Fascism never really died.
Mussolini died; Hitler died; Nazi Germany died; and fascism as a major political movement died. But philosophies, even evil ones, are immortal, because there’s always someone ready and able to believe anything. And so a weakened and diminished post-war fascism has continued crawling along, like vermin creeping in the shadows.
For a number of years I have worried about Europe’s weak response to Islamism within its borders, its indifference to Islamism in the Middle East, and the “red-green” alliance between European radicals and Islamists. I feared that as a result of Islamist intimidation, violence and terrorism, Europe’s political pendulum would swing far back to the right, legitimating fascism once more.
After all, something like this contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the Germans who supported Hitler did so of out fear of Communist revolutionaries. At that time, the fundamental totalitarianism both shared wasn’t sufficiently appreciated.
(If a political dynamic like this were to be shaping Europe today, there would be a measure of irony, since European fascism, along with Islam, is itself one of the two ideological parents of modern Islamism. For more on this, read Paul Berman’s book Terror and Liberalism.)
In this light, Anders Behring Breivik’s assault on Norwegian society takes on added significance. It is possible that he can ultimately be dismissed as a lone lunatic. As Timothy McVeigh demonstrated long ago, a solitary madman can do enormous, heart-breaking damage without generating any important political consequences.
But Breivik may be the point of the spear. If fascist “Breivik Brigades” spring up to imitate him, if right-wing parties wink and say, “His methods were unacceptable, but still. . .” we could see the reinvigoration of European fascism.
Then fascists and Islamists may brawl in the streets, as fascists and communists brawled in the 1920s. The darkness could spread. There is nothing inevitable about Europe’s post-war prosperity and order. It could be lost.
Europe has largely reacted predictably to the horror of Breivik’s mass murder, blaming conservative “hate speech” against Muslims for bewitching Breivik. Some demand a renewed embrace of “multiculturalism” as the answer. Muslims have been handed a golden opportunity to be the aggrieved victims.
It is certainly true that not distinguishing between Islam and Islamism is a problem that requires consideration. There are serious people, some former Muslims themselves, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who maintain that there is nothing in modern, radical, political Islam that can’t be found in the Qoran. While I believe that they’re mistaken, whether Islam must be or can be reformed is primarily a question that Muslims themselves must wrestle with. The issue for Europe is whether or not it will take seriously its confrontation with Islamism.
The current strategy, of stifling criticism of Islamism by prosecuting it as “hate speech,” has no long-term future. First, it degrades a primary value of liberal democracy, the principle of free speech. Second, stifled criticism doesn’t go away; it will find expression in increased support for parties that take the Islamism issue seriously.
If fascist parties are the only ones taking Islamism seriously, support for fascism will increase.
European liberal democracies are threatened by Islamism. If they don’t take the threat seriously, they will be threatened by fascism, too.