History often throws up strange ironies but perhaps in this current period few are as strange as the march of the far right in Europe. It is, after all, a continent that only a generation ago was burnt to ashes by the followers of a far-right, racist ideology. Never again became the motto of the 20th century after the Nazis slaughtered millions in what was arguably the worst genocide in human history.
The episode has shaped Europe's political psyche for the past 70 years. The European spirit was cultivated through its opposition to racism and ethnic nationalism. Europe vowed never to allow its citizens to be exploited again by irrational fear and hatred of its minorities; never again would Europe become the soil on which demagogues were permitted to cultivate the politics of hate, division and ethnic nationalism.
These promises, upon which post-war Europe was built, are now facing their biggest challenge, Generation Hate, a new two-part documentary on the far right across the continent, has revealed. The enemies within the gates who seek to undermine modern Europe's foundations are familiar foes; racist ideologues who wish to return to an imagined European past populated solely by white and supposedly ethnically pure Europeans.
Al Jazeera TV's Investigative Unit went undercover to reveal the secret links between violent extremists on the far right and one of France's biggest political parties, the National Front (NF). Marine Le Pen, the party's leader, changed the name of the NF recently — to National Rally — as part of her efforts to reform its image and make it more acceptable to French voters and thus electable. However, Al Jazeera uncovered close connections between senior politicians in Le Pen's party and members of a group campaigning on a far-right ticket in various European capitals, including London, to expel Muslims and immigrants from the continent.
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Details uncovered by Al Jazeera's two-part documentary are as shocking as they are disturbing. The undercover team followed members of a group known as Generation Identity (GI), a far-right youth movement dedicated to expelling Muslims from Europe. GI militants were filmed secretly carrying out racist beatings and giving the Nazi salute.
Part 1 of the documentary broadcast last Sunday centred on the Citadelle, a nightclub owned by Aurelien Verhassel, the leader of the GI branch in the French city of Lille. Verhassel has convictions for violent behaviour but is still allowed to recruit far-right activists to work in political posts for Le Pen's party. Elected members of the National Front/National Rally in the European Parliament have also been caught on camera by Al Jazeera declaring their support for GI and its anti-Muslim policies.
The members of GI have one thing in common; they see themselves as Crusaders defending Europe against Arabs and Muslims. Their main goal should they ever get in power anywhere is to drive through a repatriation policy to send all non-white Europeans "back" to their "country of origin", even if they have been born and raised in Europe. GI members are also ready to use violence as a means to achieve their goals, and boast about underground militias that are being formed to advance their radical agenda.
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Membership of Generation Identity has tripled in the past year and branches have been set up in Italy, Austria, Germany and Britain. The organisation carries out most of its operations undercover, while maintaining a facade of respectability in public. GI members are aware that marginalisation would deny them access to power or the chance to advance their ideology. Their strategy is to remain sensitive to European history of fascism and present the cleanest image possible. The ultimate goal, they confess, is to make fascism "cool" in the public arena through others means.
GI leaders were filmed by Al Jazeera discussing being armed and prepared for a civil war once their patrons win power. The militants described plans to kill Muslims indiscriminately in a market. Undercover reporters exposed the deep links between the NF and the GI, despite repeated pledges by Le Pen to remove fascist elements from her party and turn its back on racism. GI members, for example, were alleged to be writing speeches for senior members of the NF — which went to the wire in the 2017 French elections — and providing security to party leaders. Far-right activists also boasted of providing security for Marine Le Pen herself.
With the far right mobilising in Europe in a manner unseen since the 1930s — and we all know how that ended — Al Jazeera's exposé of this dangerous phenomenon is essential viewing for everyone fearful of the current direction of politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The broadcaster's investigative team has once again carried out the kind of public service that has been neglected of late by too many mainstream news agencies whose job it is, surely, to uncover the threats posed to peace and democracy by people holding such extreme views.