American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Why Arabs Should Lead the Fight Against Joerg Haider and Euro-Racism
Rami G. Khouri is a Palestinian-Jordanian journalist living in Amman, Jordan
Joerg Haider and the Austrian Freedom Party have sparked an important, lively debate around the world. We all grapple with a real dilemma: how to reconcile the virtually universal condemnation of Haider's soft stand on the Nazi movement and its concentration camps and the strong concerns about the xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies of his party, on the one hand, with the fact that the Freedom Party won 27% of the vote in a free and fair election, on the other.
We should first separate the several strands of the country and its democratic system, the person of Haider, and the Freedom Party and its views.
One can debate honestly whether the European, American, and Israeli moves to recall ambassadors or freeze top-level political contacts were appropriate or hasty. No doubt, something symbolic or substantive had to be done to send a signal that the Freedom Party's extremist policies run against the grain of modern European democratic and liberal principles. My sense is that the diplomatic moves against Austria were probably too fast, because they sent the signal that all Austrians are to blame and to be punished for the views of a minority party, and thus may increase support for the Freedom Party in the near future. It might have been wiser to send a strong signal of disapproval of Freedom Party views and serve notice that the situation in Austria was being carefully monitored, without triggering a backlash from other Austrians who do not share Haider's views. (Memo to The Enforcer Madeline Albright and the energetic young lads in Washington and London: Perhaps the UN can monitor Austrian and other European far-right extremists like it monitors Iraq.)
I am more concerned by pro-Haider statements that I have seen and heard in much of the Arab world. Many Arabs defend democratic Austria's right to choose any coalition government it wishes, including Haider and his party, primarily as a reaction to the fact that Israel and the United States have moved quickly to condemn and contain the Austrian far right. Many in our region also point out the double standards that punish extremism against Jews and Israel but do not equally punish violence against Arabs and Muslims. In this case, I believe this is politically shortsighted and morally mistaken. Arabs and Muslims should be among the leaders in condemning the Freedom Party--though we also need to find the appropriate balance between condemning the party and supporting Austrian democracy and the vast majority of decent Austrians.
I have not commented about the Austrian situation until now because I wanted to find out more about the Freedom Party and Haider before doing so. I obtained a copy of the party's program from its internet web site and read through it a few days ago. Based on its platform and clearly stated views, I am now convinced that the Freedom Party is a dangerous and repulsive phenomenon that should be fought with all legitimate political means. We in the Middle East should be in the frontline of this battle because the primary targets of the Freedom Party are foreigners and immigrants, such as Arabs, Africans, Turks, and others. Those who support the Freedom Party's right to be in the Austrian coalition would do well to read the party program, and then think again. Europe, the United States and Israel rightly are still fighting Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish anti-Semitism.
We in the Arab world should be fighting the battle against the new threat that menaces European democracy in places such as Austria, France, Switzerland, and Belgium, where small rightist parties secure 10-20% voter support by espousing crude, populist, racist, anti-foreigner, anti-immigration, and quasi-fascist views. Such views are based on concepts of white European racial purity (and unspoken racial superiority), unique and slightly mythologized cultures rooted in small pieces of postcard-pretty geography, and a Euro-centric civilizational mission anchored by Christian values. I'm all for Christian values, which happen also to be universal values that emanated from slightly dark-skinned folks in Palestine and other Arab lands two millennia ago. If Jesus Christ applied for a visa to Austria today, the Freedom Party would probably oppose granting it to him; and if Jesus did enter Austria, he would probably remind Haider of the Christian imperative (paralleled in Judaism and Islam) to love and protect the foreigner and the stranger among you.
The Freedom Party--like most European far rightists--plays on a combination of economic fears and popular ignorance and directs people's concerns against easy targets that are portrayed as threatening the fundamental values of the West. The Freedom Party platform explicitly mentions "increasing fundamentalism of radical Islam which is penetrating Europe" as one of several "threats to the intellectual foundations of the West, including the idea of human dignity and basic liberties as well as ideas deriving from this, such as the idea of democracy, codetermination and the rule of law, solidarity, and respect for life and creation."
Wow! This is serious stuff: Does Islam really threaten human dignity, the rule of law, and respect for life and creation? That's not the Islam I know and live with, in comfort and solidarity. Notice, though, the crazed, existential nature of the threat that Haider's party projects to its supporters: immigrants will not just take away jobs or increase crime, they will also undermine the values of Western civilization.
It is a cruel irony of modern European history that the anti-Jewish anti-semitism of the Nazi period should be followed up two generations later by an ugly new strain of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim anti-semitism that is part of a wider tendency by slightly desperate politicians to exploit the fears of their people by whipping up fears of foreigners and immigrants. The Haider and Freedom Party phenomenon is an opportunity for all Semites--Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle East and elsewhere--to work together to oppose old and new strains of anti-Semitism, wherever they may rear their heads, and against whichever branch of the large family of Semites they may be aimed.
The West and Israel have emphasized Haider's somewhat pro-Nazi statements, while the more immediate and real threat his party poses is to whip up anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-foreigner sentiments that create a climate in which it becomes acceptable to take further violent action against these groups. The connection between the Nazi era and the current wave of anti-foreign right-wing extremist parties in Europe is a clear lesson from the past: hate and fear rhetoric that singles out foreigners, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Africans, or Muslims as a threat to one's pure national and racial identity creates an atmosphere in which it becomes morally acceptable to take political action against the evil minority. From there it is just a short step to burning people's homes, attacking them, putting them in camps, and killing them. The totalitarian threat to "respect for life" in recent centuries has emanated more from Christian Europe than it has from other parts of the world.
Austria's democracy is a fine thing, and the majority of Austrians are good people who should not be demonized for the excesses of a small group of fanatics. But Joerg Haider and the Freedom Party are a manifestation of a new evil and a brand of thuggery masquerading as ideology, and hiding behind the otherwise honorable structure of Austrian and European democracy. Such a combination of political demagoguery, moral charlatanism, and the naked exploitation of some fearful, ignorant voters must be fought at every opportunity. Arabs, Muslims, Turks and other Middle Easterners should lead this fight--because we "foreigners" are the primary targets of the Freedom Party's ugly ideology, and because our indigenous Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious values should compel us, as an eternal moral imperative, to fight bigotry and hatred.