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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.
Against Racism and Authoritarianism: the Problem is Capitalism!
“We will chase them out!” Alexander Gauland bawled straight after the entry of the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) to the Bundestag. It should be clear, at least after the racist riots in Chemnitz and Köthen, that this was no empty threat. The AfD’s rise has lent wings to the entire extreme right and is increasingly being translated into racially-motivated violence on the street.
For many, the events in Chemnitz may be nothing new. In Freital, Heidenau, Einsiedel and Bautzen there were racist attacks favoured by an extremely aggressive mood. Just as in Cottbus, Nazi and hooligan groups in Chemnitz and elsewhere succeeded in bringing in a mass of people from outside who willingly put themselves in their service and allowed their unbridled hatred to flow freely.
In terms of numbers, they were no longer a few hundred, but a few thousand. More and more, it seems that they are succeeding in speaking to authoritarian “angry citizens” in the centre of society. A reactionary movement, whose ideological cement rests on conspiracy-theory, anti-Semitic, racist and “völkisch”-nationalist ideas, is forming here. The events in Chemnitz and Költhen have thrown a spotlight on how far this symbiosis between the Nazi and neo-Nazi mob and the “concerned citizens” has already gone. The coherence in action across the various spectra of the Nazi right has been remarkable, like the speed and volume of targetted rumours which were sown across social networks and online media, creating a veritable pogrom mood which ended up in violent attacks on refugees and on a Jewish restaurant. The fact that arrest orders were “leaked” and used by racist propaganda, once again points to the interconnections between the Nazi right and parts of the state apparatus. This is made clear not least by the affair around the chief of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) Maaßen, who, after offering the AfD political advice on several occasions, has now publicly stepped forward as prompter for right-radical conspiracy theories. The fact that the AfD in Chemnitz has not just openly tried closing ranks with PEGIDA and explicitly Nazi groups, but even put itself at the head of the protests, again shows how far inhibition levels have fallen. This doesn’t mean that AfD as a whole is a fascist party. But, with its strategy of deliberate provocation, it is becoming more and more a rallying point and parliamentary mouthpiece for fascists.
The Right and Thereabouts
The AfD is without question on the right, but it is in no way outside the present authoritarian social structure. It’s true that politicians of the established parties condemn the “Chemnitz violence”, but they show understanding for the sympathisers of those carrying it out. “Home minister”, Horst Seedorfer declared, that if he wasn’t a minister he would have demonstrated, and described “migration as the mother of all problems”. Although he is considered a living dinosaur, he is not alone. There is an all-party consensus that the cause of the racist riots is to be found in “erroneous migration and integration policies”. The belief in “real controls”, the “securing of European borders”, “ordered immigration” and, obviously, “fighting the causes of the flight of refugees” now belongs to the standard rhetorical repertory of all parties. All there is to discuss are the details and technical questions — this is now the quintessence of bourgeois parliamentarianism. With great speed, the asylum and immigration laws were made even harsher, the police and security apparatus were extended and a gigantic armaments programme for the army was launched, thus fulfilling the central points of AfD policy. The AfD finds itself in an extremely comfortable position where it can continually add to and escalate its demands and thus depict itself as an especially effective representative of an authoritarian solution to the crisis. The AfD is thus simultaneously the expression and accelerator of a crisis-laden development, which can be seen all over Europe.
It is now ten years since the “sub-prime crisis” burst the speculative bubble and sucked the world economy into the whirlpool of recession. Since then, the crisis has continually sharpened despite all the prognoses and incantations of various “economic experts”. The debt mountains grow bigger, instability grows and financial speculation continues unchecked. The collapse of the economy in Turkey and Argentina are unambiguous signs that the probability of a new crash is growing more and more. The “sub-prime” crisis of 2007-8 was in no way an accident, but the expression of a structural crisis of the system, which has already been growing for decades. When the post-war boom ended at the beginning of the 70s, an unparalleled cycle of accumulation was exhausted. To offset the fall in the rate of profit, capital pinned its hopes on a massive restructuring of the production process and the massive increase of the rate of exploitation. The de-industrialisation and shutting of concerns in the capitalist centres went hand-in-hand with an exodus of capital to countries where wages were low and no boundaries were set on the dictates of the bosses or exploitation. The opening of markets put the various segments of the working class into a relation of direct competition with each other.
…and the 'Anti-capitalism of Fools'
This development was generally discussed under the heading “globalisation” and depicted in the media as an almost inevitable fate. Nevertheless, a critique began to develop in the shape of the so-called “anti-globalisation movements” which expressed themselves in impressive mobilisations and protests against “globalisation and free trade”. Politically, the movement never went beyond accusing “concerns and banks” and/or “finance capital”, and these were to be supposedly tamed by a tax on transactions on the finance markets and stricter state regulation. Leading strategists of the movement expected this to enable them to keep the movement “as broad as possible” and break the “neoliberal hegemony” in favour of more state intervention. We have stressed many times that it is not enough to criticise a manifestation of capitalism (so-called “globalisation”), without questioning the capitalist system of exploitation as a whole. A limited and superficial criticism of “global capitalism” always opens up a space to make it easy to confuse left and right approaches to the benefit of the latter. Precisely this can be seen in the strategy papers and propaganda channels of the authoritarian right. After the obvious bankruptcy of the reformist left, which continually capitulated to the diktats and interpretations of capital, the authoritarian right is trying to present itself as the “embodiment of the people’s will” against the “bourgeois establishment”. They concoct a dangerous brew out of anti-globalisation rhetoric, conspiracy theories grounded in anti-Semitism and nationalism. This enables them to say things which sound “non-conformist” and “rebellious”, but are firmly based on capitalist premises: the defence of our “home and national state” against the “egotism of the globalist elites” on the one hand and “economic migrants”, the “lazy” and the “worthless” on the other.
"One problem is that Yaxley-Lennon does not invent these tropes; he mostly takes them from the mainstream and tries to push them to further extremes. In the UK, the main source of distorted and inaccurate stories about Muslims remains the press, which in turn sets the agenda of broadcasters. This long-term media narrative of Muslim extremism and disloyalty is what makes it easy for a far-right activist to step in and link everything to a civilisational conflict with Islam. It’s what makes Islamist terrorism seem like the responsibility of “the Muslim community”, but far-right terrorism the acts of lone “extremists”; it’s what makes sex crimes committed by men of Asian or Muslim background primarily about “culture” and religion, but those by white men merely about individual sick perverts. Giving the far right a say in any of the complex debates these issues raise is a dead end: their propaganda aims only to incite visceral fears about sex, death and foreigners."
— Daniel Trilling, Tommy Robinson and the far right’s new playbook
Four myths about antisemitism
Antisemitism is a growing threat. Understanding it is a matter of urgency, writes Barnaby Raine.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump
With eleven dead in Pittsburgh, the view that antisemitism is only a marginal feature of our era should find no heed. Debates around it can no longer devolve into the British media’s usual farce, which sees endless commentators beat their chests with scarcely a mention made of any actual data on the subject. Understanding it is a matter of urgency. But America’s first reactions to the murders confirmed the misery of our condition. Kneejerk calls for gun control or the death penalty highlighted how far liberals and conservatives have taken for granted that their country breeds killing. And so they seek repressive fixes, and avoid asking why some of their citizens shoot others – preferring to focus on the question of how. When they started to speak of antisemitism, they seemed just as hopelessly lost.
Grotesquely, Netanyahu has broadcast his condemnations of antisemitism, despite befriending its parents and advocates from Orban in Hungary to Trump in the USA. Liberals leapt to speak of the fringe far-right as the root of the problem, obscuring the possibility that furious violence might be born out of the social order to which they are broadly loyal. We are so very bad at thinking about antisemitism, and not by accident; asking where it comes from and how it prospers would mean asking questions of our social structure that political moderates of all stripes prefer to avoid. It is time to confront the absurdities that defined this summer’s British panic – on all sides.
1. Antisemitism is mostly a problem of the far Right
The Right’s thinking is stuffed full of mythologies – but the Left makes some use of them too. As antisemitism is reduced to a cheap, partisan slanging match, the Left’s myth of choice faces allegations of antisemitism in its ranks with retorts like, “why are you looking at us, bigotry obviously prospers above all on the Right!” Aside from its deplorable defensiveness, its refusal to grapple with problems close to home, this response is tellingly out of date. It fails to reckon with a truth obscured in Charlottesville and in Pittsburgh, which is that passionate condemnations of antisemitism are common on much of the Right today. The interesting question is why the Conservative Party, which still thinks Muslims too threatening to occupy high office in London, now expresses its horror at antisemitism and its firmness in defending Jews. Why are we the only historically loathed demographic now supposedly in favour on the Right?
The answer is that Jews have become white in the view of some racists. That is relatively new. Jews were once identified so intuitively with non-Europeans that we were called ‘Semites’ beginning in the late nineteenth-century.Europe thinks of us as its outsourced colonists in the Middle East, (as anyone who watches Eurovision knows very well) – and back in the metropole we are read as wealthy, successful targets of Muslim rage (think of the outpouring of sympathy that followed 2015’s attack on a Paris kosher supermarket, which went with the murders at Charlie Hebdo). In that context, some on the Left might buy into this Right-wing picture. Consciously or not, they might imagine Jews as a transnational ‘people-class’ coterminous with all the violence of global white power.
2. Antisemitism is mostly a problem of the far Left
The easy identification of Jews with whiteness is poor thinking. Once one understands that to see America as Israel’s puppet is to think in reverse, the antisemitic underpinnings of contemporary right-wing philo-Semitism seem a little clearer: from Palestine to Paris, Jews are sacrificial lambs for the protection of Christian civilisation. That is the structural antisemitism of our epoch, so its invisibility ought to interest us. Take the words of Marie van der Zyl, head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for whom “The Tories have always shown themselves to be friends to the Jewish community”. Always, really? This was the Party that long ago introduced the first anti-immigrant legislation in British history in a bid to keep out Jews, and just weeks after her statement van der Zyl was forced to condemn the Tories for breaking ranks in the European Parliament and refusing to join other MEPs in condemning Hungary’s antisemitic leader Viktor Orban. How the Left came to be constructed in the popular imagination in Britain as the only home of antisemitism is a question worth probing seriously and thoughtfully.
Much of the answer lies in a widespread phobia of politics itself: of antagonism, of anti-elitism. Liberalism’s old anti-democratic instincts are today revived in much of the discourse around ‘populism’, and so a characterisation of antisemitism as the nastiest subaltern rage against a successful minority makes it the perfect allegation to throw around now. This is a hopeless way of understanding antisemitism. The central condition of possibility for antisemitic thinking is a view in which intractable ethnic or cultural interests are the ultimate determinants of political life. According to this logic, the Rothschilds are ‘bloodsuckers’ not simply because they need to accumulate profits to sustain their business, but because their race or their culture tells them to suck blood from the Anglo-Saxon worker. That thinking can appear on the Left, but it is quite different from the usual left-wing forms of anti-elitism, which concentrate on people’s positions within constructed social relations of exploitation and oppression as the root of their political interests; such anti-elitisms sometimes take insufficient account of the power of grand social structures in thinking that individual rich and powerful agents wield total control over the world, but that is to mount a different criticism from the one which thinks all anti-elitisms are tinged with the possibility of antisemitism. If subaltern antisemitism shares the rhetoric of anti-elitism with the Left, it shares its culturalism with the Right and with the political mainstream: from the ‘clash of civilisations’ myth to the anxious emphasis on teaching ‘British values’ from New Labour, coalition and Conservative governments alike, this is the view that cultural norms and cultural interests determine the course of political struggle.
3. Antisemitism is the disease of a few fringe bigots
Ever since fears about antisemitism in Labour first surfaced, they have focussed on individuals accused of making antisemitic comments. After the massacre in Pittsburgh, American journalists rushed to talk of mental illness or weird, marginal fascism in diagnosing the killer. That is the convenient framing of liberal anti-racism: that the social order is healthy, but a tiny number of people are miserably sick in the head and the rest of us must be protected from them. Hence, we were told this summer, we must come up with a quasi-legal definition of antisemitism so that we can then pursue the mutants who fall prey to it. That reaction is all wrong. It is of a piece with the worrying trend towards the pathologisation of politics, wherein the state’s ‘Prevent’ agenda speaks of ‘safeguarding’ Muslim teenagers from the risk that the poor things might have their young minds twisted into opposing imperial crimes in the Middle East. Prevent is presented as part of a mental health agenda. Angry politics is a disease; militants are its victims. This mode of social explanation is convenient because it treats the problem as limited to a small minority and it entirely avoids the question how the wider social structure might share responsibility for making people think this way.
That last question is also shelved by some of the thinking that prospers on the Left today. Where once we spoke of ‘solidarity’, now we talk instead of ‘allyship’. The former framing prioritised the identification of common enemies to unite disparate coalitions; the latter risks treating the work of politics as a charitable endeavour. Expressing solidarity against antisemitism from the Left demands asking what role it plays in sustaining the conditions of hierarchical society that we all wish to explode. Offering allyship usually forecloses that question. It means seeing Jews as the circumscribed social group targeted by antisemitism, since it asks us to oppose antisemitism simply because we ought to help Jews as a moral obligation. Gentiles are called upon to support victimised Jews from their position of comfort and privilege, rather than to ask how antisemitism attacks them too – the older question that motivated Frantz Fanon to see fundamental conceptual links between colonial and antisemitic ideologies. The language of solidarity searches for enemy social structures that harm us all, and which also generate manias scapegoating particular groups.
That language can lead to crude and unpersuasive aspirational declarations of common interest, but it is a worthwhile project for keeping in view the deep social foundations of bigotries. In our political moment people experience alienation and exploitation, and are still told they live at the ‘End of History’, and that comprehensive social transformation is there impossible. In this context, antisemitism is the predictable, desperate conservative project to identify some tiny cultural cancer that can be zapped to rescue the social order and make everything great again. Neoliberals insisted that “There Is No Alternative” to the power of capital, and so this is the spasm they breed: an attempt to escape without the need for an alternative. Politics retreats to the level of essential, cultural enmities once everything grander is foreclosed. That is Trumpism. Antisemitism today is part of a much bigger historical story than is suggested by tales of peripheral fanatics to be loathed or the mentally ill to be pitied.
Racists are produced, they do not produce themselves, and the society that produces racism is the really fundamental object of study and critique. Racism should be our focus, then, understood as a pervasive ideological condition, rather than racists treated as that small cluster of the very worst apples in the barrel. This is to seek a very different way of talking about antisemitism from the one that currently prevails.
4. Political moderates can beat antisemitism
Recent discussions of antisemitism in Britain might have been much improved by incorporating two lessons from Karl Marx. The first is his plea for the critique of ideology. Pithily and influentially expressed in chapter 1 of Capital, ideology is that condition in which ‘they do it, but they do not know they do it’, in which we convince ourselves of partial and misleading explanations for our actions. Marx thus takes seriously people’s statements about their own beliefs; he thinks they run much deeper than mere conscious deceptions. When politicians and journalists who rarely bat an eye in the face of Islamophobia or migrants drowning in the Mediterranean express their heartfelt anti-racist principles in talking of antisemitism, a Left committed to the critique of ideology would not dismiss them as cynics attempting nothing more than to distract from Israeli crimes or to dislodge Jeremy Corbyn; we should instead ask what about our political moment makes erstwhile racists genuinely panic about antisemitism. It is part and parcel of the present panic among moderates and the Right about the end of neoliberal technocracy. And when some on the Left insist on their anti-racist credentials and then speak in the next breath of ‘Zionist’ conspiracies to run the world, we should ask what induces their blind-spots rather than presuming they are simply disingenuous. Plenty who consider themselves fervent anti-racists really harbour deep bigotries. This is not to rule out the existence of cynics consciously lying about their intentions, but it is to insist that misshapen left-wing consciousness and the anti-populist panic are both elements of this saga too.
The second intervention is more directly political. Penned at just 25, Marx’s On ‘The Jewish Question’ remains among the most masterful critiques of antisemitism we have. Marx charges that bourgeois politics takes cultures as given because bourgeois politics lacks the radical ambition to envision the transformation of cultures. Antisemitism, which blames any real or imagined crimes of Jews on their Jewishness, is symptomatic of this thinking. Today we tend to imagine antisemitism as a problem of individuals or groups far from the mainstream, whom we disparage as common racists or frustrated conspiracy theorists or just sick in the head. I have suggested an alternative view in which antisemitism is organic to a political moment that preaches culturalism and the End of History. The uniqueness of the radical Left inheres partly in its insistence that politics produces culture rather than the other way around, that people are made and remade all the way down by their encounters with power and so the ultimate culprits for inequalities and injustices cannot be Jews or Muslims or even white men as cultural groups: cultures are ciphers. In the last instance the problem is not people but social domination, and that is what we must aspire to overcome. That is how we save everybody, Jew and non-Jew alike.
A Specter is Haunting Europe
Austria also hosts the largest regular gathering of neo-Nazis in Europe. On May 12, about 10,000 Croatians – including neo-Nazis and Catholic officials – gathered in a field in the southern Austrian town of Bleiburg to commemorate the defeat of the Ustaše army in May of 1945. The fascist movement which collaborated with the Nazi invasion, was responsible for murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma, Serbs and Muslims during World War II, many in the organization’s Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia. It was the only concentration camp run without any German involvement. Thousands of Ustaše members were captured and killed by Allied forces in Bleiburg. According to VICE, the annual event mourning that fact is organized by the Croatian Catholic Church, which claims that the gathering is not political, but simply a Mass that aims to “remember the dead”.
In Poland, where I visited with anti-fascists at a squat in Warsaw, I learned that the mainstreaming and embrace of open neo-Nazis has also taken place there. Whereas in earlier years, antifa had been able to forestall or disrupt neo-Nazi marches in the capital, beginning in 2015, the Nazi element had become part of a larger, nationalistic march on Nov. 11, Polish National Day (anniversary of the end of World War I when Poland again became independent). That year, several hundred neo-Nazis peeled off from the larger march and physically attacked one of the autonomous movement’s squats in the city; although the squatters and supporters were able to fend off the attack, it was from a clearly defensive position.
In 2017, the 99th anniversary, 60,000 people including right-wingers from across Europe marched in Warsaw, in the “unofficial” celebration, many chanting “Sieg Heil” (Hail Victory, the chant of Hitler’s Nazis) and carrying banners reading “Clean Blood” and “White Europe.” Warsaw was by far the “whitest” and least diverse city I visited in Europe as compared to Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden, Frankfurt in Germany, or London. Vessel cancellations forced me to skip a visit to Bialystok, Poland, where my father grew up, but from what I was told, it is now a hot-bed of neo-Nazi activity, with swastika graffiti everywhere, and antifa forced to keep a low profile.
Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 31, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Always the Hidden Puppeteers
Minutes before storming into Etz Chaim Synagogue on Saturday, Robert Bowers wrote on social media that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish immigrant and refugee support agency, “likes to bring in invaders that kill our people … I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered … I’m going in.” Bowers thought that, by targeting a synagogue involved in refugee relief, he was striking at the root cause of the migration which threatened his white race.
For white supremacists like Bowers, left-wing Jewish activists are the hidden masterminds behind immigration, Black Lives Matter, feminism, LGBTQ rights, political correctness, and all the other assorted “evils” of progressive politics that hinder the creation of their hoped-for white ethnostate. Alt-right theorists argue that throughout the twentieth century, American Jews mobilized hyper-focused networks of political and social capital to loosen the country’s immigration policies; orchestrated the Civil Rights Movement, integration, and other ills of “race mixing”; and engineered multiculturalism, relativism, sexual liberation, and other fronts of “cultural Marxism.”
The chant “Jews will not replace us,” heard at last year’s Unite the Right white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, embodies the alt-right fear that the all-powerful Jew remains the hidden puppeteer of progressivism, hell-bent on using liberal causes to keep whites outnumbered, emasculated, and demoralized.
More and more, these sentiments move, in both explicit and coded forms, from the margins to the mainstream of right-wing discourse. In the two weeks leading up to the massacre, a chorus of right-wing pundits, amplified by Trump’s Twitter account, insisted that the hand of George Soros lurked behind the migrant caravans, while prominent GOP voices claimed Soros was sneakily helping ensure Democratic wins in the midterm elections. Meanwhile, Soros’s home was the first to receive a bomb package on October 22 from alt-righter Cesar Sayoc, and earlier this month, flyers popped up on campuses across the country claiming that Jews were secretly behind sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Paradoxically, the far right blames Jews, not only for the progressive social movements of the Left, but also for the neoliberal austerity of the Right. Days before the 2016 election, Trump’s final and most prominent campaign ad beamed into millions of homes across the country the faces of Soros and other prominent Jewish figures, alongside condemnations of the “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” The term “globalist” captures perfectly this bizarre assertion that the same “Jewish power” hoists upon dispossessed whites both the economic agenda that exports jobs and forecloses upon homes, and the social agenda that emasculates men, diversifies white communities, and mixes the races.
In short, according to the alt-right, Jews are “the principal enemy — not the sole enemy, but the principal enemy — of every attempt to halt and reverse white extinction.” In the words of neo-Nazi leader Victor Gerhard, “to rail against blacks and Hispanics without mentioning Jews is like complaining about the symptoms and not the disease.” Only by expunging the Jewish root can whites successfully reverse-engineer their dispossession, ensure their survival, and chart the course of their future. Antisemitism posits a vast Jewish conspiracy that can be deployed, both on the fringe and mainstream right, to obfuscate not only the true voices, faces, and demands animating progressive movements for social change, but also the true interests and actors behind neoliberal exploitation.
Antisemitism is a key pillar of white-supremacist thought, helping reinforce and repackage anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, patriarchy, and other reactionary ideas by lending the overarching veneer of a comprehensive, totalizing reactionary worldview. One always finds antisemitic conspiracy theories entangled with other oppressive ideologies, transcending and including them to offer a final meta-explanation: “it’s the Jews.”
Still the Socialism of Fools
Antisemitism is given this universal explanatory power at time when neoliberal capitalism has immiserated vast numbers of people. Framing their rule as a revolution against the “globalist agenda” of neoliberalism, today’s neofascist leaders promise to reestablish strong, sovereign nation-states, rooted in blood and soil, cleansed of “foreign infiltrators,” delivering longed-for stability and prosperity.
The last dramatic resurgence of antisemitic ideology in the 1930s, took root in similar circumstances, in the wake of a global financial crisis, when working- and middle-class whites from Germany to the US were desperate to understand and respond to their dreadful predicament. Like today’s alt-right, twentieth-century fascism blamed Jews, not only for the specters of communism, homosexuality, and other “left-wing ills” but also for the depredations of predatory finance capital.
But today, as in the 1930s, this “revolution from the right” is no revolution at all. Nationalists from Trump to Hungary’s Viktor Orban critique “the globalist elite” in theory, while in practice, plunging ordinary folks deeper into poverty and deepening the pockets of the ultrarich. Antisemitism, then and now, is a “foreshortened anticapitalism,” a “socialism of fools” promising false emancipation from illusory oppressors.
While many forms of oppression keep oppressed groups on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, modern, European-derived antisemitism works when some Jews have moved up a few rungs, securing a relative degree of visible prosperity and power in society. During times of economic downturn and popular discontent, the anger of oppressed and exploited people gets redirected, like a pressure valve, away from capitalists as a class and onto the image of the conniving, all-powerful Jew.
“Peasants who go on pogrom against their Jewish neighbors” serving as the nobleman’s tax collectors, writes Puerto Rican Jewish poet and activist Aurora Levins Morales, “won’t make it to the nobleman’s palace to burn him out and seize the fields.”
Today, antisemites use the very fact that, over the twentieth century, some Jews entered visible positions in portions of the privileged and owning classes, while some others enthusiastically embraced progressive causes, as proof of the correctness of their conspiracies. The overwhelmingly white and Christian titans of heavy industry, big business, finance, oil, and the weapons industry are happy to support Trump, and while Soros gets scapegoated, happy to remain behind the scenes in their corporate boardrooms peacefully collecting mega-profits.
Conspiratorial antisemitism benefits the class interests of the 1 percent, and is rooted organically in far-right, white-nationalist movements. However, strands of the ideology also appear elsewhere. Conspiracy theories of nefarious Jewish control championed by figures like Louis Farrakhan serve to obfuscate the real capitalist relations behind the history of slavery, present-day racialized poverty, and more. Fringe voices claiming to support Palestinians — though shunned by the mainstream Palestinian rights movement, which stands against antisemitism — portray Jewish Zionists as conspiratorial infiltrators of the American government, single-handedly steering US foreign policy to support endless war in the Middle East. Marginal voices on the Left resurrect antisemitic Rothschild conspiracy theories to fashion half-baked, shoddy caricatures of neoliberalism, financial speculation, and other symptoms of capitalism.
3 Lessons About Anti-Semitism We Should Learn From the Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack
A man takes a moment at each of the Star of David memorials with the names of the 11 people who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 29, 2018.
By DEBORAH LIPSTADT
If the murder of 11 innocent people can teach us anything, what lessons might we learn?
1. Do not look for haters only on the other side of the political transom. Those on the political left who only see antisemitism on the right have blinded themselves to what is happening in their own midst. Those on the political right, who are only concerned about the “lefties” on the campus and beyond, are blind to what is happening next to them.
2. We may never change the minds of people who send pipe bombs or enter a sanctuary with guns blazing. But we can stop them from influencing others. This year, at Thanksgiving dinner, when your curmudgeon uncle or successful cousin (not all haters are old and ornery) begins to rant about Jews, Blacks, Muslims, and LGBTQs who are ruining this country, do not sit idly by. Challenge them. Do so, not to change their minds, but to reach others – especially young people – who are listening and watching and learning. Silence is an imprimatur for hate and prejudice.
3. Do not think that this attack is only about Jews. It may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. And conversely, it may start with others – Muslims, African Americans, LGBTQ identifying folks – but it will ultimately reach Jews. Lost in the legitimate media attention to the pipe bomber and the Pittsburgh murderer was the fact a few days earlier in Kentucky two African Americans were murdered outside a supermarket by an alleged white nationalist. He had tried to gain access to a predominantly African American church but found the doors locked. Instead, he went to the nearby supermarket to find some Blacks to kill. And he did.
How Mainstream Ideas Become Mass Murder: Anders Breivik and the Authors Who Inspired Him
By DOUG SAUNDERS | Published: OCTOBER 30, 2018
This is adapted from the opening chapter, “Crescent Fever,” of my book The Myth of the Muslim Tide.
Shortly after lunchtime, Anders Behring Breivik logged on to his computer, inserted a memory stick, and pulled up the Microsoft Word document he had finished formatting late the previous night. On this warm holiday Friday in 2011, he felt a sense of exalted relief. After three years of writing, first at his mother’s home and then at the farmhouse he’d rented for his project, it ran to 1,518 densely typed pages, with a stark red Templar cross on the cover. He scrolled to page 1472, typed “I believe this will be my last entry. It is now Fri July 22nd, 12:51,” signed it, sent it to a mailing list made up mainly of his Facebook friends, and logged off for the last time.
He then changed into the figure-hugging Lycra police uniform he had fabricated with obsessive delight, prepared his weapons, climbed into a Volkswagen van he had rented from Avis, and drove carefully to Oslo’s central government building. The security guards, noticing the police uniform, paid little attention to the cube van as it parked in the front courtyard. Breivik took five minutes to walk several blocks away from the vehicle before the fuse ignited the detonator. When the blast wave reached him he did not turn or hesitate, but walked quickly to a Fiat van he had parked downtown the day before and began the drive to the fjord island of Utøya. As he drove westward, scores of emergency and police vehicles raced past him in the opposite direction, scrambling to deal with the deaths, grievous injuries and collapsing wreckage caused by the bomb. It was the height of the summer holidays, during which most Norwegians vacate the city, so Breivik knew the emergency services would be understaffed and unable to deal quickly with any other crises. That was part of the plan.
Aboard the ferry to Utøya an hour later, he flashed a forged police badge and explained that he had been sent to the island to counsel the teens and young adults gathered at the governing Labour Party’s summer camp about the tragedy that had just occurred in Oslo. Many of the kids had family and friends employed in the government building, so it seemed a plausible explanation, even if there was something excessively flamboyant about his uniform and overexcited in his demeanour.
Breivik stepped onto the tiny island and marched decisively through the light drizzle toward the clubhouse where two hundred kids were sitting out the rain. From the front lawn, he yelled, “Everyone gather around, I have an important message about the bomb attack earlier today.” As they stepped onto the lawn to meet him, he opened fire, first shooting the 45-year-old mother of two who had showed him the way from the ferry landing to the clubhouse, then dozens of young campers. As the children fled back into the building, he threw smoke bombs inside to drive them out again, and continued shooting. He then walked around the building into the campsite, methodically unzipping the tents and shooting any youngsters he found cowering inside. He continued to the path that followed the coast on the opposite end of the island, shooting into crowds of fleeing kids. Many threw themselves off the cliffs to escape, some plunging into the icy water and swimming or hiding in caves, others getting crushed on the rocks. He fired an automatic rifle into the water to kill fleeing swimmers, and hunted down teenagers hiding on the shore. At one point, a group of teens ran toward him, thinking a policeman had arrived to rescue them from the shooter. He gunned them down as their friends watched in horror from hiding places.
Breivik’s massacre continued for nearly 90 minutes before he got through by cellphone to the police emergency line and announced his surrender. In the end, 69 people died on the island, some as young as 14. Another eight were killed by the Oslo bomb. More than 150 were seriously injured.
Hours after the world learned of the attack, people began to circulate copies of Breivik’s 1,518-page document. I received mine from a member of his Facebook list as I arrived in Oslo. Like many, I was at first confused by its title, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. I had to wade through hundreds of pages to find its significance at last explained in precise detail. Breivik shared the popular misconception that Muslims will become a majority of Europe’s population, and claimed that this threshold would be reached around 2080. At that point, he argued, they will naturally want to impose their governing ideals, in harmony with their religious instructions, and subjugate the continent’s Christians and Jews. As it happens, 2083 is the four hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, when the advance of the Muslim Ottoman Empire toward the centre of Europe was stopped by the Habsburg armies. Breivik’s manifesto argued that Europe is now facing a similar onslaught, and called for a repeat of that battle.
In Breivik’s vision, his Oslo attacks were the opening salvo of this larger war, a cod-Wagnerian call to arms for fellow fighters against the enablers of “Eurabia.” His targets, chosen to have the maximum impact in stopping the Muslim onslaught, were what he called “category A and B traitors”: the politicians who were allowing and encouraging Muslim immigration, and the “suicidal humanists” and “capitalist globalists” who were tolerating the presence of Muslims within Europe. By killing the Labour Party youth, he hoped to eliminate a generation of tolerant politicians. (In fact, Norway has one of Europe’s tougher immigration policies, and also one of Europe’s smallest Muslim communities).
Toward the end of his document, Breivik provided the text of his proposed legal defence. “The individuals I have been accused of illegally executing are all category A and B traitors,” he wrote. “They are supporters of the anti-European hate ideology known as multiculturalism, an ideology that facilitates Islamisation and Islamic demographic warfare. The category A and B traitors I executed were killed in self defence through a pre-emptive strike. They have been found guilty of high treason and condemned to death. . . . I must be allowed to prove that I executed these traitors in order to prevent them from continuing to contribute in the ongoing processes of cultural and demographical genocide and extermination.”
That was outlandish stuff. Yet much of the document, once you clawed your way past its lush faux-medieval adornments, seemed strikingly sane and unnervingly familiar. True, the violent language and his invocation of a new Knights Templar army in the concluding sections were hallmarks of deep extremism and possibly insanity. But along the way to that leap of criminal absurdity, he had followed a line of reasoning that, by 2011, had become mainstream—a set of arguments that had been playing out on the bestseller charts, blog sites, opinion pages and 24-hour news networks of Europe and North America for a decade at least. Indeed, the core of his manifesto is a very long pastiche of passages from books, newspaper columns and blog posts by writers who are well-known media figures in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States. He did not develop a new argument at all, but merely cut and pasted theirs, unaltered, and appended his own violent conclusion.
Here, in this manuscript composed by a terrorist, was the history of an idea. In these pages, the notion of the Muslim tide could be traced from its emergence in fringe publications in the final decades of the twentieth century, through its rise in increasingly less obscure books and films throughout the opening decade of this one, and then into the central corridors of European and American politics. During that paranoid decade, a set of fringe concepts, built on misreadings and falsehoods, came to be embraced by a large group of writers and political leaders who should have known better.
The Outraged Moderate
Take, for example, the American writer Bruce Bawer, one of the more frequently quoted authors in Breivik’s manifesto, his books lauded by the killer as important inspirations. Far from being a career racist or fringe politician, Bawer was known for nearly three decades as a gifted essayist on poetry, fiction and cinema, his subtle works on John Fowles’s novels or David Lynch’s screenplays published regularly in such mainstream conservative magazines as the New Criterion and the American Spectator. His first major book, A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society, was a defence of gay rights and same-sex marriage from a politically centrist perspective. His second, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, was a moderate, gay Christian’s attack on evangelical excesses, in which he argued that his non-fundamentalist middle-of-the road faith was the “true Christianity,” not the angry extremism of US televangelists. [ii]
Bawer had moved to Amsterdam in 1999 (and would be living in Oslo by the time of Breivik’s attack). Something happened to him in the wake of 9/11. By Bawer’s own account, he was shocked into consciousness living as a gay man in Amsterdam and experiencing the homophobic and antiliberal voices of the more extreme Muslim clerics after the September 11 attacks. In While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within and other books, he repeatedly and hyperbolically described the extremist fringe of Islam as being its true (and, generally, only) aspect. His books were well received in the United States and were excerpted and praised in such mainstream outlets as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Fox News. In the final chapter of While Europe Slept, titled “Europe’s Weimar Moment,” he likens Europe today to Germany during the ascent of Hitler, with Muslims taking the place of Nazis, arriving at the inevitable conclusion: “It’s hard to imagine that Americans could do much to rescue Europe from its present fate, short of launching another D-Day.” In a January 2007 blog post, Bawer took this line of reasoning even further, with words that would become his most famous: “European officials have a clear route out of this nightmare” of Muslim hegemony, he wrote. “They have armies. They have police. They have prisons.”
Bawer was outraged by Breivik’s attack, but not simply because it was a grotesque atrocity. In his view, the killings had also brought dishonour on an important movement. “When it emerged that these acts of terror were the work of a native Norwegian who thought he was striking a blow against jihadism and its enablers,” Bawer wrote in the Wall Street Journal two days after the killings, “it was immediately clear to me that his violence will deal a heavy blow to an urgent cause.” Even as bodies were still being pulled from the Norwegian lake, he used the occasion to endorse the arguments in the 2083 manifesto. “The first half, in which [Breivik] indicts the European cultural elite for permitting Islam to take root in Europe, makes it clear that he is both highly intelligent and very well read in European history and the history of modern ideas,” Bawer wrote. “There is reason to be deeply concerned about all these things, and to want to see them addressed forcefully by government leaders.” Breivik had “a legitimate concern about genuine problems,” Bawer continued, even if his solution was “unspeakably evil.”
In the months after the attacks, Bawer hardened his position further. In 2012, he published a short e-book that sharply denounced the response to the attacks from the “left-wing cultural elite” and the international media, whom he described as “apologists for radical Islam.” The book, tellingly, is titled The New Quislings, after the Norwegian Nazi collaborationist leader Vidkun Quisling. In it, Bawer suggests explicitly that people who tolerate immigration from Muslim-majority regions are analogous to those who allowed Hitler to take over their countries. The government and the media are, in Bawer’s argument, class A and class B traitors.
The Mother of Eurabia
When you try to find out what might have caused otherwise reasonable people such as Bawer to become foaming Muslim-tide extremists, you keep running into the same little old woman. She is the grandmotherly inspiration of authors and activists, the inventor of the word “Eurabia,” the coiner of the popular angry bloggers’ insult “dhimmitude,” and the widely acknowledged matriarch of the movement. Almost every Muslim-tide book written since September 11 has drawn on the writings of Gisèle Littman, a self-educated, Egyptian-born, Swiss-English writer who publishes under the pen name Bat Ye’or (Hebrew for “daughter of the Nile”).
The most famous Bat Ye’or book—the one whose title put a new portmanteau word into the language and effectively catalyzed an entire movement—is Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, published in 2005, and a surprise hit in the years after the September 11 attacks. It has been lauded by conservative popular historians such as Niall Ferguson (who called it “prophetic”) and Sir Martin Gilbert (who said it helped prove that “the European idea is being subverted by Islamic hostility to the very ethics and values of Europe itself”). As a result, you might assume that this book makes a credible case for Islamic ambitions in Europe. Instead, her book’s purported dark heart is not anything Islamic or Arabic but rather an obscure Brussels committee called the Euro-Arab Dialogue.
In the real world, the Euro-Arab Dialogue was a diplomatic talking shop created in 1973 by the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union, to improve diplomatic relations with the Arab states in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis and the Yom Kippur War. Its original goals of helping the cause of Middle East peace and improving trade relations across the Mediterranean went nowhere, in large part because the Europeans wanted it to be an economic forum and the Arabs wanted it to be political. In 1979, after only four meetings, the Dialogue was suspended. Attempts to relaunch it in 1990 and 2008 were widely regarded as failures. It has never had any policy power and wields no political influence. In fact, it is so universally regarded as an irrelevance that it was overshadowed by two later efforts to improve relations between Europe and its Middle Eastern and North African neighbours, the EU’s 1995 Barcelona Process and French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2008 Union for the Mediterranean. Far from being the vanguard of an anti-Western takeover, these initiatives were lauded by Israel, denounced by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a foil for European imperialism, and rejected by the Turks as a ploy to keep them out of EU membership.
In the mind of Gisèle Littman, though, this sleepy committee and its successors are orchestrating a continent-wide Islamic takeover. The Euro-Arab Dialogue, she writes in Eurabia, “has been in the vanguard of engineering a convergence between Europe and the Islamic states of North Africa and the Middle East . . . a new entity—with political, economic, religious, cultural and media components—superimposed on Europe by powerful governmental lobbies. . . . What is emerging is a new Eurabian culture with its own dogma, preachers, axioms and rules.” This political dialogue, she argues, is one of “the main steps of a transformation that has already begun in Europe, the birth of a new dhimmi civilization: Eurabia.” To support this claim, she offers only a thin soup of assertions that bracket passages from anodyne committee reports. That was all it took to earn her great credibility among a generation of writers, activists and politicians.
Littman had built her reputation on her earlier Bat Ye’or books, a series of amateur histories of the Middle East that offered harsh portraits of the repressions and humiliations suffered by Christians and Jews under Islamic regimes, from the seventh through the late twentieth century. Littman’s family were Egyptian Jews who fled to Europe in the 1950s, an experience that must have inspired her to adapt dhimmi, a neutral Arabic term for religious minorities whose presence was tolerated (sometimes roughly) in Islamic states, into dhimmitude, her darkly menacing word for “subjected, non-Muslim individuals or people [who] accept the restrictive and humiliating subordination to an ascendant Islamic power to avoid enslavement or death”—or, in practice, anyone who tolerates Muslim immigrants or recognizes their religion. It has become a word used endlessly by anti-Muslim bloggers and their fans to dismiss critics or liberals as Eurabian sellouts. However popular it is online, the concept has no credibility. Even the Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, who has been strongly critical of contemporary Islam, dismissed dhimmitude as a historical myth, comparable to the mirror-image Islamic myth of a “golden age” of multifaith harmony. “Like many myths,” he wrote, “both contain significant elements of truth, and the historic truth is in its usual place, somewhere in the middle between the extremes.”
Littman, however, is not a historian but a radical activist. This was starkly apparent from the mid-1990s, when she gained her first taste of public renown by employing her dhimmitude arguments to bolster the Serbian cause in Bosnia. In a series of interviews and speeches, she popularized the idea that Bosnia’s Muslim-plurality population, at that point being attacked by Serb militias, were the war’s real threat, and their attackers were actually “Serbian resistance movements” against “the gradual Muslim penetration of Europe.” In 1995, she delivered a speech at The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, a group dominated by Srjda Trifkovic, the adviser and spokesman to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb warlord who, only months before the talk, had organized the Srebrenica massacre. Littman’s speech championed the arguments made by the Serbian radicals: that the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo have a centuries-old plot to take over Europe, and that, as she said, “suddenly the recent crisis in Yugoslavia offered a new chance for [the plot’s] reincarnation in a multi-religious Muslim Bosnian state. What a chance! A Muslim state again in the heartland of Europe. And we know the rest, the sufferings, the miseries, the trials of the war.”
This unsavoury background has not prevented scores of writers and journalists from believing in Littman’s shadowy plot. Shortly after the publication of Eurabia, Oriana Fallaci, in the final episode of her journalistic career, eagerly adopted and amplified the Bat Ye’or argument. “Europe is no longer Europe, it is ‘Eurabia,’ a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion does not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and cultural sense,” Fallaci told the Wall Street Journal in 2005. Mind you, she had already embraced the demographic claims behind the Muslim-tide argument in the least subtle fashion, writing, in her 2002 Italian bestseller The Rage and the Pride that the “sons of Allah… they multiply like rats.”
Language like this seemed to find a new licence after the September 11 attacks. Amid the public anxiety and distrust of those years, it was hard for many people to make the distinction between Islamic terrorism and ordinary Muslims. And here, fully prepared for such an event, was a voice declaring loudly that such a distinction had never existed. The most immediate effect of Littman’s oeuvre was to inspire a set of extremist blogs dotted with her neologisms: Gates of Vienna, founded by the American activist Ned May, which warns of a “worldwide jihad,” calls for the expulsion of all Muslims from Europe and had a close relationship with Breivik’s friends and enablers; Atlas Shrugs, run by the American anti-Muslim firebrand Pamela Gellar (author of books such as Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance); and Jihad Watch, run by the provocateur Robert Spencer, author of such memorable titles as The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion.
Such shrill messages, joined in the angry years of the Iraq War by established American anti-immigration and anti-Muslim voices such as Daniel Pipes and Patrick Buchanan, slowly rose from the extremist fringe of the internet into more respectable circles, and eventually came to play a powerful role in the post-Bush Tea Party branch of the Republican Party. Along the way, they linked up with an older, more potent set of fears.
WORLD WAR I & THE BIRTH OF MYTHIC NATIONALISM
THE CREATION OF MYTHIC NATIONALISM
The national identities and nationalisms which arose from the propaganda machines of each war power relied heavily on the mythic. They evoked (non-existent) ancient histories of the “people,” created posters depicting idealized and caricatured forms of what a real German or French person looked like, while musicians, dramatists, film-makers, novelists, and other artists in the employ of capitalists supplemented the new nationalist myths with their own contributions.
Most of us are accustomed to thinking about the creation of mythic nationalism in terms of Nazi Germany, and thus perhaps it seems a bit odd to think of all these things happening in World War I. The truth is that all these things began before Hitler (who was, incidentally, gassed by British forces in a trench during the “Great War”), and the governments involved in World War II had only gotten better at the work they started in that earlier war.
To understand this point a little better, it’s useful to look at many of the buried aspects of United States involvement in World War I. As with most other participants, the United States had no clearly defensible stake in going to war with the Central Powers, nor did the war in Europe directly affect the lives of most common Americans. More so, conscription (“the draft”) didn’t exist in the US until the war, and only five years before the founding of Germany in Europe, the United States had just finished a bloody civil war.
American identity was hardly solid, and thus the government of Woodrow Wilson had quite a lot of work to do to convince Americans to go fight elsewhere. Besides the often forgotten imprisonment of anarchists, communists, and war dissenters under the Espionage and Sedition acts, the US government relied heavily upon the same sort of nationalist propaganda every European power did, with mythic representations of Americans, the “goddess” Columbia, Uncle Sam, and other civil-religious iconography, while also caricaturing the German people as “Huns” and gorillas.
The result of all this was that, by the end of the “War to End All Wars,” the people of each nation involved in that war had been so thoroughly propagandized into new national identities that there was no longer need to convince people they were “French” or “British” or “German.” This fact (as Eksteins makes clearly in The Rites of Spring) is what enabled Hitler and his Nazi party to evoke German identity in their seizure of power, and expand it to even greater mythic proportions through the concept of the Aryan race. This is also what enabled all the leaders of other powers to do similar (though without the concentration camps) in the second World War, and why we now find ourselves in a modern age where national identity seems to have always existed and to be an integral part of ourselves, rather than being a constructed identity disciplined into our great grandparents.
FASCISM: MYTHIC NATIONALISM’S FULFILLMENT
Thus, when we look around at the rise of new forms of mythic nationalism in the hands of fascist and authoritarian groups, we’re seeing a continuation of the same process that governments started during World War I. That rise is also not what many suggest: it is not a “reactionary” or “backward” tendency. Eksteins controversially points out in The Rites of Spring that mythic nationalism is a uniquely modern phenomenon and is a product of Modernism itself.
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