October 10, 2007
On September 11, a number of Flemish politicians from the Vlaams Belang [Flemish Interest] party were arrested for attending a banned rally protesting “The Islamization of Europe.” As pictures and videos that showed peaceful men in business suits being manhandled by the black cladded riot police, the protesters garnered a great deal of sympathy from American conservatives. Mark Steyn, Diana West, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, the Washington Times editorial page, and David Horowitz’s Jihad Watch all came to the defense of the Vlaams Belang. This is a stark contrast to the arrest and nearly two year prosecution of British National Party chairman Nick Griffin from 2004 to 2006 for the offense of calling Islam “A wicked, vicious, faith” Perhaps the only suppression of free speech that got this much attention was the arrest of Holocaust revisionist David Irving.
The major difference is that David Irving’s positions were universally denounced by his American defenders who merely advocated his freedom of speech. Although Griffin’s description of Islam would make some heads turn, it is certainly a position that many American talk show hosts and columnists have taken. The conservative defenders of the Vlaams Belang have made no such qualifications. Michelle Malkin set the tone by stating, “You’ll note, by the way, that almost every MSM article refers to Vlaams Belang as ‘far right’; the open-borders European press and politicians use the same demonization tactics against immigration enforcement proponents abroad as they do here.”
This incident is probably the first to highlight to introduce the Vlaams Belang, or any other European nationalist party to American conservatives. So who are the Vlaams Belang and what do they stand for? The Vlaams Belang’s platform is about as close to an American understanding of conservatism as any other party. They support the free market, take socially conservative positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage, oppose mass immigration of Muslims, and support assimilation of those already present.
Belgium is a different country than the United States, so they take some positions that are not of special interest to Americans: opposition to the European Union, and support for an independent Flemish state. While secession may be a fringe position in the United States, it is not that far out in Belgium. Belgium is comprised of two major ethnic groups: the Dutch speaking Flemish who make up 58% of the country’s population and the French speaking Wallonians who make up 31%. The remaining population is made up of ethnic Germans and immigrants from the Third World. The Flemish majority had been treated like second class citizens until the 20th century. In recent decades, power was moderately decentralized into three regions, the majority Flemish Flanders, the majority French Walloon, and the capital region of Brussels (historically Flemish), which now has a majority foreign born population, with Wallonians greatly outnumbering the Flemish. The inter-European ethnic conflicts can be seen even in the Brussels incident, as police were videotaped yelling “Dirty Flemish” as they arrested some politicians from the Vlaams Belang.
The Flemish have historically been more sympathetic to the free market, while the Wallonians have been more socialistic. Because each region has its own parliament with equal representation, it is impossible for the Flemish to enact free market reforms without the consent of the Wallonians. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigrants vote for the socialist Wallonian parties. This has led the Wallonian leaders to support more immigration and relaxed voting rights rules to speed the rate at which non citizen aliens grab hold of the vote. While some American conservatives have created the word “Islamo-fascism,” the Vlaams Belang prefers the term “Islamo-socialism.”
For these reasons, the Vlaams Belang pays a great deal of its efforts to opposing mass immigration, and supporting Flemish independence. Yet despite great electoral success, and earlier political repression of the party—most notably a 2004 court decision that virtually outlawed the Vlaam’s belang’s predecessor, The Vlaams Blok, at a time when it was the most popular party in Flanders—they have attracted little sympathy in America until recently.
The reason for this is largely because all right wing movements in Europe are grouped together, and as a group they have certain negative connotations which spook the American Right. This is unfortunate, because the only thing the parties actually have in common is opposition to European integration and mass immigration. While both of these views are shared by many in the Western hemisphere, the relationship with the European Right and American conservatives has been virtually non-existent.
Many European Right wing parties are overtly anti-capitalist. Some, particularly in the French New Right, are openly anti-American. And while parties like the British National Party and Vlaams Belang have begun to be relatively supportive of the State of Israel in solidarity against radical Islam, many of the parties have been opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Most of them have done this on a strictly non-interventionist or national interest platform, but a few figures such as former Austrian Prime Minister Jorge Haider have gone as far as to align themselves with Sadaam Hussein.
The 800 pound gorilla that has made Americans hesitant to ally themselves with the European Right is the appellation of “racist,” “anti-Semitic,” and “neo-fascist” to all of the parties. Although these accusations have been used against the American Right by its leftist antagonists for decades, they hold a bit more water in Europe.
While for the most part, the planks on immigration and race relations in the platforms of most European parties are no different than that of most conservatives, the accusations of racism, xenophobia, and neo-fascism have been taken for granted by most of the mainstream (and even some right of center) press in both Europe and America. In the U.S., such rhetoric is usually confined to the Left in.
In some cases, such as the British National Party, a number of the major leaders had been neo-Nazis in their past. The BNP compares their past extremism to that of former Weathermen or Black Panthers who took radical positions out of misguided frustration, who have now learned to work within the system. They have toned down their rhetoric, purged the remaining neo-Nazis, and welcomed a number of Jewish supporters. While there is certainly a double standard when it comes to the past activities of the Right and Left, this heritage certainly hurts the reputation of these parties.
Yet the BNP is the exception, not the rule. In the case of the Vlaams Belang, the only link they have to Nazism is the fact that, almost 70 years ago, many Flemish Nationalists supported the Nazis, a fact that is almost always mentioned. Most of these collaborators were dead before the Vlaams Belang or even the Vlaams Blok were founded, and the Vlaams Belang has made it clear that these collaborators were hideously mistaken.
While Nazism is equally abhorred in Europe as it is in America, it cannot be escaped that a large number of Europeans once supported the Nazis. Disqualifying every single party with even tenuous connections to Hitler’s regime would be akin to disqualifying every political party which once supported segregation. (That would mean eliminating both the Republicans and the Democrats….) The Vlaams Belang decries the actions of Flemish collaborators, but puts them in the correct historical context, explaining that the Nazis portrayed themselves as an anti-Communist force who would give the Flemish their independence. The party currently has a large contingent of Jewish supporters and the endorsement of the Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Flanders’ largest city. Despite these mitigating factors, the old charge still follows the party.
So why have Americans suddenly taken interest in the Vlaams Belang? Events in Europe and the United States have made it hard to ignore the party. Since September 11, the threat of Radical Islam has been one of the most popular issues among conservatives. And in the last few years, opposition to illegal immigration has exploded. A number of books such as Mark Steyn’s Eurabia and Tony Blankley’s The West’s Last Chance have examiend the War on terror as a “Clash of Civilizations,” which includes the Islamization of Europe. Terrorist cells found in Europe of even second and third generation immigrants, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, and the riots following the publication of pictures of Mohammed in Danish newspapers made many Americans wonder if Europe would be better off with a Muslim majority.
Genuine opposition to mass Muslim immigration has been limited to the so called far right. A few center right politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi have made steps towards curbing immigration, but not on the scale that would have any serious demographic implications.
For all the talk about “Islamo-fascism,” “Dhimmitude” in Europe, and the threat of radical Islam, many conservatives have taken no interest in what Europe has been doing—except to monitor which sections of “Old Europe” supported President Bush’s Middle East policy. The action taken by the Brussels police against the Vlaams Belang may very well be the first step in changing that.
Marcus Epstein is a conservative commentator who writes widely on issues relating to immigration and the National Question. Photo comes courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Daily updates with TM’s latest