Friends and enemies

Filip Dewinter is chairman of the far-right Vlaams Belang (The Flemish Interest) party in Antwerp, Belgium. He has articulated policies such as segregation at public swimming pools “to decrease the number of young Arabs who try to take over the pools. I say there is a problem and that most of the people at these pools are young Arabs who make problems.”

Dewinter has transformed his party into a political force and reflects the increasing dislocation between the Muslim and non-Muslim population across Europe. Other parties in the country shun the group, citing racist material. Dewinter hopes the Jewish community will embrace and introduce him to the business world and legitimise his position. Is this a friend the Jewish people really want?

You be the judge:

“I’m interested in visiting Israel,” Dewinter tells Haaretz. “First of all, from a geopolitical point of view. We in Western Europe should realize that our allies are not in the Arab or Muslim world, but rather in Israel. This is not just because we have a common civilization and values, but also to balance out the Islamic forces in the Middle East that are getting stronger. The State of Israel is a sort of outpost for our Western society, an outpost of democracy, of freedom of speech, of protecting common values within a hostile environment. You are surrounded by Islamic states, some of them fundamentalist, which are interested in only one thing: to throw the Jews into the sea.

“I also think that Islam is now the No. 1 enemy not only of Europe, but of the entire free world. After communism, the greatest threat to the West is radical fundamentalist Islam. There are already 25-30 million Muslims on Europe’s soil and this becomes a threat. It’s a real Trojan horse. Thus, I think that an alliance is needed between Western Europe and the State of Israel. I think we in Western Europe are too critical of Israel and we should support Israel in its struggle to survive. I think we should support Israel more than we do because its struggle is also very important for us.”

He dismisses the far right’s association with neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism. “No, we want good relations with the Jews'”, he says. “We should distance ourselves from all of those individuals and groups with anti-Semitic tendencies and from Holocaust deniers. I have no connection with these things.”

Dewinter associates with anti-Semites, however, and the roots of the Flemish nationalist movement lie in collaboration with the Nazis.

The flag of Israel sits in his office. “You should know, the real enemies of Israel today are not on the right, but rather on the left: the socialists and the Greens,” he says. This sounds as ludicrous as Liberal Senator George Brandis who compared the Greens to the Nazis in late 2003.

Dewinter is opposed to Muslim women wearing headscarves in public – not worlds away from recent comments by local politicians – and finds multiculturalism offensive. “Multiculturalism is destroying the immune system of Europe,” he argues. “Multiculturalism and political correctness lead to extreme tolerance for everyone and everything. It destroys our ability to mount a counterattack.”

Such comments may seem like worlds away from Australia. Yet John Stone, former treasury secretary and National Party senator, was given open slather in Murdoch’s Australian in late July to call for an immediate halt to the “Muslim immigrant inflow”, the abolition of multicultural broadcaster SBS and “official multiculturalism policies [to] be abandoned outright.”

How far are Stone’s views from Dewinter? Not that far, I suspect. Our current political environment allows hard-won achievements to be questioned. Open and free debate is essential in a true democracy but criticism of Stone was muted. What kind of Australia was he imagining? If it’s anything like the “good old days”, presumably he’ll want men to only wear suits in public, abortion to be illegal and the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Australia has entered a dangerous phase in its history.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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