humanitarian foreign assistance — she wants France to stop sending aid to combat malaria in Africa.
“I don’t see why I would pay for mosquito nets in Senegal.”
How about Hungary’s President Viktor Orban? He keeps tacking right to outflank the neo-fascist party, Jobbik. He has already built the wall (well, razor-wire fence) that Trump wants along the border with Mexico on Hungary’s southern border. Here’s what he has had to say on immigration:
“We do not want to see among us significant minorities that possess different cultural characteristics and background than us. We would like to preserve Hungary as Hungary.”
“The borders of Europe must be closed.”
“Of course, it’s not accepted, but the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants.”
Three percent of Hungary’s population are immigrants, one of the lowest proportions in Europe.
In Poland (2 percent immigrants), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the former prime minister and still-dominant figure in the newly elected Law and Justice party, recently issued this warning about refugees arriving in Europe:
“There are already signs of emergence of diseases that are highly dangerous and have not been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on the Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna. There is also talk about other, even more severe diseases.”
This again is mythology. The Red Cross has indeed warned of the possibility that disease might take hold at refugee camps on Greek islands, but because of the squalid conditions in which they are forced to live, not because they brought disease to Europe.
Even such mainstream leaders as British Prime Minister David Cameron have fallen into the trap. Cameron talked about “swarms” of migrants trying to flood Britain from Calais (there were 3,000 to 4,000), as he tried to outflank the nativist UK Independence Party.
What is needed on both continents is for politicians to be relentlessly clear about where caution and realism end, and bigotry begins. Le Pen has exploited a gray area, cleaning up her party’s once openly anti-Semitic and neo-fascist language to make it Islamophobic and anti-immigrant instead. That is a genuine challenge for the traditional parties, because populism can galvanize a significant chunk of the population in today’s isolationist, post-financial-crisis world. But trying to outflank the extreme right is futile unless you become them, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy — who recently called for schools to stop offering halal meals to Muslim students — is finding out.
Trump’s language should outrage everybody, everywhere. But there is no point banning him from the shores of Europe; Europe has already been Trumped.