Notes From the Margins…

The Caliphate According to Saint Matteo

  • May 03, 2019
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The Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is a busy man.  With less than a month until the European Elections, he has been touring the continent to shore up the troops for the new nationalist/populist bloc that he and his cohorts are seeking to establish in the European Parliament

The far-right has tried this before.  In 2007 various far-right MEPs formed the bloc ‘called ‘Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS), based on a ‘shared commitment to Christian values…and the traditions of European civilization.’

This initiative fell apart within a few months, but these are different times, and Salvini has become the point man in the ongoing attempts by populist/far right parties across the continent to transform the EU into a ‘Europe of nations.’

One minute he’s sending a video message of support to  far-right leaders in gathered in Prague to prepare for the ‘battle of Europe.’  The next he’s schmoozing in Hungary with his pal Viktor Orban, pausing for photo ops at watchtowers and barbed wire fences.

As the elections get closer Salvini has cranked up the rhetoric.   On Sunday he told a regional election rally in Italy ‘Either Europe saves itself now, or it never will. Either we take it back, as we are doing with Italy, or it will become an Islamic caliphate with no hope or future.’

Yesterday, Salvini returned to the ‘caliphate’ theme at a press conference with ‘friend Viktor’.   Salvini urged voters across the continent to ‘leave the left out, who desire evil for Europe’ and warned

If the left continues governing Europe soon we are going to have an Islamic caliphate here.  For our children, to leave behind an Islamic caliphate where cities are governed by sharia law is not something I would like to do, and I am going to do everything in my power to prevent that.

Salvini’s ‘caliphate’ warnings are a variant on a well-established conspiracy theory/fantasy sometimes known as ‘Eurabia’, which has been propagated for many years across a wide spectrum that reaches from the far-right fringes to more mainstream commentators.

Its essential components are as follows: that Europe is committing cultural suicide by allowing the ‘mass immigration’ of Muslims into the continent, all of whom are intent on transforming the continent into an Islamic colony called Eurabia.

Ooh-er, you might say, and you’d be right, because this one zinger of a nutjob Islamophobic conspiracy theory, which has a number of quirks and variants.  Some say that Saudi Arabia or more generally ‘the Arabs’ are behind it.  Others say Eurabia is being orchestrated by a ‘supine’ EU in thrall to Arab money and oil.    Some describe that refugees are operatives in a ‘stealth jihad’ enabled by credulous leftists and do gooders, who aim to outbreed Europe into submission.

There are also those who say that Jews are behind it – don’t ask.

All agree that ‘Europe’ is in mortal danger, and that the Muslim population is inexorably growing while the European ‘Christian’ population is declining.  The numbers don’t bear out these dire prognoses.  According to a 2017 report from the Pew Research Center, there were 25.8 million Muslims in Europe in 2016, making up 4.9 percent of the total population of the continent.

Given that the current European population is just over 743 million, that demographic ‘conquest’ clearly has a lot of catching up to do.   Of course numbers – whether real or imagined – aren’t really the issue here.  In 1933 there were approximately 9.5 million Jews in Europe – a grand total of 1.7 percent of the total European population.  These numbers did nothing to diminish Nazi warnings of a Jewish plot to destroy ‘the Aryan nations of Europe’.

Where contemporary racist murderers like Anders Breivik depict Muslims as cultural barbarians, the Nazis depicted the Jewish ‘plot’ as a danger to ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation.’   Thus in a speech at Nuremburg in 1935, Goebbels described Bolshevism as

a declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself.  It is not only anti-bourgeois, it is anti-cultural.   It means, in the final analysis, the absolute destruction of all economic, social, state, cultural, and civilizing advances made by western civilization for the benefit of a rootless and nomadic international clique of conspirators, who have found their representation in Jewry.

Salvini’s ‘caliphate’ fantasies are very much within this rhetorical and political tradition.  His grim predictions are based on the perception of Muslims as malevolent cultural outsiders, intent on cultural and even political domination, aided by a decadent and degenerate left that has encouraged feminism and encouraged women not to have children.   Where the Nazis once depicted Bolshevism as part of a Jewish worldwide conspiracy,  Eurabian conspiracy theorists warn of a dark alliance between ‘cultural marxism’, Arab oil, feminism, and Islam that is leading inexorably towards the downfall of ‘Christian’ Europe.

Creating a far-right ‘populist’ bloc in the European Parliament may not seem quite as heroic as the Frankish troops who formed a ‘block of ice’ against Moorish raiders at Tours/Poitiers, but Salvini would have European voters that it is no less urgent


Away from the ‘battle of Europe’, Salvini’s Lega/Five Star coalition presides over a country that has experienced a shocking rise in racist violence since the new government came to power, where black pedestrians and migrant workers are shot at in broad daylight, where a Moroccan man was beaten to death,  a female Nigerian athlete was attacked in the street, and a Romani toddler was shot in her mother’s arms.

It is difficult to separate these developments from the state violence directed against migrants and refugees under the coalition, egged on by Salvini’s vicious invectives against refugees who ‘rape, steal and deal’ and who ‘aren’t fleeing from war but who are bringing war to our country.’  Salvini routinely claims to be defending ‘Christian values’ but last year, the Italian Bishops Conference criticised his government’s policies towards migrants, and noted a ‘climate of distrust, contempt and anger’ since his coalition came to power.

This is what Salvini has been doing to his own country, and now he and his fellow ‘populists’ are seeking to strengthen their movement by changing the balance of power in the European Parliament.  At his press conference Salvini exhorted Europeans to prioritise ‘ a European culture founded on Christian values’ and argued that ‘strong nation states’ were necessary to protect Europe’s borders against ‘the invasion of migrants.’

In fact the European Union and its member states have been doing a great deal to prevent this ‘invasion’, with dire consequences for tens of thousands of migrants who have attempted to cross its borders

But these efforts will never be enough for the Salvinis of this world.  Salvini promised that ‘May 27 will open the door to another kind of history for Europe and the people of Europe’ and that he would do everything to save Europe from the ‘sad end’ of a caliphate in Europe.

We already know what kind of history his ideological predecessors produced, and the fact that a powerful mainstream politician is openly endorsing the racist conspiracy theories of the far right should galvanise all those who believe in a different kind of Europe to do everything possible to ensure that he and his cohorts do not succeed this month.

Because no matter how bad the EU’s migration policies may be, he and his movements are a far greater threat to our common European home than the ‘caliphate’ ever will be.



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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