Who could have imagined at any moment during the last half century, that fascism would again become a major force in the world? The image of history as a relentless forward march has blinded us to the equally powerful truth that it often repeats itself.
A little-noticed reason for the return of fascism is that since the Second World War, Western Europe has remained an American vassal, its individual nations hardly more independent than those of Eastern Europe that until 1989 were part of the Soviet sphere of influence for forty years. I know because I lived in both.
In Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France on the day the Berlin Wall fell, I foresaw the reunification of the old continent as well as the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I chastised Western Europe for accepting the stationing of American Pershing missiles intended to prevent Soviet tanks from completing their ‘takeover’ of the old continent, instead of working for its reunification. I argued that an enlarged Europe had nothing to fear from the Soviet behemoth, because in reality that country was merely one of several giants on the Eurasian continent: China, India and the Middle East being the others, along with Europe.
A quarter of a century later, three of the five Eurasian giants (Russia, China and India) form the backbone of the BRICS countries, which account for 40% of the world’s GDP. But although it is whole again and has the second largest economy in the world, Europe has been ravaged by the financial system based on Wall Street. The single currency that went into effect in 2000 could have guaran-teed its independence, however without a political union, the welfare system which had been its pride and joy was overcome by austerity.
Meanwhile the fifth giant, the Muslim crescent, is experiencing an upheaval comparable to that of the Christian Reformation that embroiled Europe in conflict for a hundred and thirty years (1524-1648). What I call the Muslim Reformation, and the nexus between Europe and Africa, both play a crucial role in the current rise of fascism. Post-colonial Africa’s 1.772 billion people account for more than a fifth of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants, and the continent is in a state of upheaval that may not have been equalled anywhere at any time in history. Govern-ments of fifty-five separate states, relatively new at ruling, must weave antagonistic tribal groups into national entities, even as outsiders – former colonial masters as well as newcomers like China and imperial America – compete for its riches, including not only minerals, but forests and agricultural land. (Saudi Arabia is particularly interested in the latter…).
Africa’s challenges spill over into Europe as unwelcome migrations of the upheavals’ victims as well as of those who simply believe they can do better in the North. Al-though in the United States, white people will be a minority by 2050, or even sooner, the northern and southern American hemispheres are both Christian. Very differently, in Africa, three major religious traditions interact: Christi-anity, Islam and a myriad of tribal religions. For their respective white majorities, the prospect of a mainly Latino/Black/Asian United States is nothing, compared to that of a brown, Muslim Europe. That ‘threat’ has revived the spirit of the anti-Muslim crusades of the Middle Ages, as Europe sees in Islam a threat to its 2000 year Christian culture.
In the country I’m most familiar with, France, the National Front Party has been off bounds even to most conser-vatives for the virulence of its anti-Semitism and racism, yet today it is drawing support from right-wing voters of all classes, especially in the provinces where closing factories leave workers unemployed and rising crime worries the middle-class. The voters who in a recent report on France 24 expressed their intention to back the National Front in up-coming municipal and European elections tacitly acknowledged the opprobrium that attaches to a Neo-Fascist party in a country that was occupied by Nazi Germany, apologetically describing it as their only hope.
Hitler too, was Germany’s only hope in 1933, as it strug-gled to meet the financial burdens imposed upon it after the first world war. And just as the Germans began to see the Jews among them as responsible for their difficulties, today’s Europeans see the Muslims among them as contributing to the state’s burdens and the lack of jobs.
In Africa, Christians, Muslims and traditionalists also reciprocally condemn each other, however the fact that in Europe all parties are legal masks the threat of fascism, its parliamentary ups and downs making it seem no different from other parties. But fascism IS different in that it does not rule out the use of force to impose its will. This has been particularly evident in Greece, with the rise of the fist-raising, immigrant attacking Golden Dawn Party (while ironically, Greece’s left-wing parties see Angela Merkel as a new Hitler because of the painful conditions Germany imposed on Greece as part of its bailout).
Nor is fascism in Europe limited to the southern, poorer tier: Norway’s welfare state is so advanced that it runs a unique prison offering comforts and opportunities to inmates in a relatively successful rehabilitation program. Yet the avowed fascist Anders Brevik killed 70 young socialists on a vacation island two years ago in protest against the country’s immigration policy. (Africans make up less than 2% of Norway’s population, but there has been a significant rise in their numbers since 2000.)
Across the EU, Africans only account for 1.5% of the population, however Muslims account for 10%, and the number of mosques is increasing. (In France, which has the largest Muslim population, there are over 2000). What is most significant is that about a third of Muslims actually practice their religion compared to only 5% of Christians, meaning that attitudes promoted by religion are far more prevalent among the former than the latter. (Conservative Christians cannot admit that they share Muslims’ rejection of women’s liberation and non-traditional sexual life-styles.)
From anti-Muslim sentiment to a grass roots fascism, embodied in hyper-nationalistic, racist political parties is but a short step that conveniently dovetails with the so-called ‘war on terror’ being waged by governments. In the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, that war justifies the most far-reaching surveillance of citizens ever seen, the visible part of the corporate/fascist governance that is replacing government of, by and for the people.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may be using KGB methods to spy on his own citizens, but the Soviet Union lost over 20,000,000 in the conflict with Nazi Germany, leaving its people with a lasting rejection of fascism. Even capitalist Russians value the socialist commit-ment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Rather than going to war against islamic terrorism, Putin encourages gradual modernization among Russia’s Muslim neighbors, while supporting religious values both there and in Russia, as evidenced by the sentencing of the Pussy Rioters who desecrated a cathedral, and the law against the proselytization of gay lifestyles to youth.
Very differently, American leaders claim that negotiation is useless because ‘the enemy’ is by definition in bad faith (see the conflict with Iran). And any country that is not a bona fide ally is painted as a potential enemy. Presented as a righteous attitude toward the responsibility to defend the homeland, this is an indispensable part of corporate/government fascism, which is about profit: war is good for the bottom line, as is the rebuilding of devastated lands.
By making a state visit to Washington, French President Francois Hollande may be hoping that a rapprochement with the United States will lure France’s right-wing voters away from the fascist temptation. But by clinging to its Cold War status as an American vassal, Europe risks coming full circle with 1940, when Nazi Germany occupied the entire continent.