VIENNA | Something unprecedented took place in Austria in December 2017 — and hardly anyone outside the country noticed: For the first time in Western Europe, a government took power that advocates anti-immigration and anti-Islamization policies.
The government comprises two very different parties which together won 58 percent of the vote: The arch-establishment, very-mildly conservative Austrian People’s Party (Osterreichische Volkspartei, OVP) and the populist, firebrand Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Osterreichs, FPO) whose roots lie in the far-right swamp of German (not Austrian) nationalism.
The two parties’ coalition agreement is a counterjihadi’s dream. Distinguishing between Islamism (which it calls political Islam) and the religion of Islam, it boldly stakes out new ground:
“Austria guarantees freedom of belief and religion but fights political Islam. By political Islam we mean groups and organizations whose ideological foundation is Islam, and which seek to change the basic political and social order by rejecting our constitution and Islamizing society. Political Islam, which can lead to radicalization, anti-Semitism, violence and terrorism, has no place in our society.”
The agreement calls for implementation of this program “from the first day” with the goal of strengthening “Austrian values, traditions and culture.”
As someone who sees immigration and Islamization (hereafter, I&I) as the key issues in the West’s future, I traveled to Vienna to immerse myself in discussions about the hundred-day-old government fulfilling its grand anti-Islamist promises. A week later, I left Vienna nearly clueless. The topic has barely surfaced and little has so far changed. Indeed, no one I spoke with showed much interest in the issue.
Instead, I discovered, another issue generates passions; that would be the FPO’s inclusion in the government. This also has Europe-wide importance because it likely foreshadows future disputes over conservatives allying with populists in countries like France, Germany and Sweden. The FPO shares much with its European counterparts, even if (founded in 1956) it is the oldest such party and, uniquely, it has thrice before supported or joined in government coalitions (1970-71, 1983-86, 2000-06).
Those hostile to the FPO stress its Nazi origins, its “politics of resentment,” and its anti-Western outlook. Those friendly to it point to its accurate civilizational critique, its positive evolution, and the far greater danger of Islamofascism.
My assessment: The FPO brings realism, courage, extremism, and eccentricity; it has a way to go before it becomes just another party. Leadership’s efforts to address a problem like anti-Semitism (visiting Yad Vashem or calling for the Austrian embassy to be moved to Jerusalem) have gone down badly among rank-and-file members.
But I advocate working with the FPO, not marginalizing it, for four reasons.
First, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the German annexation of Austria, the 89-year-old Jewish artist Arik Brauer (who personally witnessed the 1938 Anschluss) said he is less worried about the idiotic anti-Semitic songs sung by members of university fraternities (the Burschenschaftern), which pose little threat to Jews, than by 250 million Arabs who want him “under the earth.” He’s right.
Second, a political party has no DNA or essence; it can change and be what its members make of it. (Note how the U.S. Democratic Party changed on the race issue.)
Third, parties focused on the I&I crises are rising in popularity across Europe because they represent an important and growing body of opinion. They cannot be waved away or ignored.
Fourth, the FPO and kindred parties have a vital role in bringing I&I issues to the fore: without them, other parties basically ignore I&I. I was told that the massive 2015-16 wave of immigrants through Austria means that a coalition agreement between the conservatives and the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Osterreichs, SPO), the third major player in Austrian politics, would have been precisely the same as the one quoted above. No way. Leftist parties remain not just in deep denial but often ally with Islamists. Austria’s conservative party only adopted policies on I&I to staunch its loss of votes to the FPO; further, it conceded the I&I portfolio to the FPO only in exchange for FPO acquiescence on the economic issues that concern it the most.
For all their shortcomings, parties focused on I&I are key to Europe remaining part of Western civilization. I&I are not only more urgent than neo-fascism, but the latter can rather easily be undone, while I&I lead to immense, unfixable, and permanent changes.
• Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.