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The Martyrdom of Tommy Robinson: Free Speech and the Far-Right
The arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson turned him into a cause célèbre for the rejuvenated global far-right. Following his release on bail, Eleanor Penny discusses the reaction to his arrest, free speech, and the death cult of the far-right.
“The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.” - Umberto Eco, Ur-Fascism.
‘You can sit down now, Mr Yaxley-Lennon’ - Justice Heather Norton, Stephen Yaxley Lennon sentencing hearing.
Tommy Robinson does not exist. Whilst Stephen Yaxley-Lennon the man was arrested and detained at her majesty’s pleasure, Tommy Robinson the myth went global. Far-right leaders and centrist media pundits alike clamour their outrage at the ‘victimisation’ of Tommy Robinson. They clambered over each other to bask in the reflected glory of this unlikely martyr for free speech: a man thrown in the clink by a censorious state determined to suppress the uncomfortable truth about creeping sharia law, the wave of immigrants and brown people determined to sweep away the british way of life–and the liberal elites which let them wreak havoc with the lives of ordinary (read: white) people. They are talking about a hero, David stepping up for a toe-to-toe match with a Goliath state. But, this man does not exist. And that does not seem to matter. Thousands have turned out to demonstrations in his name, seig-heiling their way through Whitehall and beating up counter demonstrators. Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition demanding that the state #FreeTommy. In a picture which did the rounds of social media, a protester shows off a tattoo depicting Robinson wearing a crown of thorns. Imprisonment was the best thing that ever happened to him–delivering him to the status of political martyr, poster boy for a global cult of racial hatred.
A tale of two swindlers
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is a standard-issue dial-a-thug with an eye for PR; with enough canniness to flog his unreconstructed bigotry as earnest freedom-fighting. Originally the founder of the English Defense League, he got his start in the lofty world of british politics the way that many prominent racists do–by brawling in the streets. Whilst Boris Johnson and his cronies trashed high-end restaurants, Yaxley-Lennon borrowed a stage name from a famous football hooligan, and founded the English Defence League to torment local minorities in a more organised way. In a brief moment of contrived public penitence in 2013 (funded by the Quilliam Foundation), he quit the EDL–but didn’t stay ‘reformed’ for long. He continued to publicly lambast Islam, and helped to found the UK branch of Pegida in 2015. His criminal convictions range from domestic abuse to mortgage fraud.
His latest inglorious clash with the law landed him in jail again. this time, for contempt of court and for violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence. The sentence was initially handed down after he attempted to film four men accused of gang-raping a teenager, people who Robinson described as ‘Muslim paedophile rapists’. In broadcasting the details of the trial he risked contaminating the jury, thereby scuppering a carefully-constructed prosecution and potentially other other linked cases. He risked causing unaccountable pain for the sexual abuse victims about whom he claimed to care, and on whose suffering he built a media platform. He plead ignorance of this impact, an excuse which presiding Justice Norton found “really rather difficult to accept at face value” seeing as he had previously been warned. Though the first conviction was overthrown, he’s currently on bail awaiting a second trial which could land him in prison again.
This is not censorship; the word we are looking for here is ‘consequences’. Although if you’re used to spouting whatever racist tripe you fancy, largely unimpeded by concerted media opposition (or indeed by things like empathy or facts) it’s easy to see how the latter could feel like the former. Nonetheless, it begs the question: how and why is a man who regularly commands international press and national broadcast audiences considered a martyr to free speech? Why and how has the mundane truth about convicted fraud and racist hack Stephen Yaxley-Lennon been so easily and so totally eclipsed by the pomp and glory about Tommy Robinson, political prisoner, summoning thousands to his call?
The obvious disconnect between the publicly available facts (you can read the court transcripts, you can trawl back through his history of convictions) and PR spin doesn’t much bother those determined to deliver Tommy to Christlike status. When people plainly state the facts, when they publicly try to strip him of the embattled glamour of a freedom fighter, this isn’t so much a fatal blow to belief as it is a test of conviction. Proof that the liberal media is hounding for his blood, and for that of anyone who dares rally to his cause. The currency is not so much truth and falsehood, but loyalty and disloyalty; a giddying way which upends the logic of speech itself, and renders all discourse malleable by the right pair of propagandist hands. Arendt predicted as much. “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end---is being destroyed.” The far right have decided their convenient untruth, and the facts must be marshalled into obedience - or else.
That the far right treats truth the way a pack of hyenas treats a dead buffalo is nothing new. Niccoli Giani, the founder of the school of fascist mysticism, leaned on the thinking of Louis Rougier: “Mysticism is a set of propositions which adheres to tradition or sentiment, even if these propositions cannot be justified rationally and very often forgetting the primary reasons that led to state them.” Mussollini, the intended object of this devotion, likened fascism to ‘a religious concept of life’. He too was a determined showman - using stunt doubles to give the appearance that he never slept, buoyed to super-humanity by the sheer force of his conviction. Lucy Brown, a former member of Lennon’s inner circle, reported that personal devotion was the lodestone of Team Tommy. “You can be around as long as you still worship him, but when you grow up, then you’re out.”
Indeed, Robinson’s mission is baldly religious in tone–setting the ‘Christian’ west in a holy war against the ‘Muslim’ east in a hack, ahistorical re-run of the Crusades. He’s not the only far-righter to lean heavily on this imagery; Britain First conducts ‘Christian patrols’ as part of their self-styled ‘crusades’.
In his post-murder manifesto, Anders Breivik claimed to be a Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe. Like many other alt-right commentators, Milo Yiannopolis has set himself as the heir to the politico-religious mission of the 8th century Frankish king Charles ‘The Hammer’ Martel, “If he hadn’t succeeded, the Muslims could well have dominated all of Europe.” Increasingly popular in far-right meme culture is the Catholic battle cry associated with the first Crusade: “Deus vult” - God wills it. Speaking to Christian Today, former BNP councillor Paul Golding justified violent attacks on Mosques with distinctly ecumenical flair:
“Jesus Christ did use physical violence according to the Gospels in the temple in Jerusalem, and he met a very violent end. He preached love and forgiveness etc, but he also said he didn’t come to bring peace; he came to bring division and a sword, he came to bring fire upon the world to sort the world out.”
The cult of victimhood
In the effort of flogging this extraordinary untruth, nothing is more useful than a good death. Someone prepared to fling themselves in front of stray bullets to prove that people were, after all, out to get them. Any movement needs its martyrs, and the far right need them more than most. The fascists, and trolls and tooth-gnashers of the far-right trade heavily on the idea that white people - or, if you have a more refined sensibility, ‘European identity’ - face an existential threat from muslims, jews and immigrants: a threat enabled by their allies in a bloated, sclerotic state run by decadent liberals.
In any sensible world, this would be a pretty hard sell. The government rolling out a clinical apparatus of deportation which the hard-right ‘send em home’ crowd could only dream of, pandering to islamophobia and strong-state nationalism in Westminster and beyond. Islamophobia and nostalgic imperialism is the ruling logic of the current administration, with its powerful ideologues in the halls of Westminster, pandering to the far-right street momvement in an effort ot veil their personal prejudice as commitment to representation of the ‘authentic’ working class.
But still their success relies on a continued mythos of their marginalisation. So no wonder that the billionaires bankrolling Rebel Media are going ham on the mythology of #FreeTommy, pouring countless thousands into his media profile and astroturfing his martyrdom to sell the basic mythos of far-righters and fascists everywhere: that ‘we’–native Britons, white Europeans’–are under attack. To perpetuate a sense of persecution, you need people to step forward to be persecuted. If you want to fake a firing squad, you first need a man stood with his back against the wall pleading his innocence. In the video broadcast outside the courthouse, Yaxley-Lennon says that he may well be prosecuted for his actions.
The right martyr at the right moment
Interviewing him just after Yaxley-Lennon’s release, Tucker Carlson said “The United Kingdom has become a mere shadow of the nation that gave us freedom of speech, freedom of the press, a host of other rights that we take for granted, but probably should not take for granted. Nobody knows that better than Tommy Robinson.” Yaxley-Lennon has has long been peddling the idea of ‘Tommy Robinson: counter-cultural freedom fighter’, whining about his ‘persecution’ ever since his days as a fresh-faced race-baiter in the EDL. He named his biography ‘Enemy of the State’, and railed against censorious journalists and repressive policemen alike. He opened his 2013 address to the Oxford Union with the words ‘this is a great day for Free Speech’. In a recent interview with alt-right journalist Brittany Pettibone, he innocently protests that he has ‘never mentioned race’–and yet still was labelled an extremist. In short, this has been gathering for years. But every idea-in-waiting needs its moment. Every grinning arsonist needs a dry house of leaves.
In May, Lennon and other popular far right ‘freeze peach’ pundits were joined by thousands of followers in Whitehall for a ‘Day of Freedom’, where they complained about their censorship, about how they couldn’t talk about white genocide and the sexual menace of brown men. It felt like some live-action Zen kōan–what’s the sound of saying what you’re not allowed to say these days? (Answer: it sounds like thousands of people screaming their reactionary catechisms at the gates of downing street, their voices broadcast across the world).
Lift up any odd rock in 4chan, you’ll find the undersides crawling with trilobite conspirators and vengeful practitioners of casual racial and sexual cruelty. People–usually white, usually young, overwhelmingly men–who will swear that ‘white genocide’ is just around the corner. That hordes of islamists are slavering over the prospect of assaulting white women, an instinct barely held in check by the noble actions of street fighters tormenting muslims on public transport and putting bricks through the windows of mosques and shuls. That the mainstream media is silencing the truth. His believers were hungry for something miraculous–something which gave voice and flesh to their swivel-eyed conspiracies.
Religious studies 101: Martyrdom is a great galvaniser. A lightning rod for loose tensions and inchoate paranoia. This cult of persecution catalyses a schlerotic alt-right composed of countless constellations of subgroups–an unholy alliance of teenage pepe-heads, paleocons and outright neo-nazis–under a single flag. It is by no coincidence that one of Tommy’s loudest and most powerful is none other than Steve Bannon, a man determined to draw together a ‘New European’ far right as a monolithic, unstoppable force in global politics. He may look like he crawled his way out of some sulphurous neolithic swamp, but if he was ever born, he was born an opportunist. So, he has petitions the UK government to release Tommy Robinson. He has pressed his connections with far right all over the world, using this as a clarion call to strengthen a nebulous but growing far right internationale. And he’s only one of many.
The #FreeTommy brigade has assembled a rogue’s gallery of famous race-baiters and white nationalists across the world: Katie Hopkins, Raheem Kassan, Tucker Carlson, Anne-Marie Waters, Mike Cernovich, Geert Wilders, the pan-European network Generation Identity. Even Donald Trump Jr joined in, as did countless thousands of others. #WeAreTommy hashtags spread across continents. They have drawn thousands onto the streets of UK cities, with a strange hysterical conviction that in Tommy’s plight is their personal plight, and in their plight resides the plight of white folk. According to Deleuze and Guattari’s diagnosis, the strong leader gives form and voice to a dissolute, megalomaniacal mass. "The paranoid position of the mass subject [collapses] all the identifications of the individual with the group, the group with the leader, and the leader with the group”. A notoriously fractious far right coalesces into a single shambling beast, slouching towards Broadcasting House to be born.
The Chemnitz Riots
Right-Wing Mob Wreaks Havoc on German City
For the second straight day, right-wing extremists took control of the streets in the eastern German city of Chemnitz as the police lacked sufficient personnel to stop them. Hitler greetings were in no short supply.
August 28, 2018
The neo-Nazi goes on the attack. He throws his arms above his head, yells and waves toward the parade of demonstrators in an attempt to get his comrades to follow him. Then, along with a group of 10 to 12 others, he storms up the stairs to a terrace in front of the Stadthalle, an event venue in the heart of the city of Chemnitz. On the terrace are cameramen, onlookers and counterdemonstrators -- and they don't see the attackers coming. The neo-Nazi grabs a young man from behind, jerks him to the ground and hits him. Over and over again.
Only then do four police officers show up and push the neo-Nazis back. The officers are clearly overwhelmed, just as the entire police force had been throughout the demonstrations on Monday evening -- demonstrations that eventually turned into a riot.
A riot fueled by xenophobic hatred.
Chemnitz is the third-largest city in the eastern state of Saxony and initially, over a thousand people had gathered on Monday to protest the kind of right-wing violence seen here on Sunday. Later, several thousand participants in a right-wing rally gathered at the city's iconic monument to Karl Marx. The two camps were separated only by a single road and handful of law enforcement officers. The mood was tense - and turned violent once darkness began to fall. Fireworks were set off and the two groups began throwing projectiles at each other. There were several injuries.
Later, the police would say that they had underestimated the number of people that would be participating in the two demonstrations. That they were caught off guard.
But given the events in the city just one day earlier, that seems unlikely. Early on Sunday morning, 35-year-old Daniel H. was stabbed to death at a festival in the Chemnitz city center. Immediately, rumors began making the rounds on right-wing websites and social media platforms that the perpetrators were migrants and the focus of their anger soon came to rest on refugees.
A right-wing mob quickly gathered and began chasing people through the streets. According to media reports, the police initially sought to quell the unrest with two relatively small units and were completely overrun at times.
That, Chemnitz Police Chief Sonja Penzel promised on Monday afternoon, wouldn't happen again. But it did. Just a few hours later on Monday evening, police again found themselves facing a greater number of right-wing protesters - a group that also included Marcel, a broad-shouldered, 31-year-old craftsman. He says that he's not the kind of guy to quickly lose his temper. But recently, as he was just coming out of a club in the Chemnitz city center with his girlfriend, two men approached from behind - men who "didn't speak accent-free German."
Marcel says the two began insulting his girlfriend and spat on him, in response to which Marcel punched one of them in the face. When the police arrived, they didn't arrest Marcel, but instead took the man with the bloodied face into custody. Marcel says he wasn't surprised. "I have two friends who are police officers. The police here know how to deal with such situations."
July 22; Oklahoma City
Within ten minutes or so of the press screening for “July 22”, a narrative film about Anders Behring Breivik’s mass murder of young social democrats on the island of Utoya seven years ago on that very date, the narrative style was so unique and so effective that I was sure that this powerful film was made by the same man who made “United 93”. Like “United 93”, which told the story of the 9/11 hijacking on the one plane that failed to hit its target, “July 22” is an understated, documentary-like account of an incident that lends itself to melodrama. Paul Greengrass, the British director and screenwriter for both films, does not make movies that deliver cheap thrills. Instead, you will get a more intense experience for the simple reason that it is more lifelike.
As the film begins, we see the crosscutting of scenes with Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) assembling the weapons he will need to launch a one-man war on “Cultural Marxism” and his target, the young people singing leftist folk songs around a campfire, in a meeting to discuss politics or playing soccer. You get the same sense of impending doom that was dramatized in “United 93”, a film that I panned upon first seeing but have grown to appreciate after further viewings on cable. Greengrass made little attempt in “United 93” to explain what led the hijackers to such extreme measures and follows suit in “July 22”. We never see any flashback explaining what turned Breivik into a killer but should know enough by now about the white supremacists on the rise everywhere to know it does not matter that much. Unfortunately it is ubiquitous. Clearly, he understood only a documentary could have unraveled the evolution of Salafist or neo-Nazi terrorism and that a narrative film was only charged with the task of creating powerful human drama. On that basis, he has succeeded admirably.
Most of you are probably aware of Breivik’s attack at Utoya but that was actually the second act on that bloody day. He began by detonating a bomb inside a van in front of the building where Norway’s Prime Minister had an office. It killed 8 people in a prelude to the massacre that would take place in an hour or so. He used the same ingredients that Timothy McVeigh used in his terror attack on an office building in Oklahoma City and for about the same reason: to launch a one-man war against the left. Dressed in a police uniform, Breivik showed up at a pier on the mainland near Utoya and put in a call to be ferried to the island to provide security for the young people. Since Norway was on high alert after the bombing, the ferry boat pilot assumed he was legitimate. But when the camp director and security met him when he got off the boat, they became suspicious after he could not answer questions about his credentials. This led him to kill his first two victims.
Next Breivik roams the island shooting the unarmed and frantic teens, taking the lives eventually of 69 campers. We share the horror of a group of about six young people who are clinging to a rocky ledge halfway between a cliff at the edge of the water and the shore below. Before long, Breivik spots them and opens fire as they run panic-stricken along the beach. Two are brothers: Viljar and Torje Hanssen, whose mother is the Labour Party mayor of a town in the far north. Viljar, the older brother, is felled by five bullets from Breivik’s automatic rifle. As his brother kneels over him in both grief and fright, Viljar tells him to run for his life.
Viljar is the hero of the film, even though he is not an action hero in a drama that could not possibly supply one. We see him going through an agonizing recovery that included repeated surgeries that stopped short of extracting the bullet fragments close to his brainstem. The head surgeon worried that in trying to remove them, his patient’s brain would be even more damaged than it already was, if not prove fatal. In fact, Viljar was given the bad news that a shifting fragment could end his life at any moment.
Viljar is played by Jonas Strand Gravli and will certainly get my nomination for best actor of 2018, especially in portraying the real life efforts of the young man to become mobile enough to testify against Breivik in the courtroom. Like everybody else in the cast, he is Norwegian even though he, like the rest, speak English. This was an odd choice by Greengrass and perhaps calculated to avoid the subtitles that are the bane of so many people.
Most of the film crosscuts once again between Breivik’s interaction with his lawyer, a Norwegian social democrat, and Viljar’s heroic efforts to make a life for himself under Job-like conditions. We know about the 69 fatalities of July 22, 2011 but a lot less about the 209 who were injured. As so often is the case, especially with automatic rifles, the wounds can inflict great pain through the remainder of the victim’s life.
In the press notes, Greenglass explains why he made this film:I originally wanted to make a film about the migrant crisis. And I spent a fair amount of time researching what was happening in places like Lampedusa in southern Italy, and the realities of people trafficking.
But the more I worked on it, the more obvious it became that fear of migration, together with continuing economic stagnation, was driving a profound change in our politics.
The door was being opened to political extremism, across Europe. Across the West. With dangerous consequences I fear…
That’s what lead me to make this film – because Anders Breivik and Norway shows us the consequences of this process in dramatic terms, and in ways relevant to all of us, wherever we live.
Breivik saw himself – in his extreme narcissism – as raising the battle standard of extreme right-wing rebellion across the West.
But the way the people of Norway responded after the attacks, which is what our film is really about – the way politicians, lawyers and most importantly those families caught up in the violence responded – can inspire all of us with their dignity and their tenacious commitment to democracy.
“July 22” opens on Netflix and in theatres on October 10. Look for its arrival then.
by Barnaby Raine
Racism usually treats its Other as inferior. Slavery in America addressed the black man as ‘boy’, as if he were a perpetually half-formed human. Colonialism speaks to its victims as savages, devoid of the necessary psychological mechanisms for ensuring social order and so requiring repression. Anti-Semitism instead treats Jews as terrifyingly superior: rich, powerful, cunning, effectively conspiring to pursue their own interests and so to crush everyone else. The anti-Semite looks miserably upwards in the social hierarchy and feels bitter, where racists usually look hatefully downwards instead. In Mein Kampf, Hitler is almost admiring of his image of the Jew.Hardly in any people of the world is the instinct of self-preservation more strongly developed than in the so-called ‘chosen people’… Which people finally has experienced greater changes than this one – and yet has always come forth the same from the most colossal catastrophes of mankind? What an infinitely persistent will for life, for preserving the race do these facts disclose!
This is not to say that Jews are only superior in the anti-Semitic imaginary. We are instead a treacherous, warped compound of superiority and inferiority. After 1789, Jews were often pictured as the image of Enlightenment unchained, and this rough similarity between the anti-Semite’s understanding of Jews and Max Horkheimer’s classic analysis of Nazism is worth noting. In both cases reason roams free, terrifying for being untamed by sentiment. Too much rationalism, too little emotion: deficiency and excess, the super- and the subhuman go hand in hand. As ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ sundered from ties to native soils, Jews are exemplars of a globalising bourgeois future feared by parochial conservatisms.
This is a thoroughly different logic of fear from the one common to more patronising racisms, and it is especially virulent since it entertains little possibility of acculturating Jews into Christian mores, as is the preferred strategy of liberal racists in most cases. We Jews are already too clever – clever enough to outsmart only-human gentiles, is the fear – and so anti-Semitism is perpetually paranoid and defensive where modernity’s racisms usually self-present with a benevolent, ‘civilising’ edge. That edge, possible for medieval and early modern theological anti-Semitism, is anathema to modern ethno-cultural anti-Semitism, which has lost much of its ancestors’ confidence in the practical supremacy of Christian virtue. Hence Zionism, enmeshed at its foundation in this anti-Semitic imagery and later even borrowing that phrase ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, seeks to solve the quandary by giving Jews a land, by pulling them out of Europe in order to make them proper Europeans. Zionism involves the belated recognition that bourgeois assimilationism requires more than itself, that Jews must renounce assimilation in Germany and transform themselves into peasants and soldiers elsewhere in order really to vanquish their distinctness, to rid themselves of their Chosenness, to become just like other Europeans. Early Zionist optimism extended only so far as to think that the dastardly, reprehensible Jews could be remade.
Anti-Semitism’s dialectic holds that too much of a good thing (intelligence, hard work and so on) is a very dangerous thing indeed. For gentiles, genocidal eliminationism is hardly an illogical leap from this standpoint, if you factor in norms of racially defined ‘self-preservation.’ Hence Himmler’s chilling Posen speeches, in which the Final Solution is justified by recourse to a conception of essentially antagonistic interests pitting Aryans against Jews: if Jews were fighting in the Wehrmacht, Himmler argues, no German could be sure of their interests being defended by their own army, peopled by deformed enemies. Only the addition of a pseudo-science of innate racial difference, rooting Jewish enmity in a problematic and intrinsic psychology, separates this from the anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus affair. Nazism was intellectually novel, then, but not comprehensively so. Like most modern anti-Semites the Nazi resents the Jew above all for being not him, for supposedly having interests opposed to his. Those interests are not fungible. Jews are destined to a life of thwarting gentile aspirations.
Guest Article: Faith Goldy -- Anti-Semite or Pro-Israel? Why not both?
By now it seems hard to deny that Faith Goldy is an anti-Semite:
Her calling Jews “Democrat mega-donors.”
Her referring to Richard Spencer's Charlottesville statement, which calls for the exclusion of Jews from ethnic European society, as containing “well thought-out ideas.”
Her friendly appearance on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer "Krypto Report" podcast, where she made anti-Semitic jokes about her (now former) boss.
Her repeated appearances on RedIce’s Radio3Fourteen, an anti-Semitic internet media outlet which promotes Holocaust denial (and before you say "it was just an interview!" she said she was "starstruck" to speak to the host) and other alt-right white nationalist podcasts such as Millennial Woes’ where she repeated the 14 words.
Her recommending work by the Romanian fascist Corneliu Codreanu, which calls for the expulsion of Jews, and other books by historical fascist figures.
Her positive portrayals of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, which promotes Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Her involvement with and promotion of ID Canada, a crypto-fascist organization rife with anti-Semites.
Her ties to Students for Western Civilization, which had a representative do a speech with the neo-Nazi Gabriel Sohier-Chaput (AKA "Zeiger").
Her promotion of the DMS Youtube channel, whose co-producer Maxime Morin partook in the neo-Nazi Montreal Storm chatroom, in which he had an avatar of a Jewish caricature’s head attached to a picture of an insect.
However, some of the more dense among us have yet to catch on. They think her (ostensibly) being pro-Israel nullifies all of this.
Philosemitism is the New Antisemitism: How Jews Are (Still) Used to Manage Exploitation
The history of antisemitism in Europe is a history of exploitation. Specifically, the exploitation of Jewish people by the nobility as a buffer between itself and the peasantry, and later the workers. Jews were presented as an alien entity even as they played an integral and functional part in European society. The hatred of Jews of the past played a role in managing exploitation, and that role is similarly recreated today in reverse, in the guise of a moral outrage against antisemitism. Before, antisemitism was used to protect the exploiting classes. Now, hatred of antisemitism is used to attack the opponents of the exploiting class.
But first, let me bring you up to speed on the history.
Figure 1 –
A map of the Pale of Settlement circa ages ago.
The Pale of Settlement was a region of the Russian Tsarist Empire in Eastern Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, where Jewish residence was permitted. Between 1880 and 1917, the Tsarist government would condone and at times even organise pogroms against Jews in this region. During the nineteenth century, capitalist development in Russia required the transformation of peasants and artisans into wage labourers, a nascent working class. This was achieved by dispossessing peasants from the land they worked, forcing them to move to cities to find factory work which undermined artisans by exploiting workers half to death. Here, Russian society followed in the footsteps of Britain and Western Europe, where a similar process had happened centuries earlier (e.g. through the Enclosure Acts and the rise of manufactories). At the same time, the nationalist fever sweeping through Europe did not miss the Pale, where Polish, Ukrainian, Slavic and other peoples sought emancipation from Russian Tsarism through national liberation and the concept of “one people, one language, one territory.” The Yiddish-speaking Jews in the cities and villages of the Pale did not fit neatly into this enlightened new order. It was a trivial matter for authorities – both Tsarist and capitalist – to redirect the anger of the working masses against these “aliens.” It was during this period that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903) was published, a fake document written by Tsarist secret police, which implied that Jews were in a conspiracy to take over the world through control over the media and banks. The bourgeoisie at least have a good sense for irony; claiming here that their scapegoat controlled what they themselves possessed.
Fast-forward a century to when Aurora Levins Morales wrote:
Figure 2 – Aurora is bae.The whole point of anti-Semitism has been to create a vulnerable buffer group that can be bribed with some privileges into managing the exploitation of others, and then, when social pressure builds, be blamed and scapegoated, distracting those at the bottom from the crimes of those at the top. Peasants who go on pogrom against their Jewish neighbors won’t make it to the nobleman’s palace to burn him out and seize the fields. This was the role of Jews in Europe. This has been the role of Jews in the United States, and this is the role of Jews in the Middle East.
And this is the role of antisemitism in the UK today. As we shall see.
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