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The new face of Islamophobia

A study of the far-right in Europe has found that supporters are young, male, and anti-Islam.

The far right in Europe is on the rise and supporters are disproportionately young, male and concerned with Islam and immigration.

A study by Demos has collated information on the demographics and attitudes of supporters of the far right online. Given the wide range of groups involved -- ranging from France's long-established National Front to semi-organised street movements such as the EDL -- it is difficult to make generalisations.

What most of these groups do have in common is that they have significantly more supporters online and that social networking sites such as Facebook are an important tool for members to swap ideas.

The report looks at 14 parties and street organisations in 11 countries. Using Facebook's data on around 450,000 supporters of these organisations, Demos found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that more than two-thirds were under 30, while three-quarters were male.

Over 10,000 supporters filled in detailed questionnaires about their attitudes. The main reasons listed for joining the groups were Islam and immigration, which cropped up far more frequently than economic worries. Interestingly, these concerns were often framed as a belief that Islam was incompatible with the traditions of liberal democracy. This marks a shift from the crude racism of the earlier generation of populist, far-right movements. Such an argument has the capacity to appeal to more people than out-and-out racism; this is evident in Holland, where Geert Wilder's Party For Freedom has become the third-largest party. In contrast to most other surveys, anti-Islamic and anti-immigration feeling rose with younger supporters.

Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who is chairing a conference on the rise of the far-right today, noted the implications of this trend:

As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters are deeply pessimistic about the prospects for their respective countries. Only 10 per cent thought their country was "on the right track", compared with an average of 28 per cent across EU countries.

While the report highlights the importance of the internet and social media to the spread of these populist movements, most supporters are not simply armchair activists -- for political parties, 67 per cent of respondents said they voted for the party at the last election.

The anti-Islamic sentiment that runs through the ideology of supporters is disturbing, yet it is not difficult to see where it has stemmed from -- it merely echoes the actions and arguments taken by mainstream parties in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The Guardian quotes Gavan Titley, co-author of The Crises of Multiculturalism:

Racist strategies constantly adapt to political conditions, and seek new sets of values, language and arguments to make claims to political legitimacy. Over the past decade, Muslim populations around Europe, whatever their backgrounds, have been represented as the enemy within or at least as legitimately under suspicion. It is this very mainstream political repertoire that newer movements have appropriated.

Today's report sets out some of the identifying features of the far-right in Europe; it remains for governments to tackle this trend.