Claus Leggewie is a German political scientist and author. His latest publication Anti-Europäer [“Anti-Europeans”] studies the increasingly fragile state of the European Union as indicated by Greece’s financial crisis and the Union’s approach to refugee issues. At a time when radicalized voices from all backgrounds question European values, Leggewie examines what unites extremists of different convictions in their rejection of the EU. His book focuses on the examples of Norwegian terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik, jihadist Abu Musab al-Suri, and Putin advisor Aleksandr Dugin, among others.
Mr. Leggewie, Europe seems to be in shambles. The Brits quit the EU. Its remaining states are split on the issues regarding refugees. How about we start this conversation with a manifesto on the beauty of the European idea?
CLAUS LEGGEWIE: That would be exactly what we need right now. As important as it is to concern ourselves with the manifestos of anti-Europeans, it is also important to disregard them and present an alternative narrative of Europe that excites the people out there and gives them perspective.
Why do we need this?
So that we rid ourselves of the currently ubiquitous notion that Europe is in danger and going under – or, as the Right is saying, that Europe is decadent. We need a narrative that mobilizes and is grounded in the reality of Europeans’ lives.
What would this successful European narrative look like?
It would be the story of how we use the next two decades to build a sustainable Europe, one that is more socially just, that preserves and creates public spaces. One that demonstrates the advantages of
European urbanity practically, and what cultural pluralism looks like. A lot of that has existed for a long time. But we have to describe more precisely what we like about Europe, color its image so that it’s more durable and attractive to future generations. This especially relies on the help of the middle generation, who live and build Europe on a daily basis through their work, everyday lives, and their social engagement, so to speak, but who hardly communicate this to the outside.
This seems very hard at the moment. Those who are for the absorption of refugees are asked to justify their position. Those who want to help people in need have to defend their stance. The discourse is dictated by the Right.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The topic of refugees dominates media discourse and the fantasies of many Europeans, but there are other more important topics that include their integration and a wish to spell out our cultural pluralism. An attractive European agenda also answers open questions of integration, which are no less relevant to long-established inhabitants.
But how do you get a grip on xenophobic tendencies? Those that exist in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, as well as Germany and France.
If I knew the formula to that, I’d be the head of the EU commission. There is a grain of truth to this statement: People have realized that globalization wasn’t a one-way street. But trying to refute fear by making refugee issues our number one topic is not going to get us anywhere.
What do you propose?
We have to make clear that refugees are used by the European Right only as a smoke screen to articulate feelings of obsolescence, the loss of white dominance.
So one should talk more about social questions, and less about skin color and the resulting identities?
Exactly. Because long-established residents can’t find an apartment and a proper job either.
If you live in Germany and have dark skin, it’s hard not to talk about it. Racism just is present. Are you suggesting we ignore it?
No way. Refugees face special problems on the housing market, where non-white people are discriminated. At the same time, we have to study these problems in the context of social injustice, which in this case is the scarcity of the housing market. I just want to prevent people’s skin color or religious belief – the muslim faith, for example – from becoming an absolute and therefore sociologically inapplicable to other things.
Your book Anti-Europäer uses the manifesto of Anders Breivik, the right-wing extremist, anti-Islamic terrorist, and mass murderer from Norway, to show parallels to the new Right. Is that polemic? Are you trying to say, “Even this insane brain thinks like you?”
Comparing does not mean equating. If you read Breivik’s manifesto closely, only its second part is concerned with the logistics of a terrorist attack. The first part is a typical anti-Islamist text. You can hear the things he wrote in it reproduced in identitarian circles everywhere in Europe today. I am not implying that all identitarians are terrorists. But this fantasy of Umvolkung – and, deriving from that, of violent ethnic cleansing and exclusion – can be observed not only in Breivik’s writing, but across the whole right-wing intellectual spectrum. Of course, you see this also in the protests of Pegida, the marches on refugee homes.
Do you sometimes look at Europe and think, “Is the Right stupid to fantasize about purity here?” No other continent is so heterogenous.
The switch from questions of class and social politics to questions of identity – questions the social movements of the 1960s were motivated by – meaning, the switch from class analysis and class war to questions of “race-class-gender,” has become a problem now. The American philosopher Richard Rorty already warned of the identity circus of American academia, and the resulting political correctness, in the 90s.
What do you mean by that exactly?
Take immigrants, for example. At first, they were “foreign workers,” a term highlighting social aspects. Then, they were “Turks and Kurds,” which defined them by their nationality. Today, they are “Muslims,” defined by their faith. This way, versatile identities and an occasionally occurring sense of community are stylized into stiff “we”-doms. “Us” against “them.” For example: “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident,” Pegida. As if Christians were Christians only, and Muslims steadfastly bound to all who share their origin and faith.
Besides Breivik, you inspect Putin’s advisor Aleksandr Dugin, a self-described “Eurasian,” as well as jihadists like the Syrian Abu Musab al-Suri. What do they have in common?
The first two reference a movement of the conservative revolution of the 1920s and 30s – a time when liberalism and democratic community were also under fire and intellectual factions developed into fascism and National Socialism. All three place great political importance on geographic spaces. To them, community is not organized by constitution, constitutionality, or democratic participation, but by regionality. This is based on the idea that geographic location determines the political system. Therefore: Christian occident, Islamic caliphate, Eurasian autocracy. All three movements also share a re-sacralization of politics.
What do you mean by that?
All three reject the separation of religion and politics. Eurasians aim to strengthen orthodoxy, jihadists want a theocracy governed by Sharia law, and westerners want a Christian-dominated culture.
You write, “If these three protagonists were locked into a cell together, they’d be at each other’s throats.”
The problem is that if they didn’t kill each other, they would discover their fatal similarities in nightly conversations. Then we see the fourth battalion of anti-Europeans. Donald Trump does not utilize religious discourse, but rather authoritarian nationalism, which positions him very close to European autocrats like Le Pen, Orbán, or Putin. We Europeans need to wake up and put Europe’s enemies in their place.
Anti-Europäer is published by Suhrkamp (Berlin, 2016).
Interview: INGO ARZT & JAN FEDDERSEN