By Drashti Mehta
Special to The Chronicle
Students, faculty and attending guests gathered in Barnard Hall on Monday, Nov. 6, for the lecture “Abendland in Christian Hands – Right-Wing Politics and Religion in Contemporary Europe,” which discussed the role of Christianity in right-wing European politics. The lecture was delivered by Rosario Forlenza, a historian of 20th century European and international history and was sponsored by the European Studies Program.
“The focus will be on what has become in the last 10 years, the central trope, the central theme of European far-right politics – the discourse, narrative and rhetoric. The Euro-Christian identity, values and roots from the Islamization of the country,” Forlenza said.
“Right-wing politics, far-right parties and movement claim that migration from Muslim countries and the refugee crisis are threating Europe’s Christian roots, values and heritage; similar to the invasion of the Arabic armies of the Ottoman Empire in the seventh, eighth, 16th and 17th century. The bottom line of this narrative is that we must defend Europe as we once did in the past.”
According to Forlenza, the radical far-right has three defining characteristics: nativism, law and order and populism – the belief that the country is divided into “us and them,” pitting the public against the “elite” and the “insiders and outsiders.” Based on this definition, Europe currently faces a wave of populism targeting the Muslim community.
Forlenza discussed the re-surfacing of the German term “Abendland.” In actuality, the word simply means “The West.” However, in German speaking countries the far right has redefined it as “patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.” “The Abendland is the concept of Europe as a Christian dome politically and spiritually before the reformation,” Forlenza said.
Forlenza emphasized the impact that Swiss propaganda has on promoting Islamophobic, xenophobic and nationalist sentiments throughout the country. As an example, he presented a poster that depicted the Swiss Flag with minaret – a tall slender tower typically part of a mosque – piercing through the flag representing missiles. The flag also features a woman dressed in a hijab with “menacing eyes” and reads, “Stopp Ja zum Minarettverbot,” translating to “Stop, Yes to the Minaret ban.”
Junior political science major Nicholas Zotti found the poster to be particularly interesting. “One thing I noticed is that it’s happening unanimously throughout Western Europe. When he showed the poster with the minarets sticking out of the flag, I found it interesting that there was a Swiss version and a German version,”
Forlenza tied the current political trend back to a historical battle that shaped the Christian European nation. According to Forlenza, the anti-Muslim agenda in right-wing politics led to The Battle of Lepanto, Oct. 7, 1571, when the Christians defeated “Muslim Barbarians” and the belief that the country must be protected from Muslims.
Forlenza used the last moments of the lecture to explain why he finds this discourse to be confusing. “Religion as a whole is declining throughout the European Union. The discourse itself is full of inconsistencies and discrepancies, many – mostly Netherlands – puts Christianity and gay rights together, and many parties use egalitarianism while still advocating the ban of migrants. Many left parties have used this discourse to mainstream European politics,” Forlenza said. “However, Abendland does not have to mean xenophobia.”
Aleksandra Radeva, a sophomore double majoring in political science and global studies, was intrigued by the poltical climate of the time. “One interesting thing that I noticed because I’m Bulgarian, is that a Bulgarian right-wing party was on the list of rising importance so that was surprising and shocking for me because we don’t see this happening in our society,” Radeva said. “I think it’s a very important topic given what’s currently happening in Europe and as a European myself, it was very interesting to hear what’s happening in my country and the countries around me.”