Boo! Did I scare you? Good! We like scaring you here at Maclean’s. That’s why we like these rip-roaring cover stories: we hope that you’ll pick us up and read the calmer stuff inside too. That’s what we did last week with our cover photo of generic thugs in camouflage and berets, under the cover line THE RETURN OF FASCISM.
The cover pointed to a column by our Mark Steyn. And Mark’s column—well, it’s a bit of a mess. Here’s why.
The European Parliament’s largest bloc, after the centre-right and the socialists, is the “non-inscrits,” Mark notes. Their number has tripled to “just under a hundred” thanks, he claims, to the European elections of June 4-7. These non-inscrits “include”—handy word—one member of the “True Finns”; one from the Slovak National Party; two from the British National Party; two from the Austrian Freedom Party; and so on. “Many of these lively additions to the political scene,” Mark writes, “favour party emblems that slyly evoke swastikas.”
A hundred brand-new euro-deputies with swastikas? Goodness. Fortunately it’s baloney. There are indeed 93 non-inscrits. But not, for the most part, because of this election. Largely it’s because the 23-member Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty coalition fell apart in 2007. Fewer inscrits means more non-inscrits.
How many of the 93 are fond of swastikas? Mark’s itemized list identifies 19 out of 736 in the European Parliament. Let me tell you about the rest.
One, Élie Hoarau, is the leader of France’s Alliance des Outre-Mer. He’s a tweedy Communist from Réunion. One, Joe Higgins, leads Ireland’s Socialist Party. One is from Sweden’s Pirate Party, which supports free Internet file sharing. One of the British MEPs is an Ulster Unionist. Another is a Democratic Unionist, which is kind of the same. One, Indrek Tarand, is the host of Estonia’s version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Three are Austrians who campaign against expense-account abuse. One is a member of Spain’s Union, Progress and Democracy party, which opposes that country’s regional separatists and would have my vote if I were Spanish.
But while it’s fun to match Mark’s fascists against my harmless mavericks one by one, that ignores the party affiliation of the majority of the non-inscrits. Most come from the heart of the European mainstream. Nine are members of the Czech Republic’s governing Civic Democrat party. Twenty-one others belong to Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party. And 25 are members of David Cameron’s U.K. Conservatives.
These aren’t fascists.
Neither, in fact, are all of the 19 that Mark lists. Two belong to Latvia’s Civic Union party. Its leader is Sandra Kalniete. She was born in a Soviet labour camp in Siberia. A leading figure in the Latvian independence movement, she was her country’s ambassador to France, then its foreign minister. She was a European commissioner for agriculture. This magazine’s readership is larger than the population of Latvia, and I really wish Mark hadn’t used our pages to imply she is a fascist.
I count 67 non-inscrits who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called fascists. The rest, whom I can’t vouch for, amount to 3.5 per cent of the European Parliament’s members. Mark says the EU is “filled by ultra-nationalist xenophobes.” A pessimist says the glass is at least 96.5 per cent empty. An optimist says it’s full.
Surely one fascist is too many. But fascism can’t be “back” if it never went away. Steyn says the U.K. “crossed a dark Rubicon” by electing two British National Party members. Must be the same Rubicon it crossed in 1964, when Conservative Peter Griffiths won in Smethwick on the slogan, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” In 2002 Mark wrote a column about Austria’s extreme right winning 29 per cent of the vote. This year it was 18 per cent. If that’s the trend line I’ll take it.
But I have to ask. Since Mark is using Kalniete and Cameron and dozens of others to pad his brownshirt tally, perhaps he could define fascism in the modern European context. And tell us what he dislikes about it, if anything.
I ask because he says these groups are “culturally protectionist in a way the polytechnic left most certainly isn’t.” Whatever a polytechnic left is, Mark is clearly no fan. In an apparent reference to newspaper columnists, he complains about “delicate flower[s] shrieking ‘Racism!’ at every affront to the multiculti pieties.” Which ones? Is there a single columnist today for a large Canadian newspaper who shrieks about “racism” as frequently as Mark Steyn shrieks about Islam?
Mark blames the left’s hypersensitivity for driving “more and more of the European vote” to “fringe parties.” As examples he names Dutch documentarian Geert Wilders and the UK Independence Party. Yet he sees “nothing” to consign UKIP to the fringe “other than the blinkers of the politico-media class.” And he has written about Wilders many times, always supportively. Makes sense: they both worry about Muslims. In his film Fitna, Wilders displays a bar graph that shows 54 million “Muslims in Europe.” The number comes from the Central-Institute Islam Archive in Soest, Germany, which notes that only 14 million of those Muslims are in the European Union. Another 25 million are in Russia and 5.9 million in Turkey. When asked whether he wants Turkey in the EU, Wilders said, “No. Not in 10 years, not in a million years.” Yet he’s eager to put Turkey’s Muslims in his bar graphs. No wonder Steyn likes him. They’re both sloppy counters.