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.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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