Europe is not short of Islamophobic, far-right politicians. Scan the continent, and in every corner you'll find a rabble-rousing populist here, a dyed-in-the-wool racist there, inveighing against Muslim immigration and multiculturalism. It's a part of the zeitgeist.
In the Czech Republic, the face of xenophobic demagoguery is a rather curious one. It belongs to Tomio Okamura, a Tokyo-born entrepreneur turned far-right politician. Okamura's Dawn of Direct Democracy exploded onto the scene in 2013, winning 14 seats in the country's 200-seat Chamber of Deputies; last January, one poll suggested that Okamura was the third-most popular politician in the Czech Republic.
Okamura's prospects have dimmed since then — undermined by graft allegations and apprehension over his leadership style — but his fiery rhetoric has not.
This week, he garnered headlines for a controversial, anti-Muslim Facebook post where he urged Czechs to safeguard the country's "democratic way of life and to protect the heritage of our ancestors before Islam." The lengthy post was premised on the assumption that, when it comes to immigrant Muslims at least, Czech "hospitality has its limits" and that it was incumbent on Czech citizens to "remind" Muslims that they can leave the country.
As part of his recommendations, Okamura, 42, suggested that Czechs "breed dogs and piglets as pets and walk them near their neighborhoods and mosques." He also complained about the "naive multiculturalism" that allows the prevalence of Islamic practices, such as the ritual slaughter of animals to produce halal meat.
"Each kebab we buy is funding for another burqa," Okamura wrote. He went on: "Keep in mind the fundamental truth that they have no tolerance for us and they are here as guests. So I have no moral obligation to be tolerant and generous to them."
Such zeal is a bit peculiar in a country where the Muslim population numbers in the low thousands. But these incendiary comments are hardly unusual for Okumara, who has made a career out of being an outspoken populist critic of the Czech establishment and its supposed political correctness.
He also has said a litany of offensive things, ranging from disparaging remarks about the intelligence of women to suggestions that the country's Roma people should leave because their habits do not conform with the "values of all civilized countries." In 2013, Okamura suggested that the Roma be given a new homeland in India, from where they are believed to have first migrated more than 1,000 years ago.
The proposal was particularly provocative given the politician's background: The son of a Japanese-Korean father and Czech mother, Okamura had spent a good chunk of his early life away from what was then Czechoslovakia. He eventually established himself in his mother's country as a successful businessman and a judge on a popular reality TV show. Okamura has also authored a number of books, reports Prague Monitor, which include an autobiography ("The Czech Dream") and a guide to Japanese cooking.
A 2013 profile of Okamura in the Japan Times gestures at what may underlie his nativist attitudes:
[His current political success] is all a far cry from Okamura’s somewhat difficult childhood, which alternated between Japan and what was then Czechoslovakia. Growing up, he encountered discrimination in both countries because of his mixed ethnicity. With his post-college career options in Tokyo — where he was disparagingly called a gaijin (foreigner) — consequently limited, he was forced to work as a garbage collector and sell popcorn at a cinema. Okamura says that period has influenced his politics.
"I fought racism by always trying to be better than those who spat at me because of my Caucasian-Asian origins. I also spent some time in an orphanage," he said, when his mother got ill. "Therefore, I am focused on solidarity and social sensitivity."
He clearly hasn't quite got the message. The Czech minister for human rights, Jiri Dienstbier, said he would not comment "on Mr. Okumara's hateful utterances."