July 30, 2011
The New Anti-Semitism
The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, calls his boss, Adolf Hitler, by hell-phone.
“Mein Führer,” he exclaims excitedly. “News from the world. It seems we were on the right track, after all. Anti-Semitism is conquering Europe!”
“Good!” the Führer says, “That will be the end of the Jews!”
“Hmmm…well…not exactly, mein Führer. It looks as though we chose the wrong Semites. Our heirs, the new Nazis, are going to annihilate the Arabs and all the other Muslims in Europe.” Then, with a chuckle, “After all, there are many more Muslims than Jews to exterminate.”
“But what about the Jews?” Hitler insists.
“You won’t believe this: the new Nazis love Israel, the Jewish State - and Israel loves them!”
THE atrocity committed this week by the Norwegian neo-Nazi – is it an isolated incident? Right-wing extremists all over Europe and the US are already declaiming in unison: “He does not belong to us! He is just a lone individual with a deranged mind! There are crazy people everywhere! You cannot condemn a whole political camp for the deeds of one single person!”
Sounds familiar. Where did we hear this before?
Of course, after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
There is no connection between the Oslo mass-murder and the assassination in Tel Aviv. Or is there?
During the months leading up to Rabin’s murder, a growing hate campaign was orchestrated against him. Almost all the Israeli right-wing groups were competing among themselves to see who could demonize him most effectively.
In one demonstration, a photo-montage of Rabin in the uniform of an  SS officer was paraded around. On the balcony overlooking this demonstration, Binyamin Netanyahu could be seen applauding wildly, while a coffin marked “Rabin” was paraded below. Religious groups staged a medieval, kabbalistic ceremony, in which Rabin was condemned to death. Senior rabbis took part in the campaign. No right-wing or religious voices were raised in warning.
The actual murder was indeed carried out by a single individual, Yigal Amir, a former settler, the student of a religious university. It is generally assumed that before the deed he consulted with at least one senior rabbi. Like Anders Behring Breivik, the Oslo murderer, he planned his deed carefully, over a long time, and executed it cold-bloodedly. He had no accomplices.
OR HAD he? Were not all the inciters his accomplices? Does not the responsibility rest with all the shameless demagogues, like Netanyahu, who hoped to ride to power on the wave of hatred, fears and prejudice?
As it turned out, their calculations were confirmed. Less than a year after the assassination, Netanyahu indeed came to power. Now the right-wing is ruling Israel, becoming more radical from year to year, and, lately, it seems, from week to week. Outright Fascists now play leading roles in the Knesset.
All this – the result of three shots by a single fanatic, for whom the words of the cynical demagogues were deadly serious.
The latest proposal of our fascists, straight from the mouth of Avigdor Lieberman, is to abrogate Rabin’s crowning achievement: the Oslo agreements. So we come back to Oslo.
WHEN I first heard the news about the Oslo outrage, I was afraid that the perpetrators might be some crazy Muslims. The repercussions would have been terrible. Indeed, within minutes, one stupid Muslim group already boasted that they had carried out this glorious feat. Fortunately, the actual mass-murderer surrendered at the scene of the crime.
He is the prototype of a Nazi anti-Semite of the new wave. His creed consists of white supremacy, Christian fundamentalism, hatred of democracy and European chauvinism, mixed with a virulent hatred of Muslims.
This creed is now sprouting offshoots all over Europe. Small radical groups of the ultra-Right are turning into dynamic political parties, take their seats in Parliaments and even become kingmakers here and there. Countries which always seemed to be models of political sanity suddenly produce fascist rabble-rousers of the most disgusting kind, even worse than the US Tea Party, another offspring of this new Zeitgeist. Avigdor Lieberman is our contribution to this illustrious world-wide league.
One thing almost all these European and American ultra-Rightist groups have in common is their admiration for Israel. In his 1500 page political manifesto, on which he had been working for a long time, the Oslo murderer devoted an entire section to this. He proposed an alliance of the European extreme Right and Israel. For him, Israel is an outpost of Western Civilization in the mortal struggle with barbaric Islam. (Somewhat reminiscent of Theodor Herzl’s promise that the future Jewish State would be an “outpost of Western culture against Asiatic barbarism”?)
Part of the professed philo-Zionism of these Islamophobic groups is, of course, pure make-believe, designed to disguise their neo-Nazi character. If you love Jews, or the Jewish State, you can’t be a Fascist, right? You bet you can! However, I believe that the major part of this adoration of Israel is entirely sincere.
Right-wing Israelis, who are courted by these groups, argue that it is not their fault that all these hate-mongers are attracted to them. On the face of it, that is of course true. Yet one cannot but ask oneself: why are they so attracted? Wherein lies this attraction? Does this not warrant some serious soul-searching?
I FIRST BECAME aware of the gravity of the situation when a friend drew my attention to some German anti-Islamic blogs.
I was shocked to the core. These outpourings are almost verbatim copies of the diatribes of Joseph Goebbels. The same rabble-rousing slogans. The same base allegations. The same demonization. With one little difference: instead of Jews, this time it is Arabs who are undermining Western Civilization, seducing Christian maids, plotting to dominate the world. The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.
A day after the Oslo events I happened to be watching Aljazeera’s English TV network, one of the best in the world, and saw an interesting program. For a whole hour, the reporter interviewed Italian people in the street about Muslims. The answers were shocking.
Mosques should be forbidden. They are places where Muslims plot to commit crimes. Actually, they don’t need mosques at all – they need only a rug to pray. Muslims come to Italy to destroy Italian culture. They are parasites, spreading drugs, crime and disease. They must be kicked out, to the last man, woman and child.
I always considered Italians easygoing, loveable people. Even during the Holocaust, they behaved better than most other European peoples. Benito Mussolini became a rabid anti-Semite only during the last stages, when he had become totally dependent on Hitler.
Yet here we are, barely 66 years after Italian partisans hanged Mussolini’s body by his feet in a public place in Milan - and a much worse form of anti-Semitism is rampant in the streets of Italy, as in most [or “many”?] other European countries.
OF COURSE, there is a real problem. Muslims are not free of blame for the situation. Their own behavior makes them easy targets. Like the Jews in their time.
Europe is in a quandary. They need the “foreigners” – Muslims and all – to work for them, keep their economy going, pay for the pensions of the old people. If all Muslims were to leave Europe tomorrow morning, the fabric of society in Germany, France, Italy and many other countries would break down.
Yet many Europeans are dismayed when they see these “foreigners”, with their strange languages, mannerisms and clothes crowding their streets, changing the character of many neighborhoods, opening shops, marrying their daughters, competing with them in many ways. It hurts. As a German minister once said: “We brought here workers, and found out that we had brought human beings!”
One can understand these Europeans, up to a point. Immigration causes real problems. The migration from the poor South to the rich North is a phenomenon of the 21st century, a result of the crying inequality among nations. It needs an all-European immigration policy, a dialogue with the minorities about integration or multiculturalism. It won’t be easy.
But this tidal wave of Islamophobia goes far beyond that. Like a Tsunami, it can result in devastation.
MANY OF the Islamophobic parties and groups remind one of the atmosphere of Germany in the early 1920s, when “völkisch” groups and militias were spreading their hateful poison, and an army spy called Adolf Hitler was earning his first laurels as an anti-Semitic orator. They looked unimportant, marginal, even crazy. Many laughed at this man Hitler, the Chaplinesque mustachioed clown.
But the abortive Nazi putsch of 1923 was followed by 1933, when the Nazis took power, and 1939, when Hitler started World War II, and 1942, when the gas chambers were brought into operation.
It is the beginnings which are critical, when political opportunists realize that arousing fear and hatred is the easiest way to fortune and power, when social misfits become nationalist and religious fanatics, when attacking helpless minorities becomes acceptable as legitimate politics, when funny little men turn into monsters.
Is that Dr. Goebbels I hear laughing in hell?
...AMY GOODMAN: Our guest right now in Spain is Johan Galtung. He’s a Norwegian sociologist, principal founder of peace and conflict studies, author of the book The Fall of the U.S. Empire—And Then What? We’re talking about this issue of how to avoid, stop these kind of attacks in the future. And then, following up on Juan’s question, your second answer, Johan Galtung?
JOHAN GALTUNG: His ideology, OK, we have to go into it. And it doesn’t help anything, as I said, to call him a "terrorist." We have to try to understand him. So I identify three features very quickly. Point one, a civil war in Europe between deep Christianity, which is his essentially as Catholic, and Islam. And a civil war has been going on and is going on. Point two, Islam is penetrating on a road greased by multiculturalism, tolerance, and key proponents of this tolerance are the builders of that road, which he finds in what he calls "cultural Marxism" and social democracy. And point three, debate is impossible. You cannot end the Norwegian democracy and have a debate about this, because people are deaf and dumb. The Islamists, as he calls and would refer to all Muslims, will not listen; they are just pursuing their cause. In other words, the only possible response, horrible as it is, is violence—terrible, but necessary. There you have three features.
And that makes me immediately ask the question, what does it remind me of? And I have one simple answer and one horrifying answer. I will take the simple answer first: it reminds me of Nazism. There’s a civil war in Europe between Jews and Aryans—also a very basic tenet of Hitlerism, Nazism. And the Jews are of two kind: the Bolshevik Jews in Moscow and the plutocratic money Jews in London. Point two, there is something greasing the way for them, and that is miscegenation, racial mixing, marriages between Jews and Aryans—the worst crime imaginable. And point three, these people have their minds set; there is no dialogue possible. The only thing one can do is to expel them. You might even reward them for expelling them. And if not, the alternative is to execute them. Now, that last point was picked up by Breivik. I don’t think he had it from Nazism, but his idea was that each Muslim family in Norway should be paid 25,000 euro to leave, back to their own country. And if they rejected that, the alternative was execution—exactly the same as the Nazis did under the famous Transfer Agreement during the 1930s, when 60,000 Zionist German Jews were given not only the permission, but encouraged to leave for Palestine. Well, I can call this ideology neo-fascism, and it’s an updating, where instead of being anti-Semitic, it’s anti-Islam, and instead of miscegenation being the fantasma, it’s multiculturalism. So Breivik talks cultures where the Nazis talked race. But otherwise, the similarity is almost point to point.
But you see, then, when again you ask the question, "What does it remind you of?" there is a horrifying answer, which will be very difficult for Norway to process. This is exactly the ideology of the Washington-led attack on Muslim countries. There’s a civil war in Europe. It’s called "clash of civilizations," the idea that came from the Princeton professor Bernard Lewis and was taken by Samuel Huntington’s publishers and put as title of his book, and I think wrongly attributed to Sam. But that doesn’t matter; that’s a small detail. The road is greased by failed states and by local groups taking command those failed states, so that in these failed states, the local groups, be they Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, these groups can launch decisive attacks on the Christian Western mainland, and particularly then U.S. And 9/11 is then interpreted in that context. And point three, makes no sense to have any dialogue. These people, you cannot talk with them. Terrible as it is, the only language they understand is violence. Well, my country, Norway, is a part of that: sharpshooters in Afghanistan killing Taliban.
I had talked to a number of Taliban. I feel very deeply touched by that. They are human beings. They are fighting for their country. Some are what we would call "extremists," most of them are not. I think their ideology has essentially three points. Point one, they stand up for Islam, but know they have made—know very well they have made mistakes, particularly with regard to women. Point two, they hate Kabul as the landing platform for foreign invaders. And they hate being invaded. I have no difficulty accepting those three points. I have great difficulties, or I cannot—I simply reject the Norwegian government signing up with the U.S. effort to try to quench what they see as a rebellion of people with whom they cannot talk.
And then you have Norway in Libya, F-16s, 535 sorties, throwing 501 bombs on what they call military targets. OK, Breivik could say, "My bomb killed very few, and it was on the target." The target was the center of decision making. The parallel is disgusting. And the point about it is that, suddenly, my little country Norway stands as victim. We are mourning today. There are beautiful ceremonies. And I must reach out to the Prime Minister, saying his words are extremely well chosen. He does it beautifully. And at the same time, Norway, under the leadership of Washington, is doing exactly the same thing, only on a much larger scale: perpetrator—victim and perpetrator.
Well, I hope my country will be able to process that. And I think the way to process it, there’s only one road, and that is to point to positive openings, both in Norway, in Europe, and in the world. So, as a mediator, I’m working on that and have a couple of small things to say.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few minutes to go, and I wanted to ask—you have said that you don’t compare this to Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Oklahoma City building or to 9/11, but to the Nazis.
JOHAN GALTUNG: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Your father was captured, is that right? Held by the Nazis.
JOHAN GALTUNG: That’s correct. He was in concentration camp.
AMY GOODMAN: That comparison that you make and those you reject? And then I’d like you to end by reading a portion of the letter from your granddaughter, who was on the island when Breivik started shooting.
JOHAN GALTUNG: Now, you want me to read, or you will read?
AMY GOODMAN: No, no, if you would, but if you would just start by that comparison, the ones you’re rejecting, to 9/11 and Timothy McVeigh, and the one you think is most appropriate.
JOHAN GALTUNG: My granddaughter ends her letter to all her relatives, and I do not have her permission to circulate this in any detail, but she ends with a very important sentence. "I want you all to know that if I haven’t answered to all the expressions of compassion that I have been reading by now, it’s because I have tried to think, and I have tried to think of one thing: how can we prevent movements like the movement Breivik participated in?" I find that very wise. And the question is, what are the answers?
Let me give one answer immediately. Challenge these people on the extreme right in debate. Get them out in public space, in the open. Challenge them. Let me only say one thing. If you want to challenge them, you should have been well prepared. These people are well prepared. Don’t underestimate them—point one. This has to happen all over Europe. It is not a question of just identifying cells. It’s a question of going to them personally. Get them out. Invite them into the best of our society, the open, free debate. But—and then comes the difficult point—it’s difficult to do that unless you are willing to open for the same possibility in dialogues and debates with Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda. And I can only say, having done it, it’s very, very easy. But you have to understand them. That doesn’t mean you have to accept them, but you have to go your portion of the way.
And I can add to that one point. The mourning today in Norway is in churches and in mosques. How about a joint ceremony? A joint ceremony would be beautiful. We haven’t quite come to that stage yet, but we could be close. And the closest place in Europe would be the Mezquita in Córdoba, which was a mosque and was destroyed partly. They were trying to make a cathedral, and now is some kind of mix. Well, the Muslims in Spain have suggested to have, let us say, Muslim ceremonies on Fridays, Christian on Sundays, and I could add, how about joint ceremonies on Saturdays? It’s been rejected by the local clergy. And then I turn my face on the map to Turkey. OK, you had a big, big cathedral in Constantinople, and it was turned into a mosque. How about doing the same there? How about doing the same? You have Premier Erdogan in Turkey, Zapatero, and they have made the Alliance of Civilizations. What a fantastic symbol this would be, leaving these rightists behind, saying, "You are not a part of our history. You belong to the past. You belong to the past. Come and join us in this endeavor. Talk with the Islamic people you are so afraid of." And you will find them 99.99 percent very, very reasonable.
AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Norwegian sociologist, called the father of peace studies, author of the book, among others, The Fall of the U.S. Empire—And Then What?. His father was taken by the Nazis, was considered a mayor of Oslo, was a doctor. His granddaughter was one of the survivors of Breivik’s shooting on the island...
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/7/29/n ... ct_pioneer
Islamophobic Conspiracy Theorist Frank Gaffney Advising Michele Bachmann On Foreign Policy
By Ben Armbruster on Jul 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm
The New Republic yesterday published a lengthy piece by Washington Times reporter Eli Lake highlighting how the “Republican foreign policy consensus has collapsed” and that the GOP contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination are, as the article’s title says, “all over the map.” Lake notes that there’s an internal strife within the GOP over whether Muslims pose a threat to America — with some neocons and conservatives like Grover Norquist embracing mainstream Islam and others, led by Islamophobic conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, believing that, as Gaffney often says, the nation is close to instituting Sharia law.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is running for president and she is currently surging in polls. However, Bachmann isn’t exactly a foreign policy aficionado and she doesn’t talk too much about her views on international relations. Lake writes that when he started asking around about where she stands, he repeatedly was told to “talk to Frank Gaffney“:
Gaffney himself stressed that he had no formal relationship with Bachmann as an adviser. But he did say that he had contact with several of the GOP candidates. And, of Bachmann, he said this: “She is a friend and a person I admire. I hope she is getting the best counsel she can.” He added, “We are a resource she has tapped, I’m assuming among many others.” When I asked him whether Bachmann had been briefed on the Team B II Report, he replied, “We’ve spent hours, over several days with her. I think she’s got the bulk of what we would tell her in one of the more formal presentations.”
So it’s safe to assume that Bachmann is getting a regular dose of Gaffney’s crazy anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Gaffney’s Islamophobia is well-documented. Last year he released a report purporting to document the threat posed by Islamic law in the U.S. (no Muslims actually contributed to the report). Among the report’s wild accusations, one was that members of the Obama administration are part of the “Iran lobby.” Gaffney thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to infiltrate the American conservative movement. Before her confirmation to the Supreme Court, Gaffney claimed Elana Kagan would impose Sharia law on America. He even accused Gen. David Petraeus of “submission” to Sharia and thinks the president is secretly Muslim.
But Gaffney’s baseless far-right views aren’t limited to his Islamophobia. In addition to flirting with birtherism, as late as 2009, he claimed to have evidence of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “collaborating on all kinds of things.” He has even said Iraq was complicit in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Gaffney also once said that repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would lead to reinstating the draft (hasn’t so far) and he claimed the DADT repeal would force some “radical” LGBT “agenda” on the U.S. military.
More recently, Gaffney said Obama’s policy on Israel (which is basically the same as all of his predecessors) will “catalyze the next Middle East war.” He even said Obama might order a military attack on Israel.
This is Frank Gaffney, currently Michele Bachmann’s primary foreign policy adviser
Europe on the verge of a nervous breakdown
All across the continent, economies are in a tailspin as the numbers of young, jobless men swell. Are we on the brink of repeating the catastrophe of the 1930s?
By Richard J Evans
Greek neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn, sing the national anthem. Photo: Getty Images
A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of unemployment. At the latest count, there were almost 25 million people in the member states of the European Union without a job, an increase of two million on the same point in the previous year. This is well over 10 per cent of the workforce, and in some countries the situation is much worse. At the top of the list is Spain, with 25 per cent unemployed, followed by Greece, with nearly 23 per cent. Particularly hard-hit are the young. In Greece and Spain more than half the workforce below the age of 25 is without a job. The youth unemployment rate across the EU is running at 22 per cent. And there are no signs of the upward trend being reversed.
At the same time, openly neo-Nazi parties are on the rise. In Greece, the Golden Dawn movement shot from nowhere to win 21 seats in the legislature at the May election and 18 in the rerun election a few weeks later, attracting nearly 7 per cent of the popular vote. The party’s flag is black, white and red, like that of the original Nazi Party in Germany, with a swastika-like emblem at the centre (Golden Dawn denies any resemblance and claims that the symbol is a “Greek meander”). Not only has it issued threats of violence against parliamentary deputies who oppose its policies but it has also been involved in numerous violent incidents across Greece. During the campaign, television viewers were treated to the spectacle of a party spokesman assaulting two female politicians during a live debate. In 2012, it campaigned on the election slogan “So we can rid this land of filth”.
Golden Dawn is not the only openly neo-fascist party to gain support recently. In Hungary, Jobbik, founded in 2003, uses a flag resembling that of the Arrow Cross movement, which was put in power by the German occupiers of Hungary in 1944 and butchered so many thousands of Jews that even the police, who were busy rounding up Jews for deportation to Auschwitz, complained about the dead bodies lying in the streets of Budapest. In the 2010 elections, campaigning under the slogan “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians”, Jobbik shot from nowhere to become the third-largest party nationally, securing 16.67 per cent of the vote. It has close links with the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, outlawed in 2009 by a court order that continues to be flouted. One of its policies is the revision of the Treaty of Trianon, which, under the peace settlement at the end of the First World War, reduced the size of Hungary by two-thirds to help create viable successor states. Jobbik wants much of the old territory back and condemns the mainstream parties for not taking advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the break-up of Czechoslovakia and the Balkan wars to do so in the 1990s.
Anti-Semitism is one of the most obvious distinguishing features of leading members of Jobbik. One of its deputies recently raised again, in parliament, a blood-libel case from 1882 in which 15 Jews were tried for the supposed murder of a teenage Christian girl just before Passover. They were eventually acquitted, but the deputy claimed all the same: “The Jewry and the leadership of the country were severely implicated in the case.”
A female legal academic who soon afterwards won election to the European Parliament on the Jobbik ticket is reported to have responded to criticism with the following diatribe: “I would be greatly pleased if those who call themselves proud Hungarian Jews played in their leisure with their tiny circumcised dicks, instead of besmirching me. Your kind of people are used to seeing all of our kind of people stand to attention and adjust to you every time you fart. Would you kindly acknowledge this is now over. We have raised our head up high and we shall no longer tolerate your kind of terror. We shall take back our country.”
While Golden Dawn and Jobbik are probably the most extreme of the parties that have entered the mainstream, there are many other signs that the economic crisis has helped garner support for the far right across Europe. In France, the Front National won 18 per cent of the vote in this year’s presidential election. Its platform has included at various times the reintroduction of the death penalty, the repatriation of immigrants and the introduction of customs borders, which means it wants France to leave the EU. Its long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of the party’s current leader, Marine Le Pen, repeatedly referred to the Holocaust as a “mere detail” in the history of the Second World War. In Italy, the election in 2008 of the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, was celebrated by crowds chanting, “Duce! Duce!” and raising their arms in the fascist salute.
All this seems disturbingly reminiscent of the previous depression that hit Europe in the 1930s and brought Hitler to power. Commentators have not been slow to notice the parallels. National humiliation of the kind that Jobbik claims has been suffered by Hungary since the Treaty of Trianon was felt by the Nazis, too, in the harsh restrictions placed on Germany at the same time by the Treaty of Versailles. Mass unemployment was also a feature of German society in the early 1930s, the graph of Nazi electoral support rising in tandem with the graph of unemployment rates. Nazism, too, blamed the mainstream political parties for the disastrous state of the economy, and its dynamism also proved particularly attractive to the young – first-time voters were a large proportion of its supporters at the polls.
Territorial expansionism, economic protectionism, assaults on the rights of minorities, anti-Semitism, paramilitary violence and inflammatory rhetoric were all features of the Nazi Party, as they were of many other fascist parties that sprang up across Europe in the interwar years. They seem to have re-emerged with disturbing suddenness in the early 21st century as economic crisis has hit the continent.
We need to be careful about facile historical parallels. In the first place, despite superficial resemblances, the situation in Germany in the early 1930s was very different from the present one. Unemployment was far higher, with at least 35 per cent of the workforce out of a job, and while such figures meant that inevitably many of the Nazis’ supporters had no work, the real political voice of the jobless was the Communist Party, which continued to garner more electoral support in the second half of 1932 even as the Nazis began to lose it (their weakness was a significant reason why conservative politicians thought they could control them and so agreed to the appointment of Hitler as head of a coalition government in January 1933, one of the biggest political miscalculations in history).
Unemployment doesn’t translate directly into political extremism. More generally, it translates into apathy. Observers in Berlin in the early 1930s noted youths spending their time travelling aimlessly round the city’s suburban railway on the circle line, playing football all day in the parks, or sitting around listlessly at home. For a minority, political activism linked to violence became a way out, but this could be just as much on the left as on the right. In Greece today, many of the unemployed support Syriza, the dynamic new party of the radical left. Unemployment and economic crisis are eroding the base of centrist parties just as they did in the Weimar Republic, but, like then, they feed the growth of radical parties at both extremes, not just on the right.
Where extremism flourishes, political violence is never far away, and the desire for a restoration of public order can often play into the hands of right-wing politicians who, as Hitler did, promise to end the chaos on the streets, even though, like Hitler, they were one of the main forces behind it in the first place. It is no surprise to learn that a large proportion of the police force in Athens – perhaps as much as 50 per cent – voted for Golden Dawn in the 6 May election.
Yet, looking at the countries where far-right parties are now gaining support, it quickly becomes clear that a correlation with high unemployment rates is not always apparent. Where is the neo-fascist movement in, say, Spain, the country with the highest unemployment and, above all, one of the two highest youth unemployment rates in Europe? Despite continuing efforts by some to keep green the memory of Francisco Franco, the murderous dictator who ruled Spain for decades after the civil war of the 1930s, neo-fascist parties are almost infinitesimally small, and the two leading mainstream parties of the right and left still managed to win nearly three-quarters of the vote in the general election of 2011.
On the other hand, France, where the far right has been notably successful in electoral terms, has a relatively low and fairly stable unemployment rate, at roughly 10 per cent. Moreover, the electoral successes of the Front National began before the present crisis; the same can be said of post-fascist politics in Italy. Elsewhere, just as unemployment has risen, far-right parties have started to decline, as demonstrated by the example of the BNP here in Britain.
Much depends on the place of the past in political culture. History never repeats itself, and the main reason why it doesn’t is that people know what happened last time. Thus, they make adjustments to their behaviour to prevent things they didn’t like in the past from happening again. This is at its most obvious in Germany, where neo-Nazi parties have been banned and Holocaust denial is illegal. German unemployment rates are among the lowest in Europe, but even if they were not, the rise of an openly neo-fascist party to electoral success would be opposed by the majority and would probably incur a legal ban.
Where the memory of murderous conflict is relatively recent, as in Spain, the desire to avoid it happening again is very strong. The vast majority of Greeks – including those who voted for Syriza – still seem to want to stay in the eurozone, so they voted in a viable mainstream government rather than turning further to the far right in the most recent election. The central issues are not those raised by neo-fascists, but bread-and-butter challenges of austerity cuts, tax rises and job losses.
The far right is as aware of history as anyone else, maybe even more so. It realises how easy it is for others to rob it of political legitimacy by labelling it as Nazi. As such, all the present-day movements of the extreme right, or at least those who are interested in gaining supporters, repudiate labels such as “neo-Nazi” or “neo-fascist” and adapt to the conditions of present-day democracy, at least on the surface.
Often they send a double message to voters, on the one hand distancing themselves from the fascist past in their speeches and programmes, on the other hand hinting at it in their visual imagery and public rituals. A large element of neo-fascism consists of a repudiation of the political system that its leaders blame for the present crisis, so an important part of its appeal is as protest. And what better way of protesting against parliamentary democracy and mainstream political parties than flying a flag with a symbol reminiscent of a political organisation that notoriously repudiated these things?
On the other hand, the paramilitary violence so characteristic of mass fascist movements in the interwar years hasn’t resurfaced so far on a large scale, and parties of the far right no longer regard daily mass marches of uniformed storm troopers through the streets as a central political tactic. In comparison to the post-First World War era, when every other man on the street in most European countries seemed to be wearing a uniform, we live in a predominantly civilian society, and neo-fascism has had to adjust to this.
In most European countries, neo-fascism has adapted by focusing on new issues, leaving behind the old staples of anti-Semitism, territorial expansion, militarism and corporate organisation of the economy. Occasionally they can be glimpsed in the background, but they are not the central platforms for the neo-fascist parties. For almost all of them, immigration is paramount, sometimes mixed with the assertion of Christian values against Islam (a far cry from German Nazism’s hostility to the churches) and homophobia (a far more prominent issue than it was for the fascists of the 1920s and 1930s, perhaps in reaction to the intervening legalisation of homosexuality).
At the same time, in some cases, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, far-right parties, in justifying their vilification of Muslims, whether immigrants or not, have claimed to represent core democratic values such as freedom of speech, thus turning democracy’s principles against those same values. Where Islamists can demand the censorship of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, Islamophobes can win significant popular support by claiming to speak up for western values of tolerance and openness. It’s not for nothing that Wilders’s party is called the Party for Freedom. At the same time, Wilders shows his true colours by calling for the banning of the Quran in the Netherlands, a halt to the construction of new mosques, and the ending of all immigration from Muslim countries.
As Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels wrote after the fall of the Weimar Republic, “It will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes that it provided its deadly enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.” It is important that democracy in the early 21st century does not let itself be undermined by those who do not share its values but would cynically use its rhetoric.
Islamophobia, as the PVV’s policies suggest, is closely linked to hostility to immigration, among other things. However, immigration is not an issue in Hungary, where it has been minimal, and so Jobbik has directed its hostility instead against groups within Hungary, most notably gypsies, whom the party portrays as engaged in a crime wave. Municipalities where the party is strong have set up vigilante squads to combat “gypsy crime”, with results that hardly need spelling out. Jobbik has demanded that the gypsies be put in “public order protection camps” – concentration camps by any other name. And yet, for right-wing Hungarian nationalists, the plight of their country is above all the product of machinations by international Jewish liberals. All this offloading of resentment is not the result of particularly high unemployment (in Hungary it stands at 11 per cent, modest by present European standards). Indeed, on the whole, Jobbik’s young activists and supporters are not the destitute unemployed, but rather well educated and middle class.
The rise of the Hungarian far right is far more a consequence of the suddenness and depth of the economic depression into which the country was plunged from 2008 onwards. Before it hit, unemployment was almost unknown and there was a general atmosphere of post-Communist optimism. But as most people began to blame the left-wing government of the day for the economic collapse – more severe and more sudden than almost anywhere else in Europe apart from Iceland – the search for scapegoats quickly got under way.
Day of mourning
Thus far, mainstream conservative parties have managed to place severe constraints on the electoral potential of the far right by adopting many of their policies. In Hungary, the right-wing Fidesz government has taken the wind out of Jobbik’s sails by repudiating the Treaty of Trianon and inaugurating a national day of mourning on its anniversary. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been pursuing the idea of a “European gypsy strategy”, and his new, authoritarian constitution, which took effect on 1 January, has declared Hungary to be a Christian nation and defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. He has also launched a blistering verbal attack on EU interference in Hungarian affairs. All this is music to the ears of voters who might otherwise flock to the banner of the ultra right.
In other parts of Europe, where immigration is the central issue for the far right, government and mainstream opposition parties have been falling over themselves to introduce fresh restrictions and boast of their patriotism. Civil liberties have been curbed by stealth in the name of the war on terror, taking the wind out of the sails of far-right parties that see democracy as excessively weak and tolerant. History is being recruited as a tool to build an exclusive, aggressive sense of national identity that can all too easily spill over into xenophobia and that more than satisfies the demands of radical nationalists. The biggest threat to democratic values is not so much the rise of the neo-fascist right in itself, dangerous though that is, as the influence it is exerting on pushing mainstream parties in the same direction.
Fuelling all these disturbing developments has been a programme of exaggerated and unnecessary austerity, imposed on one European country after another, whether within the eurozone or – as with the UK – outside it. There seems little realisation that cutting government expenditure reduces demand and sends the economy into a tailspin, reducing tax revenues and prompting further government cuts.
That, roughly, is what happened in Germany in 1930-33. What is happening now is something related but different, a new threat for a new era. It’s not that unemployment leads directly to the rise of fascism. The social crisis that led to the present policies of austerity reaches far wider. Businesses go bankrupt, banks crash, civil servants are sacked, pay is cut, benefits are slashed, public services are shattered. It is not just the young, or the unemployed, who are affected. The whole of society is affected by it. No wonder political extremism is on the rise. Robbing people of hope for their future leads them to search for scapegoats, whether within their own countries or outside. And the hatred that this breeds can all too easily threaten to undermine the foundations of a tolerant and democratic political culture.
Richard J Evans is Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and is the author of “The Third Reich in Power 1933-39” (Penguin, £12.99)
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