The deep roots of respectable racism in America

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings earlier this month was an occasion for solemn reflections on the bravery and sacrifice of the D-Day veterans. It is timely to consider a largely forgotten episode of that particular conflict – the plight of the African American D-Day veterans, who gave of themselves fighting Nazism in Europe, only to face the institutionalised white racism of Jim Crow legislation when they returned home to the United States.

In an article published by Voice of America news, the experiences of black D-Day veterans were recounted by the remaining survivors. While the American military at that time remained segregated, the dangers and horrors of warfare were faced equally by all US soldiers. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit composed of African American soldiers, had the job of making and launching explosive-laden balloons to protect Allied troops from attack by Nazi aircraft.

A number of the black American veterans recounted their experiences of heavy fighting, the dead bodies, trauma and tensions of that invasion. Many struggled with nightmares and PTSD after the war was over. Haunted by their harrowing ordeal, they survived, only to return home to a nation unwilling to accept them as equals.

They risked their lives fighting violent white supremacy in German-occupied Europe, only to be forced to sit at the back of the bus upon their arrival home. One black veteran recalled that he could not sit with the very same soldiers he had served with on the battlefield. This juxtaposition of Nazi white supremacy and legalised white racism in America is not my invention, nor is it meant to be malicious.

Creating a whites-only homeland

It is instructive, when looking at the intellectual precursors to German fascism, how the United States and its system of racial segregation inspired the Nazi party and its co-thinkers. The Nazi objective of a pure white race, purging the undesirable elements from the society, conquering much-needed land from the interior races, and cultivating the land for the preservation of said race, found its best expression in the policies and history of the United States.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic magazine, states that these ideas – preserving the white race against the migratory influx of blacks, Jews and other ‘inferior’ stock – were considered mainstream and respectable by the ruling class of American society. Denounced as extreme today, these notions of racial purity – and its corresponding eugenic goal of restricting the numbers of ‘lesser stock’ – were advocated by influential and scholarly circles in the early part of the 20th century.

The book that Adolf Hitler called his ‘bible’ was authored by an American – The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. The book, published in 1916, provides a scholarly, respectable veneer to pseudoscientific racism, advocating a racialised interpretation of European and American history. Grant, a lawyer, amateur anthropologist and eugenics advocate, stated that the intellectually superior white race was being diluted by intermixing with racially inferior stock.

Grant never used the word ‘genocide’, because that term was coined after World War Two. However, his warnings about the white race being swamped by black, Jewish and other inferior breeds finds resonance today in the mythical ‘white genocide’ allegation recycled by the conspiratorially xenophobia Alternative Right.

It is noteworthy that Grant deliberately classified humans into distinct ‘races’ – fixed biologically-determined categories, and from there drew firm conclusions about their social and intellectual characteristics. He lamented the fact that America continued to allow people from poorer nations entry into the United States. He condemned, for instance, the presence of swarms of Eastern European Jews as exerting a deleterious effect on the country.

He advocated the increased immigration of white ‘Nordic’ types to sustain the purity and intellectual growth of the white race. He denounced the darker, swarthy and Mediterranean peoples, and proposed tough legislative immigration restrictions against those he considered inferior breeds. Notice that while never used the word ‘genes’ in his work, he deliberately drew conclusions about the intelligence capacities of different hereditarily-fixed races – a debate that also has modern implications.

Grant was certainly not the first person to advocate ‘race science’, however, his theories found a receptive audience among American political and economic elites. Politicians of various stripes proposed strict eugenics legislation to reduce the numbers of people they deemed to be ‘feeble-minded’ – and they based themselves on the works of Grant and his co-thinkers.

Willing co-thinkers in Europe

Doctrines of white supremacy found a willing audience not only in the United States, but also across the Atlantic – in Germany. To be sure, Germany had its own tradition of volkisch nationalism – a racist and populistic appeal to a mythical German past of racial purity and sturdy agrarian connection with German soil. However, German ultra-rightists and white supremacists found inspiration in the legalised racial discrimination, and whites-only doctrines, of the United States.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in The Atlantic, elaborates that Hitler and the Nazi party used the United States as an example of how to successfully construct a white supremacist economic and legal edifice. When the Nazi theorists were planning their eastward expansion, the depopulation of the Eastern European Slavic cities and their replacement with German settlers, we can see the striking analogues with the white American experience of settling indigenous lands and transatlantic racial slavery.

When the Nazi authorities were considering implementing eugenics legislation to reduce the numbers of the ‘feeble-minded’, they were drawing from the American experience. When Nazi race theorists were debating how to enact racial-exclusion legislation – which they did for instance, with the 1935 Nuremberg Laws – they were inspired by similar American models of legalised racial discrimination. James Whitman, a law professor at Yale University, made a detailed study of the similarities between the race laws implemented by the Nazis, and the American precursors which inspired them.

None of this is to suggest that America was responsible for the rise of Hitler. After the horrors of the Second World War were exposed to the world, the likes of Grant and his white Nordic idolatry were forgotten. Indeed, American economic and industrial support for Germany in the 1930s was also quickly forgotten. American racism, having found a monstrous reflection of itself in Nazi Germany’s crimes, was relegated to a place of historical amnesia. The successful export of white American racism was soon forgotten.

Speaking of historical amnesia…..

One of the disappointing, but not entirely surprising, aspects of the official 75th anniversary D-Day commemorations was the deliberate snubbing of Russia and its contribution to the defeat of Nazism. The role of the Soviet Union was decisive in beating Nazi Germany, yet you would not know this going by the official commemorative ceremonies. This is not the first time that Russia was pointedly excluded from D-Day activities – former US President Barack Obama purposefully disregarded the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory during his term in office.

What is noteworthy is that the most recent example of disdain towards Russia occurred in the context of a malignant Russophobic campaign of conspiratorial xenophobia mounted by the American (and British) ruling classes. The Russiagate paranoia has enveloped American society, and has kindled a kind of respectable racism – not overt like the racial segregation of yesteryear, but an insidious kind of xenophobic boosterism nevertheless.

What does this mean? Russiagate and the resurgence of xenophobia will be the subject of the next article.

Stay tuned.

Navigating our way through Islamophobia, toxic conservative media and criticism of religion

One of the questions that I face on a semi-regular basis is why I spend so much time writing about Islamophobia and the Middle East. The question that is asked – sometimes politely but usually obnoxiously – is ‘why do you defend Muslims?’ There is normally an accusatory undertone to the question – an accusation of wrongdoing or wilful blindness on my part. When the questioner discovers that I come from a philosophical tradition of secular humanism and skepticism, the accusation becomes louder and the degree of sneering contempt even greater.

By this stage, I am calculating whether I should take the question seriously, or whether I should make the questioner familiar with a comatose condition. Be that as it may, it is a question that is faced in the current political and economic climate. How does a secular humanist and socialist navigate their way through criticism of religion, while calling out the Islamophobia that underlines much of the commentary on the Middle East in the corporate media?

Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and commentator, has written of the dilemmas faced by contemporary secular humanists when confronted by the bigotry, and consequent hate crimes, against Muslim communities. The incidence of hate crimes and attacks against the Muslim community has increased since the election of current US President Donald Trump – and such crimes have steadily increased in Canada under the nominally liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. White nationalist terrorism is very similar on both sides of the US-Canada border.

It is no secret that former US President Barack Obama – portrayed in the corporate media as a progressive champion for human rights – escalated the programme of drone strike warfare during his terms in office. While he inherited the military practice from George W Bush, Obama increased the bombing campaign – primarily against Muslim-majority nations. This unceasing war from the skies – carried out largely behind the backs of the US and Australian populations – only increases the sense of victimhood among Islamic communities.

The architecture and underlying rationales for the ‘war on terror’ have remained in place until today. Targeting Muslim communities has been elevated to the level of state policy, both in the United States and in Australia. We may question particular attacks or the tactics pursued by the Anglo-American axis, but Canberra largely follows the same logic in its foreign and domestic policies as its larger cousins. The lack of scrutiny surrounding this lethal policy only contributes to a sense of anxiety and alienation among the Islamic community.

We can also see that the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka, mainly targeting Christian churches and their congregants, was a horrifying terrorist atrocity. We can all see the sustained attacks against the Christian communities in Pakistan – similar to other minorities, they are attacked by religious fanatics and their places of worship desecrated. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq are being driven out by the terrorist actions of Islamic State.

There is no question that Christian communities are subjected to persecution by terrorist groups. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in The Intercept e-magazine, we all need to stand together in the face of barbaric murders, such as the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka. Are Christian lives less worthy or valuable than Muslim lives? Of course not. Are Muslim people superior to other religious minorities, who require special privileges and consideration? No, they are not.

There is no single ‘holy book’ whose contents must be followed literally. Claims of supernatural intervention in the world, miraculous occurrences and non-material forces must be approached skeptically. Nothing should be believed without evidence and rationality-based reasoning. There is no interest on my part to elevate one set of monotheistic claims and associated theology over another.

We can only begin to imagine what it must be like to be an atheist and humanist in Pakistan or Bangladesh, where the fear of violent death at the hands of fanatics is very palpable and serious. The LGBTQIA community is practically under siege from homophobic attackers in Bangladesh. There is no underestimating the threat of religious fanaticism.

When we turn on the corporate media and listen to the right wing commentariat – typified by the literary mercenaries from Fox or Sky News – we can hear denials of human-induced global warming, tirades against stem cell research, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, shrill denunciations of the LGBTQIA community, racist attacks on ethnic and religious minorities – in other words, the kind of shrieking racism and misogyny that is winding the clock back in our own societies.

When the conservative commentariat warn about the supposed threat of Islam taking over Western societies and imposing a theocratic order, they expose their utter inability – or unwillingness – to face a glaring hypocrisy in their own worldview. The journalistic footsoldiers of the tribal right have missed the theocratic project that is taking over and reshaping our society – from the evangelical Christian right.

The supporters of the evangelical Christian right – the nearest thing that the English-speaking world has to a Taliban-type force – has been waging a political battle since the Reagan-era 1980s to transform American society into a theocratic state based on their interpretations of biblical scriptures. Rejecting science and humanistic values, the American Christian Taliban have been influencing Republican and conservative politicians to change legislation along what they regard as biblically-based concepts.

Current US Vice-President Mike Pence, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are two leading figures in the Trump administration who are supremacists of the religious type, seeking to influence domestic and foreign policies, blending practical politics with the Armageddon and Rapture. Trump commands the loyal support of the evangelical support base, even though his serial philandering and casino-mogul lifestyle are a violation of traditional Christian values.

When calling out the growing influence – and hypocritical posturing – of the evangelical Christian right, this is not a ‘war on Christians’ or a case of singling out Christians for particular persecution. In elevating and defending Trump, the religious right’s hypocrisy has been exposed for all to see. The machinations of the American Taliban have less to do with advocating a particular theology, and more to do with a cynical political project intent on redesigning American society along theocratic precepts.

When the militants from the Islamic State (IS) group carry out a terrorist attack, the wider community and government authorities ask the Islamic communities to condemn terrorism, and also to examine what kind of theological contortions produced something as barbaric as IS. It is time for us in the English-speaking countries to ask what kind of theology motivates the religious right to endorse the white nationalist bigotry of ‘Make America Great Again’.

The San Diego shooting, Christchurch, and the deadly consequences of white nationalism

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, serious questions were asked as to why the police and intelligence authorities were unable to prevent the operations and criminal actions of the Australian-born gunman. He emerged from a far-right and fascistic milieu. The chief of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Duncan Lewis, was asked this very question – and his response was indicative of the skewed way the problem of terrorism is approached.

Lewis explained that there was no need for a dramatic reset of intelligence gathering, nor a requirement to refocus on collecting information about domestic ultra-rightist terrorism after the Christchurch shootings. This response is rather puzzling, given that fascistic domestic terrorism driven by the ideology of white supremacy has been increasing over the last decade. This type of terrorism does not prompt reexaminations of our political and intelligence-practices in the way that attacks from Muslim perpetrators do.

Police and intelligence agencies continue to insist that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’ who acted on his own. However, even lone wolves emerge from and operate within packs. The fascistic Australian gang, the Lads Society, attempted to recruit the Christchurch killer before he carried out his attacks. This group is only one of several neo-Nazi outfits that operates in Australia. This information discredits government claims that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’.

The Christchurch mosque attacker provided the direct inspiration for the anti-Semitic gunman who killed one person and injured three at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. The shooter, John Earnest, had fifty rounds of ammunition when he walked into the synagogue in April this year. More casualties were prevented because Earnest’s gun jammed.

President Trump issued a lukewarm condemnation of the San Diego synagogue shooting – only after he insisted that his description of the anti-Semitic white supremacists who rallied at Charlottesville in 2017 as ‘very fine people’ was accurate. In fact, Trump and his administration has downplayed the threat of anti-Semitism, all the while recycling anti-Semitic tropes.

Trump has not only failed to condemn anti-Semitism, he has recycled the underlying logic of bigoted white supremacist killers in the immediate aftermath of anti-Semitic attacks. The Pittsburgh synagogue attack, while attracting outrage from around the world, received only mild criticism from the Trump administration. The latter’s continued support for the state of Israel has provided a convenient excuse for Trump and his supporters to deflect charges of anti-Semitism.

White supremacist terrorism does not induce nation-wide anxieties and moral panics about the nature of the terror threat and the ideology motivating it. Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic magazine makes the following observation in contrasting our responses to Islamic versus white nationalist attacks:

When white extremists kill, politicians do not demand that they be racially profiled. They do not call for bans on white people coming to the United States. They do not insist that white people’s freedom of movement be restricted, their houses of worship be surveilled, their leaders be banned from holding public office, or their neighborhoods be “secured” and occupied by armed agents of the state.

It would be morally outrageous and ethically bankrupt to racially profile white persons, demand their detention in internment camps and deny their human rights because of the criminal actions of white supremacists. It is legitimate to demand that white nationalist killers be prosecuted as terrorists – something that rarely occurs. Trevor Aaronson, writing in The Intercept e-magazine, writes that the US Department of Justice has, since September 11 2001, routinely declined to press terrorism charges against ultra-right terrorists, even when their crimes meet the legal definition of domestic terrorism.

The San Diego shooter, John Earnest, penned a ‘manifesto’ in the days prior to his attack. He combines a noxious mix of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, blaming Jews for allegedly plotting the demise of white civilisation, and expressing his contempt for non-white immigrants. This rationale is nothing new in white supremacist and fascistic circles – the ‘great replacement’ theory purports to expose a Jewish plot to bring non-white immigrants into the United States for the express purpose of ‘replacing whites’.

What is interesting to note is that Earnest regularly attended an evangelical Christian church – the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination, a conservative force that is countering what it perceives to be the liberal drift of the mainstream Presbyterian church. The pastor of the group, Reverend Mika Edmondson, has spoken of his soul-searching quest to understand how one of his congregants espoused a virulent anti-Semitism. Edmondson admitted that Earnest was radicalised into white nationalism in the very midst of his group.

Before concluding with this subject, let us address the predictable and tiresomely shrill response from conservative pundits – what about the attacks against Christian communities? Of course the Easter 2019 Sri Lanka bombings, targeting Christian worshippers in churches, were acts of horrific terrorism. We can all see what is happening to the Christian communities in Pakistan – similar to other minorities, they are attacked by religious fanatics and their places of worship desecrated. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq are being driven out by the terrorist actions of Islamic State.

There is no question that Christian communities are subjected to persecution by terrorist groups. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in The Intercept e-magazine, we all need to stand together in the face of barbaric murders, such as the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka. Are Christian lives less worthy or valuable than Muslim lives? Of course not. Are Muslims super-fantastic people who require special privileges and consideration? No, they are not.

Our objection here is against the co-thinkers of the conservative far-right such as Australian National Party politician George Christensen – or indeed former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The latter, and his ultra-rightist fellow thinkers, usually play the ‘Christians are persecuted’ card when discussing questions of white nationalism. Please, stop lecturing others about morals and values, because the Australian tribal conservative Right has no moral compass.

If you regard the colonisation of indigenous society in Australia as a ‘good thing’ – as former PM Abbott and George Christensen do – then you are not only woefully ignorant of Australian history, but lack a moral or ethical compass with which to address white nationalism. You have no credibility in lecturing others about morals and ethics if you cannot recognise that white nationalism was built on a criminal enterprise. Let us address the underlying ideology of white nationalist hatred and how it leads to lethal consequences.

The Notre Dame cathedral fire and archaeological devastation

Australian audiences watched in horror as images of the Notre Dame cathedral fire were broadcast over the airwaves. The collapse of the spire, and the destruction wrought by the fire and smoke evoked reactions of shock at the serious loss of precious archaeological and architectural heritage. Pledges of support and money to rebuild the damaged cathedral were swift and unequivocal.

There is no doubt that the loss of the Notre Dame cathedral is devastating for any person who values the archaeological and architectural heritage of humanity. Serious questions were asked as to why and how such a tragedy could occur. Certainly, the austerity agenda is being questioned, as consistent cutbacks to art, heritage and government regulations concerning safety have taken hold across capitalist countries.

Fire safety regulations and measures have been significantly reduced as the austerity agenda has been implemented. Cutbacks made in the name of removing ‘red tape’ have undoubtedly impacted public services and facilities. Archaeological artefacts and monuments are not immune from these measures, as public expenditure is slashed in the name of ‘balancing budgets’.

Cost-cutting has impacted fire safety measures, making catastrophic blazes – like the one that engulfed Notre Dame – more likely. It is interesting to note the alacrity with which the millionaires and billionaires pledged money for the reconstruction of the Notre Dame cathedral. The rebuilding of the cathedral is a worthy cause to be sure. If only such commitment was demonstrated by the ultra-wealthy towards the resolution of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and other serious social ills.

In the context of serious cutbacks to funding the arts, archaeological and heritage sites, one cannot help but contrast the vigorous response to the Notre Dame cathedral fire with the tepid and lackadaisical response to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. Governments and corporations cry poor when the underprivileged ask for help in rebuilding their lives, but are at the ready to respond to what they see as a national disaster.

British Prime Minister Theresa May displayed her rank hypocrisy – calling the Notre Dame cathedral fire a heart-rending tragedy, but failing to meet with any of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. It is not only the huge disparity in the sums of money raised between the two catastrophic events that needs to be highlighted. The fact that Notre Dame is viewed as a ‘Western’ artefact, or at least a monument to ‘Western civilisation’ worthy of garnering tremendous support, is indicative of our attitudes to the heritage and artefacts of cultures we deem ‘non-Western.’

Notre Dame is not a monument to ‘white culture’ or ‘Western civilisation’, as the partisans of the conservative Right would have us believe. The cathedral, built between 1163 and 1345, was an assertion of French monarchical Catholicism over the fragmented and disparate feudal principalities that made up France in the Middle Ages. France was nowhere near a unified, strong state governed by an overarching royalty. Strengthening the power of the Catholic church and reinforcing the authority of the monarchy went hand-in-hand.

Indeed, at the time the Notre Dame cathedral was being built, modern notions of race and Western civilisation did not exist. The Western Europeans would not engage in the transatlantic racial slave trade until hundreds of years after Notre Dame was completed. Let’s avoid reading our modern responses into history – and avoid weaponising our history to suit modern political purposes.

For the moment, let us say that Australia is an extension of Western civilisation – being a product of British imperial capitalism’s implantation on the indigenous lands of this continent. We can certainly cry for Notre Dame, and also extend our support and sympathy to non-Western nations. That is the main thrust of an article by George Morgan, an associate professor at Western Sydney University.

Professor Morgan elaborates that over the last 25 years, there have been many treasures destroyed, damaged or stolen in nations outside of what we regard as Western civilisation. Morgan points out that the September 2018 fire that engulfed the National Museum in Brazil resulted in the destruction of 90 percent of its collection, much of which were indigenous artefacts.

The archaeological heritage of Yemen is being destroyed in the context of the Saudi-led war against that nation since 2015. The Saudi-Emirati assault on Yemen has the full backing of the United States and Britain. Yemen’s artefacts include some of the most precious heritage of humanity. Lamya Khalidi, an archaeological researcher, has written of the Yemeni archaeological treasures being damaged in the Saudi-Emirati war.

Yemen’s ‘Notre Dames’ include the palaces and temples of the Sabaean Kingdoms, relics from ancient Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities resident in Yemen, and artefacts from the time of the Queen of Sheba. The Yemeni island of Socotra, with its ecological heritage currently listed as protected by Unesco, is being gradually annexed by Emirati forces. The UAE hopes to turn Socotra into a tourist destination and an economic colony. This creeping occupation is occurring while the Emiratis are attacking Yemen’s archaeological treasures.

Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian academic and writer, has elaborated how the ‘Notre Dames’ of Palestine, its mosques and churches, are being bulldozed and demolished by the Israeli authorities as part of their programme of colonisation and annexation of Palestinian land. Baroud writes of the contrasting responses to the Notre Dame and the destruction of Palestinian antiquities:

But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze and desecrate.

The Western nations that claim, in the wake of the Notre Dame cathedral fire, to be sensitive to the preservation of archaeological heritage, have a track record of damaging and looting the artefacts and treasures of nations considered outside the Western family. In 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, the National Museum in Baghdad was looted, resulting in the loss of thousands of artefacts from the Mesopotamian cradle of civilisation.

The ransacking of that museum, done under the watch of the American military, stands as one of the great archaeological tragedies of the 21st century. While the staff of the museum did what they could to protect the artefacts, it was not enough to stop this act of cultural vandalism. Then US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, when confronted by evidence of widespread pillaging of archaeological treasures in Baghdad, contemptuously and laughingly dismissed the looting with the words ‘stuff happens.’

Indeed, the systematic looting of Iraq’s national treasures provided a tremendous boost to the black-market trade in stolen antiquities – a result of the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003. Artefacts are gradually being recovered and returned to Iraq, but the architects of the invasion which produced this archaeological catastrophe have yet to face the consequences of their criminal actions.

At the time of the national museum’s ransacking, there were numerous reactions by non-Western nations to the criminal negligence of the American military forces. They can be summed up by this statement from New Delhi’s Pioneer newspaper:

The sacking of the Baghdad archaeological museum- now home to smashed glass cases, broken pottery, torn books and mutilated statues-will forever remain a scathing indictment of this inexcusable and manifest indifference towards the very people the coalition claims to have liberated …. The theft of irreplaceable antiquities, some going back over 7,000 years, represents a loss that cannot be calculated in material terms; it is an assault on collective historical consciousness and, hence, a spiritual dispossession and desecration of identity.

There is no denying the tragedy of the Notre Dame cathedral fire. But let us not continue to obliterate the archaeological devastation wreaked by Western nations on the histories and cultural identities of peoples considered non-white. Making recompense for the damage caused by the imperialistic and cultural vandalism of the Western states would be an important first step.

Zionism and international ultra-right parties – the warm embrace of political brethren

The fascistic President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, visited the state of Israel in March/April this year, where he was warmly welcomed. His tour of that state is just the latest in a series of building connections and links between far-right anti-Semitic political figures and the Israeli government. In December last year, the Italian Interior Minister and leader of the racist anti-immigrant Lega Party, Matteo Salvini, visited the Israeli state where he declared his unconditional support for the regime in Tel Aviv.

It is no exaggeration to state that Israel has actively courted the friendship and connections of ultra-rightist and anti-immigrant parties and ideologues from around the world. In turn, the latter have expressed their ideological support for the ethnocratic Zionist project, while holding explicitly anti-Semitic viewpoints. Why is there an open and burgeoning alliance between the far-right fascistic parties and the state of Zionist Israel?

It is interesting to note that Salvini, a powerful member of Italy’s rightist coalition government, has revived the politics and themes of Italian fascism for a modern audience. The late Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, enacted anti-Semitic legislation in the 1930s, leading to the deportation – and subsequent murder – of Italian Jews in concentration camps. Salvini has declared his intention to rid Italy of its Roma population in language reminiscent of the anti-Semitic terms deployed by Italian fascism against Jews.

The Zionist state has become a pole of attraction for various anti-immigrant, neo-fascist politicians and far-right ideologues because of the shared ideological kinship between Zionism and other ultra-rightist political philosophies. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has framed his outreach to neo-fascist and ultra-rightist forces as an exercise in pragmatic realpolitik, this rationale ignores the underlying commonalities between Zionism and ultra-rightist nationalism.

Political Zionism, being one variant of extreme ultranationalism, is admired by the international far-right for its push to construct an ethnocratic state based on the exclusion and dispossession of the Palestinians. Zionism regards the Jewish people worldwide as forming one, biologically-based indivisible nation, incapable of assimilating into the countries of their residence. This is a mirror reflection of the basic logic of the anti-Semite.

Netanyahu’s embrace of anti-Semites and ultra-rightist figures is neither opportunistic in origin nor accidental. Yvonne Ridley, writing about the open alliance between Zionism and ultranationalist, racist groups, states that:

Israel certainly has hooked up with some of the world’s most odious anti-Semites since the State was founded on Palestinian land in 1948. Such links would, no doubt, have had the blessing of Theodor Herzl, the godfather of political Zionism. Promoting Jewish migration to Palestine around the turn of the twentieth century he wrote, “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

One of Israel’s staunchest European allies is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The latter travelled to the state of Israel in 2018, and expressed his support for that nation. Orban makes for a seemingly strange political bedfellow of the Jewish state, having stated his admiration for wartime Hungarian dictator Admiral Miklos Horthy. In the 1930s and 40s, Horthy implemented anti-Semitic measures, cooperating with Nazi Germany in deporting and killing thousands of Jews. Orban’s praise of a wartime Nazi collaborator and killer is apparently no obstacle in forming friendly relations with Tel Aviv.

Not only anti-Semitic heads-of-state are welcomed by Israel’s supporters. Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for the Trump administration and ultra-rightist political operator, is a strong supporter of Zionism. Feted by the Zionist Organisation of America at a gala dinner in November 2017, Bannon has maintained strident anti-Semitic viewpoints, but these have posed no difficulties in acquiring friends in pro-Zionist organisations.

Let us not underestimate the influence of Islamophobia is cementing the alliance between Zionism and the far-right. Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo, writing in Al Jazeera, make the perceptive observation that ultra-rightist groups and political ideologues view Israel’s suppression and exclusion of Palestinians as a strike against a common Muslim enemy. With increasing numbers of refugees from Muslim-majority countries seeking asylum in Europe and America, the far-right has fixated on a new enemy out-group, and seeks ways to counter what they perceive as ‘encroachments’ on Western civilisation – in their distorted worldview.

The ultranationalist right looks to Israel for ways to deal with the Islamic outsider. Consider the following statement by Dutch ultra-rightist MP Geert Wilders. In 2015, warning that Islamic immigration posed a threat to Europe, he stated his proposed solution:

Look at Israel, learn from Israel; Israel is an island in a sea of Islamic barbarism. Israel is a beacon of freedom and prosperity in a region of Islamic darkness. Israel refuses to be overrun by jihadists. So should we.”

The Israeli government is itself a contributor to the resurgence of far-right and ultranationalist politics worldwide. Netanyahu’s willingness to ally with ultra-rightist militarists and Islamophobic fanatics in his own cabinet make him a willing accomplice in an international far-right project to acquire ideological rehabilitation – a crucial step towards state power.

When ultra-rightist Islamophobic parties make common cause with Israel’s ongoing offensive against the Palestinians, they are not only making Israel’s fight their own, but are also making Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land into a global cause. By cleverly affixing the tag ‘clash of civilisations’ to Israel’s construction of settlements on and annexation of Palestinian territory, the far-right’s ideology gains legitimacy among Israel’s supporters.

Creating an ethnic majoritarian nationalism on the ground in the Palestinian territories is a shining example of how the ultranationalist right intends to carve out a ‘cleansed’ whites-only majoritarian project on what it regards as its own turf. By applauding far-right bigotry under the guise of ‘countering Muslims’, the ultranationalist right is only emboldened to increase its attacks on all ethnic and religious minorities. There is an alternative course of action: rather than constructing alliances with far-right and white supremacist groups, Jews and Muslims can and must combine to fight the menace of bigotry and oppose the violence such hatred engenders.

A grim milestone – the four-year anniversary of the Saudi attack on Yemen

March 26 this year marks the fourth anniversary of the Saudi war on the nation of Yemen. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also a major participant in this assault, committing thousands of ground troops. This Saudi-Emirati campaign would not be possible without the unending supply of armaments, logistical and tactical support from Britain and the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that this war has inflicted untold misery and suffering upon the people of Yemen.

The United Nations has stated that this war has produced the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe with 80 percent of the Yemeni population requiring humanitarian assistance. Among that number are 11 million children – and the spectre of famine looms over the Yemenis. The UN estimates that 1.3 million children have suffered acute malnutrition over the last four years. Millions of Yemenis have been pushed to the brink of starvation.

The Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen has imposed a severe economic and trade blockade, resulting in the deterioration of the Yemeni economy. These punitive measures, which restrict imports, have hit the civilian population and driven people into economic misery. While the constant Saudi air strikes on the country have received strong criticism, the sea blockade of Yemen by the Saudis which is taking a toll on the fishing industry and on all those whose livelihoods depend on it.

In October last year, Saudi operatives in the Istanbul embassy murdered the Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. His gruesome killing was the subject of justifiable outrage, and prompted renewed examination of the Saudi war on Yemen. However, no less murderous are the numerous air strikes by Saudi forces on the people of Yemen, but these attract less outrage and media attention.

During the last week of March 2019, the Saudi forces carried out an air strike on a rural hospital in Kitaf, northern Yemen. The casualties included five children. The air strike, conducted by Saudi personnel flying American and British supplied fighter jets, disrupted the operation of the hospital and medical workers in providing health care for the sick and wounded. The Save the Children charity, which supported the hospital, condemned the attack as a violation of international law.

The Saudi-Emirati offensive against Yemen was launched to prop up the government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The latter was installed by Riyadh in 2012 as part of a political settlement ensuring overall Saudi dominance in the internal affairs of Yemen. The nationalist Zaidi Shia Ansar Allah movement – the Houthis in common parlance – rose up in rebellion against this arrangement. Since the Saudi offensive, Hadi’s government has been in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Emiratis, while being active participants in this war to crush the Ansar Allah movement and restore President Hadi, have been pursuing their own agenda in Yemen. The UAE has been striking out on its own, investing its considerable finances throughout the Middle East and also in Africa. The Emiratis increasing economic and military clout sometimes puts it at odds with their Saudi partners in Yemen.

The Emiratis have been quietly and busily constructing their own Yemeni proxies and burgeoning state in southern Yemen. Prior to unification in 1990, Yemen had been divided between the conservative northern Yemen Arab Republic, and the socialist-Communist state of the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. While the southern secessionist movement remained quiescent, it noted its chance to revive southern nationalism out of the chaos engendered by the latest Saudi war.

The Emiratis have sponsored, with armaments and money, the establishment of a Southern Transitional Council (STC) as a rival authority to the Saudi-supported government of Hadi. The STC provides security and stability for southern Yemen, and intends to reestablish a Communist-style system in the country. The Emiratis are strongly opposed to any such measures by the STC, and intend to acquire south Yemen as an economic colony of their own.

The patronage of the southern movement by the Emiratis is backfiring. Apart from their shared hostility to the Houthi movement, there is not much else that unites them politically. The Emiratis, for their part, have been building their own Yemeni militia groups, paid for and armed by them, with unquestioned loyalty to the UAE. Writing in The Guardian, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad elaborates the Emiratis measures to build their own networks, extending their power beyond their own borders.

The Security Belt is the name of the Emirati-supported militia that is resorting to brutal suppression of its opponents in the south of Yemen. This group has been accused by human rights organisations of torturing and brutalising their political opposition – which includes not only Ansar Allah members, but anyone opposed to the Emirati project in south Yemen.

The Houthis have managed to establish themselves as a governing authority in the north of the country despite the Saudi-Emirati offensive. The southern movement is now demanding that its push for a revival of the separate south Yemeni state be given its due consideration. If anything, the Saudi attack on Yemen has been a failure, because the political opponents of the Saudis are the only forces capable of exerting authority in their respective regions of the country.

As this war enters its fifth year, we cannot continue to pretend that we in the West are innocent bystanders. The Saudi assault on Yemen would not be able to continue were it not for the constant pipeline of armaments from the United States and Britain. Five British elite special forces commandos were injured in a gun battle in Yemen at the end of March. Questions are being asked in London as to why British troops are deployed in Yemen.

British and American forces are deeply involved in the Saudi campaign against Yemen; British commandos on the ground in Yemen provide intelligence and direction for Saudi air strikes. British military cooperation with Riyadh continues unabated. Let us stop pretending that this war is occurring in some far-away country about which we know nothing.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury and current chairperson of Christian Aid Rowan Williams stated it plainly when he wrote that the UK’s complicity in this Saudi war on Yemen must end. The catastrophe in Yemen, while directly caused by the Saudi-Emirati war, is enabled by Britain and the US acting as willing accomplices. We must step up our efforts to expose the criminality of this predatory war.

15 March 2019 – Christchurch, New Zealand

The Christchurch mosque attacks have received international coverage, and there has been an overwhelming and encouraging outpouring of compassion, sympathy and solidarity for the victims of this atrocity. The racist murders of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch constitute the worst mass killing in New Zealand’s recent history. While the motivations and ‘manifesto’ of the Australian-born racist killer are subjected to rigorous examination, it is worthwhile noting that his ideology is not out of place in today’s toxic political climate.

The Washington Post, examining the racist murders in Christchurch, noted that Australia has been a fertile ground for the growth and dissemination of Islamophobic culture and ideas. Ghassan Hage, an academic at the University of Melbourne, observed that Islamophobic ideas have been circulated by rightwing, Murdoch-owned publications for many years. Murdoch’s News Corp media company has been peddling Islamophobia for decades. These publications normalise extremist and racist ideas, and provide rightwing online communities with a sense of legitimacy.

The racist murderer in Christchurch made no secret of his political ideology – that of white supremacy and neofascism. His self-described ‘manifesto’ recycles the same anti-immigrant and Islamophobic themes that form the main talking points of the European and American ultra-right. He referenced the Norwegian racist killer, Anders Breivik, and the latter’s 2011 mass murder motivated by white supremacy and hostile to immigration.

Interestingly, the ‘manifesto’ of the Christchurch racist murderer contained numerous references to the Crusades and Crusader battles. He was attempting to rationalise his actions as purely self-defensive, and motivated by a desire to counter Islamic ‘invaders’. This notion of Muslims and Islam as ‘invaders’ pervades not just the ultra-right, but informs mainstream media commentary as well. Scrawled onto his machine gun were neofascist symbols and slogans.

The portrayal of European Christendom as a bastion of white Christian harmony fighting off hordes of Muslim invaders is a popular notion among the online communities of the far-right; it is also very simplistic and tailored to meet the requirements of today’s anti-immigrant politics. In fact, as much as the Crusades have come to dominate popular stereotypes of the Middle Ages, multiethnic and religious cooperation across the ethnic/religious divisions were a common feature of Middle Ages life.

Historical accuracy, however much commendable is not the goal of the Islamophobic Right. What concerns us here is how seemingly fringe ideas have become powerful motivators for lethal terroristic behaviour. The ideas in the ‘manifesto’ have been circulating for decades in the mainstream corporate media. The Australian conservative political establishment – embodied by former prime minister John Howard – vilified refugees, migrants and in particular Islam as ‘invaders’ intent on undermining the allegedly ‘Christian’, white Anglophone values that underpin the Australian state.

Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, while he was immigration spokesperson in 2013, suggested that anxieties about Muslim immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment be cultivated and used for electoral purposes. His condemnation of the white supremacist murderer of Christchurch sounds hollow, given his track record of fully supporting Islamophobic ideas and measures.

Jason Wilson, writing in The Guardian newspaper, elaborates that Islamophobia and racism have been ratcheted up in popular culture and media discourse throughout the last few decades. Islamophobia has basically been adopted as a plank of Australian foreign and domestic policy. Racism in Australian society did not begin only in the last few years, of course. But with the Australian government’s active endorsement of and participation in the American-driven ‘War on Terror‘, a singular and exclusive focus on Islam as the official enemy has dominated political culture.

While the notion of a ‘foreign invasion’ of Australia by immigrants has a long and sordid pedigree, we can look to recent commentary to find recycled examples of this xenophobia. It was not too long ago when Andrew Bolt, a leading blatherer of the Australian conservative commentariat, was complaining of a ‘foreign invasion’ by immigrants in one of his regular columns. By inciting racial hatred in his writings, Bolt was giving a veneer of respectability for xenophobic and racist viewpoints. In this particular case, he vented his anger against Jews. It is not difficult to see that moral panics about ‘foreign invasion’ can transfer across ethnic and religious groups.

While the Labour governments of Rudd and Gillard denounced expressions of open racism, they did not challenge the underlying logic of the bigotry. Labour governments have presided over and encouraged the spread of Islamophobic bigotry, if only in more subtle ways than their conservative counterparts. With every move rightwards by the political establishment, the so-called sensible ‘centre’ does nothing to distinguish itself from the conservative drift.

Muslim migrants as ‘invaders’ has gained normalised acceptance in the toxic political culture of Western nations. The Trump administration in the United States, and its co-thinkers, have long demonised immigrants – in particular migrants from Muslim-majority countries – as a threat to be countered. The ideas expounded by the Christchurch racist murderer are not unusual among members of the US congress and rightwing punditry. Former chief of staff for Trump and Alternative Right political operator Steve Bannon, regularly cites the anti-immigration novel The Camp of the Saints as an inspiration for his politics. The novel, written in 1973 by Jean Raspail, depicts a fictional invasion of Western Europe by dark-skinned migrants.

The Christchurch mosque shootings have produced a national conversation, in Australia, about the ideas and ideology that drove the white supremacist killer to take human life. Greg Barton, a professor at Deakin University, notes that we must all be vigilant about the toxic political culture which allows racist hate to flourish. Professor Barton is correct to point out the online subcultures of white supremacist hate in which persons such as the racist killer in Christchurch could become radicalised.

However, this is only one side of the story. We need to examine the political trajectory of the last 18 years, focusing exclusively on the ‘war on terror’ and Islamist groups. With this narrow outlook, the racist killers such as the one in Christchurch have flown under the radar, so to speak. Intelligence agencies have subjected Muslim communities to constant surveillance and police actions, and their resources have greatly expanded since the beginning of the ‘war in terror’ in 2001. White supremacist ideas, aided and abetted by willing politicians, have made their way into the mainstream.

It is commendable to condemn the Christchurch mosque attacks, but mere platitudes are not enough. We need to stop the Islamophobic rhetoric emanating from the corporate media and conservative commentariat. With Muslim communities worldwide experiencing dehumanisation with the ‘war on terror’ campaign, white supremacy has shown itself to be a powder-keg of violence, stoked by mainstream politicians. The racist murderer in Christchurch is responsible for his own actions – of that there is no doubt. But we cannot ignore the complicity of the political establishment that allowed his ideology to grow.