What does joining the Radical Right entail for a Christian? Hint: Religious Moderation
Metin Koca, ERC PRIME Youth Project Post-Doc Researcher, European Institute, Istanbul Bilgi University
September 13, 2021
The relationship between religiously motivated violence and religious value expressions remains understudied. This link is often assumed to be self-explanatory in the politics of Muslim (de)radicalization. For example, in France, illiberal value expressions—from burkini to refusing handshaking—are held responsible for creating an atmosphere of “separatism” conducive to violent extremism.[i] Populist Radical Right movements push for similar policies by referring to the irreconcilable “Islamic” and “Western/Judeo-Christian” values.[ii] However, the values that they keep for themselves hardly include conservative Christians’ “non-negotiable moral issues.” These campaigns against Muslim radicalization ultimately promote a religious moderation that transcends Islam. I argue that a critical question is the direction of this moderation for Christians, especially in the context of multiple religiosities in Europe.
While feeding debates over Islamic exceptionalism, the accompanying political climate hides how the dispute goes beyond the values specific to conservative Muslims. In support of the proposals against “Radical Islam,” many religiously conservative Catholics in France withdraw their criticisms regarding the line they see between freedom of expression and insult. Some put aside their concordat proposals and surrender to the laïc regime, although they do not appreciate it. Conservative Calvinists in the Netherlands refrain from being on the same side as conservative Muslims, even regarding traditional family values against abortion or same-sex marriage. Alienating the Muslim camp may have become a way for them to shield themselves in an increasingly non-religious and remarkably anti-Muslim political landscape in Europe.
What brings together these individuals in our sample in the PRIME Youth Project is their acceptance of a Populist Radical Right outlook. This outlook includes an exclusionary kind of nationalism, called nativism,[iii] and, in some cases, the rendering of Christianity as identity instead of faith and values.[iv] Like the rest of the Populist Radical Right, they oppose the presence of Islam in Europe on account that it produces violence, segregation, and conflictual civilizational or cultural identities. Nevertheless, they also have to make concessions on their religious value expressions to join the ‘Western Front’ against the perceived threat of Islam.
Christian conservatives’ belief system is not what the Populist Radical Right understands as Christianity. According to the Populist Radical Right dictionary, Islam poses the ultimate threat to the “Judeo-Christian” West. Despite its religious connotation, many of its flag carriers refer to “Judeo-Christian values” as a basis for the definition of secularism(s) in Europe.[v] Blending Christianity, Humanism, and Judaism in itself, this marker designates a vow to protect a liberal-secular order rather than a religious one.[vi] As such, it indicates the re-emergence of Christianity as a cultural rather than religious phenomenon.[vii] Therefore, except in Poland, the Populist Radical Right movements have not challenged the post-1960s achievements of liberalism (e.g., abortion, sexual liberation, same-sex marriage).[viii] The Christianity of the Populist Radical Right means embracing identitarianism at the expense of value politics, reproducing nativism at the cost of Christian universalism and the pro-migrant "love thy neighbor" teaching, and reducing religious symbols into cultural ones in the public sphere.
Given that the moderation process is not always smooth for religiously conservative Christians, I also seek various feelings of social isolation that accompany this process. The lack of fellow believers in Europe, the anti-theist claims, racism, paganism, and secular imaginations of nativism in the Populist Radical Right are possible reasons for isolation. In this state of isolation, religiously conservative Christians who joined the Populist Radical Right camp often recall religious values as lamented, lost ideals.
Is religious moderation always desirable, and whose desire is it that matters in such calculations? In the study of radicalization, we tend to presume that moderation is productive and desirable. The prevalent confusion between violent and non-violent forms of radicalization precludes the imagination of different compositions of radicalism instead of the religious moderation recipe. While promoting a drift towards the center, the vital question from a governance perspective is what lies in the center of the political spectrum. Perhaps an elegant way to conclude from here is referring to the lyrics of a song by Andrew Bird: “I am all for moderation, but sometimes it seems moderation itself can be a kind of extreme.”
[i] Tina Magazzini, “Radicalisation and Resilience Case Study: France” (European University Institute, 2020), p19.
[ii] see the long-term campaigns such as “fit in or leave” in Belgium, “the time for a liberal Jihad” in the Netherlands, “we want a united country” in Sweden, and the remigration campaign of Generation Identity.
Anna Triandafyllidou, European Muslims: Caught between Local Integration Challenges and Global Terrorism Discourses (JSTOR, 2015), p44-45.
Thomas Sealy and Tariq Modood, “Radicalisation and Resilience Case Study: Belgium” (European University Institute, 2020), p11.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, “Het Is Tijd Voor Een Liberale Jihad,” NRC Handelsblad 12 (2003).
Danielle Lee Tomson, “The Rise of Sweden Democrats: Islam, Populism and the End of Swedish Exceptionalism,” Brookings, March 25, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-rise-of-sweden-democrats-and-the-end-of-swedish-exceptionalism.
Andrea Schneiker, “The New Defenders of Human Rights? How Radical Right-Wing TNGOs Are Using the Human Rights Discourse to Promote Their Ideas,” Global Society 33, no. 2 (April 3, 2019): 149–62, https://doi.org/10.1080/13600826.2018.1546673.
[iii] Ayhan Kaya, Populism and Heritage in Europe: Lost in Diversity and Unity (Routledge, 2019).
C. Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 2007).
[iv] Olivier Roy, Is Europe Christian? (Oxford University Press, 2020).
Nicholas Morieson, Religion and the Populist Radical Right: Secular Christianism and Populism in Western Europe (Vernon Press, 2021).
Anna Triandafyllidou and Ruby Gropas, “European Identity - European Identities,” in What Is Europe? (Macmillan International Higher Education, 2015), p117.
[v] Rebecca Wenmoth, “The European Myth of Judeo-Christian Values,” The New Federalist, September 11, 2021, https://www.thenewfederalist.eu/the-european-myth-of-judeo-christian-values.
[vi] Tjitske Akkerman, Sarah L. de Lange, and Matthijs Rooduijn, Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe: Into the Mainstream? (Routledge, 2016), p35.
Hans-Georg Betz and Susi Meret, “Revisiting Lepanto: The Political Mobilization against Islam in Contemporary Western Europe,” Patterns of Prejudice 43, no. 3–4 (July 1, 2009): 313–34, https://doi.org/10.1080/00313220903109235, p333.
[vii] Hans J. P. Vollaard, “Re-Emerging Christianity in West European Politics: The Case of the Netherlands,” Politics and Religion 6, no. 1 (March 2013): 74–100, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755048312000776.
[viii] Olivier Roy, Is Europe Christian? (Oxford University Press, 2020), p118.