Europe’s turn to the Right
A major shift after October 7
The street murals of Northern Ireland are one of the most fascinating visual displays of nationalism on earth, territorial markings that celebrate the symbols of the two tribes: for the Protestants, King William III and the men of the 36th Ulster Division who died at the Somme after being recruited from the original Ulster Volunteer Force; for Catholics, the martyrs of the 1916 uprising and the Christ-like figure of hunger striker Bobby Sands (and the, er, NHS).
In more recent years, new forms of tribal markings have appeared on Belfast’s streets, representing two sides of a conflict thousands of miles away, with Palestinian flags found in Catholic areas and Israeli colours in Protestant streets.
This is because in Ireland, and to a lesser extent Scotland, support for the two sides in the Middle East often divides along religious lines. For many Irish Catholics, the conflict in the Holy Land is seen through the lens of their own colonisation by the English, which also partly explains their deep hostility to Russia. For Ulster Protestants, the Israelis are another Biblical people defying terrorism.
Projected nationalism often plays a part in overseas conflicts, notable with the flag-waving over Ukraine, but the Middle East brings out a particular urge to pick a side. In one of the stranger images from the post-October 7 world, we even saw an American representative walking around the US Capitol dressed in the uniform of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Yet the side we pick can often seem arbitrary. Europeans have for decades been less pro-Israeli than Americans in this conflict, but as Aris Roussinos wrote the other day, ‘For the first time in my life, I think, US commentary seems more sympathetic to the Palestinian predicament than British.’ He puts this down to the increase in Islamist attacks in Europe, especially in France, which saw its own intifada in the 2010s, a wave of violence that began with Jewish targets.
Writing at UnHerd, Roussinos observed that dividing lines on the issue:
are largely arbitrary, in a manner that highlights the paradoxes and absurdities of both factions’ Western supporters. Just like Palestinian and latterly Kurdish nationalism for the Left, a bellicose pro-Israel stance is a Western conservative affectation hard to read as anything other than a proxy outlet for muscular nationalist emotions they shrink from feeling at home.
The millennial Left, meanwhile, generally hostile to the very notion of borders and welcoming to demographic change through mass immigration, strongly support the Palestinians’ claim to clearly defined, inviolable borders and their right to remain the demographic majority in their own homeland.
Indeed, framed in such terms, Palestine could just as easily be a Right-wing cause, a cautionary tale about the perils of mass immigration. The root of the Palestinian tragedy was, after all, the influx of Jewish migrants, many of them desperate refugees, which altered the country’s demographic balance irrevocably, and of which the establishment of the Jewish state was the natural historical result. Such a reading would easily lend itself to conservative fears over unchecked immigration, and as demographic anxieties become the central driver of European political discontent, younger Rightists could well, like the Nouvelle Droite of the Seventies, find themselves making sympathetic analogies with the Palestinian predicament.
Instead, British migration anxieties seem to have transferred themselves, in centrist discourse, to socially acceptable discomfort at pro-Palestine demonstrations in London and other British cities. Perhaps, along with Europe’s bloody decade of Islamist terrorism, this is the cause of eroding sympathy for Palestinians and growing self-identification with Israel among the commentary class. Centre-right commentators who a few weeks ago howled at the Home Secretary’s remarks on the failures of multiculturalism, expressing their satisfaction at Britain’s successful experiment with demographic change, now express horror at the results.
Western Europe has a far larger Muslim population than the US, but it is also considerably less middle class and moderate, and a cause of great anxiety. Even centrists who wholeheartedly support multiculturalism are alarmed by the overt menace towards the continent’s Jewish communities, although when this current war ends it may all be forgotten.
But perhaps not, and this represents a real change; after all, when Jewish newspapers have to be sent in plain packages, when Jewish schools are closed, when even book talks about the Holocaust require an armed guard, it is safe to say that ‘this isn’t working’.
Perhaps no visual image better captures this hopelessness than the Holocaust memorial being protected by rails, a representative visual failure of multiculturalism just as the Berlin Wall was for communism.
The atmosphere for Jews in Europe seems incredibly dark right now, but any analysis which laments rising anti-Semitism while ignoring the most overriding cause – immigration from the Islamic world – is simply avoiding the issue. That is why Jews are safer in Hungary than in France or Britain.
As Roussinos writes, this is leading to a shift among centrists, and the realisation that multiculturalism ‘means the cohabitation of social groups with passionate, often diametrically opposed, convictions about identity questions of the greatest significance, including ethnic conflicts in far-off lands.’