The Hungarian far-right and Islam

Traditionally, Hungary’s extreme right was not openly Islamophobic. In fact, the Hungarian right-wing in general tended to differ markedly from conservative politicians in North America and much of western Europe in its support for Palestinian nationhood and its criticism of Israel. At the time of the war with Hezbollah back in 2006, I wrote a response to a piece published in Magyar Nemzet, which resulted in a brief public exchange with a prominent Hungarian publicist.  I had long suspected that the Hungarian right’s attitudes towards Islam, Israel and Palestinians specifically, was more a result of inherent, knee-jerk antisemitism, rather than genuine concern for Palestinian human rights.

But times are certainly changing and the Hungarian right’s fascination with, and  relative respect for, Islam is coming to an end, perhaps as a result of the Charlie Hebdo killings in France earlier this year and maybe even more so due to the large waves of Muslim refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan, and arriving in Hungary by the hundreds each day. Less than two years ago, in 2013, Jobbik leader Gábor Vona referred to Islam as “the last hope for humankind, in the darkness of liberalism and globalization.” He added: “A single culture tries to preserve its heritage, and this is the Islamic world.” For many years, the Hungarian right saw in Islam the antithesis of everything and everyone they hated: Jews, liberals, atheists, urbanites, Americans and westerners, in general.

Hungary’s tiny Muslim community (population: 5,579–at least according to the 2011 census) was not perceived as posing any kind of threat to Hungarian national culture. In fact, with the dearth of mosques in Hungary, Islam was little more than a piece of distant history, with the occasional Ottoman era minaret, or the Gül Baba mausoleum in the Buda hills, serving as a totally innocuous reminder of the past.

Muslim prayer in Budapest. Photo: Ahmed Miklós Kovács.

Muslim prayer in Budapest. Photo: Ahmed Miklós Kovács.

The current refugee crisis and terrorism in western Europe has changed the discourse on the Hungarian right (and not only in Jobbik, but also in Fidesz) on the subject of Islam. Suddenly, a trope has developed, where thanks to the “mistakes” of liberal western European politicians, much of the EU west of Austria is “overrun” by Muslims, national cultures face destruction and demographic doom hangs over “Christian” Europe. The other end of this dichotomy is eastern Europe, where Muslim immigration has barely made a dent and where politicians like Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have the “good judgement” to fight multiculturalism, to close off the borders and to save the region from creeping Islam and cultural diversity.

This is a major change in perceptions and narratives on the Hungarian right, and Hungarian imam Ahmed Miklós Kovács has picked up on it as well. Mr. Kovács is a leader within Budapest’s Muslim community and he published a piece on his Facebook profile a few days ago, in which he commented on this dramatic shift:

“We have arrived at a turning point. A few years ago, we Muslims had no problems with the so-called radical right in Hungary, otherwise known as the national side, or the far right, and with its organizations, such as the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (HVIM), the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), Jobbik, the Hungarian Guard, etc. We thought that they were not against us, that they will leave Muslims alone.  What’s more, we thought that many of them even sympathized with us. Some of them even converted to Islam and some in our own circles supported them in elections. In 2010, many of us voted for Jobbik and at the time Gábor Vona referred to Islam as the last bastion of humanity and civilization. But today, all of this has changed drastically. We have now become their main enemy. We have now replaced the Jews and the Gypsies, as prime  targets of their hate.”

Entrance to the Dar Al Salam mosque in Budapest's 11th District, along Bartók Béla út.

Entrance to the Dar Al Salam mosque in Budapest’s 11th District, along Bartók Béla út.

Mr. Kovács suggested that Hungarian Muslims feel abandoned, as the same civil rights groups that stand up for Roma rights or speak out against antisemitism, don’t seem interested in protesting Islamophobia. He then proceeded to declare than supporting Jobbik, the Hungarian Guard, HVIM or any other far right movement in Hungary is considered a “haram,” or a deeply sinful, forbidden act for all Muslims. One reader who responded to Mr. Kovács under the name Nour El Huda Boudjaoui, seemed exasperated that Jobbik, which only two years ago had been “a great Arabist” in its outlook, has changed so much.

There is somewhat of a lesson to be learned in all of this. Just because a virulently racist group doesn’t attack one specific demographic (due to political considerations), does not mean that this demographic should believe that they are somehow forever immune to the hate and prejudice espoused by these extremists. Nor does it mean that just because one’s own group is not being attacked, one should not show solidarity with those who are targets, from different cultural, religious or ethnic groups.

13 Comments

  1. It is always surprising and almost funny how liberals and the left are defending a “religion” that is against everything the liberal left stands for.

    What an ignorance about the real face of Islam and it’s teachings! I always warned against it and now what is called here “the far right” is finally waking up for what is happening and that our old enemies are back!

    There is no place for this aggressive political system with a religious sauce called Islam founded by a selfish barbaric warlord. ISIS are doing exactly what Mohammed did, following his example as is told for every Muslim to follow!

    The politically correct left who still support Muslim mass immigration into Europe and other white countries and all kinds of “rights”, will not find mercy when they take over. The left will be the first Muslims will get rid off!

    There is no place for Islam in Hungary!

  2. The real face of islam! A very informative and objective site!

    http://www.politicalislam.com/

  3. The sudden change in the orientation of the Hungarian fascist, nazi far-right, clearly shows how double-faced, nefarious, treacherous, opportunist people they are. The kind of people who stab their allies in their back , if they believe it is neccesary for political success. Savages. I wonder if people from the Hungarian far-right will eventually attempt to team up with Jewish, pro-Israel groups as a sort of a 180 dergree turn ( as their Western-European ideological peers attempted in the previous years ). But basically those in Hungary who are supportive of Israel are staunch right-wingers anyway, since Maszop, DK, Együtt ( Together ) are all rotten, reactionary, anti-people, right-wing parties ( they even include some far- right anti-Roma tendencies, and i think their attitude towards refugees is ambivalent at best ) . As we can see on the online forums of KMH , there is a considerable overlap between the stances of non-Jewish Hungarian far-rightists and basically right-wing Israel sympatizer ( or Israeli ) Hungarian Jews/Jewish Hungarians. But i tend to be unsurprised: bourgeois politics is what it is. The only question, if Hugaraian Jews can be so insane, that they start to believe, they are no longer threatened, if the Nazis currently prioritise attacking Middle-Eastern, African, Roma, LGBTQ or leftist people… But it is also a lesson for Hungarian Muslims as well, who teamed up with Hungarian Fascists, Nazis… Just beacause their beliefs are in many ways reflections of each other, it doesn’t mean they always remain allies. After all it is the overtly “pious” Muslims who kill each other en mass in the Sunni-Shia conflicts…

  4. Down with religious, ethnic , and class divides for a humane future!!! Down with religious, nationalist, reactionaries, from whatever religious-cultural background they are!

  5. György Lázár says:

    Very interesting piece. Let’s not forget that at one time Gábor Vona Jobbik chief went to Yemen to attend a Bath party youth conference. In 2010 he said:

    “In relation to the Muslim world often questions are arisen as the Jobbik, including me, has expressed many times its sympathy to the Muslim world. Already in 2002 as an undergraduate, before my graduation, after the change of the government I gave a speech at Vác on a Palestinian exhibition, after I attended a youth conference in Yemen, protested on several demonstrations concerning the Palestinian cause and so on.”

    Also, he wanted to call to Budapest the Iranian Revolutionary Guard…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR-ez_22pi8

    Remarkable turnaround… It seems that they are “positioning ” Jobbik for the acceptable coalition partner role.

  6. “OUR OLD ENEMIES…”

    Ah me, bigotry on all sides:

    What did any creed expect from enjoying the good graces of xenophobic hate-mongers? Exemption? Immunity? “The enemy of my enemy” is not a stable epoxide.

    Better root out the hate-mongers in one’s own ranks (including so-called democrats, liberals and leftists who single out Islam, as if it were the sole offender).

    Yes, Christianity and Judaism have been relatively detoxified, overall, provisionally, in a way that Islam has yet to be. But the head of the serpent is always set to resprout, as among the deep-south fundamentalists in the US or the irredentist settlers in the occupied West Bank. Nor have the quietist Hindus or Buddhists been immune to upsurges of religious and racial savagery, when push came to shove.

    But if we’re going to bet on liberty and equality (if not fraternity) then let’s not betray them from the outset by indulging our ready impulse to loathe and villify the other. That sounds too much like Orbanism, @Geza…

  7. When Jobbik was in its infancy they received tens of thousands of dollars from Iran thru an Iranian “business man” living in Budapest.
    Now they no longer need the financing from abroad and it is joining the popular anti-immigrant sentiment existing in Hungary. Also: “positioning itself for a partner role” for 2018.

  8. Geza, we, the liberals, will defend any religion. Time learn about liberalism. Another good topic for you to learn is Islam. Islam is peaceful. Isis is not Islam and neither were the conquistadors Christians.

  9. Jobbik is a Traitor’s party, no different from the Hungarian Communist Party that came before it. It is run and financed from Moscow, along with other European far-right parties. That many young people think it is “Nationalist” or has the Hungarian people’s best interests at heart, staggers belief. The only truly nationalist and nativist party in Hungary is FIDESZ which accounts for its continued popularity. MSZP and the others are clearly internationalist and globalist in their aspirations. As much as I dislike the corruption and nepotism surrounding the current ruling party, there simply isn’t a viable alternative right now. At least with a conservative, nationalist government there is a chance of moderate economic growth and a rising middle class in the long run. That should strengthen and help grow independent civic institutions and other credible, democratic political forces eventually. The likes of JOBBIK and NATIONAL FRONT in France would never have broken into the mainstream if it wasn’t for Moscow’s tacit support.

  10. Pingback: The Hungarian far-right and Islam | Multicultural Meanderings

  11. For the record:

    Hol vannak azok a jogvédő szervezetek, akik kiállnak a zsidók, a cigányok, a buzik, meg mindenkinek a jogaiért?
    – tette fel (Ahmed Kovács) a kérdést.
    http://vigyazo.blog.hu/2015/08/03/_ok_az_iszlam_ellensegei_muszlim_fatva_a_jobbik_ellen

  12. The seemingly strange link between the European far right and Islam emerged again recently over reports that Gabor Vona, the chairman of Hungary’s ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, praised Muslims during a visit to Turkey and called for his country to reposition its foreign policy eastward. The Morocco World News reported in early November that Vona even told a Turkish university audience that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *