The Great Replacement
The term ‘The Great Replacement’ rose to new prominence when a deeply controversial French philosopher, Renaud Camus, used it for the title of his book published in 2011 (see Onnerfors in this volume). Camus mainly focused on France, but he argued that European civilisation and identity was at risk of being subsumed by mass migration, especially from Muslim countries, and because of low birth rates among the native French people. Camus became one of the most influential thinkers of the French Identitarian movement. The movement has been one of the most fast-growing amongst Neo-Nationalists, rooting in countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the UK (Bergmann, 2020).
It found support widely in Europe and was, for instance, entangled in the more general White Genocide conspiracy theory, which nationalist far-right activists have upheld on both sides of the Atlantic (Ibid). Many of them maintain that immigrants were flocking to predominantly white countries for the precise purpose of rendering the white population a minority within their own land or even causing the extinction of the native population. In the years that followed, the importance of identity started to grow and came to define much of the sociocultural conflicts in Europe. Gradually, the fear of replacement began to focus mainly on Muslims.
Numerous Neo-Nationalist leaders in Europe have since promoted this replacement theory, for example by nurturing the myth that migrants - especially Muslims - were taking over our national soil and heritage. This fear was for instance fuelled by Geert Wilders of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, ‘Freedom Party’) in the Netherlands, who claimed that immigration was the greatest threat facing the European culture (quoted in Bergmann, 2020). He said that if
Europe failed to defend against these malignant forces, that would be because it no longer believed in the superiority ofits own civilisation. On Twitter, Wilders (2017) wrote: ‘Our population is being replaced. No more’. Wilders linked his words to a video clip on his Twitter page showing Muslims dominating the streets in Amsterdam. The video was titled ‘Is this Iran or Pakistan? No, this is Amsterdam, the Netherlands’.
After pointing to this external threat to the nation, Wilders - in a classic move of Neo-Nationalism - turned to accusing the domestic elite:
In the Netherlands we are dealing with a social elite who are undertaking, what I call, an attack on the nation state, who undermine the Netherlands, who are hostile to the Dutch identity - hence multiculturalism, open borders, the European Union.
(Duyvendak and Kesic, 2018)
This is but one example of many similar moves made by several Neo-Nationalist leaders in Europe indicating that Europe is facing a hostile Muslim takeover. In Austria, H. C. Strache of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, ‘Austrian Freedom Party’) wrote that the Great Replacement has already taken place under mainstream governments (Bergmann, 2020). In Belgium, Dries Van Langenhove of the Vlaams Belang (VB, ‘Flemish Interest’) has claimed, ‘we are being replaced’ (Davey and Ebner, 2019).
Sometimes, these once marginalised views are adopted by mainstream actors. One example of that, for instance, came before the 2017 General Election in the Netherlands, when the centre-right Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, took out advertisements in several national newspapers where he criticised immigrants who refused to align with Dutch society. One line read ‘Act normal or go away’. The aim was obviously not solely to convince Muslims in the Netherlands to change their ways. Rather, the purpose was to reassure voters that they could trust Rutte to stand firm on migration and that there was, thus, no need to support Wilders in order to take a tough stand on immigrants (Fekete, 2018). Similar moves have been seen within the Social Democratic Party of Denmark under the leadership of Mette Fredriksen (see Bergmann, 2020).
Before further exploring the significance of the Eurabia conspiracy theory in European politics - i.e. the insistence that Muslims, with the support of domestic elites in Europe, are plotting to turn the continent into an Islamic society - I further discuss some the most influential literature that has underpinned its potency.