June 17, 2009

The tendency to go to extremes

After this month’s elections, two of Britain’s representatives to the European Parliament in Brussels will be members of a white supremacist organisation that had previously experienced electoral success only at the local council level.

A few days after this regrettable result emerged, an elderly white supremacist walked into a Holocaust museum on the other side of the Atlantic and shot dead a security guard. There is no evidence of a causal relationship between the two events, but there is at least a casual connection.

It emerged last week that James von Brunn, the 88-year-old who claimed an innocent life at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, had attended meetings of the American Friends of the British National Party, a body set up to collect funds for the BNP from American donors. Whether or not he contributed to the BNP’s coffers, his empathy with British fascism is not particularly surprising.

After von Brunn was shot and wounded by other guards at the museum, a search of his car yielded a handwritten note that read: ‘The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America’s money. Jews control the mass media.’ The BNP, in its quest for electability, lately began to couch its propaganda in terms that stopped short of overt racism, but its leader, Nick Griffin, received a suspended two-year prison sentence in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred after publishing a Holocaust-denialist tract.

Griffin, who is one of the BNP’s new members of the European Parliament, has also been quoted as claiming that British Asians were colonisers rather than immigrants, and he once defended a BNP leaflet that declared non-white Britons should be described as ‘racial foreigners.’ The party has in the past supported the involuntary repatriation of immigrants and the sterilisation of non-white women, and Griffin has described Islam as a ‘vicious faith.’

Griffin will be accompanied to Brussels by Andrew Brons, who was once responsible for the election manifesto of an overtly Nazi group known as the National Front — a document that, back in 1983, called for global apartheid, saying that the alternative, ‘multiracialism, envisages an extinction of the white man.’ He also put his name to anti-Semitic articles and was closely associated with one of the Front’s leading Holocaust deniers.

The BNP does not use the word apartheid, but support for a system along the lines of what was once considered the norm in South Africa is implicit in its racist platforms. It is therefore not altogether surprising to discover that Griffin’s leading advisers include a veteran of the South African far right: Arthur Kemp, who is in charge of Excalibur, the merchandising wing of the BNP, was arrested back in the 1990s in connection with the assassination of the exemplary African National Congress leader Chris Hani, which was clearly intended to derail the post-apartheid transition. Kemp wasn’t charged, but it turned out he had indeed drawn up a list of potential targets. Hani was number three on the list. At number one was Nelson Mandela.

The octogenarian terrorist who slew a Holocaust museum guard in Washington is evidently among those Americans who have been driven over the edge by Barack Obama’s election. There is thus far no good reason to question the assumption that an African-American presidency will broadly help to diminish racism in parts of the US where it remains a dominant factor. At the same time, it was inevitable that the phenomenon would infuriate white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan variety — and these tend to be groups that have historically made little distinction between non-whites and Jews.

Not all of the groups on the far-right fringes of US politics are necessarily white-supremacist, but at least in some cases there is a bizarre phenomenon whereby political support for Israel exists side by side with anti-Jewish prejudice, the idea being that aggressive policies on the part of the Jewish state will facilitate Armageddon.

Another intriguing contradiction in the same general context is that Islamist fanatics with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denialist tendencies share many of their prejudices with extremists of other confessional persuasions, but the likelihood of them making common cause is gratifyingly small. One can never be too sure, though; after all, the Bush administration was prone to lining up with conservative Muslim states, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, at international conferences on what are euphemistically known as ‘women’s health’ issues.

However, the historically anti-Semitic far right in Europe nowadays tends to be vehemently Islamophobic as well. Britain is by no means the only country where the European Union elections yielded gratifying results for elements that have few qualms about flirting with fascist tendencies, with their electoral support frequently based on visceral opposition to immigration — although in former Eastern Bloc countries such as Hungary, it has been fed by appalling attitudes towards the Romany minority (it’s easy to forget that the Nazis’ spectrum of hatred encompassed Gypsies as much as Jews).

Notwithstanding the tendency, demonstrated by the BNP, of global connections between white supremacists, it remains to be seen whether the extremists voted in across Europe this month can sufficiently overcome their nationalistic predilections to form a bloc in Brussels. There can be little doubt, however, that their success does not reflect kindly on the supposed social democrats at whose expense they have done so well.

To a large extent, this is because European social democracy in recent decades has had trouble distinguishing itself from conservatism and Christian-democracy. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in Britain, where the price is now being paid for the success of Tony Blair’s project of reinventing the Labour Party in the image of the Conservatives. The betrayal of the working class paid electoral dividends in the short term, but the result is that voters no longer know what the party stands for.

Although the BNP’s good fortune was not based on an increase in its support, the protest vote presages a Labour wipeout at next year’s British elections. And the sleaze factor epitomised by the recent expenses scandal is a symptom rather than a primary cause of Labour’s misfortunes amid the present economic woes. Gordon Brown appears to have survived a revolt within Labour’s Blairist ranks, but the electorate will likely be unforgiving, or at best apathetic.

In the US, the extreme right’s excesses hint at its desperation. In Britain and the rest of Europe, the neo-fascist resurgence is in large part a consequence of social democracy’s suicidal tendencies. And it suggests that, however unpalatable the status quo, the future may well be considerably worse.


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