Introduction The discourse on ‘othering’ brought into play by political organisations – rightwing parties or movements – is related to what is called the ‘ethnical’ understanding of the nation (Kohn 1955), where the nation is constituted by a homogenous population, circumscribed by a territory and related to an ancestral core of traditions and values. Many countries have constructed the idea of the nation along this line of thought, as opposed to the civic conception of the nation (Roman 1992), where citizens’ cohesion does not mean belonging to an ‘ethnic culture and identity’, but adhesion to values inscribed in a constitution. At the same time, the processes of ‘othering’ have changed from a construction of strangers as internal enemies following anti-national objectives to a new one, where they are categorised as culturally different. An ideological shift, placing cultural issues to the forefront, is leading radical and far right organisations to show themselves as spokespeople of a cultural identity that is supposed to be threatened by outsiders. The discourse towards immigration, which was traditionally the ‘topic’ of the far right, became more ambiguous, trying to blame capitalist immigration politics and globalisation instead of the migrants, differentiating good migrants from bad ones, and then moving the integration boundaries according to geopolitical forces and historical relations with the migrants’ countries of origin (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991; Noiriel 1991, 2001). Immigrants are defined according to their past relations with European countries – former colonies or subaltern countries – and to their actual geographical provenance. In the first case, immigrants and their descent are often discriminated against according to their former subordination; in the second case, they fall under the suspicion of being opposed to Occidental values, according to their cultural and religious background. As a result, one group is constructed as the quintessential ‘other’: Muslims (Lean 2012; Liogier 2012). Until the late 1990s, European hate speech against migrants was mainly studied in relation to questions of (broadly defined) ethnicity. In recent decades, the xenophobic rhetoric that has emerged in several countries often targets minorities for being part of the Muslim communities; the threat of Islam has
become the main issue, presented as the dangerous/threatening ‘other’. This image of Islam and Muslims as one of the main menaces looming over European security and identity is a common phenomenon. In this chapter, Islamophobia (Geisser 2003; Allen 2010) is analysed by comparing the rhetoric, programmes and discourses against Islam and against Muslims among selected nationalist groups and right-wing populist parties (see the Introduction chapter). The comparative perspective adopted here will allow us to show significant similarities and differences in relation to othering, addressed only marginally in the existing scholarly literature. One of the issues explored in this chapter is how the actors involved (i.e. far right activists, etc.) defend their Islamophobic positions (Bowen 2011) and at the same time reject allegations of being intolerant, discriminatory and racist. Another issue regards claims that maintaining antiIslam attitudes and standpoints responds to the need for safeguarding the modern Christian European values of democracy, freedom and gender equality against the dangers represented by a backward, authoritarian and chauvinistic religion. Even in countries that pretend to be secular, all Muslims are defined as the ‘others’, mainly because their values threaten Christian values and beliefs.