By Taceddin Kutay
ISTANBUL (AA) - Europe started the third week of February full of concerns. Coronavirus topped headlines, as expected, but issues such as anti-foreigner sentiment and the radical right also made their mark.
According to Monday's newspapers, a radical right-wing terrorist organization named "Group S" ("Gruppe S") which was founded in Germany in September 2019 was brought down and its members were arrested. The statements that followed indicated that the organization was in the process of planning an attack on Muslims and that the operation (to bring the organization down) was conducted thanks to the intelligence that was collected.
The next day, French President Emanuel Macron's announcement of his "Campaign Against Radical Islam" came to the fore. Macron said that though he was not against Islam, Islamic values had no place in France and that they would, therefore, work for an understanding of Islam that conforms with the country's principle of laicite. Most of what was on Macron's list of what would be fought against were within the domain of individual religiosity. As an excuse for their transformation Macron expressed that such personal choices were incompatible with French values. The French interior minister said immediately afterward that the government would not allow foreign imams in France, effective 2024.
On Wednesday, the shooting in Hanau, Germany on Wednesday night was at the top of the global agenda. Two cafes were attacked by Tobias R., a radical right-wing terrorist. It was reported so far that nine people, five of which were Turkish, lost their lives because in the shooting and that the attacker was found dead in his house along with his mother. People are worried the shooting might lead to more casualties.
Looking at the events listed above, the first observation is the fact that on a continent such as Europe where the news is determined by fear, public attention is turned completely to foreigners and the radical right, which is perceived as a natural complication of the foreigners issue, once such a dominant topic as the coronavirus is covered and out of the way. The greatest reason behind the transformation of this fear into trauma is the refugee flow that started in 2015 and caused night terrors for many Europeans for weeks. The effects of this trauma can still be felt today. In that period, the European public's priority was finding a solution to the problem of refugees attempting to cross from Libya over the Mediterranean Sea in makeshift vessels and land on French and Italian shores. Syrian refugees, who at this time unexpectedly crossed Turkish borders and the Balkans, traveling all the way to Hungary, deepened their fears. The issue only temporarily drops from the top of ht agenda in the case of a global crisis like the coronavirus, only to find its way back shortly after. This results in the steady intensification of radical rightist reflexes. The increase in attacks targeting Muslims -- and especially Turkish people -- poses the question of where things are heading. It would be useful to discuss both the European public, whose fears are deepening, as well as the intent behind this wave of aggression that the system allowed to grow by a greater extent than ever before, development took place in an environment where the system allowed it in ways it never had before.
- Millenarian tyrannies
Waller R. Newell talks about three types of tyranny in his book, Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror. The first is classical tyranny. This class of tyrants sees the countries they rule over as their private property and do not hesitate to torture the public for their own pleasure. The second type that Newell suggests is reformist tyranny. These tyrants believe that they are carrying out a transformation for the good of the people, and conduct reform movements with the support of a group of followers that they build. The third type of tyrant, on the other hand, seeks to revolutionize far beyond what the other two types envisage. While the first two types have existed since antiquity, this category is a modern type of tyranny and aims to establish a more fundamental transformation in order to sculpt the society of the future and to realize a utopia. Creating an ideal world for the future depends on changing today's world and order. Referencing Pericles' funeral oration, Newell makes the observation that societies do not necessarily need a tyrant in order for tyranny to occur. They can become tyrannies without a tyrant ruling over them as well.
We must cut this rough description short with the recommendation for those who are interested to read the book and talk about how the above picture relates to the actual circumstances of the European public today. Since it would not be reasonable to speak of tyranny in relation to Europe, we must begin by highlighting that we will not be making that claim. In contrast, certain incidents that take place and how some people dealt with these during these incidents make us ask the question of whether or not analogies that we think are inconceivable are in fact possible. On the one hand, there is Germany, once proud of being highly intolerant of the radical right, where the political atmosphere has been increasingly permissive toward the rise of the radical right in the past few years. On the other, the French president is saying that he intends to regulate individual actions. This forces us to inquire in which direction these two locomotives of Europe are headed.
Macron's declaration that France does not want Muslim men who "won't shake the hands of women" and Muslim women who "won't go to a male doctor" inevitably reminds us of what Foucault called "pastoral power" and the type of government that is built on that power. Macron, while emphasizing the importance of French laicite, also wants to use an authority claimed by the medieval Church: guiding souls and imposing ideal behavioral norms on individuals. It's quite surprising to see that it’s the French president who tells people about what behaviors are good or bad and that one should mind their manners in order to reside in France. In fact, this attitude is one that is exclusively employed by a priest when being reminded of the rules of etiquette that you must obey inside a church. At this point, it would be beneficial to revisit the French conception of civilization and their mentality that they are superior to all other civilizations. This mentality has no problem with degrading treatment and cultural assimilation when it accepts that there is one most apex civilization in the world, but that this civilization is endangered by migrants who do not know how to integrate with the civilization.
We must highlight that similar worries are present in Germany as well. However, to claim that the Germans share the same domineering mindset of the French and that they believe that their's is the most superior civilization, would be unfair. On the contrary, Germans believe in cultural diversity and have a social understanding that accepts all cultures in some way. What Germans fear is the possibility of regional extinction for German culture in that diverse environment. The closure or merging of local churches in many areas and the opening of new mosques with each passing week ignite debates that result in mosques being presented as a hate object. As a result, the German public is occupied by frequent news of incidents like arson attacks on mosques, hate slogans written on their walls and severed pig heads left at their doors. This inevitably raises the question: How is it that these incidents are taking place in Germany? All this while the German political system is known for being vigilant enough to prevent the rise of the radical right. In the past, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) was tolerated only because they were perceived to be a marginal movement too much of a minority to transform the system. Besides this, it was made clear that all kinds of political discourses believed to be related to the far-right would be addressed. This proved not to be the case at all as the wave of Islamophobia in Germany grew day by day after Sept. 11. Germany has a political environment that aims to keep marginalized and at least at a certain distance from the political system Muslim communities growing uncontrollably that it cannot regulate. These people should be thankful that they are living in Germany and try as much as possible to distance themselves from political demands even though they are German citizens. It is for this reason that the millions of Germans of Turkish origin still do not dare take political stances within Germany.
France and Germany's simultaneous attempts to deal with similar problems with different solutions help us understand the sentiment that prevails in Europe. On one hand, there is a mentality that paves the way for radical right-wing violence for the interest of the society, and on the other hand, another mentality that prioritizes transforming people by interfering in individual lives. Though we do not claim this, the situation begs the question of whether we face a new millennialist mindset that is determined to reorganize the future of Europe. Regulating the lives of people even within their homes and allowing violence to develop for the prosperity of society, in reminiscence of the third type of tyranny (millenarianist tyranny), do not coincide with European values. Thus, it must be acknowledged that the EU continues to exhibit idealistic rhetoric and that the two leading countries in this bloc have not established such an order. This acknowledgment will ease us all. In addition, it should be our right to say that this mindset occasionally emulates this millenarianist model: "Even if not, they use its methods!"
To summarize, we can highlight that Europe is about to cross a great threshold. This is a threshold where modernity, with its gradually disintegrating institutions, will make one last big move to arrange Europe's future before its reign is over. With a political mentality that employs a modern regulatory reflex, Europe seeks to protect the future European societies from becoming a partially transformed minority. Whether they will succeed depends not on the determination of European countries, but rather the Muslims who will be the subjects of these efforts. The extent to which Muslims will react and be able to resist will be the primary factor in the reshaping of Europe in the coming period. We will wait and see.
(Taceddin Kutay is a researcher at the Turkish-German University and works on political psychology, secularization theories, religion and science, and occidental culture.)
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.