The next EU president wants Muslims to be banned. Why are Cameron, Merkel and Hollande silent?
Which way should British Muslims vote in the EU referendum? It shocks and worries me that I am having to ask this question at all.
I believe that British politics have benefited profoundly from the absence of the faith-based pattern of voting that has long applied in some other countries.
Unfortunately British Muslims have no choice. They need to ask whether it is safe for them to remain part of a European Union which is being steadily captured by anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred.
The latest example of this dangerous trend concerns the dreadful remarks made two weeks ago by the Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico. "Islam" declared Fico, "has no place in Slovakia".
Fico made clear that he was not calling for a secular Slovakia. He wants to keep Muslims out as part of what looks and sounds very much like a crusade for a Christian Slovakia - and by extension a Christian Europe.
Fico was not talking out of turn. He was reiterating comments he had already made during his general election campaign earlier this year. Fico thinks that "multiculturalism is a fiction," says that he is "monitoring every Muslim in our territory," and refuses to take Muslim refugees under the EU quota system.
This is not just deeply troubling in itself. It is of much more than local significance.
This is because Fico is set to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in three weeks' time.
Throughout the second half of 2016 he will be able to direct the trajectory of the European Union, make decisions about legislation, and set the tone for the EU as a whole.
Let’s put it another way. From 1 July, the man in charge of the European Union will be a rancid Islamophobic bigot set on keeping Muslims out of his country.
One would have expected this to cause deep anger and revulsion inside the EU. Yet this is not the case. Astonishingly Fico’s remark that "Islam has no place in Slovakia" has been met by silence.
There has been no word of complaint from Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande – or, so far as I can discover, by any other European leader.
David Cameron has said nothing.
I am fairly confident that the British prime minister does not have private sympathies with Fico’s views. However, let’s not forget that when Cameron notoriously accused British Muslims of being sympathetic to the Islamic State militant group, he did so at a "security summit" in Bratislava, standing alongside Fico.
This collective silence from the EU leadership is deafening. One need only imagine the denunciations that would be pouring on Fico’s head had he asserted that Jews, homosexuals, gypsies - or any other minority – had no place in his country.
This collective failure to condemn Fico makes other European leaders morally complicit in his anti-Muslim rant.
Fico’s remarks are just a symptom of a far larger pan-European problem. The outlook for Muslims across large parts of the continent is grim.
The Czech President Milos Zeman has claimed that it is "practically impossible" to integrate Muslims into the Western world.
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban opposes refugees on the grounds that he wants to keep Europe Christian.
In Austria the hard right, anti-Muslim Austrian Freedom Party came within an ace of taking power earlier this year.
Bear in mind that there are more far-right MEPs in the European Parliament (once you add together Golden Dawn, Geert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom party, France’s Front National and the Swedish Democrats) than there are British Conservatives and Labour MEPs put together.
Bear in mind that Marine Le Pen – who notoriously compared Muslims praying in the streets to the wartime Nazi occupation of France - is on course to perform very strongly in next year’s French presidential elections.
Remember that Alternative for Germany (AfD) – a group which the Conservatives were until recently in coalition with in the European Parliament – has adopted an anti-Islamic manifesto in next year’s German elections.
For the last thousand years or longer, anti-Semitism has been the original sin of Europe, with pogroms, discrimination and ghettoisation, culminating in the horror of the Holocaust.
Today, anti-Semitism remains a live and very nasty problem (just think of the history of the French Front National or the hideous backstory of the Austrian Freedom Party) and we must be constantly alert. But anti-Muslim bigotry has also emerged with real virulence.
It has become so common that it is actually taken for granted, as the deafening silence in response to Fico’s remarks show.
Let’s return to the question I posed at the start of this article. It needs to be acknowledged at once that there are troubling elements in the Vote Leave camp.
Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, one of the outstanding figures in the Leave campaign, is Britain’s most senior Muslim basher.
Gove has never made any remark remotely as hateful as Robert Fico’s recent contribution. Nevertheless he is one of a small group of intellectuals around David Cameron who have made the case for the non-violent extremism strategy. Transmuted into Prevent, it has caused traumatic damage to community relations.
Meanwhile Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party has far too often been guilty of stirring up hatred against Muslims.
Gove and Farage haven’t condemned Fico’s revolting comments any more than David Cameron or Angela Merkel. Muslims have every reason to feel very nervous of both of them.
Yet in Britain we are protected by the rule of law. At heart we are still a decent, tolerant country, the reason why never in history has an MP representing a fascist party been elected here.
We have an ancient tradition in Britain called parliamentary sovereignty. That means we can elect our own leaders. We then hold them to account. When we are sick and tired of them we kick them out.
The trouble is that decent British people can’t say no to Fico. We didn’t vote for him. We can’t vote him out. Like it or not the anti-democratic European system means that this disgusting bigot is our president for the next six months.
Something dark is at work across the continent. Bear in mind that the euro operates as a gigantic job destruction machine, wiping out industries and even whole national economies. In these desperate circumstances of economic destitution bigotry thrives and politicians like Fico, Wilders, Orban and others flourish.
I suspect that is why so many senior British Muslim politicians are backing Brexit. Syed Kamall, leader of the European Conservatives and the most senior elected British politician in Brussels, wants to pull us out of the EU.
So does Nusrat Ghani, the first female Tory Muslim MP.
As I said at the start of this article, religion should have nothing at all to do with political choices in a modern democracy. Unfortunately Muslims cannot afford in the current environment to take only secular considerations into account. They know that parts of Europe are taking a very ugly direction.
Muslims have a great deal to ponder as they prepare to vote on British membership of the EU on 23 June.
- Peter Oborne was named freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A photo illustration showing the flags of the European Union and the United Kingdom, created on 20 May 2016 in Lille, France (AFP).