Sweden is often held up as an archetypal Scandinavian utopia. A somewhat lazy liberal commentariat led by the likes of Guardian doyenne Polly Toynbee have been known to dub it ‘the best country in the world’ (she was recently reminded by the Telegraph’s Tim Worstall of Sweden’s right-of-centre tendencies.) And yet now, there is trouble in paradise- at the time of writing five days of bitter rioting in suburban Stockholm in a set-piece of civil unrest that instantly conjures up images of London in 2011 or Paris in 2005 for those whose political memory stretches that far back. Meanwhile on the streets of London last Wednesday an innocent man was hacked to death by meat-cleaver wielding thugs. In Greece, the Hellenic Statistical Agency last week released new figures showing a soaring suicide rate off the back of the ongoing economic crisis, in the context of several recent cases (and two well-reported economic suicides in Britain.) One might wonder why these disparate events from across Europe are being meshed together. It is because all in their own way are tragedies for which solutions should be sought, but all have been met with the same terrible backlash- an outpour of racism and bigotry.
When and how did we get to this point? Why, when a brutal murder happens in our capital city, is it compounded by a mob of EDL rampaging around the crime scene throwing bottles, three separate attempted attacks on mosques and the smashing up of a Muslim-owned chicken shop in Newham? Why is coverage of Stockholm so heavily focussed on ‘a lack of debate about immigration’ leading to the unrest with little proof that it was in any way racial (a repetition of the discourse around the London riots.) Why can Greek fascist party Golden Dawn drum up applause when responding to the suicide issue by telling Greeks to ‘kill others [i.e. immigrants] not yourselves’?
The easy explanation is to make idle Godwin-inducing comparisons to the 1930s- in times of crisis, extremism finds natural currency. Yet economic crisis is a sufficient condition for an upsurge in bigotry, but in itself is not enough. I promised myself on Wednesday night I would not get trapped in keyboard wars with bigots, and yet they seemed to come looking. Such charming nuggets in response to the Woolwich attack as ‘lets kil all the fucken muzzie cunts with machetes’ and ‘how about we play football with a pakis head’ exploded across my newsfeed whilst I was attempting to enjoy a pint. We have to question where such a narrative comes from – and it is induced from above, from a political formation that for all its multicultural pretensions panders to a racialised worldview. When in Birmingham three weeks ago an elderly Muslim man was murdered by a white man with a machete, it went unreported beyond local news. It was few media sources that would call Anders Breivik, or to look further back David Copeland or Timothy McVeigh ‘terrorists’, and none that would take their actions as a problem with ‘white Christian culture’ or encourage ‘the moderate Euro-Americans to stand up to the extremists in their community if they did not want to be tarred with the same brush.’ The argument that crisis fosters extremism is one that we don’t seem to apply elsewhere, in spite of a million deaths in the Iraq War. Golden Dawn in Greece insists that civil society will not stand up to mass immigration- the reality is that the media consistently fails to take a tough enough line on fascism. And the consequences become viscerally real when two hundred Bangladeshi workers in Greece demanding money after being unpaid for fruit-picking for six months were gunned down. It was Labour that brought in immigration-curbing acts years before Powell had the political confidence to speak of ‘rivers of blood’, it is the ‘honestly just Eurosceptic and not racist’ Ukip that act as cheerleaders for the EDL, and it is newspapers like the Daily Mail that claim a vote for the French National Front ‘is the only responsible’ one. It is historians like David Starkey that respond to the London riots by saying ‘the whites have become black.’ The oxygen of fascism is the normalisation of its ideas in small doses, the creation of an environment in which they can exploit the vulnerable based on pre-existing narratives handed them by the mainstream on a plate.
The fascist project is populist; it relies on the narrative of the ‘common man’s struggle’, an insular story of isolation and attack from elites as much as ‘foreigners’, hence why parties like Ukip, despite themselves being composed of can look like they are outflanking the left on issues of equality! This is deepened by the failure of anyone to provide a political alternative- Labour have nothing to offer beyond a slightly fluffier alternative to austerity. Sweden seems happy to tolerate crippling urban inequality in its liberal paradise. An incident in Greece not long ago involved a woman who called the police to apprehend a suspected intruder being told they had no resources and to call Golden Dawn instead (50% of Greek police officers voted for Golden Dawn when they received 6-7% of the overall vote.) She did not, but they were dispatched anyway and after failing to find an intruder, burned down her Pakistani neighbour’s home. When in London you are up to twenty-six times more likely to be stop and searched if young and black, our police start to seem only a number of shades of grey away. As the far-Right enjoys a renaissance across Europe, it is of course of the most paramount importance that we condemn them and oppose them wherever they manifest themselves. But we also have to look far more deeply at ourselves and our society