The Bleiburg memorial, Croatian fascism and the Australian connection

Earlier in May this year, a gathering in the southern Austrian town of Bleiburg was held to commemorate Croatian fascists and their supporters who were killed at the end of World War Two. Repatriated by the British army, the Croatian fascist militants, known as the Ustashe, the memorial is a rallying point not only for the Croat far-right, but for neo-Nazi groups across Europe.

The Bleiburg memorial services are held annually to mourn the deaths of thousands of Croat Ustashe soldiers, who served as auxiliaries during their brief time as rulers of Croatia. The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was a Nazi puppet state established as an outpost of Nazi and fascist control in the Balkans.

During the war, the Ustashe, a fanatically Roman Catholic and racist organisation, slaughtered thousands of ethnic Serbs, Romany, and Jews. Creating an ethnically pure Croatian state, they implemented the racial doctrines they espoused, and earned a reputation for sadism and cruelty.  The Vatican and the Croat Catholic Church fully supported the Ustashe leader, Ante Pavelic, blessing the Croat wartime regime as a bastion against Serb nationalism and Communism.

Facing a sustained offensive by the Yugoslav army in 1945, the Croatian Ustashe fled to the Austrian border, where they were housed in makeshift camps. They surrendered to the British military forces, but were forcibly repatriated to Communist Yugoslavia. There, the soldiers of the Ustashe were murdered, or sent to labour camps for their crimes.

The Bleiburg commemorations are held as a gathering point for anti-Communist Croats, and fascist activists from around Europe, to mourn the deaths of those they deem to be comrades-in-arms in the struggle against Yugoslav Communism and the regime of Marshal Tito. Since 1991, with Croatia’s independence and the breakup of Yugoslavia, the commemoration has only increased in importance. The Bleiburg repatriations are cited as evidence of British betrayal and appeasement of Yugoslav Communist deception.

Anti-fascist activists and human rights groups have condemned the Bleiburg memorial gatherings, contending that such rallies only whitewash the terrible crimes of the wartime Croat fascist group, the Ustashe, as well as falsifies the traumatic history of the Balkans in World War Two. Critically evaluating the rule of Marshal Tito and the Yugoslav Communist regime is one thing; rehabilitating Eastern European fascism is quite another.

Ronan Burtenshaw, the Europe editor for Jacobin Magazine, writes that in Eastern Europe, anti-Communist campaigns and memorials are not about building a more vibrant and pluralistic liberal democracy. They are about whitewashing the crimes of Eastern European fascism. The Bleiburg commemorations fall into this category – giving fascism a face-lift has been a preoccupation of not only European ultra-right parties, but also of the North American and Australian diaspora Croatian communities.

Exile nationalism has manifested itself as not just an anti-Communist exercise, but as a cultural and political campaign to assist the rehabilitation of 1930s fascism. It is no secret that the Croat far-right has drawn reserves of strength from the Croatian diaspora. Promoting a very supportive view of the wartime Ustashe organisation in the diaspora may seem like a purely academic exercise, but it is not. Such a view of history provides sustenance to the far-right parties back in the home country.

What does all this have to do with Australia?

In a very important way, Australia has provided support for the far-right Eastern European view of history, by giving sanctuary for Nazi-era war criminals and far-right supporters from the Balkans and Eastern European nations. Mark Aarons, Australian lawyer and commentator, has written an important book detailing how the Australian government, from the end of World War Two, provided a safe haven for Nazi collaborators, including members of the Croatian Ustashe.

This dark chapter of Australia’s postwar immigration history requires examination because the decisions taken from 1945 have had political repercussions until today. Australia likes to think of itself as a staunch promoter and defender of human rights. We supposedly abide by the highest standards of international law, and punish those who violate those laws. After all, our participation in wars overseas, whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan, or our joint efforts against North Korea, are framed as important military initiatives to punish those who would violate human rights and international law.

However, as Mark Aarons states in an article published in 2009, our concern for human rights has a definitive hypocritical streak:

Australia is not perfect, but it nevertheless ranks among the world’s best nations.

Except when it comes to those who violate human rights abroad but call Australia home. Then, we have a long history of indifference, even hypocrisy, extending back to our acceptance of hundreds of Nazi collaborators who had voluntarily carried out Hitler’s policies in World War II, rounding up and killing civilians whose only sin was to be Jewish, Romany or Slavic; homosexual or disabled; anti-Nazi Christians, democrats, socialists or communists.

In the boatloads of immigrants that arrived on Australia’s shores from 1945 onwards, there were displaced persons from Europe. Not the refugees displaced by the wartime activities of all the armies, but the Nazi collaborators from Eastern Europe who conformed to the Immigration Minister’s criteria – Arthur Calwell – of being white, Christian and politically conservative.

Calwell was motivated by a vision of Australia, populated and prosperous. However, the people that were included in his futuristic vision were white. He scoured Europe looking for reservoirs of white immigrants that would be acceptable to the political establishment back in Australia.

In this postwar drive to acquire willing immigrants, the criminal records of Eastern European collaborators were ‘bleached’, and many of the new arrivals transplanted their ultra-conservative, fanatically religious attitudes and cultural practices into Australia. One of the Nazi refugees who arrived in Australia was Lyenko Urbanchich, a Slovene Nazi collaborator. Urbanchich served as the Propaganda Minister for the wartime Slovene Nazi puppet government, a little Joseph Goebbels, if you will.

Urbanchich quickly became an important figure in the NSW Liberal Party, where his fanatical anti-Communism found a receptive audience. Bringing his fellow far-rightists into the party, he pioneered the art of branch-stacking, influencing a number of Liberal party branches in NSW. Forming his own faction, the ‘Uglies’. he became an intimidating and influential presence in Liberal party affairs, his wartime record notwithstanding. Slandering his opponents as Communists, or somehow Jewish-controlled, Urbanchich passed away in 2006. Nazi collaborators found a new home in Australia, all the while observed and protected by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

When senior Australian political figures, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, send their greetings to the Croatian community on April 10 to celebrate the emergence of an independent Croat nation, they are contributing to a very sanitised version of World War Two history. April 10 1941 is the anniversary of the foundation of the Ustashe-controlled Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi-puppet state that went on to exterminate thousands of anti-Nazi Croats, Serbs, Jews and others.

Toasting the success of April 10 is not a value-free, neutral commemoration of a distant historical event in a faraway country – it is assisting the Croat far-right in weaponising the fascist past to serve current political purposes. Extolling the success of a wartime Catholic-fascist state that went about mercilessly killing non-Croat ethnic groups speaks volumes about the character of the politicians that join that celebration.

When successive Australian governments invoke the notion of human rights to justify their actions, it is difficult to take their rationalisations at face value. We must be honest with ourselves, and repudiate the selective sympathy that we have cultivated for fascist war criminals and ultra-rightist terrorists, portraying the latter categories as humble victims fleeing Communist oppression.

The Bleiburg commemorations denounce, among other things, British betrayal of the fleeing Croatian Nazis, handing over the latter to the encroaching Yugoslav Partisan armies. By finding purported sanctuary with the British army, the Ustashe militants and their supporters were hoping to escape justice for their many crimes. We are betraying the memory of the victims of fascism’s crimes by adopting the justifications and doctrines of their killers.

The Austin bombings, domestic terrorism and the radicalisation of religion

Austin serial bomber Mark Conditt terrorised the city of Austin, Texas, over approximately 19 days in March 2018. He targeted the African American community, and posted bombs to various organisations and individuals. Eventually cornered by the police, Conditt took his own life – he blew himself up, rather than surrender. The Austin police chief, after refusing to use the ‘T’ word to describe Conditt, eventually relented and applied the appropriate description to the perpetrator – a domestic terrorist.

Conditt was described as a ‘troubled’ youth with mental health problems, and this may very well have been the case. These kinds of descriptions are usually deployed as excuses, by the corporate media, in order to minimise the culpability of a perpetrator we would otherwise characterise as a terrorist. There is some discussion of why, in such cases, we are hesitant in using the label ‘terrorist’, especially in the case of a perpetrator who is white and Christian, like Mark Conditt.

Daniel Camacho, writing in The Guardian newspaper, correctly identifies the role of white privilege in this debate regarding the motivations of terrorist suspects. In the United States, white Christian racial and religious privilege provide a buttress for those who would kill and maim, particularly when their targets are from ethnic and religious minorities. As Camacho states in his article:

If a Muslim man planted bombs in predominately white neighborhoods before blowing himself up, you could bet that the White House and various media outlets would label him a terrorist and draw some connection between his religion and his violent acts. But the case of the Austin bomber reveals an enduring double standard: white Christian terrorists continue to get a free pass.

Personal and mental health problems are provided greater coverage in the case of those domestic terrorists who are white and come from a Christian background. While it is the case that the motivations for violent terrorist acts are always complicated and multifaceted, a perpetrator of non-white background is never granted any exculpatory reasons or opinions. It took sustained community outrage before the Austin police chief admitted he was ”comfortable’ with stating that Conditt was a domestic terrorist.

When a perpetrator from an Islamic background is examined, there is no shortage of coverage about the radicalisation of religion, and in particular the Islamic faith’s purported receptiveness towards a radicalised message. Islam, so we are told by the experts, possesses a unique totalitarian political tendency conducive in producing radicalised adherents. Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the logo ‘war on terror’ has become a useful label to denote the US government’s response to radicalised Islamic groups. Indeed, since 2001 advocates for the American government have stated that the United States is at war with radical Islam.

This mindset of ‘we are at war with radical Islam’ contains a vital hypocrisy at its heart. The proponents of this view deliberately ignore the radicalisation of religion that occurs with the other monotheistic faith groups. The action of Mark Conditt and similar ultra-rightist perpetrators are dismissed as aberrations; they are sidelined as marginal figures that have misinterpreted Christian scripture. Misinterpretation may indeed be the case, but Conditt was not a marginal or atypical figure. Holy hate is as much part of the Christian tradition as it is of the Islamic.

Conditt was a member of RIOT – Righteous Invasion of Truth – a Christian survivalist group which homeschooled its members, and taught its followers gun skills along with theology. Raised on a diet of millenarian prophecy, Conditt was indoctrinated into a radicalised perspective, lashing out against marriage equality, and expressing opposition to other religious and ethnic minority groups. Conditt was not alone in his Christian supremacism. The United States has a long history of religiously-motivated terrorism, and not just the obvious example of men-in-sheets burning crosses.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) has documented the ultra-right’s radicalisation of religion. In a report called ‘Holy Hate’, the authors explain how the far-right in America have immersed themselves in the doctrines of Christian theology and end-times prophecies. The SPLC writers state that:

White supremacistssovereign citizensmilitia extremists and violent anti-abortion adherents use religious concepts and scripture to justify threats, criminal activity and violence. This discussion of religious extremism should not be confused with someone being extremely religious. It should also not be misconstrued as an assault on Christianity. Rather, it represents an exploration of the links between violent right-wing extremism and its exploitation of Christianity and other religions to gain a better understanding of how American extremists recruit, radicalize and mobilize their adherents toward violence and terrorism.

Religious conceptions stemming from the Christian faith play a vital role in the recruitment and radicalisation of ultra-rightist foot-soldiers in the United States. Christian apocalypse scenarios, the Armageddon end-times, and the ostensible inevitability of the Second Coming of Christ, are crucial concepts in the indoctrination and mobilisation of right-wing extremists. Scriptural interpretation is used to defy the law, and in many cases, change the laws of the United States to conform to Christian precepts. Hate in God’s name is not an exclusively Muslim enterprise.

Ultra-right militias and sovereign citizens groups place themselves in the Christian camp, and self-identify as Christian patriots fighting for dominion over a supposedly wayward, secular society and constitution. Patriot militia groups express their admiration for the Founding Fathers of American independence, but their veneration adopts semi-religious overtones. In fact, the concept of ‘Judeo-Christian’ values is invoked – by the ultra-right. The founding fathers were alleged to have been motivated by such beliefs and principles when drafting the constitution of the fledgling republic – in fact, there is no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christian’ beliefs.

Please do not misconstrue the above critique; we are not suggesting that Christianity is better or worse than other religions. Should we be ‘soft’ on Islamic militia groups? No, we should not. Is the above motivated by a murderous hatred of Christian persons? No, it is not. What is being suggested is that we need to have a serious discussion about the radicalisation of religion, in all its forms. Ultra-rightist groups have a history of committing terrorist acts – and they have been flying under the radar for a long time.

It is time to expose not only the crimes of domestic terrorism, but also the ideology that underlies the motivations of the ultra-right. When black American families, and their churches, are targeted by a violent ultra-rightist like Mark Conditt, it is a poor service to the victims when we find excuses for the actions of the terrorist perpetrator.

Steve Bannon hates foreigners, but supports foreign-born racists

Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for the Trump administration and ultra-rightist political operator, made a telling remark in his speech at the congress of the anti-immigrant National Front in France. Bannon was the surprise keynote speaker at the French far-right party’s congress last month. He was touring several European nations to support far-right parties on that continent.

In his address to the National Front congress, Bannon stated the following:

Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour.

He also praised his former boss, current US president Donald Trump, even though Bannon has criticised him since returning to Breitbart magazine. He ended his speech with ‘God bless America’ and ‘Vive la France.’

There is no mistaking the openly fascistic nature of Bannon’s political outlook. A former US Navy officer, he went on to become an executive at the investment firm of Goldman Sachs. He founded and expanded Breitbart, a magazine that has become the rallying platform for white supremacist, neo-Nazi and ultra-rightist followers around the United States. Bannon was the chief strategist for the Trump presidential campaign, and served to channel Alternative Right figures, billionaires and ex-generals into the ranks of the subsequent Trump presidency.

Bannon, through Breitbart news magazine, embraced the fascist thinkers of the past – such as Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola. The Alternative Right traces its ideological ancestry to these philosophers, among others. However, it is Bannon’s most recent comment about wearing the label racist as a ‘badge of honour’ that deserves more examination. By making this comment, Bannon revealed not only the ideology of the Alt-Right, but also the ideas at the core of Western civilisation. Bannon is a racist who hates foreigners, but he wholeheartedly supports foreigners who are racist.

Professor Hamid Dabashi, over at Columbia University, wrote that Bannon has spilled the beans, so to speak, regarding the core values of Western civilisation. Bannon’s obnoxious claim to wear racism as a ‘badge of honour’ may be an extreme statement, but not outside the mainstream of Western intellectual thought. Dabashi writes:

Steve Bannon is the heart of racist America. He is the heart of racist Europe. He is the very heart and mind of the very foundation of what they call “Western Civilisation,” which has never had anything but racist contempt for the world.

Dabashi correctly observes that Bannon is simply the thuggish, street-brawler version of Niall Ferguson, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington – academics whose work has fed into the entrenched white supremacy at the heart of Western civilisation. In fact, scholars are very adept at maintaining a white nationalist perspective of history and culture.

It is not surprising that Bannon found a kindred spirit in the French National Front and its leader, Marine Le Pen. Anti-Semitism, and strident support for Israel, are features shared by the two political operators. Breitbart News regularly regurgitates anti-Semitic ideas and various conspiracy theories. Le Pen, both Marine and her father, have recycled anti-Semitic tropes in their political campaigning, and have downplayed or denied the responsibility of the pro-Nazi Vichy France in the genocide of the Jews.

Actually, by building alliances with anti-immigrant and fascistic parties across the Atlantic, Bannon is following in the footsteps of his ideological ancestors. During the 1930s and 40s, pro-fascist volunteers willingly cooperated with and supported Nazi Germany, the latter being the prime example of a viciously racist and expansionist political state. Volunteers from the Baltic states, Finland, France, Croatia, the Balkans, Hungary – flocked to the German state to fight alongside its armed forces. Birds of a feather flock together – while despising foreigners, fascist internationalism serves to unite politically similar forces.

Does this indicate that I am motivated by homicidal hatred of each and every white person? No, it does not. You cannot get anywhere or achieve anything with hate. Does this mean that Western civilisation and all its accomplishments must be consigned to the rubbish bin? No, it does not. Am I suggesting that each and every white Christian person is a secret neo-fascist waiting for the opportunity to reveal their true colours? No, I am not suggesting that at all. I am opposed to the advocacy of white privilege. If you uncertain about what that means, please read this article here – the author of which is white South African.

What I am advocating is the teaching of world civilisations, and not exclusively focus on the Western. The latter does not sit atop a hierarchical order of previous civilisations, but is the product of multiple multicultural influences and has absorbed lessons from peoples and cultures that preceded it. Isaac Newton was an eminent British scientist and professor of natural philosophy. He deserves all the accolades and honours he receives, and Britain can rightly be proud of this influential physicist and mathematician.

However, centuries prior to Newton, there was a polymath scientist and experimenter, who not only revolutionised the field of science, but also began the way towards the field of optics – Ibn al-Haytham, sometimes Latinised as Al-Hazen. A product of the Islamic Golden Age, he was one of the earliest proponents of the experimental method.

This is not to suggest that Islam is superior to Christianity or other religions, but to illustrate how our view of world history, science and philosophy is distorted by the lens of what we call Western civilisation. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation‘ – a subject to which we shall return in the next article. Promoting such an interpretation is not just an academic exercise, but has real political ramifications for today.

The concept of Western civilisation may have been useful in the past, but it has definitely reached its expiration date. The resurgence of anti-immigrant populism was not only constructed by Trump, Bannon, Farage and their ilk, but also by scholars such as Niall Ferguson, who has mounted a rearguard defence of the white British empire, and the late Samuel Huntington, who popularised the anaemic ‘clash of civilisations‘ thesis.

In Australia, we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism and inclusivity, and while great strides have been made, the gap between our self-image of a racially egalitarian pluralistic society and the reality is still great. As long as this perspective of Western civilisation remains unchallenged, there will be more constituents flocking to Steve Bannon.

Dutton, South African farmers and sanctuary for white racial brethren

The Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, declared that Australia should organise fast-track humanitarian visas for white South African farmers. He made this offer in March this year. Immigration falls within the purview of the Home Affairs ministry, which Dutton has led since its creation in 2017. Immigration has been transformed into a security issue with the foundation of this Home Affairs department.

Dutton’s specific offer to resettle white South African farmers rests on claims that this group faces persecution and brutality at the hands of South Africa’s post-apartheid government. His outreach to white racial brethren stands in stark contrast to the Australian government’s longstanding practice of forcibly detaining – and repatriating – refugees and persecuted people from the non-white nations of the world. The Australian government is currently forcibly repatriating displaced Rohingya refugees – an ethnic and religious minority from Burma which is facing systematic ethnic cleansing in that country.

Dutton’s racialised sympathy for white farmers is nothing new in Australia’s history. Back in 2000, the Western Australian branch of the Liberal party voiced similar offers of sanctuary to white farmers from Zimbabwe – another case of supposed persecution of a white minority from a former British colony. The notion of “white genocide” which underlies such racialised solidarity is a major talking point of the Alternative Right. Dutton has done his best to give such myths respectability and oxygen in the media.

Jason Wilson, writing in the Guardian newspaper, states that forging white kinship is necessary in maintaining Australia as a kind of white nationalist garrison, surrounded by hordes of non-whites greedily eyeing our riches. Lurid and gory tales of white farmers being massacred and brutalised in sadistic ways helps to sustain a white supremacist vision of us as a civilised presence amidst the non-white barbarian masses.

Dutton has taken the “white genocide” hysteria from the playbook of the Alternative Right, and made it mainstream and given it credibility. Dutton referred to Australia as civilised, in contrast to South Africa, when making his call for sanctuary. A slur not only on South Africa, but on black Africa in general, the South African government demanded that Dutton apologise for his comments.

Bruce Haigh is a former Australian diplomat who was posted to South Africa in the 1970s, during the years of apartheid. He has written an informative article for Independent Australia, responding to some of the falsehoods and hyperbole surrounding the issue of white farmers. Have their been attacks on white farmers? Absolutely. Is there a “white genocide”? No, there is not. South Africa does have a sadly high rate of homicide; each murder an individual tragedy. Haigh writes that homicidal violence, while horrifying, is not disproportionately directed against the white farming community:

South Africa has a population of 56 million. In 2016-17, 19,000 murders were committed of which 74 occurred on farms — of these, 60% were white farmers, their families and/or friends, 34% were black workers and 5% were of Asian origin. There were 49 deaths in 2015-16. 72% of agricultural land is owned by white farmers with whites comprising 8% of the population. South Africa ranks tenth in the world in relation to violent deaths, Jamaica ranks sixth and Brazil 16th — with a population of 200 million there were 65,000 murders in 2012.

The main victims of homicidal violence in South Africa are young black persons. The implicit assumption of the “white genocide” myth is that violent crime increased substantially since the end of apartheid in 1994 – not true. The homicide rate is not higher today than it ever was – it is comparable to what it was in the 1970s. Many white farmers have not accepted political change. Many emigrated to Australia where they have found sympathetic voices. Concerns about crime mask the underlying opposition to social and economic changes. Australia has provided refuge for those white South Africans who choose to live in the past.

Sisonke Msimang is a South African writer who divides her time between South Africa and Australia. In an article for the Washington Post, she wrote that over the years, the phrase ‘going to Australia’ was code for ‘you can be racist’. Australia has been built up as a white supremacist fantasy, where the Indigenous nations are near invisible. Since the end of apartheid, Australia has welcomed white South Africans who do not wish to live in equitable and democratic relationships with black Africans.

This is not the first time that Dutton has made racist remarks. His selective sympathy for white racial brethren matches his contempt for non-white ethnic and religious groups. In 2016, he suggested that Australia made a mistake in allowing Lebanese Muslims into the country. Msimang, in her article, compares Dutton’s politics to that of Donald Trump. Certainly, both politicians share an anti-immigrant outlook. But I think the comparison, while appealing, is incorrect.

Dutton is an example of the UKIP-ization of Australian politics. Australian politics in many ways follows that of Great Britain – the creation of the Home Affairs ministry being one example. Dutton is not the Trump of Australia – he is our Enoch Powell. The latter was an anti-immigration Tory politician, who railed against what he believed was an influx of non-British immigrants.

Powell gave his ‘Rivers of Blood‘ speech in 1968, denouncing what he viewed as mass immigration into Britain from the Commonwealth countries as a threat to Britain’s culture and security. Dutton, in his own way, is promoting a Powellite vision for Australia, portraying non-white refugees and immigrants as a hostile force, unable to assimilate into our white Anglocentric sanctuary.

Dutton’s outreach to the white farmers and offer of sanctuary has deep roots in Australian history. We cannot blame the Alternative Right exclusively for his vision. His description of Australia as a ‘civilised nation’ rescuing the supposedly besieged South African white community continues the equation of white identity with civilisational values. Jon Piccini, a research fellow at the University of Queensland, details how Australia and white South Africa have cooperated as members of a white fraternity.

Since the 1940s and 1950s, both Australia and white South Africa worked together to oppose decolonisation, thwart anti-apartheid activities, and protect restrictive and racist immigration policies from the review of international bodies. Sympathy for white South Africans, the Afrikaners, was evident even during the Anglo-Boer war.

A kind of white racial fraternity was forged during that conflict, even though Australians (at the time still unfederated British colonies) were fighting alongside English soldiers. Mutual hostility to the blacks, white settler colonialism, the dispossession of the indigenous nations – these were common traits between these military opponents.

John Marnell, copyeditor at Overland magazine and a researcher at the African Centre for Migration, wrote a thoughtful piece called “South Africa: where ‘Australia’ is code for racist.” He writes of the need to change the way we interact with non-white nations. Instead of seeing tidal waves of greedy black Africans mowing down white farmers, Australia needs to confront its own white-washed version of indigenous dispossession and colonisation. We need to stop seeing ourselves as part of a white racial fraternity, and start acting like responsible global citizens. Let us abandon paranoid and grotesque fantasies of “white genocide”, and instead treat refugees and asylum seekers with humanity and respect.

The Florida shooting, domestic terrorism and the ultra-right insurgency

The mass shooting last month, at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has raised serious questions about the underlying causes of such a malignant event. Mass shootings do not occur in a social or political vacuum; they are horrifying indicators of a society in the midst of economic and cultural breakdown.

The issues surrounding gun control, the role of mental illness (if any) in the perpetrator’s background, the role of the National Rifle Association and its influence on American politics – these are legitimate causative factors raised in connection with an individual shooter. These are all subject to extensive examination in the corporate media.

This kind of coverage of mass shootings, while very welcome, omits a crucial dimension – the underlying ideology that motivates ultra-right terrorism – the euphemistically named Alternative Right. Cruz, the Florida shooting perpetrator, expressed his intense hatred of Jews, African Americans, Hispanic people and other minorities in his online communications. These are the main talking points of the ultra-right.

The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was thought to be linked a white supremacist and separatist militia group, the Republic of Florida during initial investigations. The leader of this group, Jordan Jereb, later backtracked from the claim that Cruz was part of his militia, and the Florida authorities have stated that there are no known links between Cruz and the white supremacist organisation. It is instructive to note just how careful the corporate media has been in ascribing any link, whether ideological or organisational, between the perpetrator and the white supremacist and ultra-rightist milieu in which Cruz circulated.

Cruz, through his social media presence, reflected and recycled the ideas and themes of the Alternative Right – the new name for the collection of neo-fascistic and white supremacist ideologies which have a durable presence in America. The Republic of Florida militia group, the organisation to which Cruz was initially tentatively associated, is a white racist patriot militia, dedicated to waging a secessionist war to politically detach Florida from the United States. It seeks to create a purely white ethnoseparatist state, and shares similarities with other neo-Nazi groups, such as the Traditionalist Worker Party.

The link between Cruz and his underlying ideology is being downplayed or minimised, while his individual characteristics are given wide coverage. When the perpetrator of a terrorist attack is Islamist, or uses Islamist symbols to rationalise his/her actions, the corporate media is in no doubt that the motivation of the attacker is the Islamic faith. Muslim perpetrators are routinely portrayed as part and parcel of the wider Islamic community, no matter their individual circumstances. There are no questions asked about the links, if any, between the Muslim suspect and extremist groups.

The entire Muslim community is held collectively responsible for the actions of the Islamist perpetrator, while the white attacker is described as a ‘lone wolf.’ The Muslim community is subjected to hectoring demands that they do more to condemn terrorism and extremism; actually, they have done so repeatedly. The white supremacist killer is clearly recognised as an outsider, unrepresentative of his/her ethnic and cultural community.

It is interesting to note that mental illness, while explored as a potential cause of a white perpetrator’s violence, is never discussed as a possible reason for a Muslim suspect’s behaviour. Leaving aside the huge assumption that there is a causal link between mental illness and violence, it is noteworthy to observe that Muslim suspects never have mental health issues – perhaps Islam is conducive to good mental health (sarcasm alert).

Cruz, and white ultra-rightist attackers like him, have the privilege of the white shooter. What does that mean? Being a white American insulates a perpetrator from the label of terrorism. Shaun King, writing in The Intercept magazine, states that the actions of a Muslim attacker are used to draw resounding conclusions about the disloyal and corrosive nature of the entire Muslim community. The corporate media are emphatic in their evaluation that Islam causes its adherents to kill; self-proclaimed experts cite passages from the Quran, in a seeming effort to bolster their case. The Islamic community is demonised and dehumanised.

It is true that Cruz was obsessed with guns; he posted pictures of guns and weapons on his social media accounts. He learned how to shoot as part of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, a programme run by the Army in American schools. In a way, the US Army trained a potential child soldier. Cruz was wearing his Reserve Officer Training t-shirt when he carried out the shooting.

It is relevant to note that a student who excels in this junior officer training corps can skip studying biology, physical sciences, art and physical education. Cruz acquired the skills to shoot with expertise from the US Army; it was the Alt-Right ideology that weaponised his hate, motivating him to carry out the killings.

Make no mistake; the ultra-right constitutes an enduring and increasing domestic terrorism threat. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calls it a dark and constant rage. This is the terrorism threat that is underplayed or ignored by the Trump administration. The corrosive ideology of the Alternative Right is leading more Americans into an ultra-rightist insurgency, thus fuelling the political campaigns of rightist and anti-immigrant politicians, such as Trump. The ultra-right has moved from the outer fringes to the mainstream, and they had some help from high places.

Earlier we mentioned the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white supremacist and ultra-rightist group similar in ideology to the Republic of Florida, the group in whose orbit Cruz circulated. Another person that mixed with white supremacist circles is Tony Hovater, He is a founding member of the Traditionalist Worker Party, living an ordinary life with his wife in middle class suburban America. Hovater and his wife are a low-key couple, they shop at Target, enjoy watching Seinfeld repeats, eat at local restaurants, and have four cats.

Why is all this relevant? Because these facts were stated as part of a very sympathetic portrayal of Hovater in the New York Times. The NYT, arguably one of the most important newspapers in the English-speaking world, provided a supportive account of a neo-Nazi and white supremacist.

There is no question regarding the fascistic character of Hovater’s beliefs – an admirer of Hitler, Hovater denied the Holocaust and believed in the aims of the ultra-rightist protesters at Charlottesville last year. The NYT published a semi-apologetic explanation regarding the essay after receiving heavy criticism. In its sympathetic portrayal of the Hovater couple, the NYT was correct in one way – white supremacy is not the exclusive province of country-bumpkins and ignorant yokels. Virulent racism was built and is maintained by normal, low-key suburban people living mundane lives in clean-cut towns across America.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) does not mince words – the Alt-Right is killing people. That is the title of a report issued by the SPLC detailing the increasing murders and attacks committed by the ultra-right. 2017 witnessed a sharp increase in racist attacks and hate crimes. The Trump administration has studiously ignored the terrorist violence of the ultra-right, and in many ways facilitated its spread by engaging in hateful rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures. The internet and social media has exponentially increased the availability and dissemination of white supremacist propaganda.

Nicole Colson, writing in the Socialist Worker magazine, makes a salient point:

If more than 100 people across the U.S. had been killed or injured in multiple attacks by people with ties to reactionary Islamic groups–or if such groups were heavily recruiting on college campuses and distributing flyers calling for violence–you can bet the Trump administration would be promising action, and the FBI and every other law enforcement agency in the U.S. would be making numerous arrests.

Nothing of the sort has happened to the far right, though.

At the top of the federal government, the Trump administration continues to largely ignore the increased threat posed by the far right–except when it’s encouraging such groups, implicitly or explicitly, as when Trump himself talked about the “good people” among the white supremacists and Nazis who turned out in Charlottesville.

Alternet magazine asks why the United States, its political leaders and pundits, refuse to take the grave threat of ultra-right terrorism seriously. We wonder what the reaction of the authorities would have been if Cruz had been wearing a keffiyeh when he committed his crime, rather than a “MAGA” cap (Make America Great Again). Let us take the ideology and vitriolic effect of the Alt-Right seriously, otherwise the long line of white terrorist perpetrators will continue.

Germany’s neo-Nazis find a friend in the man who captured Adolf Eichmann

Rafi Eitan, the Israeli Mossad operative responsible for the capture and extradition of Adolf Eichmann, a pivotal figure in the World War Two genocide of European Jewry, released a video statement in support of Germany’s current and growing neo-Nazi party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Eichmann, who was kidnapped from his sanctuary in Argentina and taken to Israel for trial, was executed in 1962. His capture, and the subsequent trial, helped to bolster Israel’s credentials as a safe haven for Jews from the storms and homicidal trials of anti-Semitism.

His capture and trial for war crimes in Israel was the subject of an important book by philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil. This book is a pivotal study for scholars who examine the genocide, the perpetrators and the reasons (ideological or otherwise) why such events take place. The book, based on Arendt’s on-the-spot coverage of the Eichmann trial as it unfolded, sparked a tsunami of debate and scholarly criticism regarding the motivations for why such heinous crimes, such as the Holocaust, occur.

Eitan, who posted his video statement on his social media account, praised the platform of the AfD, made his remarks in the context of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He expressed his best wishes for the continued success of the neo-Nazi AfD, and suggested that this party was not only the best hope for Germany, but for the whole of Europe. Eitan, whose statement was criticised on the Electronic Intifada magazine, stated that Europe must close its borders to what he sees as ‘mass Muslim migration.’

The veteran Mossad investigator expressed his view, echoing the talking points of the European ultra-right, that Muslim culture is incompatible with European values, and that Islamic immigrants cause violence and terrorism wherever they settle. Eitan supported the AfD, a party that valorises Nazi soldiers and officers, and upholds the doctrines and values that motivated, among others, Adolf Eichmann.

Eitan faced heavy criticism from Israeli political figures and historians for his comments, and issued a half-apologetic, kind-of-remorseful climb-down from his previous position – sort of. An Israeli figure, and an important one such as Eitan, provided a public relations embarrassment for the state that regards itself as the inheritor of the memories of the Holocaust.

Eitan’s comments, while shocking, are not entirely surprising. His statement represents a continuation of an old-new friendship. What does ‘old-new’ mean? That expression comes from an article by Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of Electronic Intifada. In an article he wrote called “Why has an Israeli Nazi-hunter embraced Germany’s neo-Nazis?”, Abunimah examines how the ideological correspondence between the champions of Zionism and anti-Semitism is a longstanding practice. Abunimah wrote that:

Today, European and American neo-Nazis wear their support for Israel on their sleeves, and use the blessings of figures like Eitan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to whitewash their anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

Eitan’s comments are a revival of an old-new friendship. In the 1930s, the German Zionist Federation extended its hand in cooperation to the Nazi authorities. The Nazi government sent several envoys, as part of its political and economic agreement, to the land of Palestine to inspect the burgeoning Jewish settlements. One of the emissaries sent by the Nazis was the young Adolf Eichmann. The latter, met by officials from the Labour Zionist Haganah, visited a kibbutz, and returned to Germany in 1937, expressing his admiration for the expanding Zionist settlements.

Eichmann was not the first Nazi official to visit the settlements in Palestine. From 1934 to 1936, SS Nazi officer Baron von Mildenstein visited the new Zionist settlements, wrote supportive articles for a Nazi newspaper, and a commemorative medal was struck – a Nazi travels to Palestine. Eichmann himself, looking back on his career as a war criminal, fondly remembered his days in Palestine in the 1930s:

I did see enough to be very impressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.

This convergence of views and interests between Zionism and anti-Semitism is not just one of historical interest – it is also a fact of political life in Europe today. The ultra-rightist, racist parties in Europe – whose ideology includes virulent anti-Semitism – are fervent admirers of the state of Israel. Germany’s new anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi party – the AfD – is a strong supporter of Israel. While the German Jewish community is under no illusions about the political platform of the AfD, the latter have made strenuous support for Israel a plank of their policies. AfD leaders have expressed admiration for Israel, citing it as a model of a state based on ethno-nationalist exclusion.

The German AfD’s support for Israel is echoed by the ultra-rightist American white supremacist movement, led by Richard Spencer. Spencer, an articulate and educated bigot, regularly highlights how he finds the ethno-supremacism of Zionism an inspirational model for the kind of state he would like to construct in the United States.

The leaders of the emergent European ultra-right have made common cause with the state of Israel not only as a tactical alliance – ridding Europe of its Jewish population would provide a pipeline of Jewish emigrants into the Israel state. Support for the colonisation of Palestine is just one side of this support. European anti-Semitism and Zionism have converged on another theme – Islamophobia.

A shared targeting of Muslim immigrants, and Islam in general, has rejuvenated the political alliance of anti-Semitism with the leaders of the Israeli state. How this happens, and how the far right has upheld Israel as an ethno-supremacist garrison state it seeks to emulate, is the subject of the next article.

For now, let us conclude with the words of Ali Abunimah, who provides a clear reminder of the urgent need for an anti-racist struggle:

That is why in the struggle against all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Jews and Palestinians committed to equality and human rights stand together on one side, while Israel, Zionists and their bigoted cheerleaders are on the other side.

Exactly.

Qatar, the Saudi blockade, and making friends

Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its supporters have maintained a total blockade of the small monarchy of Qatar. For instance, Saudi Arabia has stopped all land, air and maritime traffic into the nation, and the Qatari economy has suffered the consequences. However, Qatar is weathering the storm, and has been managing to hold its own against its larger and more well-connected patron.

The Hindustan Times reported the findings of Capital Economics, an economic research company, that Qatar avoided the worst possible scenario of descending into a recession. The tourism sector has understandably declined, having been hit hard by the Saudi-imposed blockade. However, the Qatari economy grew in the last quarter of 2017, and the intended isolation of the tiny Gulf state has failed to materialise.

One way that Qatar has managed to sustain itself throughout this blockade is by cultivating powerful friends. For instance, Turkey, which already had trade dealings and military agreements with the tiny nation, has increased its commercial and diplomatic cooperation since the imposition of the Saudi blockade. Turkey sent military equipment to the besieged emirate, deployed troops, and has increased the volume of its trade deals with Qatar. In November 2017, Turkish President Erdogan visited Doha to attend a meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Qatar in December 2017, and signed commercial agreements worth billions of Euros. The Qatari Emir has agreed to buy military aircraft from France, and allocated French companies to build and maintain a metro system in Qatar. Having powerful friends willing to do deals has gone a long way in helping Qatar circumvent the Saudi-imposed, and Trump-inspired, blockade. The United States administration is currently emphasising its apparent support for a compromise solution.

The New York Times, in January this year, published a brilliant photo-essay entitled “Tiny, Wealthy Qatar goes its own way, and pays for it”. The article elaborates some of the background to the long-simmering Saudi-Qatari dispute, and the history of Qatar’s ability to use its economic clout to punch above its weight, so to speak. As usual, the NY Times story is accompanied with stunning photographs, such as a panoramic picture of Doha city’s towering skyline. Interestingly, it is not so much petroleum that is the source of Qatar’s wealth, but its large deposits of natural gas – liquefied natural gas to be precise.

Discovered in 1971 in Qatar, natural gas exports propelled an enormous growth in wealth, and thus Qatar was transformed from a barren backwater into a major player in the Persian Gulf. Always regarded as a junior partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar began to push its senior patrons (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) for a larger and more important role in the Gulf.

Qatar, while officially sharing the same puritanical Wahhabi brand of Islam with its powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has implemented some liberal reforms domestically. For instance, there are no public beheadings and mutilations performed in Saudi Arabia. Women can not only drive cars in Qatar, but also participate in public sports. Members of the Thani clan, the ruling family in Qatar, are featured as modernising stylish trailblazers in Vanity Fair.

There is one aspect of Qatar’s outreach, while vitally important, is being omitted in any discussion of the issue. The NY Times, while its story was fantastic, shared this crucial omission. Understanding this forgotten feature of Qatar’s behaviour will help us navigate our way through the politics and economics of the Middle East and the wider Persian Gulf. Qatar, as well as other Gulf monarchies, having been making steady and regular overtures towards Israel, hoping to establish mutually beneficial ties of cooperation.

The assistant editor of Electronic Intifada, Tamara Nassar, wrote an article in January this year called “Qatar turns to Israel to escape Saudi squeeze.” Nassar elaborates how the Qatari royal family has been making a sustained attempt to lobby senior Israeli officials, along with right-wing American conservative and Zionist figures, to cozy up to the Zionist regime.

Qatar, supposedly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and accused by Saudi Arabia of supporting Hamas, has sponsored the visits of Christian fundamentalist and right-wing Zionist American political operators to its shores to circumvent the Saudi blockade. However, there is more than just a practical reason for this intended collaboration.

Qatar welcomed the chief of the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA), Morton Klein, in January this year. Klein, who joined a long list of ultra-right wing conservatives and Zionist supporters who have visited the Qatari kingdom, voiced his displeasure at Qatar’s apparent criticisms of the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Qatar has been sponsoring such trips for many months now:

These include Israel apologist and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Christian Zionist and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, conservative radio host and Israel supporter John Batchelor, former Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division Rabbi Menachem Genack, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen and the president of the Religious Zionists of America Martin Oliner.

Most of these trips were paid for by the Qatari government.

The quote above comes from another article by Tamara Nassar in the Electronic Intifda entitled “Qatar welcomes head of Zionist Organization of America.

This is not just a case of pragmatism in the face of difficulties on Qatar’s part. The hereditary monarchies in the Gulf, headed by Saudi Arabia, have a long-standing tradition of seeking working relationships with the Zionist state. Indeed, in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed the blockade of Qatar, Israel quickly sided with the Saudi action. Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-rightist Israeli defence minister, stated that the Saudi-Qatari crisis presented an opportunity for increased cooperation between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.

Saudi Arabia has a long practice of cultivating covert and cooperative ties with the Israeli state. Bahrain has been making overtures to the state of Israel, and recently admitted as much publicly. Interestingly, the usual go-between for establishing connections between the two nominally-hostile states is a Trump adviser and evangelical Christian.

The staunchest supporters of Zionism in the United States are to be found among the Christian religious right, who do their utmost to promote the normalisation of connections with the Gulf monarchies and the state of Israel, and this involves abandoning the Palestinians. The obsequious conduct of the Gulf royal families stands in stark contrast to the consistent support given to the Palestinians by the Latin American governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

The Qatari emirate, while being the victim of a grave injustice, is only compounding the region’s problems by seeking out self-serving alliances. The resolution of inter-state conflicts is not to be sought in building higher and longer walls, whether they be physical or economic barriers. The solution resides in recognising the human rights of others and practical solidarity. Nations and peoples that have experienced colonisation and dispossession must stand in support of each other.