Author: George Kitsaras
Psychologist, Doctoral Student at The University of Manchester


Identitarians are groups of radical right wing conservative movements around Europe that promote a different narrative from traditional right wing, conservative parties (The Economist, 2016). Formed through the New-Right movement in France (Nouvelle Droite) Identitarians promote a protectionism agenda of what they perceive as core European liberal values by targeting directly Islam and Muslims around Europe as the “enemy within”. Moreover, Identitarians (often called as “right wing hipsters”) see and promote themselves as a mixture of contradicting values and statements including the notion that they are patriots not nationalists, that they respect different cultures and religious (as long as they stay in their country) and that they have “zero percent racism and 100 per cent identity” (The Economist, 2016). Despite their marginal and obsolete, at present, presence in many European countries, Identitarians gain an ever-increasing support by mainly young and educated, predominantly white, people in countries such as Austria (see Identitaren Bewegung and Patriot movement), France (see Generation Identitaire and Block Identitaire), Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Slovenia, Italy, the UK (see Generation of National Identity) and beyond. Despite their current limited public support, political parties who share similar beliefs and political platforms in promoting the protection of European liberal values against the Islamization of Europe like the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) in the Netherlands have experienced dramatic surge in their share of votes and support making them the frontrunners in national elections.

Identitarian movements, in sharp contrast with traditional groups of the far-right and radical conservatism, appear not to share traditional right-wing narratives for example exclusion and targeting of LGBTQ+ people but instead they focus their entire campaign around a strong anti-Islamic rhetoric. By promoting what seems to be a progressive agenda with a clear well defined threat those movements have the potential to attract people from a wider pool of supporters. Additionally as a result of the recent refugee crisis, the strong sense of patriotism and nationalism cultivated across the continent and the desire of the public for tangible and immediate solutions to their difficulties (most of them arising from austerity and the financial crisis) the masses are eager to find their own “scapegoat” to blame for all their miseries and misfortunes, with Identitarians providing that “scapegoat” in the form of Islam and Muslims. The cumulative effects of those factors (broader seemingly progressive rhetoric, a well-defined enemy and the desire of the public to find their “scapegoat”) result in a potentially dynamic and sudden rise in the acceptance, representation and involvement of identitarians and their movement in public life.

With the dynamic of such movements established, it is crucial to examine an even more worrying and potentially existential threat arising from them. As discussed, groups like the “Identitarians” and the individuals involved in them act in effect as “protectors” of liberal European values. However, in reality those movements embed cover fascist, radical, conservative and non-tolerant ideology. Under certain circumstances, the purely and highly concentrated anti-Islamic agenda, in favor of protecting Europe’s liberal values, can evolve to a wider and more radicalized one. An agenda that targets and excludes groups initially “protected” and “supported”. From a broader psychosocial perspective, one can clearly see the faded yet present links between the tendency of being a member of such radical movements, the targeting and exclusion of what their members perceive as the “outsides” (the one’s who do not fit their subjective norm, the threat to their inner group and values) and the inherit trait of intolerance, obedience to authority and subsequent aggression and/or violence towards those targeted and excluded individuals and groups (Feshbach, 1987; Kosterman & Feshbach, 1989). In the case of Identitarians, as with every social group, there will be individuals who participate purely due to their belief in protecting what they perceive as liberal European values. However, once someone creates links with a group of people that shares and acknowledges his/her concerns while promoting a sense of belongingness then it becomes much more difficult to stay true to one’s initial beliefs and distant one’s self in the event where that group starts to develop more and more radical and excluding practices and ideologies (Tajfel & Turner, 2004).

Identitarians alongside other new-style right wing, conservative, populist movements, organizations and political parties across Europe posse a significant risk. Moreover, and as Druckman (1994) observes, “nationalism (and by extension patriotism) can be remarkably unifying across gender, class and political lines”.  Where progressive and liberal parties and organizations fail to showcase the need and the benefits of solidarity, inclusivity and equality those movements and groups will thrive. In the not so distant past, when around Europe radical right wing and fascist movements gained wider support and became the norm few people initially raised concerns allowing poisonous and devastating narratives to grow strong. Today in a volatile, angry and largely polarized environment it is pertinent for those who truly believe in the panhuman liberal and democratic values to be on alert and act against the ever increasing presence and establishment of dangerous yet attractive to a wider audience narratives and ideologies.


References

Druckman, D. (1994). Nationalism, patriotism, and group loyalty: A social psychological perspective. Mershon International Studies Review38(Supplement 1), 43-68.

Feshbach, S. (1987). Individual aggression, national attachment, and the search for peace: Psychological perspectives. Aggressive Behavior, 13(5), 315-325.

Kosterman, R., & Feshbach, S. (1989). Toward a measure of patriotic and nationalistic attitudes. Political Psychology, 257-274.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (2004). The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior.

The Economist. (2016). Meet the IB, Europe’s version of America’s alt-right. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21709986-france-austria-identitarian-movement-gives-xenophobia-youthful-edge-meet-ib