Fast Food and the Rise of a New Conservative Europe

Liberals in America often prop up Europe for its political ideals, its openness and socialized medicine. Conservatives of course, do the opposite, spitting out the names of European countries as though they are some sort of vegetarian meat-substitute, the idea of their inherent virtuosity suspect and unappealing.

Though European politics have never been as black and white as we've characterized them, they have certainly been changing lately in ways that even Glen Beck could appreciate, with the rise of political figureheads whose rhetoric much more resembles the from-the-gut-fire of a CPAC convention than the World Showcase at Epcot Center.

"Islamisation" is the buzzword in many conservative European circles these days. What likely started as a legitimate concern about preserving the cultural heritage of some towns in the face of huge waves of foreign immigration has turned nasty, driven by the same sort of fearfulness that dictated much of American politics in the last eight years.

The issue of Muslim women wearing headscarves has caused controversy for years now, but other matters have recently been brought up in the struggle for European identity. In France, the fast-food restaurant chain Quick sparked a national debate when it began offering a completely Halal menu at several of its branches. A lawsuit was filed by Mayor René Vandierendonck in the town of Roubaix (which has a population that is nearly 50 percent Muslim) and an investigation was launched into whether the residents were being discriminated against with the new pork-free menu. The cause was pounced on by other right-wingers as an emblematic symbol of their persecution.

In an interview with Reuters, Franck Berton, Mayor René Vandierendonck's lawyer, asked, "Why should the people of Roubaix be forced to go to Lille or elsewhere to find bacon?"

Questions like this have entered European politics in a serious way and have given rise to a whole new set of  political stars such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. His Freedom Party has become the second biggest political party in The Hague and is making gains that could see him soon become prime minister. Wilders is a controversial figure in The Netherlands. He is openly anti-Islamic, has called for bans on the Koran, and was deported last year from Britain after being declared a threat to public safety.

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Jessica Olien is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She has previously worked as a reporter in Asia and the Middle East.

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