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Denmark's election a litmus test for Europe's far-right politics

Denmark's election Thursday is the first national poll in northern Europe to gauge appeal for radical politics since the Norway killings carried out by far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik.

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“The strength of the DPP,” says Copen­hagen-based anthropologist and media scholar Peter Hervik, speaking of the party that helped pass 49 laws restricting immigration and lately tried to engineer border-control stations in Den­mark, “is that the minority government is entirely dependent on it. What the DPP means when it opposes ‘multiculturalism’ is the presence of visible Muslims and migrants.”

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On Sept. 22, the London-based Chatham House convenes a meeting on the “Spread of Populist Extremism in Europe,” based on a year of investigations of radical right parties and movements in cities around the continent.

Today’s radical-right leaders are not swastika-carrying fascists. They are savvy and media-friendly. They hobnob with a “globerati” that see Islam as a totalitarian ideology bent on destroying the West. They prefer confrontation to compromise or dialogue; they often define political opponents as “enemies.” Most want to reduce or abolish the European Union. They form alliances with gay, feminist, and Jewish groups – unheard-of in the old right. They seek to channel public emotions and fears and speak for the common man.

“What about Somali or Arab families of eight that are on the dole?” asks a retiree at a working-class pub outside London – a sentiment echoed in Denmark and Holland. “Why are they here, and why are we paying?”

Right-wing extremists as celebrities

Some, like Dutch radical Geert Wilders, who wants to ban the Quran and is greatly admired by Breivik, exert a celebritylike pull. “He’s the only person my students want to talk about,” says Meindart Fennema, author of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a biography on Mr. Wilders.

Wilders, speaking last spring to the Magna Carta Foundation in Rome, cohosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, compared the spread of Islam and Muslims to the invasion of the barbarians, an infiltration not seen “until it was too late,” he said. “It is time to wake up. We need to confront reality and we need to speak the truth. The truth is that Islam is evil, and the reality is that Islam is a threat to us.”

So effective is the anti-Islam right wing that ahead of Thursday's elections the traditional left has scrambled to appear equally tough. The leader of the Socialist People’s Party in Denmark, Villy Sovndal, recently told off an Islamic leader in public, saying that socialists have “fought for freedom for 50 years, and I am so fed up with listening to extremist religious groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and their rubbish about no freedom.... They are a bunch of benighted, reactionary, religious relics of the past.”

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