New Old Labour and the Jews

Antisemitism continues to pollute the Left

2015-09-22-02-49-48.corbyne bij anti israel demonstratie

Friday 25th March 2016

In February, the co-chair of the Oxford Union Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, resigned his position in protest against antisemitism in the society. That evening the OULC had voted to support Oxford Israeli Apartheid Week which, according to its official website, “aims to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people.” An internal investigation conducted by the OULC has been sent to the Labour Party. A press release by the Oxford Union Jewish Society appears to vindicate Chalmers.

This month the Labour Party has re-expelled one vehement antisemite, Gerry Downing, has put another, Vicki Kirby, under investigation, and, has openly readmitted Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councillor in Kensington who thinks that Jews were “behind 9/11 and … ISIS,” as reported by the blogger Guido Fawkes over at order-order.com. It would be easy to pin the blame on Jeremy Corbyn. His hard Left faction has always had a penchant for antisemitism, but it’s been spilling over into the mainstream for some time now.

Traditional antisemitism is based on eugenics and race theory. Jews, it is said, are an inferior race because of their parasitic nature. They set-up in a host country, take over its economic system by stealth, defile its women, muddy the blood of the natives, and break down the moral and structural fibre of civilisation. In the United Kingdom, this exists chiefly on the far-flung fringes of the extreme Right. This, however, isn’t the Left’s antisemitism. Framed by its own prejudices, the antisemitism of the Left can be described as ‘antisemitic anti-Zionism’.

Founded upon an excessive hatred for Israel, Leftist antisemites see the Jewish state as the last bastion of imperialism. White European settlers ethnically cleansed the land of an indigenous population of Palestinian Arabs. Palestinians tried to reclaim their property and were driven back into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Victimised and oppressed, beaten into submission, and at risk of being exterminated, the Palestinians have been forced by Israel to use violent methods to get their homes back.

At its most extreme, antisemitic anti-Zionism attempts to expiate the Holocaust by inverting it, making Israel play the role of Nazi Germany. Zionism is racist because it views Jews as superior, so the logic goes. The Palestinians have been herded into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, their “open air concentration camps.” Rumours persist of abductions, medical experiments and even clandestine mass exterminations. Palestinians are now the Jews, and the Jews have become the Nazis. Benjamin Netanyahu is Adolf Hitler, and the Israeli Defence Force is the SS – all that’s missing are a few swastikas.

If you peel enough layers off of the onion of history you can find your desired culprit. If you selectively read history and deny people agency then you can come up with a very warped narrative to nicely compliment your partly-peeled onion. Leftist antisemitism does both of these things superbly.

It is often said that criticising Israel gets one unfairly labelled an antisemite. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be (and is not) regarded as antisemitic. It’s when Israel is held up to a higher standard that it crosses the line into antisemitism. Political scientist Alan Johnson spoke to this topic in a 2015 lecture. He explained that it constitutes the demonisation of Zionism as racism, an absolute rejection of Zionism, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

This comes to the crux of the issue: the hard Left does not want a two-state solution; they want a single Palestinian state. They want to wipe Israel off the map “from the river to the sea.” There is a distinction between criticising government policy and demanding the end of a country, the latter is something quite different.

Nit picking over the founding of a state is also different; for example, I believe the partition of India to be a mistake. I think that the creation of Pakistan and, eventually, Bangladesh has created problems for future generations, some of which may well turn out to be insurmountable. That does not mean that I want to see the end of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The partition was completed long ago and I do not dispute the right of each nation to exist. The hard Left, on the other hand, yearn for Israel to be a thing of the past.

Stating that one is against nationalism is a legitimate position, but there can be no exceptions. If one does not view Palestinian nationalism with the same critical eye as they do Jewish nationalism then, unless they are Palestinians, they are prejudiced. Sure, question the treatment of the Palestinians, there is quite a bit of room for improvement in that department, but don’t protest Israel’s right to exist; as Christopher Hitchens said: “Lots of states are founded upon injustices or foolishness or bad ideas, it doesn’t mean that anyone can just come and evict or destroy them. … But it should be a matter of principle, if Jews born in Brooklyn have a right to a state in Palestine, then Palestinians born in Jerusalem have a right to a state in Palestine. Anyone who doesn’t agree with that principle, I think, is suspect.”

The final aspect Johnson described is the BDS movement: the exclusion of, as he put it, “one state – and only one state – from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity: the little Jewish one.” The organisations and groups which have signed up to the boycott do not sell or promote Israeli goods, nor do they allow Israelis a platform. The supporters of the BDS movement treat all Israelis as responsible for the actions of the state of Israel, and they only apply their standard to Israel, other nations are ignored. Turkey, for example, refuses to acknowledge the Kurds’ right to self-determination and has occupied a substantial portion of Cyprus, a member state of the European Union, since 1974, yet there is no BDS movement against Turkey, just Israel. Combined with the other factors, this double standard is antisemitic.

The Left has a problem with this antisemitic anti-Zionism. Indeed, the more one veers toward the hard Left, the more antisemitism one uncovers. The Stop the War Coalition, for example, which Jeremy Corbyn chaired until he became leader of the Labour Party, routinely crosses into antisemitism. The student unions of several British universities have signed up to the BDS campaign. The National Union of Students website has a free downloadable handbook “designed to be a practical tool for activists who are setting up local BDS campaigns.” Three hundred and forty-three academics at English and Welsh universities pledged to boycott Israeli academia in October 2015. This is the hard Left. It’s what to be expected when one pathologically hates anything which has links to the West. This wasn’t as problematic when they were the kooky fringe, but now they control the party. Corbyn is the leader. The hard Left is the mainstream by definition.

Early in his tenure, Corbyn spoke with Labour Friends of Israel and managed to exit the meeting without allowing the word ‘Israel’ to pass his lips. Furthermore, since he assumed the leadership he has not explicitly disavowed his links – however tangential – to antisemites like Raed Salah, Dyab Abou Jahjah, Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer, and violent terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. This is because, in one way or another, they’re all fighting Israel: Corbyn found common ground and has chosen to ignore the rest.

The rise of the hard Left (and the Labour Party’s consequential problem with antisemitic anti-Zionism) stems from a predominantly Leftist delusion. We like to gaze through an idealistic lens, one which can obscure reality. The Right are relatively quick to expel fascists and extreme elements from within its ranks. This is a legacy of fascism. If one has a fascist as a member of one’s party, it is unsurprisingly easy for opponents to levy the charge of ‘fascists’ and spark images of the Holocaust in the public’s mind. The Left has used this tactic with remarkable efficacy, so the Right has had to learn quickly. The Left, on the other hand, has been appallingly slow at dealing with its own extreme fringe: communists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc. Reasoning for this is twofold: first, the Left has a benign belief in ‘re-education’ which, when combined with a stubborn confidence in one’s principles and the powers of persuasion, leads to the idea that eventually anyone can be persuaded to your position. Secondly, communism does not have a symbol as emotive as Auschwitz; thoughts of the Gulag pale in comparison to gas chambers and leather jackboots. This may be a fault of our education system; nevertheless, ‘communist’ is not as pejorative as ‘fascist’. Thus the Left give second and third chances, the Right rarely does the same. Had Corbyn held a belief at the opposite end of the political horseshoe it is tremendously unlikely that he would have won the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Authoritarians and totalitarians will not become social democrats. They will try to recruit those from the centre ground, and in doing so they may just poison the well with a vile strain of antisemitism. The danger of the hard-Left needs to be understood by the centre-Left. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon. All the same, I think it’s too late.

Assisting Radicalisation

Friday 20 February 2015

More British Muslims are members of the Islamic State (ISIS) than are soldiers in the British Army. ISIS has reached the height of its popularity: it has expanded into North Africa and it has replacements ready for when its fighters are killed (despite the inevitability of an internal power struggle). Less is known about the composition of other Jihadist groups in the region, like Jabhat al-Nusra, which Brits are also joining: regardless, it is indisputable that the danger of radicalisation in British Muslim homes is real.

On 13 January, the BBC current affairs television show, Panorama, screened an episode titled ‘The Battle for British Islam’, which I recommend going back and watching. It placed a lot of emphasis upon the grievance narrative perpetuated by non-violent, ultra-conservative, theocratic clerics as a reason for why radicalisation is a problem. This narrative is predicated upon the idea that Muslims are being persecuted for being Muslims, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Foreign examples put forward are the barrel bombing of Muslim civilians in Syria by the Assad regime and – a constant since 1948 – the plight of Muslim Palestinians. Previously, the experiences of Muslims in the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Bosnian War have been used. Injustice and victimhood can be forged from something as ostensibly insignificant as cartooning the Prophet Muhammad, which they say is an attempt to dehumanise a powerless and discriminated against group; hence, it is worthy of a march and a petition, which happened on Sunday 8 February. Last week the perceived under-reporting of the killing of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, caused both Muslims and anti-fascist groups to mass outside the BBC, screaming “Muslim Lives Matter,” as if the BBC was a well-known font of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz

The issue is that these grievances often build upon a grain of truth which Maajid Nawaz, the co-founder and chairman of the anti-radicalisation think tank Quilliam, calls half-truths. “[H]alf-truths aren’t the same as lies. It’s a lot easier to debunk a lie and to disprove a lie because it’s not based in fact,” Nawaz said in 2013, “they only pick on evidence that justifies their own narrative. They say America is at war with Islam and Muslims because Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Iraq. Muslims are dying everywhere – Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition to torture, waterboarding – these are all things that actually happened. …if one were to try and prove any one of these they can find ample evidence to say these happened and that’s how the young mind gets convinced, but, of course, it doesn’t tell the other side of the story.” The next step is to tell Muslims that they need to defend their faith from the other, the people wanting to destroy it. This is why demonstrations only occur when the victim is a Muslim and the perpetrator is not. One hundred and thirty two children have been massacred in a school in Pakistan? That’s not worth rallying over because those pulling the triggers said they were Muslims. A Jordanian Muslim man, Muath al-Kasasbeh, has been placed in a cage and burnt alive?  Better not march, apparently a Muslim lit the match.

It creates an ‘us versus them’, ‘in-group/out-group’ dynamic. Crimes committed by Muslims against other Muslims do not fit into this narrative, so they are ignored. Islamist clerics attempt to dehumanise non-Muslims to make any future action feel justified and less inhumane. “Part of being a non-Muslim is that they are liars. Usually, usually,” rants Abu Usamah at-Thahabi in the montage of Islamist clerics shown on Panorama. The other two screened are Murtaza Khan and Haitham al-Haddad. All three have said some despicable, antisemitic, misogynistic, racist things, hoping to remove any semblance of humanity from the out-group non-Muslims, thus deepening the fictional divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. This is identity politics at its headiest; calling on Muslims to identify with their faith first and foremost and protect it from inevitable outside attackers.

The worst part, and the greatest success of the Islamist movement in Britain, is that these hate preachers have been adopted by the media as the voice of the British Muslim community (as if such a coherent single group exists). This has allowed Islamists to call themselves mainstream and label anyone who says otherwise a racist or an Islamophobe – this includes liberal Muslims. Naser Khader, a Danish-Syrian Muslim and former member of the Parliament of Denmark, is quoted in Nick Cohen’s marvellous work, You can’t read this book (which I beseech you to read), discussing the opinion of mainstream society. Khader says that “They [mainstream society] take a minority in a minority to represent everyone.  When the minority in the minority demands the right to oppress the majority within the minority, they give it to them.”

And now we turn to our Caucasian correspondent to hear how the Caucasian community feel about this development...
“And now we turn to our Caucasian correspondent to hear how the Caucasian community feel about this development…”

There are more similarities than differences between fascists and Islamists. They are closer in ideology to one another than either is to the Liberal centre, but Islamist groups are considered respectable and allowed a platform to air their views because they claim they speak for a minority. Spokesmen from Islamist groups are routinely asked to appear on news and current affairs programs. They speak as the voice of the British Muslim community, and the media takes their word for it. Far-right white racist groups often use a similar tactic when discussing a pure Aryan race as if they speak for all Caucasian people. The difference is that television executives, newspaper editors, and radio producers refuse to converse with white racists (and there will be no backlash if they continue to refuse), but they allow Islamist racists to air their grievances.

Two examples: in 2012, the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) wrote that they disliked a Channel 4 documentary, Islam: The Untold Story, by historian Tom Holland. They called it “clearly biased,” amongst other things. You may, correctly, think: who cares? Well, the BBC then published a story featuring their press release, even though leading members of the iERA have made openly antisemitic comments, approved the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, and have stated that domestic violence against women is acceptable. From there it snowballed: other groups complained, Holland and people at Channel 4 were threatened, and so, on 11 September 2012, Channel 4 cancelled a planned screening at its London headquarters and decided not to schedule it. They said it would only be available on 4oD.

When Brigadier Lee Rigby was publicly executed in Woolwich, Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK) went on television and said the government had to admit the “direct link” between Britain’s foreign policy and the death of Rigby. When the massacre at Charlie Hebdo happened last month, again Bukhari was on television exonerating the killers and indirectly blaming the deceased for their own murders. MPACUK has a very chequered history, not least its antisemitism and routine conflation of ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jew’, yet they keep being given air time. Supporters and members of groups like the iERA and MPACUK are part of a minority which do not represent the views of the majority of British Muslims. Yet, as their opinions continue to be sought, these groups are given a respect which they do not reciprocate or deserve. It is embarrassing that they are treated as if they speak for British Muslims. It is also problematic, because, by featuring on such a public, high profile medium, both the grievance and ‘us vs. them’ narratives are lent a legitimacy.

There is an ongoing ideological battle within British Islam to be rid of the ungainly concepts of grievance, victimhood and ‘the other’ for, mainly, two reasons.  First, it is fiction:

  • Islam is a religion. Religions are prone to schism. More than one sect exists in Britain and no one person or group speaks for all Muslims.
  • There is no Western war on Muslims. There are only people tragically caught in war-zones; though, that is not to say that there are no anti-Muslim bigots. Intolerance still exists and should be argued against and called out. Nonetheless illegitimate anti-Muslim bigotry is not to be confused with the legitimate stance taken by those opposing Islamism.
  • The majority of British Muslims – especially women – have a far better quality of life in the UK, than if they lived in an Islamist society. This is shown again and again, and is not dissimilar to the masochism of spoilt Westerners.

Second, these myths are pushing some Muslims toward Islamism and on to Jihadism. The media has been getting better – painfully slowly, I might add – at selecting liberal Muslims to appear, Maajid Nawaz for one. I hope that the days when Anjem Choudary will feature on Newsnight are gone (although he does still write for USA Today).

Islamists have been facilitating radicalisation by pressuring Muslims to pick sides in a fictional battle, occasionally through the threat of violence. If we want to help our liberal brothers and sisters fight radicalisation we can start by handling Islamists the same way we treat white racists. To do this we must argue them back to the fringes. This is not censorship; it is rationally debating them, convincingly winning, and then removing the oxygen of publicity from their discredited ideas. Those that shout the loudest get heard, such is life — but we do not have to listen. When tragedy befalls our society I do not want to hear Asghar Bukhari once again telling us that the West is to blame. Nor do I want to be told what I can and cannot watch on my television by theocratic fascists. To accept that these people must be given a platform as part of a balanced argument is masochism. Masochism offered to us by sadists. We need the Islamist ideology to be rejected by mainstream society like fascism has been since 1945.

I have written in the past that we are not directly involved in this ideological battle, but we can help the morally superior side by aiding heroic organisations like Quilliam, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

Foreign Policy and Jihadism

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From left to right: Chérif Kouachi, Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly.

Monday 2 February 2015

One of the most preposterous statements made after the killings in France between the 7th and 9th of January was that the murders were a protest against the West’s foreign policy. This has mostly come from people on the Left of the political spectrum, and I am not entirely surprised that it has resurfaced. It’s an old argument which I first recall being used after the September 11 attacks, but it probably dates back further. Nonetheless, it would be remiss of me to ignore it: so, were the Kouachis and Coulibaly stirred to kill by a difference of opinion over the foreign policy of the French or Western governments? Indeed, was their rampage an expression of disgust at Western imperialism?

It is easy to mix up cause and effect, especially as humans wish to think in binary; nothing is ever that straightforward. Students have teachers, who were once students with their own teachers, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Put it this way: on a large, hellish, Jihadist spider diagram one could draw a rather short line from the Kouachis and Coulibaly to Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park mosque, or, even, to Osama bin Laden. A narrow lens is essential. One must pick their way through this minefield of tangents because in an attempt to explain everything, one often ends up explaining nothing. We are not trying to understand global Jihadism, merely whether foreign policy was the sole motivator for these men to kill a group of twenty people consisting of journalists and cartoonists, policemen and policewomen, and Jewish shoppers.

The picturesque Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
The picturesque Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

The killers were not intellectuals; they did not leave behind a detailed treatise explaining why and how they decided on this rampage and these targets. Both Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly said that the fate of Muslims abroad played upon their minds, but neither went into great detail. Saïd Kouachi said and wrote very little that could get him in trouble or leave an indication as to why he decided to go on a rampage. We know he studied in Yemen in 2009-10 and briefly shared a room with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber. Saïd returned to Yemen in 2011 and met Anwar al-Awlaki, then the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the group which claimed responsibility for the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (Meeting al-Awlaki does not necessarily mean that he trained with the group, but it cannot be discounted.) Whether Chérif was with him during this trip is a matter of speculation, but he was certainly not there during Saïd’s time as a student. All this being said, we do not know how or why Saïd was radicalised; it is likely that he was influenced by his younger brother, but we do not know when. His trail goes dark from 2011 onwards, approximately four years before the attack on Charlie Hebdo. A lot can happen in four years.

Chérif Kouachi’s statement is drawn from a deposition he gave in December 2007 before the trial of seven members of the Buttes-Chaumont network of which he was a part. Arrested in January 2005 as he was about to travel to Iraq, via Syria, to fight for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, he was then incarcerated for over two years before the trial commenced. Chérif, according to his deposition, said: “I got this idea [to go to Iraq] when I saw the injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.” Similarly, in a video posted on Twitter a few days after his death, Amedy Coulibaly stated that his own actions were “perfectly legitimate, amply deserved… You and your coalition carry out bombings regularly over there, you kill civilians, you kill fighters – and why, because we apply Sharia? Is it you who decides what goes on on this earth? No. We won’t allow it. We are going to fight.”

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The iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured at Abu Ghraib.

The message is clear, both are saying that they want to wage jihad because of events elsewhere: Chérif because of the deaths of Iraqis, Coulibaly because of bombings “over there”. This being said, foreign policy was a tool used in the radicalisation process, so it cannot have been the primary motive for the attacks. I have no doubt that images and discussion of the fate of some very unfortunate people during the War in Afghanistan and Iraq War were used as a recruitment tool to convert people like Chérif Kouachi to Jihadism. It needs to be pointed out though that the current concept of Jihadism predates both of those conflicts. Extreme fundamentalist Muslims were committing acts of violence and calling it Jihad well before the war began in Afghanistan. The resources used to get someone to believe – the propaganda – has changed but the ideology is still the same.

One of the incidents referenced by Chérif Kouachi was the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, which was brought to light in late 2003 by Amnesty International. Several people who have studied the Buttes-Chaumont network, to which Chérif and, probably, Coulibaly belonged, have said that its leader Farid Benyettou used images from Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Iraq to rile up his followers. According to a lawyer at the trial “Benyettou would talk to [his followers] about Abu Ghraib, the abuse of Muslims, and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’… He was like a little guru who claimed to know the sacred texts. And he convinced them that the texts said it was their duty to go to Iraq to fight for the cause.”

On the same deposition Chérif Kouachi notes that “the wise leaders in Islam told him and his friends that if they die as martyrs in Jihad they would go to heaven… [and] that martyrs would be greeted by more than 60 virgins in a big palace in heaven.” The delusion that one will be rewarded for martyrdom is never created by a disagreement over foreign policy; it can only come from religion, as Voltaire once asked: “What to say to a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than to obey men, and who is consequently sure of entering the gates of Heaven by slitting your throat?” Benyettou was a strict Salafist and, amongst many other disturbing things, he preached that the Islamic scriptures state that suicide bombing was a good thing. A thoroughly repugnant figure who has apparently reformed and was – until the attack on Charlie Hebdoworking as a trainee nurse at the hospital where many of the Kouachis victims were taken. Just one of those weird twists of fate history can conjure up.

I posit that the ideas Benyettou put to his disciples would not have materialised purely because of a dislike for the Iraq War; they were moulded by his extreme, fundamentalist, literalist version of Islam. Simply put, Jihadism did not begin because of the Iraq War or the bombings in Syria – that’s just a matter of chronology – but a skewed view of these and other conflicts will have been employed to persuade new recruits. Foreign policy will have played some part in the conversion process, but it isn’t the reason why the attack happened. Claiming that this was the case would be akin to stating that women’s rights were the reason why Anders Behring Breivik went on a rampage. Now, every time you hear people say “if we stop all foreign wars, these Jihadist terrorists will stop,” mentally replace the words “Jihadist” with “misogynist” and “foreign wars” with “women’s rights” and then proceed to explain how their argument is ill conceived.

George Galloway
George Galloway

The first time I heard someone say that foreign policy caused Jihadist violence was after 11th September 2001. A perfect example comes from a 2005 debate in New York where the odious George Galloway stated, mildly for him, that:

[You] may think that those aeroplanes in this city on 9/11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us. I believe… that by their unending, bottomless and total support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people,… I believe that by propping up… the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other, western policy has created this swamp of hatred against us. …We have to drain that swamp by stopping that support for Sharon’s Israel, his apartheid war, his crimes against the Palestinians. …I think unless we stop propping up these dictators in the Muslim world – none of whom who would last five minutes if it were not for the military, political and financial support of countries like yours and mine. Unless we stop invading and occupying Arab and Muslim countries, then we will be forced to endure the atrocities that took place in New York on 9/11 and in London on 7/7, over and over again. …Revert your policy towards Israel and Palestine; reverse your policy towards dictators in the Muslim world. Reverse your policy towards war and occupation and we can all be safer!

It is this same argument which is being wildly rehashed over and over again by self-centred fools who cannot conceive of a world where what they and their country are doing is not all that others think about and despise. The blame game begins with the USA, then the West, then Israel and the Jews, and then to proxy support given by any of the above. I know this is tough to accept for a lot of people, but we do not have a central role in this contest. At best we are a spectator. The majority of Jihadist terrorist attacks take place in nations in the Arab world and Muslim majority countries, why would that happen if it was all about us and our “imperialism”? France, for example, was deeply opposed to military action in Iraq. This is a fight within Islam between the extremists and the liberals. And we really want the liberals to win.


Addendum

I’ve recently been hearing about how the use of violence is merely the way that the Left-wing expresses themselves in other cultures and societies. In the West, the left write essays and pamphlets, but in Africa and the Middle East – so the argument goes – they blow themselves up to make a similar statement. I feel that I cannot shy away from using the word racist to describe this argument. That violence is what they do and that we write and maintain intellectual pursuits is an abominable way to think. Here’s a tip: spread the load. Critique all streams of thought equally, regardless of the ethnicity or culture of its adherents. Fight against the anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration line of British parties like UKIP by all means, but also stop trying to claim that Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, ISIS and other nut-bag Islamist groups are really fighting to unseat the power structures and be rid of the shadow of Western imperialism. It is okay to call a spade, a spade. If there’s one thing that can be said for UKIP it is that they don’t use violence, beheading, and rape as a political tool, unlike ISIS, et al. One should call out all bigoted, racist groups, and not shy away because their followers may be of a different ethnicity and/or claim to represent a minority. It is not a Left-critique to side with Islamism, nor is it racist to highlight extreme Islam’s totalitarian tendencies. It is simply common sense.

Charlie Hebdo, Binary, and Freedom of Expression

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Friday 16 January 2015

James [Fenton] was unable to forget the embarrassment of an undergraduate dinner with [George] Steiner, in which he had overdone his own insouciance and had too languidly said that there were no great unifying causes left anymore: no grand subject of the sort that had sent Auden to Spain or China. Steiner had snapped at this Fentonian display of the blasé and told him to take a hard look at what seemed to be happening in Vietnam.

– Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir

Having studied the 1960s I have often wondered what it was like to be involved in an honourable struggle like the discussion over the morally corrupt Vietnam War. The quote – which describes a dinner in the late 1960s (probably ‘67 or ‘68) – highlights that everyone is liable to nostalgic tendencies, even as great a poet as James Fenton. Current events are difficult to string into a coherent narrative, they move by at the pace of life. We get drawn into idolising the past and we cannot see the wood from the trees. It has only been in the week after the attacks in France that I’ve come to understand what has been staring me in the face since my mother asked me to turn over to CNN on 11 September 2001. The major ideological battle of our age is the one concerning militant Islamofascism. The irony is that we – the West – are not one of the prizefighters in the ring, we have a ringside seat and sometimes the fight spills over and continues on our lap.

I’ve been a critic of religion for a while and an atheist for longer, but it’s only in the last year or so when I have started to consider the psychological aspect of faith. Human beings want to think in binary. By this I mean that in an attempt to understand events and their root causes we love to think that someone is certainly, or certainly not, something – an idea, a belief, a reason. That person is either a racist, or they are not. The Columbine massacre happened because of video games, or it had nothing to do with video games. The Kouachis butchered the staff of Charlie Hebdo because they are Muslims, or their faith had nothing to do with it. It was to do with immigration, or it was not. It was the West’s foreign policy, or France’s history of colonialism, or because they were crazy. Expecting one simple answer to be one hundred per cent correct is an elementary mistake and one of which we need to rid ourselves. Sometimes A happened because of B, but more often than not A happened because of a mix of parts of B, C, D, and E. To some this may be a truism, but from the last week of coverage vast swathes of our media and many of the most important politicians think otherwise.

Protest At Ground ZeroThe ‘à la carte’ nature of modern religion is an example of this. Christianity has a central core of beliefs which are followed by all variants of the faith (e.g. that Jesus Christ was the son of God). Outside of the core there is the Bible, Christianity’s holy text, which contains some beautifully written sections, but it also has depraved lines, passages and books. To name but a few: homosexuality is an abomination, slavery is common place, rape is a way to pick a wife, genocide is divinely mandated, and women are fundamentally inferior to men. Must one give credence to all of these concepts to be a Christian? No, mainstream Christianity has moved away from the majority of these repugnant ideas. If a man in holy orders were to state that God hates homosexuals, however, they would be correct because the Bible says God hates homosexuals. Any argument against this statement would not come from the Christian faith. This passage has not been struck out, but it is routinely ignored. Who’s to say that the liberal Christian is more of a Christian than the literal homosexual hating Christian? Both are Christians and neither speaks for the whole of their religious faith. One interpretation has more subscribers than the other, but both represent separate sides of a pretty serious division within their religion. Biblical literalism is an ongoing problem. Personally, I could not be more in favour of loose readings of holy books (so loose, in fact, that they aren’t even open).

In the aftermath of the attacks in France we have heard both extremes of a binary story. We have been told that these men do not speak for Islam, that they have damaged the religion, and that they were not Muslims in any sense of the word. Others have said that they are typical Muslims, that this was the true face of evil Islam, the fifth column inside Europe waiting to destroy our civilisation. To take either of these positions is to misunderstand Islam. Like Christianity, there are a core set of beliefs and practices which all Muslims hold dear. And, like Christianity, there are liberals and there are puritanical literalists who believe that some parts of the Koran and certain Hadith are more important than others. Both are Islam. Undoubtedly Saïd Kouachi, Chérif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly were all Muslims. They spoke for a subsection of Islam – Jihadism. To listen to those who say that they were not true Muslims is akin to stating that Catholics are not really Christians.

2014-08-18 11.58.15
A visualisation by Information is Beautiful attempting to explain the various branches of Islam.

Islam has two major branches (the Sunni and the Shia), and those branches split into schools, which in turn can divide into movements. Jihadism is a movement out of Salafism, a subsection of the Hanbali school which has its origins in Sunni Islam. Jihadism is not a peaceful movement. I wish I didn’t have to type that, but I feel I have to because “Islam is a religion of peace” is being repeated again and again by those in power. This subdivision of Islam is not peaceful. Let me repeat that so that I am wholly understood: Jihadism is not peaceful. Islam has extremists, conservatives, moderates and liberals, like every other religion. Jihadism stands ululating at the violent extreme of the scale. Now, once again, to amplify what I am saying and what I am not: Islam is not a religion of peace; it is also not a religion of war as some English Defence League bigots would have us believe. The majority of Islam is peaceful, certain subsections are not. While these violent elements continue it is not possible to call Islam a religion of peace.

Nobody speaks for the whole of Islam, just their chosen interpretation. That goes for everybody: extremist, conservative, moderate and liberal. Furthermore, the actions of the Kouachis and Coulibaly were a direct result of the teachings of Salafi Jihadist Islam. Not in the name of, but as a direct result of the preaching of a very extreme and absolutist subsection of Islam. In the same way as some of those who voted against same-sex marriage did so because of a fealty to their version of Christianity, these men carried out these attacks in part because they believed themselves to be doing the work of God. As the Nobel Prize winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said:

Many people do simply awful things out of sincere religious belief… because they believe that this is what God wants them to do, going all the way back to Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac because God told him to do that. Putting God ahead of humanity is a terrible thing.

Devotion to Salafi Jihadist Islam will be in large part the reason why these men decided to kill those who they believed had insulted their Prophet. It will not have been religion one hundred per cent, to believe so is to capitulate to binary thought and would not explain why it was these men and not other Salafi Jihadists, but to deny that it played a role and claim that they were really lashing out because of, say, Western imperialism is akin to burying ones head in the sand. Radicalisation is an ongoing problem in both French and British society. We need to address what faces young Muslims and why some are being radicalised. I’ll go into this in greater detail next time, for now bear in mind that there is an ongoing ideological war within Islam between extremists and moderates. Terrorist attacks which take place in the West are mostly an attempt by extremists to attract other Muslims to their side. For us in the self-centred West it is difficult to understand this. As I said, I will explain further in my next entry, but for the rest of this piece I wish to address the discussion held by the media about freedom of expression over the last week.

Some have posited that, in some way, the fate of the staff of Charlie Hebdo was inevitable because their caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were racist. Asghar Bukhari, a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK), took a similar line during a debate on Sky News the day after the shootings. Bukhari opened by saying that “the images that they are actually drawing of Muslims and of the Prophet himself are racist. It’s like drawing a black person as a zoo animal or a Jew as an evil banker.” A week later Catherine Heseltine, another MPACUK member and former CEO, appeared on Channel 4 News and said “This magazine was pedalling a racism against the Muslim community, dehumanising a powerless and discriminated against group in a way that stokes the Islamophobia and the violence, in turn, that Muslims are suffering.”

Simply put there is only one race: the human race. Humanity is not subdivided into different races. There are different ethnicities, but not different races. Whatever your ethnicity, you and I are both human underneath. (Incidentally, this is why I dislike ‘racism’ as a term – it leads to people using the word ‘race’ to describe different ethnicities.) I actually think that the definition of a racist is someone who believes humanity is partitioned into different races. Regardless of what I think, in modern parlance racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” In the media there appears to be some confusion over whether Islam is a race. My favourite, ludicrous, example is from Big Think where David Ropeik, who also thinks religion had nothing to do with the attacks, wrote:

It was not being German that led Adolph Hitler (born in Austria) to form the National Socialist German Workers Party and in the name of a national tribe commit some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity the species has ever suffered.

Well, quite. However, Hitler did not form the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, Anton Drexler did, and the comparison is nonsensical. Islam is not an ethnicity/race because converting to or leaving Islam is a choice. One cannot choose to change their ethnicity, but they can choose to change their religion. The caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were not racist because they were a critique of an idea, not an assault upon a people. Here is one of the cartoons in question:

The speech bubble says "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter!"
The speech bubble says “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

See? Not racist. Islam has followers on all the major continents who all share the same core beliefs of Islam and they are not all of the same ethnicity. Once again, it is a belief, not an ethnicity. It goes without saying, therefore, that the asinine comparison between the caricatures and antisemitic or racist cartoons is spurious. One is racial prejudice; the other is criticism of a belief system. No belief system is above criticism and, in fact, all should welcome it because it is always a good idea to question why one believes something and to re-establish first principles. The axiomatic insecurity of religion is highlighted by the need to refuse questions about its foundations. (Strangely enough the prohibition of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad was a good idea initially because it rejected idolatry. However, as time has worn on, the prohibition has itself become a form of idolisation. One can name a person Muhammad – Atta, for example – without uproar, but drawing a picture of the Prophet is condemned.)

Similar to the concept that these cartoons were racist is the question along the lines of “why are cartoonists allowed to draw the Prophet Muhammad, but not a picture questioning the Holocaust?” (see Channel 4 News, Al Jazeera) This is, also, asinine as it is an idea played up against a historical fact. Simply put, the Holocaust is verifiable and provable; that Muhammad had the Koran dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel is not. The implication is that if probing the Holocaust is not legal, then the Prophet should not be allowed to be questioned either. There are two points here:

  1. Laws banning the questioning of the veracity of the Holocaust oppose the freedom of expression. The French law – the 1990 Gayssot Act – is wrong and should be repealed.
  2. It should be plain with the evidence we have that Muhammad is technically on the side of the Holocaust deniers. That is to say, there is as much evidence pointing towards him having heard those voices as there is that Auschwitz was a Jewish holiday camp.

People actually spend their lives trying to prove the conspiracy theory that the Holocaust never happened, which is an improvement upon taking it as read that Muhammad was a prophet. Also, there is not a single country in which one would be killed for saying that the Holocaust never happened, but there are still countries where if you leave Islam – commit the alleged sin of apostasy – you will be executed. The comparison between questioning the Holocaust and caricaturing Muhammad is a poor one – six million dead human beings played off against, maybe, a blunt pencil.

18nz6sfmyw4aapngWhen neither of these two approaches have been chosen, the line becomes: while it is okay to caricaturise the Prophet because of free speech, Charlie Hebdo was a rather nasty magazine which created racist cartoons and gave fuel to the French far-right (see Irvine Welsh on Channel 4 News, Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman). I plead a Wittgensteinian defence on my knowledge of French culture, however I have read articles by people who know far more about France than I do who say that Charlie Hebdo mock racist attitudes, rather than incite them. To me, that sounds plausible when one considers that Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing magazine. If one knew nothing about American culture, or did not share the cultural similarities with the United States that we do, then upon viewing South Park for the first time one could infer that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are bigoted racists. The show draws and plays upon existing prejudices in an overt manner which to the uninitiated would appear incriminating. Until proven otherwise, I feel that I should give Charlie Hebdo the benefit of the doubt that I would want others to give South Park.

Nonetheless, let us play devil’s advocate for a moment: imagine that it has been proved conclusively that Charlie Hebdo is a racist magazine, does it matter? Not in the slightest, even if it is a racist publication it still has the right to publish. As per Salman Rushdie: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” People have the right to place their thoughts into the public sphere and everyone else has the right to test their own arguments against them. The late Carl Sagan wrote that “the cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.” Freedom of expression gives people the right to learn and investigate for themselves. Democratic societies need freedom of expression, otherwise the society is neither democratic nor free. Taking offense does not equate to the need to censor.

The final chosen path of argument was one of self-censorship. Both Sky News and al Jazeera said they would not show the cartoons because they did not want to offend anyone. If that is true, then it’s sad. I would prefer to think that both were afraid of inciting a lynch mob. The pinnacle was on Channel 4 News when The Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson and novelist Will Self discussed self-censorship. Rowson, who had appeared on numerous networks discussing the tragedy, admitted that he does occasionally self-censor because the publications he works for will not print certain images. Furthermore, he said that during the controversy over cartoons depicting Muhammad in the centre-right Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 he did publish a cartoon depicting the prophet.

Will Self then put forward his view that “free speech comes with responsibilities… [the notion that] freedom of speech is some absolute right… is exactly the same as a religious point of view, interestingly. It places the ethics – human ethics – outside of human society… and that’s not the case. All rights have to be counted with responsibilities.” He also said that satire has to target the powerful and that Islamic terrorists “are not in power in our society”. While I disagree with him about his unspoken undertone, he has a right to say it and I am glad that he did not censor himself. Self-censorship is fine, I have no disagreement with the concept, just so long as people do not mind saying that they are censoring themselves because they are afraid of the consequences. Also, applying self-censorship does not mean that others should do the same. Will Self is correct: free speech comes with responsibilities, the greatest of which is to make sure it is unimpeded. Free speech has to be absolute and it must – must – include the right to offend. To, again, quote Rushdie – he has some experience of people trying to kill him for writing a novel, so I think quoting him twice is acceptable – “Both John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela use the same three-word phrase which in my mind says it all, which is, ‘Freedom is indivisible,’… You can’t slice it up otherwise it ceases to be freedom. You can dislike Charlie Hebdo… But the fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with their right to speak.” I cannot finish on a higher note than that.

The Forgotten British Far-Right: Part II

Hitler Painting
‘The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich’, painted in 1914 by Adolf Hitler.
(This is the second of a two-part article. To read the first entry, click here.)

Thursday 23 October 2014

As a preface, I should mention that yesterday I went to Skeptics in the Pub to see journalist Will Storr talk about his latest book.  Titled The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, it is a collection of meetings with people who hold unconventional beliefs.  These heretics provide Storr with a vehicle to explore human psychology and understand why they believe such wacky things.  The hypothesis Storr runs with is predicated upon personal narrative and what he calls the ‘hero maker’.  To paraphrase, he says that we each have an ongoing personal story, written by our brains, which we tell ourselves, and in it we are the hero and all of our decisions are easily explicable and justifiable.  Furthermore, and this is something that I took away from the talk, when one challenges another’s belief – like Storr does in the book with David Irving and his Holocaust denial – one is often met with a very defensive stance and/or aggression, this is because their belief is seen as a big, if not central, part of their own story.  It may even be their defining characteristic.

David Irving
David Irving

Irving likely sees himself as fighting back against the establishment and their incorrect history of the Second World War, to borrow a phrase which Storr used several times last night: he is his very own “plucky David fighting against a mighty Goliath.”  I want to consider this when I am writing the rest of this entry because the members of groups like the League of St. George are still human.  My brain may want to turn them into an other or an outsider, but they tell themselves their story, and they are defending or fighting for something which they truly believe in.  They are as human as I am.  Yes, there may be a few charlatans who know that what they are doing is bullshit and are in it for the money; however, for the most part I think these people are quite sincere in their belief.  Their views may be racist, homophobic, sexist and as skewed as it is possible for them to be; regardless, they believe that they are the hero.  Just like we all do.

At the end of the previous piece I had reasoned that it is odd to claim to be a Mosley nationalist lobby group when your website states that it is important to remember the lives of fervent antisemitic neo-Nazis, white nationalists and people who were actually members of the Nazi Party.  Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I cannot help but think that there is far more to being a member of the League than just believing in ‘Europe a Nation’.

Like every other human being, I have heroines and heroes; I admire a lot of people, but I do not endorse all of their views just because I hold them in high regard.  For example, I think that Isaac Newton is one of the greatest scientists ever to have lived, but that doesn’t make me a believer in alchemy or a Biblical literalist like he was.  I admire Martin Luther King, his struggle for civil rights, and especially the policy of nonviolent civil disobedience, but that doesn’t mean that I am on side with his prolific adultery or, even, his Christianity.  The difference which is becoming more and more apparent is that I am explaining where I disagree.  The League of Saint George may really enjoy Hitler’s artwork, but surely they would say if that was the case.  If I was to make the argument that I think highly of Hitler’s painting, I would preface and postface my statement with an unquestionable rejection of his antisemitism, his warped social Darwinism, and the many, many other despicable things he believed in and acted upon or was responsible for happening while he ruled over Germany.  Where are these repudiations on the League’s website?  They do not exist.

Hitler
Adolf Hitler

I can hear it now, somebody reading this and asking whether this means that one has to litter one’s own speech and writing with caveats.  Not necessarily.  Yet, when the unspoken or unwritten is something as disgraceful as the tacit endorsement of the Holocaust, then one had bloody well better clarify what they are saying and, more importantly, what they are not.  Imagine you are entertaining a friend at home; they glance towards your bookshelf and say “Oh you have a book on Hitler? I really enjoy his paintings.”  As the host, would you let that comment slide, or would you ask them to elaborate?  How about: “A biography of Charles Manson! Fantastic, his collaborations with the Beach Boys were the soundtrack to my teenage years.”  Or “I bought a video of the very best Jim’ll Fix It episodes today.”  One should be pressed to expand further.

Antisemitism, when not uttered or acted upon in any way, is a victimless crime.  This is impossible, of course, and as soon as one expresses such prejudice they run the risk of sacrificing the relationships they have with the people around them.  Most would question their friendship and some would cut off all ties because it takes a certain kind of person to want to be associated with unconcealed bigotry.  There is no explanation as to why the League reveres Nazis and white nationalists on their paltry website, so the only conclusion available is that the League of Saint George is a racist, anti-immigration, antisemitic, fascist group that idolises the Third Reich and really likes the Mosley’s; though, not so much their children, I haven’t seen them mentioned once yet, I wonder why?

I should acknowledge that I missed something of some importance in the previous entry which would have aided my understanding of the League and brought me to this conclusion sooner.  I skipped over a section of a paragraph on their homepage because I was unaware of its meaning.  It is italicised below:

The League of St George was probably the first British group since Mosley to established links with other European nationalists. Many of these contacts were made at the annual nationalist gathering in Diksmuide, Flanders, where in the 1970s the League gave physical support to the Flemish Amnestie campaign, and took part in demonstrations with the Flemish patriots, the VMO. Today, the League has contacts worldwide including Japan. [Emphasis theirs.]

Bert Eriksson
Bert Eriksson

I now know that Diksmuide hosts IJzerbedevaart (Pilgrimage of the Yser), which is a gathering of Flemings remembering those of their number that fell in the First World War.  Postwar, this was hijacked by neo-Nazis because during the war this tradition was continued and organised by the occupying Nazis.

The VMO (Vlaamse Militanten Orde; Order of Flemish Militants) was, until the late 1980s, a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, anti-immigration, militant Flemish group led in their heyday by Bert Eriksson – a man we met last time on the League’s list of remembrance.  A fanatical policy of theirs was to illegally exhume the bodies of those Flemish Nazi collaborators that were buried outside of Flanders, transport them back, and then have them reinterred within the region.  Another was fire-bombing establishments run by immigrants, and attacking non-ethnic Belgians, leftists, and occasionally Walloons.  At one time they openly associated with Flemish nationalism and at another they identified as a white power group; for example, in 1982, they sent a delegation to visit Léon Degrelle in exile in Marbella.  Degrelle was the founder of the Rexist Party, a Walloon pro-Nazi collaborationist group, and was living out his life in Spain, supported and protected against extradition by Francisco Franco and, after Franco’s death in 1975, by the gangster and pimp Jesús Gil.  This would have been against early VMO policy, but by the 1980s the group was being suppressed and could use any help and support it could find.

Léon Degrelle
Léon Degrelle

The VMO’s policies were disgusting.  Why would anybody give them ‘physical support’, as the League brags?  At no point were the VMO in favour of Mosley’s ‘Europe a Nation’ policy, so this ‘physical support’ was likely a result of being invited to Diksmuide.  The most infuriating aspect of the League is that they do not come out, as it were, in favour of the policies that their website insinuates.  Do they honestly expect to gain pro-‘Europe a Nation’ members which are for immigration and against antisemitism, for example?  If this ever happened, then I would think that they may be a bit put off by the declaration that they should celebrate Hitler’s birthday.  At a minimum, this poor cover is disingenuous and dim.

A large portion of the League’s history involves bungling mistakes, which were exposed through informants like Ray Hill in the mid-1980s.  The group was meant to be an exclusive club for the intellectuals of the British far-right.  Yet, they planned to safe house Italian terrorists until the ITV current affairs show World in Action aired an episode which exposed that plan.  In 1996, through their links in South Africa, they recruited mercenaries to assassinate high-ranking members of Nelson Mandela’s government, but the South African Secret Service cottoned on and easily thwarted them.  These are campaigns devised by the intellectuals of the far-right.  It’s mad, and the scariest part is that they would have thought that they were doing the morally correct thing.

What’s more, their apparent leader, Keith Thompson, was a paid informant for Searchlight magazine between 1979 and 1982.  Thompson sold them hundreds of League related documents ‘including membership and subscriber lists.’  His excuse?  The owner of Searchlight, Gerry Gable, burgled his house.  Thompson is still the leader and also runs Steven Books, an online bookstore which specialises in revisionist history (e.g. Holocaust denial) and is listed as ‘League Enterprises’.  It’s a bit funny how Thompson never pressed charges against Gable for burgling his house.

League FB
The League of Saint George’s Facebook page

The League of Saint George now has a hilariously dated Facebook page, with 230 ‘Likes’.  For impact and scope, they are nowhere near groups like Britain First and the English Defence League.  Several posts on the page indicate that it is run by Catherine Pakulski Parker-Brown.  Her partner, John Pakulski, has ties to several other white supremacist groups and spent a period of time behind bars for stabbing to death a friend, Mark Sanderson, who he found ‘in a state of undress’ with Catherine after a party.

If a user’s privacy settings are weak, then Facebook can open a person’s life up to outsiders.  Pakulski Parker-Brown has very open settings, and that is where I began to find a human aspect to this previously faceless group.  For example, I can see that she also ‘Liked’ PETA and other animal protection groups.  She likes Spike Milligan, Bruce Springsteen, Edgar Allen Poe, supports Britain’s troops, and veterans charities.  Hates domestic abuse, supports her friend’s pages, and likes Peter Kay, Andrex and Aldi.  Likes standing up for autistic people, painting, turtles, guinea pigs, Wallace and Gromit, horses, Jaffa Cakes, Jack Daniel’s Honey, Led Zeppelin.  Apart from honey flavoured bourbon and the overrated PETA, I am in favour of a lot of those things.  Then the things I dislike appeared again: ‘Stop censoring the English!’, ‘Ban all Islamic/Muslin hatred against our troops.make them illegal’, ‘Infidels of Britain’, BNP, ‘Boycott Halal’, ‘New British Union Youth’, ‘The Faustian Circle’.  Our minds work in binary.  It is either 1, we like someone or 0, we don’t.  Admittedly, I started to feel a bit sorry for her when I was reading through her profile, I started to drift away from 0 to 0.1, 0.2.  I reverted to type when the anti-immigration, racist hatred started up again.  It’s so sad.

One can dedicate one’s life to a cause and fight relentlessly for it.  We can be very exclusive and make sure that our friends only come from a specific group or circle; the alternative is to drop in and out of different groups of friends, family, and co-workers – this is what the majority of us do.  We put on masks and tell ourselves stories as to why we act a certain way around different people.  We create a reason for why we can enjoy Jaffa Cakes – a cake named after Jaffa oranges, which were originally grown in Jaffa in Israel, the Jewish state – and at the same time be antisemitic.  Our brains can form a logical explanation for why we would campaign for the ethical treatment of animals, but want England for the ethnically English – specifically the white, non-Jewish English.  It is easy for us to comprehend that we are fond of animals which are not native to the UK – like turtles (which originate from between the tropics) and guinea pigs (South America) – and at the same time want all humans which derive from different cultures to not be legally allowed to live in the same state as you.  Our brains are wonderful at keeping our cognitive dissonance in check.

A quote from Christopher Hitchens springs to mind:

‘In the 1950s there was quite a widespread movement in the United States called the John Birch Society, founded by a man called Robert Welch.  Mr. Welch made himself extremely famous by saying that President Eisenhower was a dedicated and conscious agent of an international communist conspiracy, and lots and lots of people believed that, and I wondered what their lives were like.  You know, you get up in Pasadena, or – wherever you live – Chappaqua, Arlington, you think: “It’s another day.  The President of the United States is being run by the Kremlin.  I guess I’ve still got to go get the groceries, drop off the kids.”  All this raging is going on inside your skull all the time.  It doesn’t in one sense make any difference.  It’s probably even therapeutic for some deeply disordered people.’

Everybody holds contradictory opinions and most of us do not even realise that they conflict.  Our brains weave it all into our story and confabulate what we consider to be legitimate reasoning for quite possibly illogical actions and beliefs.  This is what it is to be human.  If you think that this does not apply to you, then you’re wrong.  It does.  It really, really, really does.

The far-right in Britain is almost dead.  It has occasional flickers of life, such as the BNP winning some MEPs in the late-2000s, and UKIPs current, hugely puffed up, successes.  At its source fascism, and especially populism, is a self-defeating ideology.  It has to win it all at once or it will lose its authenticity.  Whether it is UKIP or the League of Saint George, these groups trade on being anti-establishment and holding unpopular anti-establishment views, like antisemitism.  Once they are voted in they become a part of the establishment by definition.  Unless something – often an unforeseen event – gifts them rapid change, they then lose their base of support because they have become exactly what they have previously rallied against.  I’m not saying that a far-right extremist group like UKIP could not win a majority in the UK, it could.  It’s just that it will not do so in the current climate because the standard of life in Britain is good for the majority.  And, if it did, it would have to be in a constant state of revolution, like Mussolini’s Fascist Party was, to stay in power; if they removed Britain from the EU, for example, UKIP would have to change its central message to retain any essence of support.

Ultimately, we have little to fear from these groups, but we still have to stand up to their bigotry.  It will be a pointless dialogue/shouting match, the equivalent of talking to a wall, but the battle is not to convert, but to prevent the undecided becoming extremists.  People need to speak up whenever the far-right want to intimidate or hurt minorities.  The silent majority should recognise when it needs to become boisterous.

I started this by wondering why people continue to believe in discredited, far-right ideologies, and I’m still not sure, though I believe that I am closer to a general conclusion.  One of the most difficult thought experiments is putting oneself in a position totally alien from our own.  This is because we believe that we are logical, anything divergent is illogical.  To totally understand why Pakulski Parker-Brown got to where she is today I would have to live her life.  I can do some armchair psychology about her upbringing and intelligence, but I would be no closer to a complete conclusion.  As Michael Shermer wrote in The Science of Good and Evil: “Nature is so intertwined with nurture that to say that a complex human characteristic like personality or intelligence or … morality is, say, 40 percent genetics and 60 percent environment (to arbitrarily pick two figures) misses something very important: inheritability does not mean inevitability of success and vice versa.”  We create, polish, and justify our own values.

What she believes is immoral and inherently wrong, but she would think the same about me.  If we ever spoke about it we would leave having only further convinced ourselves of our original positions.  Nonetheless, I do believe that conversion is possible, but only through personal narrative.  For example, one could convince oneself of a truth as powerful as the one previously held, so much so that it eventually usurps and becomes dominant.  This is where I wish to explore next: how do people change their beliefs away from an extreme position?

The Forgotten British Far-Right: Part I

Ugly Combo

Tuesday 21 October 2014

In the final year of my History undergraduate degree I was fortunate enough to study fascism with Dr Maria Sophia Quine, one of the leading scholars in the field.  The central point which I took away from the course was that fascism flourishes during a national crisis, more often than not this will be of the economic variety (e.g. mass unemployment).  Since the interwar years, fascism has taken root as a protest vote against established political parties which are often closer to the liberal centre.  In Weimar Germany, for example, the Nazi Party was able to gain so much support because of its promise to restore Germany back to its former, pre-First World War glory, not because of the antisemitic rhetoric that pervaded their manifesto, Hitler’s speeches and his book, Mein Kampf (although it would be wrong to say that these did not attract anybody at all).  A similar thing had happened earlier in Italy, with Benito Mussolini’s PNF being the anti-communist bulwark desired by Italian elites.  Legitimate ascensions to power by extreme parties occur in this way: disillusion with the establishment, and then protesting against it by voting for parties not considered to be a member of that set.

(As a side note, for a forceful overthrow of a government to happen then the group must have the backing of at least one of the armed forces and, probably nowadays, a subservient media.  An example of this would be Francoist Spain emerging from the bloody Spanish Civil War, and the Generalissimo ruling until his death in 1975.  This happens if the government in power either refuses to hold an election or the nation’s constitution stipulates that another election would not be for some time and, therefore, the extreme group believe that they have to act upon the groundswell of support which they currently have or risk losing it by the time of the next election.)

The continuing presence of fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the United Kingdom astounds me.  I came to this topic in the same way that so many interesting tangents of tangents of tangents are stumbled upon: Wikipedia.  I was researching UKIP for the article that I published in my previous entry (see Hiatus, UKIP, and Dan Carlin).  From there I hunted for the British National Party to see what became of them, this led me to the National Front, which took me back to far-right groups from the 1960s, including the League of Empire Loyalists.  The LEL brought me to the British Union of Fascists, which, in turn, took me to the Union Movement, at which point I noticed that it was only wound up in 1994, after it transformed into the Action Party in 1973.  Moreover, the AP had a splinter group – the League of Saint George – which is still around today after splitting in 1974, likely as a result of the change from UM to AP.  I wanted to find out about this group.  Why would somebody persist in swearing their allegiance to a party, group or ideology which has little to no chance of attaining power by legitimate or, even, illegitimate means?  The financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent global depression was a huge worldwide problem; but the only gain of any real significance for the far-right was the 21 seats (recently down to 18) which were won in 2012 in the Hellenic Parliament by the Greek fascist party, Chrysí Avgí (Golden Dawn).  In an effort to try to understand what makes the League tick, I went to their website – and it is extraordinary.

LSG
The League of Saint George with their emblem, centre.

Their homepage describes them as dedicated ‘to [Oswald] Mosley’s concept of a united Europe’, explaining that they have ‘never aimed to be a political party but more of a lobby group to influence and encourage established nationalist parties to embrace … [Mosley’s] philosophy.’  This is tantamount to admitting defeat.  How often have you heard Mosley and/or his policies mentioned in either house? I cannot recall a single instance since his death in 1980, nor could Google.  By definition, the intention of lobbying is to influence decisions made by officials in the government, often this is done by splashing enough cash to get their interests recognised and discussed.  This has most certainly not been achieved by the League.  My initial reaction is that it may well be one of the most ineffective and fanciful lobby groups ever.

Their homepage moves on from defeat to being unintentionally comical.  It is explained that they are ‘probably the first British group since Mosley to established (sic) links with other European nationalists’ (it’s good to know they did their research) and that they have ‘contacts worldwide including Japan’ (exotic!).[Italics mine.]  The website explains further that ‘membership is by invitation only and based on the question “what can you do for the League”.’  I wonder how many members have been invited but in turn were stumped by the entrance examination.

In the late 1970s, the League’s members were banned from the National Front.  Yet the League still exists and the National Front does not.  I wonder what the groups demographic is like: how many original members do they have, where are new ones coming from, and do they have any other objectives seeing as their first has been all but ignored and forgotten.  So I decided that I should try to contact them and ask them some questions, but I paused when I reached their Contacts page which consists of three more unintentionally humorous items.  First, their home office – a.k.a. ‘League Enterprises’ – is based in Grays, Essex.  A quick browse on Google Maps shows that the address provided gives a very unassuming house on a portion of the A1013 which also hosts a pub, some shops, a bank and several Asian takeaways.  Not quite what I was expecting.  Next, the website owner and/or operator has titled himself ‘webmaster’, which only adds to the Geocities/Homestead vibe.  Finally, should one wish to e-mail the group then the recipient uses an aol.com address.  I couldn’t help but picture a dial-up modem and the AOL homepage from the late 1990s.  I didn’t e-mail them.  For one thing, I couldn’t be sure that they check their e-mails more than once a week.

Mosley in Rome
Oswald Mosley and the BUF visiting Rome in 1933.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: they’re just big Oswald Mosley fans, they’re not fascist or neo-Nazi, or even far-right.  First, I would say go and do some research on Oswald Mosley and just note what his most influential political party was called, I did mention them earlier.  Secondly, visit their very own online shop (which operates by sending a ‘cheque/postal order’ by snail mail to League Enterprises – Amazon, it is not) and see the four books that are on sale.  At the very top of the list is Mein Kampf.  Second is This Time The World, the autobiography of the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell.  Usury by Hilaire Belloc is third.  Admittedly, I knew that Belloc was antisemitic, but I did not know that he had written on the subject, so I looked for it on Amazon and the following description popped up:

Find out how the definition of usury is actually any interest on an unproductive loan, such as a mortgage, and not the definition we a re (sic) taught today, high interest. Yet another example of how the banking/media/government tool of Jew oppression changes definitions of words to suit their own racist and nefarious purposes.

(The irony of the use of ‘racist’ in that quote is magnificent.)  The final book on sale is A Pictorial History of the Blackshirt Movement: Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, which is ‘printed and published by League Enterprises on behalf of the League of St. George.’  It seems strange that a group which is lobbying for Mosley’s ideas would list their own book on Mosley last in their own (kind of) online shop… and place racism and Nazis above it, neither of which they mentioned previously.

Mein Kampf
‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto.

Their website finishes with two lists.  The first is of eleven people that are ‘Marching with us still – in Spirit’.  The people that make up the eleven are: Oswald and Diana Mosley, George Lincoln Rockwell, Rudolf Hess, Florentine Rost van Tonningen – known as the ‘Black Widow’, she was the wife of Meinoud Rost van Tonningen, a leader of Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (the Dutch Nazi Party) who moved the group into a pro-Nazi, overtly antisemitic position in 1936, and then collaborated enthusiastically during the occupation.  Then there is Bert Eriksson, a Flemish member of the Hitler Youth and a prominent neo-Nazi and antisemite in post-war Flanders.  American racist David Lane also makes the list, known for his membership of The Order, an extreme white nationalist, antisemitic sect with the goal of overthrowing the government of the United States.  The others on the list were all British: Colin Jordan and John Tyndall, two of the most well-known British neo-Nazis of the post-war era, and Ian Stuart Donaldson, co-founder of neo-Nazi network Blood and Honour (with Nicky Crane, who isn’t remembered, probably because he came out as gay shortly before his death).  The last name is Fred Shepherd, who, as his name is followed by ‘(President LSG)’, was probably something to do with the League.

The second list is of 10 ‘Important Dates to Celebrate’ of which the fourth is Hitler’s birthday, two are pagan festivals, and two are the birthdays of the Mosley’s.  Then there is the Battle of Cable Street and the launching of the Union Movement and European magazine (all three of which are also Mosley related), Hess parachuting into Britain, and the date Enoch Powell delivered his controversial, anti-immigration ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.  To me, these two lists do a lot to indicate that this isn’t purely a Mosley nationalist group.

I’m going to have to come back to this.  I’m still wondering why people persevere with a failed ideology, let alone one which is racist and hateful.

The second part of this article can be found here.