Important insights on Europe’s new extremists

José Pedro Zúquete, The Identitarians: the movement against globalism and Islam in Europe, Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame IN, 2018, pp. xviii and 466

Reviewed by Rob Grigorjevs

This book is a well-timed and informative look at a group of people who call themselves Identitarians (IDs). This term encompasses adherents of a broad spectrum of views, theories, opinions and historical ‘analysis’: they come from what is generally considered the extreme right.

The context for the Identitarian movement is that we live in a ‘tech savvy’ world where anyone can instantly express a view or post a video and it can be seen by millions of people all over the globe. The ease of accessibility and use of the internet and social media ensures that movements such as the IDs can gain traction very quickly and shift the political discourse to create a new zeitgeist. They have both made use of and contributed to the fact that the post-war centre-ground political consensus has been eroded to the point where the ‘old order’ and ‘establishment’ are increasingly delegitimised and railed against.

This febrile environment is one where extreme groups such as the IDs flourish. They have fuelled, latched onto and magnified the sense of disgruntlement, disenchantment, disenfranchisement felt by many people across Europe.

Zúquete’s book describes the historical development of this movement and provides thorough detail of the people who have propagated these views (mostly) across mainland Europe (especially in France and Italy). He eloquently outlines the originating premise of the ID movement. This essentially states that Europeans (i.e. ‘traditional white Europeans – Greek, Latin, Celt, Iberian, Slavs’) are ‘under threat’ and ‘declining rapidly’ due to liberalism, immigration, migration, falling birth rates, globalism and US imperialism. Their (white) European identity is based on a notion of biological purity related to ‘blood and soil’.

This notion is the focus for differences within the ID movement, and for some generational friction. New/young proponents such as Martin Sellner (the young, well-educated Austrian) have tried to disassociate themselves from what they see as outdated and basically racist views held by the old guard.

The ‘new’ IDs focus on cultural differences rather than biological ones. They have used social media to carry out very high profile ‘stunts’ (such as the scaling of the Brandenburg Gate) to raise their profile and attract (mainly young) people to their cause. This emphasis on ‘action’ and not ‘words’ is seen as a key development and an important reason for their increasing popularity.

Zúquete considers the way IDs present historical events such as the fall of the Roman empire, the fall of Carthage, the record of the city state of Sparta, and the Battle of Poitiers in 732AD. This was where the Frenchman Charles Martel defeated the Moors and is seen to have halted the spread of Islam in Europe. The IDs ‘analyse’ such episodes to reinforce their message that when Europeans have previously been ‘under attack’ they have (against all the odds) ‘won’ and defeated the ‘invaders’.

They cite figures such as Renaud Camus, a nationalist conspiracy theorist who proposed that there is a ‘Great Replacement’ taking place in Europe (via immigration and more specifically Muslims). A ‘great mixing’ of the races supposedly ‘dilutes’ the ‘traditional (white) European race’ and results in a ‘soft genocide’. The more insidious aspects of this theory lead some in the movement to believe that Islam/Muslims (who are treated as homogeneous) are trying to take over Europe via ‘Taqiyyah’, which is described as a pre-determined, proactive policy to destroy European civilisation from below/within. As a result, IDs see Islam not as a religion but rather as a pernicious and evil political/social doctrine.

Zúquete goes on to outline that not only do IDs believe that ‘traditional’ European culture/civilisation is being eroded/replaced, but also that this process is being enhanced and exacerbated by the establishment and ‘elites’ who actively adopt liberal policies of integration and multi-culturalism. This is compounded by ‘globalism’ and US imperialism, which promotes the free movement of labour to meet the demands of the market. The final nail in the coffin, as far as IDs are concerned, is the apathy and faint-heartedness of most Europeans to stand up to this ‘onslaught’. As a result, the IDs claim we have forgotten how to love our ‘own’ and have become docile ‘wildebeests’.

Zúquete shows how IDs believe all these factors have formed a ‘perfect storm’ and pose an existential threat to Europe which is going to result in the collapse of civilisation as we know it. They believe they are under threat and there is a coming war/apocalypse that must be prepared for and countered. It is the role of the IDs to ‘re-awaken’ the European race so that they will pick sides and fight for their very survival. The author points out how the IDs reference dystopian fiction that warns unless (violent) action is taken immediately, Europe will end up as a lawless/anarchic continent a la Mad Max.

As stated above, for the younger IDs the solution is to use the internet/social media to mobilise the population (especially the young) into ‘guerrilla’, ‘low cost terrorism’ to prick the consciousness of people and ultimately bring down the ‘establishment’.

To avoid the impending ‘Eurocalypse’, Europeans are encouraged to mobilise (and the rise in the popularity of far-right parties in most countries is taken as potential sign that this is happening) and to organise with the ultimate solution being a federalised de-centralised Europe operating from Lisbon to Vladivostok, populated by ethnically related people.

In reading this book, I noted a range of inherent flaws, contradictions and inconsistencies in the ID viewpoint:

1) The notion of ‘European’. What does ‘European’ actually mean? Where does it start and where does it end? Are the Turks Europeans? The ID notion of traditional Europe is essentially a ‘white’ homogenous Europe. But it is clear that Europe and indeed the history of human civilisation across the globe is fundamentally a story of invasion, movement and migration. DNA testing has clearly demonstrated all humans are of mixed race. Moreover, the Europeans who the IDs idolise have spent most of their history fighting each other. These differences have been long standing, and very violent at both a national and international level, and recent history shows they have not gone away, e.g. the violent conflicts during the break-up of Yugoslavia, and in Northern Ireland.

2) The relationship the IDs have with the US. They seem to admire the ‘alt-right’ and Trumpism for ‘making America great again’ but do not question what this actually means. Does it mean a more globalist, imperialist regime that undermines the traditional Europe they so cherish? Similarly, their approach to the EU is a little baffling because it is not seen as one of the great achievements of the post war era that has unified and promoted European interests, but rather as it is seen as part of the global US economic system that prevents Europe from flourishing.

3) The relationship with Christianity. IDs cite and invoke a history in which Christianity has been used as a vehicle to attack Islam (they cite Pope Innocent and the crusades), However, the fact that Christianity promotes acceptance, tolerance and co-existence is a problem for them. As with extreme Islamists and the Quran, they seem to cherry pick the messages from the religion that promote their pre-determined narrative.

4) Attitudes to Muslims/Islam. Although Islam/Muslims supposedly pose an existential threat to Europe, the IDs at the same time seem to laud/support their protectionist outlook that seeks to preserve traditions and culture and not to engage in the immoral acts of western (European) societies. In this way, the IDs express respect and admiration for the object of their fear and loathing.

5) Attitudes to women/sexuality. The ID outlook seems to be inherently sexist and sees the supposed ‘feminisation’ of European societies as a fundamental weakness.

Zúquete’s comprehensive analysis highlights how what were once seen as views from the ‘loony right wing’ have now become part of mainstream political agendas. There is no doubt that many of the grievances propagated by IDs resonate with communities across Europe, who feel they have been let down by the ‘elites’ and are suffering economically.

IDs are often mentioned in the mainstream press and on social media, and Zúquete’s account provides an extremely insightful analysis of this extreme right-wing movement, where it has come from, how it has developed and how it operates. It is a comprehensive, detailed and easy to read. It is an interesting read per se, but is particularly of use to practitioners who work in the field of counter terrorism and who work with communities to develop counter narratives to the extreme right. That said, readers should be warned that the book does sometimes feel a bit lengthy/repetitive, and Zúquete ‘jumps around’ between authors/countries, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of how it all fits together. Nevertheless, The Identitarians is an important resource.

We now have generations of people who have no concept of war (except on TV or an Xbox), and who have not had to want for anything, and do not realise what it is like to live in fear. This book certainly makes you seriously think about what is happening in the world in light of Trump, Brexit and the unstoppable influence of the internet/social media. The evidence of widespread disenfranchisement and general disaffection with the existing order seems to be there. The approach which the IDs put forward (as with all extremist theories) is based upon ‘us and them’ and a demonization of the ‘other’. This makes their ‘theories’ simplistic and (worryingly) very easy to comprehend. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to foresee a future where a charismatic leader from a movement such as the IDs could play a destructive role in the breakdown of the existing (largely consensual) order. History dictates that people should be very very careful what they wish for.

Review published August 2019

About the reviewer. Rob Grigorjevs has worked in local government on the counter-terrorist agenda for over a decade. From 2015 he was a Prevent Co-ordinator in a national ‘priority area’ in northern England. He has worked with front-line practitioners and community members to raise awareness, build resilience and develop counter-narratives to all forms of extremism.