A Conversation with Øyvind Strømmen: Why does the Far-Right occupy so much of the online political space and how can Young Greens reclaim it?

Following his lecture to the wintercamp, which illustrated examples of far-right hate speech online, Beatrice White spoke to the Norwegian author to gain further insight into his ideas on the subject.

 

For Strommen, the historical development of the far-right discourse is a key to understanding the origins of their current messages. While previously much of this discourse was anti-Semitic in nature, in Western Europe, this gradually developed into a focus on migrants the alleged problems of immigration in general. It then became more and more specific about targeting Islam, and also began peddling conspiracy theories concerning a Muslim takeover. Strommen notes that there are striking parallels to be drawn here with the earlier anti-Semitic thinking, in terms of the supposed threat.

 The video – A Conversation with Øyvind Strømmen at the FYEG Wintercamp 2012

Strommen regards the Internet as first and foremost a tool, and one which the far-right has been very adept at using. Many on the radical right were quite early to realise the potential of the internet and to use this potential. It has played a central role in networking for them, although conflicting nationalisms sometimes prevents this networking from fulfilling its goals. Nevertheless it has been an important tool in the spread of ideological thinking and of ideas. In fact, quite a lot of the anti-Islamic thinking peddled by radical right-wing groups has origins in the US, some of it is loaned from Christian right, while other parts are loaned from other sources… Elements of all these different discourses are being repeated in Western Europe today.

This is a paradox, argues Strommen, since nationalists in different countries are often in conflict with each other (especially neighbours). Yet despite this we have been witnessing the development of a new pan-European nationalism – focusing on a European identity as opposed to a non-European, essentially Islamic, identity. According to Strommen, those ideas have managed to spread quite widely through the internet and between parties, and across countries.

Strommen points out how some of the imagery used by the far-right has appeared in similar forms in different countries. Posters used in one country are often then adapted and used by parties in other countries, although not necessarily with their approval. In this way, parties appropriate the symbolism for their own case. An example of this is the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) election poster portraying 3 white sheep kicking out a black sheep – which is almost identical to poster used by German National Democratic Party, NPD (see images). Strommen believes that it is not likely that the parties have a very close relationship – far from it, yet this example shows how visual ideas spread and are picked up and used outside their national contexts.

So how can we Young Greens turn things around and reclaim the online space? Strommen says that the most important feature of internet politics is that enables you to meet people, to network across borders. This enables a platform for ideological development across borders in a way that hasn’t been possible before, without having to physically go to conferences, meetings in other countries, for example. He argues that the fact that Greens have not been as successful as the radical right in using the internet as a tool is paradoxical because Greens are an internationalist movement with internationalist values while the far-right are fundamentally nationalist. Therefore, Greens need to be much more active in using social media not only within our own national contexts but also to network across borders.

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