Category Archives: Austria

Rising Politics of Intolerance and the Need for Unity

Over the last 20 years extreme right-wing groups have been on the rise throughout the world. They share a belief in white supremacism and conspiracy theories that allege there is a global plot to replace white Christian populations with Muslims and people of color.

As socio-economic inequality has grown and immigration increased the reactionary ideology of tribal nationalism has become more popular and bled into mainstream politics. Far right groups have garnered support and won political power in a number of countries, including Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the US and India.

Rising far-right terror

Within the spectrum of the far right there are varying degrees of bigotry and Neo-Fascist ideals; at the darkest extreme there are the Neo-Nazi’s, a small percentage that holds the most violent views; next are the pro-white, anti-Semitic social conservatives, they form the majority and want a separation of the races; then there is the more moderate wing or Alt Lite, staunchly anti-feminist, anti-political correctness, pro-western chauvinism. All are abhorrent, all are dangerous; a hint of prejudice no matter where it comes from adds to the collective atmosphere of intolerance, fans the flames of division and can incite violence.

While overall terrorism throughout the world is declining, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) states that, “there has been a real and significant increase in far-right terrorist activity.”

Since 2014, the number of attacks from right-wing extremists has been greater than attacks from Jihadists, and, the Anti-Defamation League reports that during 2018 “right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 murders in the United States [up 35% on 2017].” Globally, between 2013 and 2017 there were 113 attacks “by far-right groups and individuals…. of those 47 attacks took place in 2017.

On 15th March, 50 Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand: the indiscriminate attack on two mosques during Friday prayers was carried out by Brenton Tarrent, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist. Prior to the attack Tarrent published a 78-page document entailed The Great Replacement, online. In it he states that the aim of the Christchurch murders was “to take revenge on the [Muslim] invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history…and the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands.” The manifesto title and many of the ideas promoted in it come from Le Grand Remplacement by 71-year-old Jean Camus and published in 2012.

Camus claims that the white Christian European population is being ousted by immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. His views have become highly influential on right-wing groups, nationalist and identitarian movements across Europe, the US and elsewhere. Although Camus is particularly concerned with France and preserving French culture, he believes that all Western countries are faced with what he calls, “ethnic and civilizational substitution”, in which over the course of a single generation a civilization is transformed by immigration.

As a result of wars in the Middle East and economic insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa large numbers of migrants have indeed fled to Europe and elsewhere seeking safety and a new life. The influx of migrants/refugees into western countries presents societal challenges and change, but is not a threat or an act of ‘replacement’. The vast majority of migrants do not want to leave their homeland and travel to a country they do not know; people migrate to escape conflict, persecution and economic hardship, much of it caused by the foreign policies of western powers over decades, the exploitation of poor countries over centuries and the concentration of global economic wealth.

Cries of hate; modes of tolerance

Far-right terrorism is a transnational issue; extremists from different countries are more connected than ever and work together. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies relates the example of how in early 2018 members of the Rise Above Movement  (RAM, a white supremacist group based in California) “traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and to meet with members of European white supremacist groups.” They posted photographs on Instagram with the RAM logo and words like “RAPEFUGEES ARE NOT WELCOME HERE”.

In Ukraine RAM members are reported to have met with Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard believed to be training and radicalizing white supremacist organizations based in the United States.

The internet plays a crucial role in the work of such groups: social media platforms are employed by both Islamist and right-wing extremists to spread propaganda, organize training, make travel arrangements for events/protests, raise funds and recruit members. Extreme right-wing Internet channels spread lies, exaggerate and mislead; when challenged the sacred cow of freedom of speech is invoked to justify the use of inflammatory language. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but when it leads to murderous violence it violates the most basic human right, the right to life; freedom of speech needs to be conditioned by a sense of social responsibility, respect and understanding of others.

Acts of hate and intolerance of all kinds have been increasing exponentially across the western world in recent years. The 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, the highly divisive EU referendum in Britain the same year and the influx of refugees fleeing wars and economic hardship triggered a wave of crimes against immigrants, particularly Muslims, as well as other minority groups. Liberal politicians, especially women, have also been targeted, many receiving hate mail and violent threats from right-wing extremists.

The current hatred of Muslims was aroused by the 9/11 attacks and inflamed by the ‘War on Terror’ announced by President George W. Bush in 2007; prejudice normalized, the far right flourished. A 2010 poll conducted by Gallup found that almost half of Muslim Americans experienced racial or religious discrimination, which is on par with “Hispanic Americans (48%) and African Americans (45%),” and, according to research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency a third of Muslims in Europe say they face discrimination effecting employment, access to public services and housing.

Mainstream politicians stir up discrimination and incite hate; President Trump openly expresses hostility to foreign nationals and consistently makes and retweets Islamophobic comments, he has banned people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, talks of the US being invaded and is building a ‘wall’ on the Mexican/US border. He is not alone in pandering to prejudice, many right and far right leaning politicians in western democracies have been guilty of fanning the fires. A striking example was the recent action by UK Home Secretary, Sajid David when he stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. The 19 year old, who was in the final days of pregnancy when the announcement was made, had made the mistake of going to Syria in 2016 to support ISIS and marry an ISIS fighter. Her baby was born inside a refugee camp in Syria and, due to lack of proper medical care, died three weeks later.

Not only is the action to make her stateless illegal, it panders to the rhetoric of right wing populism and, instead of fostering forgiveness and compassion, adds to the creation of an environment in which judgment, intolerance and retribution flourish.

Unity not division

Protectionist ideals flourish in an atmosphere of fear, of economic instability and an unstable political environment; such insecure conditions strengthen inward-looking insular attitudes allowing the divisive ‘us versus them’ ideology to become the norm. Divisions of all kinds feed the idea of separation, create distrust, suspicion and fear; and fear leads to conflict and hate.

A cornerstone of the economic system and many aspects of contemporary life is competition; competition encourages division. Competition and aggression go together: the sense that we must compete or fight to survive, that others – especially others that are dissimilar – are regarded as opponents, rivals, competitors wanting what we have, which we must defend at all costs. Trust is nowhere in such an unjust world, society fractures along flag waving lines, violence erupts.

One of the consequences of this combative socio-economic system is inequality – of wealth, income, opportunity, influence, access to culture etc., etc. This social poison fuels a range of ills including mistrust, particularly of ‘the other’, someone who looks, talks and prays differently. Societies with the highest levels of inequality have the lowest levels of trust.

Competition, socio-economic inequality and poverty are not the cause of right-wing extremism, neither is the spread of misinformation or the use of inflammatory language, but collectively they form a powerful force in the creation of circumstances in which negative human tendencies like fear and aggression, are inflamed.

Division in any form, including nationalism, and competition go against human nature; if we are to free the world of all forms of extremism and hate they need to be driven out of society and from the systems under which we live. Unity is the keynote of the times, unity with the greatest level of diversity; modes of living that encourage tolerance and unite people must be actively inculcated. This means rejecting competition and embracing cooperation; it means sharing resources, information and wealth equitably; it means building trust and right relationships. Only then will there be peace within our communities and the wider world.

Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen

A recent European Council summit in Brussels was meant to articulate a united policy on the burgeoning refugees and migrant crisis. Instead, it served to highlight the bitter divisions among various European countries. Considering the gravity of the matter, Europe’s self-serving policies are set to worsen an already tragic situation.

True, several European leaders, including Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, went home to speak triumphantly of a ‘great victory’, achieved through a supposedly united European position.

Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, used more derogatory terms in explaining his country’s new policy on refugees and migrants.  “They will only see Italy on a postcard”, he said, referring to refugees who have been arriving in Italy with the help of humanitarian rescue boats.

The first of these boats, carrying over 600 refugees and economic migrants, the Aquarius, was sent back on June 11, followed by another, carrying over 200 refugees. When Italy carried out what then seemed like excessive action, the decision erupted into a massive political controversy between Italy, France, Spain, Malta and others.

However, the pandemonium has subsided since then, as Italy’s Conte declared that, following the Brussels summit, his country ‘is no longer alone.’

What Conte, who presides over a populist, right-wing government, meant is that his country’s unwelcoming attitude towards refugees is now gathering greater European consensus.

The debate over refugees and migrants has reached the point that it has become a source of political instability in countries like Germany. The latter is not considered a ‘frontline state’, as in countries that are likely to be the first destination for refugees escaping war or poverty at home.

Austria and other countries are also caught up in the crisis, each with its own angry constituency to appease.

On paper, representatives of European countries did, in fact, reach an agreement. The real problem ensued as soon as delegations returned to their respective countries.

Despite opposition from Poland and Hungary, and Italian threats to ‘veto’ any text that is not consistent with Italian priorities, the Council agreed on four main points:

First, the establishment of disembarkation centers outside European territories, to be stationed mostly in North Africa. At that early stage, economic migrants would be separated from political asylum seekers.

This first stipulation is made hollow simply because, as the Guardian reports, “no North African country has agreed to host migrant centers to process refugee claims,” in the first place.

Second, Europeans agreed to strengthen borders control through the Frontex system.

Aside from the questionable tactics of this pan-European border police, this system has been in use for years and it is difficult to imagine how ‘strengthening’ it will translate into a more efficient or humane border control system.

Third, the Council called for the creation of ‘controlled’ refugee and migrant processing centers within Europe itself, like the North African non-existing centers, to quickly separate between refugees fleeing strife and economic migrants.

This clause was offered as a ‘voluntary’ step to be exercised by any state as it sees fit, which, again, will hardly contribute to a united European policy on the issue. Yet, despite the voluntary nature of this provision, it still stirred a political controversy in Germany.

Soon after the Council issued its final statement, Horst Lorenz Seehofer, Germany’s Interior Minister, threatened to quit Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

The German Chancellor is now under dual pressure, from within her fractious coalition, but also from without, a massive political campaign championed by the far-right party, the ‘Alternative for Germany’. In fact, the latter group’s popularity is largely attributed to its anti-immigrant sentiment.

A compromise was reached, calling for the establishment of migrant ‘transit centers’ at the German-Austrian border. However, instead of resolving a problem, the decision created another one, propelling a new controversy in Austria itself.

Austria, which also has its own populist, anti-immigrant constituency to placate, fears that the proximity of the German ‘transit centers’ would force it to receive Germany’s unwanted refugees.

“If Berlin introduced national measures, which would have a chain reaction, it could mean that Austria would have to react,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz commented in a press conference. The magnitude of this ‘reaction’ is, of course, to be determined later, depending on the nature of counter-pressure emanating from Austria itself.

Austria has, in fact, already threatened to shut down the Brenner Pass, connecting Italy and Austria.

The fourth, and last, decision by the European Council called for the boosting of North African economies and offering training for Libya’s coastguard.

As altruistic as the last stipulation may sound, it is, indeed, the most ridiculous, especially since it was placed on the agenda with French enthusiasm. Even if one is to ignore France’s colonial history in Africa – grounded in the notion of usurping African resources under military threat – one can hardly ignore the current role that Emmanuel Macron is playing in the current Libyan conflict.

Various media reports suggest that Macron’s government is carrying on with the legacy of intervention, initiated by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, most notably in the military intervention of March 2011.

Libya, a failed state par excellence, is now fighting proxy wars in which France and Italy are the main players.

Bearing that in mind, it would be absurd to suggest that Macron is keen on respecting the sovereignty and supporting the economies of Libya and other North African nations.

Considering Europe’s past failures and foot dragging on the issue of refugees, it is hard to imagine that one of Europe’s greatest challenges is to be resolved as a result of the Brussels summit and its lackluster ‘agreement’.

Europe continues to view the refugee crisis in terms of security, populist pressures and national identity, as opposed to it being a global humanitarian crisis invited by wars, political strife and economic inequality, of which Europe is hardly innocent.

As long as Europe continues to operate with a skewed definition of the crisis, the crisis will continue to grow, leading to far dire consequences for all of those involved.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article

Austria against political manipulation of Islam

Enforcing the law on Islam adopted in Feb 2015, the Austrian Minister for Internal Affairs (to the right in the photo) has proceeded to close down 7 mosques and to expel 40 Imams (some of the 260 Imams that are present in the country). Specifically, the Austrian authorities have reproached these Imams for organizing a ceremony with children in military uniforms. This goes beyond the cultural limits on their activity imposed by the aforementioned law. These Imams are members of “Grey (...)

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

The Austrian President’s Proposal to Fight Islamophobia: Wearing the veil

Reacting to a recent law that prohibits women from wearing a Burkha (a complete veil), the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen has expressed his wish that all Austrian women would all wear the veil on one day, marking resistance to Islamophobia. Contrary to what President Van der Bellen believes, the veil forms no part of Islam in its traditional form. None of the Prophet's wives covered herself with the veil. It was only in the VIII century, in Bagdad, with the Abbasid caliphs, (...)