American anti-semitism, Jewish immigrants and whiteness

Jews have been classified as white in the United States, but this has not insulated them against vicious and increasing anti-semitism.

In the previous article, we examined the question of whiteness in the United States, and how migrant communities have been categorised into a racially-ordered hierarchy. Those deemed to be white sit at the top of this racial pyramid, and immigrants, such as Italian Americans, struggled to be classified into the ever-fluid classification of whiteness.

However, what about the Jewish people? Technically regarded as white, they were nevertheless ostracised, subjected to anti-semitic attacks, and denounced as an internally-hostile, potentially treasonous element, in the body politic of American society. This month marks one year since the killing of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Since the election of US President Donald Trump, anti-semitic harassment of and attacks against Jewish communities have increased.

How can an ethnic and religious minority, while legally regarded as white, still be subjected to racial attacks and prejudice? Let’s explore this topic by examining the road to whiteness.

Since the US Congress passed the first naturalisation act in 1790, Jews were defined as white and therefore entitled to apply for citizenship in the new republic. However, Jews were nevertheless the outsiders, practicing an ancient creed and its associated customs. Jews did settle in major cities, and also in those US states where slavery was permitted – the US South. In fact, southern Jews – a tiny minority of them – owned and even traded African slaves.

Mordecai Cohen, a prominent and wealthy citizen of Charleston, South Carolina, owned slaves. David Franks of Philadelphia, descendent of a prominent Jewish family and staunch loyalist during the American war of independence – loyal to Britain that is – owned and traded in African slaves. However, Jews were only a marginal player in the transatlantic racial slave trafficking. However, we must decisively reject the false and anti-semitic claim that Jews dominated and/or controlled the slave trade.

That slanderously false claim, made by former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and recycled by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, only serves to poison relations between the Jewish and African American communities. This claim is not only historically inaccurate, it recycles the old anti-semitic canard of a malevolent and sinister conspiracy of deceitful Jews, setting out to profit from people’s misery.

The notion of a shadowy global Jewish conspiracy is centuries-old, and has undergone various permutations and manifestations. This subject is too large for the current article, but we can state that American anti-semitism, as elaborated by the US ruling class, has served to divide the white population from its Jewish neighbours. In fact, the United States, especially after the end of the civil war and mass immigration from Europe, increased the volume and scope of anti-semitism.

The new science – actually pseudoscience – of race and eugenics changed national perceptions of ethnic and religious minorities. The influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants – with their customs, traditions and Yiddish language – was accompanied by a national campaign of paranoia that the new immigrants would dilute the ‘purity’ of the white stock and lead to a deterioration of the American lifestyle. The new ‘swarms’ of Jewish immigrants, the teeming masses bringing their culture and refusing to assimilate – these xenophobic themes resonate until today.

Eastern European Jews, escaping the anti-semitic pogroms and prejudice of Tsarist Russia, faced a new type of economic anti-semitism in the new country. Jewish immigrants took up work in the burgeoning factories and growing industries of the capitalist United States.

Henry Ford, the automotive genius responsible for revolutionising car production, was also a vicious lifelong anti-semite. Purchasing the Dearborn Independent newspaper, he used it as a mouthpiece to spread his increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labour, and anti-semitic views. Ford updated the traditional Jewish conspiracy theory, suggesting that the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia, and its American adherents, were controlled by Jews.

According to Ford, Jewish bankers were responsible for starting World War One, positioning themselves to profit from the destructive conflict. Not only were Jews the sinister bankers at the centre of the financial world, they were also responsible for financing Bolshevik agitators and revolutionaries. The slander of Judeo-Bolshevism was not an exclusive invention of Ford’s, but he did his utmost to publicise this bizarre and ultra-rightist worldview.

The end of World War Two, and the revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust, led to a tactical shift in the United States – Jews would be welcomed into middle-class respectability, moving into comfortable suburbia. Given a small stake in the nation, Jewish communities achieved a level of acceptance, if only grudging, into the white racial hierarchy.

Donald Sterling, the real estate mogul and former owner of an NBA team, is originally Jewish. Imbibing the prejudices and outlook of white America, his bigotry against black Americans led to his disgrace. Able to amass a considerable fortune as a landlord, he held racist views towards African Americans, Hispanics and other racial minorities. His racism was ‘under the radar’ so to speak, during his rise to riches, because he adopted the whiteness necessary for advancement in American society.

However, it would be wrong to regard Donald Sterling as representative of the wider Jewish experience. It is no secret that American Jews participated strongly in the civil rights movement, suffering alongside their African American counterparts in an anti-racism struggle. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King welcomed Jews as equal supporters in anti-racism campaigns. While relations between Jews and African Americans have sometimes been tense and contradictory, there is no question that Jewish people have a long tradition of cross-ethnic solidarity with black Americans.

As anti-semitism rears its ugly head yet again, this time with the Trump administration providing a suitable platform, it is imperative to remember that whiteness is only a chimera, providing at best an illusory protection against racism. The best antidote to anti-semitism is multiethnic anti-racism and solidarity.

Becoming white in the United States, racism and building a racial pyramid

Since his election as US President in the 2016 elections, Donald Trump has made his sympathies for white nationalism plainly evident. He has used his office to provide a platform for white supremacist ideas, recycled white racist conspiratorial xenophobia, and has attacked anti-racist groups and political figures. Being white in the United States may seem like an obvious racial category, and membership of this group appears easy to determine.

But who exactly is white? Whiteness as a racial classification has undergone a long and unending period of social construction. In fact, social psychologists will tell you that the notion of race is a socially constructed category, influenced by political and cultural considerations. But is not whiteness obvious? After all, we can see who is white, black, Asian, Hispanic – can’t we?

Since the 1790 Naturalization Act, the United States has defined itself as a nation for ‘free white persons’. Only those fitting this latter category could apply for and achieve citizenship – with all the benefits and privileges that citizenship entailed. Better jobs, education, access to financial resources, social mobility, the opportunities for economic advancement, the chance to run for political office – being a citizen meant that you had a platform from which to make it.

The indigenous Americans, black slaves, and coloured persons were all excluded. But what about immigrants from Europe? Italians, Greeks, Poles, Hungarians – the ‘new’ immigrants wanted their opportunity to achieve the ‘American dream’. They did so by overcoming prejudice – and becoming accepted as white. They did their utmost to prove their worthiness by conforming to the standard of whiteness. Achieving that status meant being included as citizens in the melting pot.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigrants from Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe and so on occupied an in-between place – not black, but not white either. In a book by Professor Matthew Frye Jacobson called Whiteness of a Different Color, the author examines the various ways in which the new immigrant groups battled for acceptance into the racial order – not on the basis of cross-racial and multiethnic solidarity, but by being classified as white.

The United States ruling class was already promoting national hysteria regarding the influx of ‘lesser breeds’ from Eastern and Southern Europe diluting the racial purity of white stock. Italian Americans, for instance, occupied a perilous position – not black, but still swarthy, darker-complexioned foreign-types. While Northern Italians were considered lighter-skinned and therefore more socially acceptable, the curly-haired compatriots from Southern Italy endured the hostility of the white American establishment.

Racist stereotypes about Italian Americans abounded in the media, portraying them as congenital criminals, dangerous elements and deceitful opportunists – in an eerily similar way in which stereotypes about Hispanic immigrants are recycled today. While Italians were employed in Louisiana and other southern US states as labourers – replacing the newly emancipated black slaves after the civil war – they were considered an inferior breed, and were the targets of racist lynch mobs.

After Italian Americans were lynched by racist killers in 1891 in New Orleans – killed by a mob whipped into a frenzy by official media denouncing Italians as ‘criminal and cowardly Sicilians’ – the US government faced political consequences. The Italian government, backed by its expatriates in the US launched formal measures to push the American authorities for swift resolution.

President Harrison declared – as a concession to the Italians – that 1892 would see the first nationwide celebration of Columbus Day. The 400th anniversary of the Columbus voyage was intended to be a one-off celebration. It became the portal through which Italian Americans would be accepted as white – abandoning their black American neighbours to the lynch mobs and racism of white America.

No longer would Italians be confused with blacks or other coloured ethnicities – the device they needed to acquire white respectability was at hand. Anti-lynching campaigner Ida B. Wells, newspaper editor in Memphis – desired a cross-ethnic anti-racism focus to confront the problems of lynching, and the broader racism in American society. Italian Americans were advancing upwards in the racial pyramid of the capitalist United States.

The fight for inclusion into whiteness demonstrates the fluid nature of racial identity. Inclusion conferred economic advantages, but also meant distancing yourselves from the black outsider. The new immigrants – Greeks, Serbians, Polish, among others – began to imbibe the prejudices and underlying bigotry of their white neighbours.

Polish Americans, derided as an internal menace by white America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gradually found acceptance by becoming white. Initially the target of racist violence, Polish communities found that be practicing the same discrimination against the African Americans as did the majority white community, they could find their position in the racial pyramid improved – though they would still be ‘ethnic whites’.

None of this is to suggest that multiracial solidarity does not exist in the United States. Black Americans have been at the forefront of building multiethnic cooperation, and have shown tremendous courage and foresight in confronting racism. Confronting black immiseration requires a multiracial struggle. However, whiteness as we understand it today has always been a malleable concept, invested with historical and political influences.

There is one group that has been regarded as white – technically – but continually targeted as the menacing outsiders. Denounced as either bankers or beggars, this group has faced the conspiratorial paranoid fantasies of the white ruling establishment in the United States. US President Trump, in his numerous Twittering rants, has rehashed malignant stereotypes and promoted phantasmagoric conspiracies about this group.

The Jewish people, while legally considered white from the early days of the emergent United States, have faced vicious anti-Semitism in all its forms. Judaism is obviously a religion, not a race; but we cannot sidestep the reality of racism faced by the Jewish community in the United States. Jews have had their place in the whiteness category, but have also found themselves on the receiving end of the racist bludgeon.

That will be the subject of the next article. Stay tuned.

The spectre of defeat hangs over the Saudi war on Yemen

This month marks one year – October 2 to be exact – since the grisly killing of dissident Saudi journalist and political figure Jamal Khashoggi. His murder, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was particularly gruesome, and attests to the barbaric lengths to which the Riyadh monarchy will go to silence its critics. The Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the heir apparent and the ‘power behind the throne’ so to speak, has denied ordering the Khashoggi assassination. However, evidence is emerging that he ordered the killing.

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, is demanding answers about her partner’s killing. Cengiz held a vigil outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the anniversary of his death. Thus far, no-one has been tried or held accountable for the assassination. There is no doubt that US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have enabled the Saudi campaign of denials and obfuscation regarding the Khashoggi assassination. They have supported Riyadh public relations efforts to absolve the Saudi monarchy of criminal responsibility for that crime.

The Crown Prince has carefully cultivated the image of a reformer and moderniser, cancelling the ban on female drivers, curtailing the power of the religious police, and relaxing laws on public gender segregation. The US and Britain have facilitated this image makeover of the Riyadh monarchy. The Saudi Crown Prince has been given a lavish welcome in the corridors of power in London and Washington.

In the immediate aftermath of the Khashoggi killing, the Saudi monarchy faced criticism for failing to pursue and prosecute the perpetrators. However, a year later, numerous American and British CEOs and corporate executives are gathering for the ‘Davos in the Desert‘ – the Saudi-hosted Future Investment Initiative. Corporate investment and business trading will continue as though the Khashoggi murder never happened.

The Saudi war machine takes a beating

The one area where the Saudi monarchy has received the full backing of the United States and Britain – with Australia tagging along – is its war on Yemen. Make no mistake; since March 2015, the Saudi military has waged an unrelenting war on Yemen, unleashing an orgy of destruction. The Saudis and their Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates, are responsible for numerous war crimes, bombing hospitals, schools, water facilities, factories and bridges.

Two events over the month of September however, demonstrate that the Saudi war is not going according to plan. The Yemeni Ansar Allah movement, popularly known as the Houthis, struck the Saudi Arabian oil facilities at Abqaiq, causing the vital oil industry in Saudi Arabia to reduce its output. Saudi oil production was cut in half after the attack. Targeting the oil industry is something that the Ansar Allah movement was thought to be incapable of doing.

In addition to this attack on oil production, the Ansar Allah successfully invaded the southern Saudi Arabian province of Najran, capturing hundreds of Saudi soldiers and seizing military equipment. While all claims of military incursions and prisoner capture need to be treated with caution, there is credible evidence to support the Houthi version of events. Since the beginning of the Saudi-Gulf invasion of Yemen, Riyadh has consistently underestimated the resilience and military capabilities of its opponents.

These two events represent a serious defeat for the Saudi Arabian military, and its American and British supporters. Far from being the quick and easy victory that Riyadh expected when it launched this war in 2015, Yemen is turning into a quagmire out of which Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to extricate itself. Despite the fact that the Saudis are the militarily stronger power, enjoying the support of regional allies, it is plausible to discuss the real possibility of Saudi Arabia losing this war – because the spectre of defeat is looming large over Riyadh.

It is worth noting that despite the asymmetrical nature of the conflict – the Saudis have imposed a full land, sea and air blockade on Yemen, given their naval and aerial superiority – the Saudi monarchy has little, if anything, to show as tangible results on the ground. The Saudi offensive – codenamed Operation Decisive Storm – was launched to impose the Yemeni government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi as a Saudi proxy. Currently, Hadi is still living in exile with his Saudi patrons.

Britain plays along

Let us not forget the role of Britain, and its armaments exports, to the Saudi and Emirati military forces in helping to sustain the attack against Yemen. While the Khashoggi killing attracted media attention, the complicity of the UK (and Australia) in the ongoing mass slaughter in Yemen requires consistent and passionate outrage. David Wearing, lecturer in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, notes that it is British-made bombs and warplanes wreaking death and destruction in Yemen.

Let us dispense with the absurd notion that the armaments exports to regimes like Saudi Arabia provide jobs for workers back in Britain. The excuse of ‘job provision’ is regularly trotted out whenever the UK-Saudi relationship comes under close scrutiny. The only beneficiaries of the armaments exports industry are the owners of those narrow industries, not the working community nor the wider economy. Trade with Saudi Arabia may accrue benefits for the English ruling class, but the arms exports trade is only a minuscule percentage of Britain’s total exports worldwide.

We require a decisive break with Trump-Brexit parochialism that seems to dominate much of official politics in the English-speaking nations, and rediscover a politics of proactive solidarity and cooperation. While the Yemeni Ansar Allah movement are capable of inflicting defeats on the Saudi military, the ongoing pipeline of armaments to the Saudi war machine from Britain and the United States must be stopped.

Let’s defend Meghan Markle from the racists – and abolish the monarchy as well

There is no doubt that the addition of American actor Meghan Markle to the ranks of the English royal family is a public relations coup for the monarchy. Including a black princess – ‘biracial’ to use Markle’s self-description – has updated the image of an obsolete, feudal institution of privilege and power for the 21st century. As Kenan Malik observed in the Guardian newspaper, perceptions of blackness and Britishness have been revised in an attempt to make the monarchy more widely acceptable, especially to a younger audience.

There is also no doubt that Markle has been subjected to a steady stream of racist abuse and attacks on social media. Every detail of her life is opened up to the media, and Markle has faced obnoxious and vitriolic racism from the swamps of the internet and media. One example was the broadcast on Australia’s version of ’60 Minutes’, which purported to reveal that the royals are ostracising Markle, and calling for a ‘Megxit’ – a play on Brexit.

In an article for the Guardian, Kenan Malik stated that we can defend Markle from bigotry and hate, but also make a strident critique of the institution of royalty. The marriage of Harry and Meghan, while no doubt sincere, is also motivated by definitive political considerations. Nothing that the royal family does is without the input of public relations experts, advisors and intelligence officials who carefully choreograph every move and interview.

Markle’s role as a black princess – drawing from her extensive acting experience – is to bring the elements of ‘wokeness’ to the institution of monarchy. Her husband Harry, who only a few years ago spent his days exerting his energies with young women in hotel rooms, now fulfils the part of an ecologically aware philanthropist. Sitting on the board of various charities and environmental groups, Harry has had a complete image makeover, transforming into a ‘serious’ member of the UK community.

Markle has advocated for disability rights causes, as well as environmental issues. Making activism her main contribution, she recently published a Grenfell cookbook, supposedly to assist the survivors of the horrific Grenfell Towers fire – a crime for which no-one as yet has been held liable. Harry and Meghan have expressed their love of Africa – and have embarked on a tour of southern African nations. The royal tour, which includes a black princess, is designed as a public relations exercise. The British establishment seen to be ‘making amends’ for its history of colonialism in that continent.

Reinventing the image and appearance of this outdated institution of entrenched privilege is required in an age of increasing economic and social inequalities in Britain. While no expense was spared to host the wedding of Harry and Meghan, news of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry barely registered on the corporate media’s radar. While the billionaires and millionaires gathered for the wedding, the UK government resisted demands to ban the cheap, flammable cladding which directly contributed to the lethal fire in Grenfell.

In an article for Jacobin magazine, staff writer Branko Marcetic states that regardless of Markle’s likeable personal qualities, associating her efforts as a philanthropist with the fight against global poverty actually distorts our view of the measures requires to eliminate poverty and inequality. Having a black ‘social justice warrior’ princess does wonders for reinvigorating the image of the royal family, but does nothing to alleviate the immiseration caused by the capitalist system.

Royal romances and weddings are useful platforms to deliberately cultivate a myth of national unity. Such myths can be deployed to disguise deep-seated divisions in the society, such racial discrimination. Britain has had a long history of excluding black Britons – including those whose country of origin are former British colonies – from mainstream British society. Even 70 years after the first black migrants arrived in Britain for work – the Windrush generation – the presence of black Britons is studiously ignored.

While Harry and Meghan were experiencing their budding romance, graduating on from there to an engagement and a wedding, what it means to be black in Britain came under sustained attack on social media. Professor Mary Beard, a classicist at Cambridge University, gave her approval to a series of educational materials about Roman Britain. What was controversial about that? In the depictions of Roman soldiers in Britain, the illustrator showed a black soldier alongside his white partner and children.

The fact that the Roman Empire was multiethnic cannot be disputed. Professor Beard’s ‘crime’, in the eyes of her critics, was to approvingly acknowledge that black persons – most likely North Africans – were part of the British people’s ancestry. The depiction of a high-ranking Roman soldier deployed in Britain was a cause of offence to many people. Professor Beard has described the torrent of abuse she faced on social media, by people refusing to accept British history as anything other than lily-white.

Robust debate is part and parcel of academic life in the field of Roman studies. However, we should point out that Beard’s critics were not concerned about historical accuracy – they were not complaining about any inaccurate depictions of Roman irrigation works, or Roman agricultural techniques. They were attacking the well-established feature of Roman Britain as a multiethnic society.

Britain’s history has been sanitised to fulfill the needs of an imperialistic nostalgia. The British Empire conquered not only nations, but dominated the interpretation of its own history. Black Britons, and their inclusion in Britain throughout the centuries, violate that picture of whiteness upon which British empire-building (and its monarchy) is based. Rather than listen to Meghan Markle, we should listen to David Olusoga, who has written about growing up black in today’s UK.

Olusoga, a journalist and historian, wrote about the racism that pervaded British life in the 1970s and 80s. Referring to today, he states that:

The walls of disadvantage that today block the paths of young black Britons are a mutated product of the same racism. Knowing this history better, understanding the forces it has unleashed, and seeing oneself as part of a longer story, is one of the ways in which we can keep trying to move forward.

Certainly, Markle has been treated appallingly, and she deserves to be defended. Let’s address the deeply entrenched problems of racism in Britain, rather than putting our hopes in a revamped feudal institution.

The non-surprising surprise of white nationalism’s global appeal

Earlier in the month (September), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that white supremacy is indeed a serious domestic terrorism threat. After the El Paso and similar white-supremacist shootings, the DHS has stated that combating white nationalism is a top priority for its work. Kevin McLeenan, the acting director of the DHS, said that the spate of white nationalist killings in the US has galvanised the department into taking action against this homegrown violent racist extremist ideology.

This change in focus from an exclusive preoccupation with Islamic extremism to one which examines the menace of white nationalism was welcomed by anti-extremism campaigners and groups. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is one of the organisations that has approvingly cited this refocus. Sharon Nazarian, the ADL’s senior vice president for international affairs, stated that white nationalism is not only a domestic threat, but has forged links with similarly-minded parties and groups across the Atlantic.

The ADL issued a wide-ranging report called Hate Beyond Borders: The Internationalization of White Supremacy. In its report, the ADL explains that white nationalism has not stayed put in the United States, but has connected with far-right parties in Europe, creating social media communities of hate and exchanging views and information about tactics to be deployed in their respective countries. This internationalisation has enabled white supremacists to rationalise their actions as part of a ‘struggle to save the white race’.

The ADL report’s authors express shock and dismay that white nationalist parties and groups have formed international connections. However, the cross-Atlantic sharing of ideas and strategies between white nationalist politicians and groups, while disturbing, is hardly new or surprising. Indeed, it is the non-surprising ‘surprise’ of our times. The ultranationalist and neo-fascistic parties, while fiercely racist, have a long history of supporting racist parties in other countries.

The globalisation of white supremacy is nothing new

A cursory glance at the history of the United States reveals that white nationalism, far from being an isolated product unique to American history, is a globalised ideology that has accompanied the rise of imperialist powers in Europe. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the codified racism of the United States was an inspiration for racist parties around the world, and in particular in Germany.

When the Nazi party hierarchy wanted to implement a series of racial laws in their own country, they looked around the world for a template they could study and follow. The practical example of a successful racially-stratified society they examined for inspiration was the United States. From the early part of the twentieth century, Nazi ideologues and party functionaries, including Hitler himself, sought to emulate the laws and regulations of legalised racial discrimination they found in the United States.

At first glance, this may seem like a strange observation to make – how could the United States, the exemplar of constitutionally guaranteed liberty and democratic governance provide a political model for Nazi Germany, the epitome of tyranny and racially-driven genocide? With the defeat of fascism at the end of World War Two, we have come to regard Nazi rule as the prime example of racial barbarism, and the Holocaust as the supreme example of unspeakable evil.

This perspective, while understandable, has made us blind to the precursors of Nazi racism. We have tried to distance ourselves from the savagery of Nazi white supremacy, while overlooking the ideological and political connections that the West made with Nazism prior to the outbreak of open hostilities. From the 1910s onwards, the global leader in legalised race-based segregation was the United States.

It was not only in the area of eugenics laws where the Nazis learned from the United States. Laws aimed at preventing the ‘racial pollution’ of the white race by intermixing with ‘African blood’ were pioneered in America. Madison Grant, author of the influential book The Passing of the Great Race, warned against racially mixed marriages and couples. This book was described as a ‘bible’ by Hitler himself. In the 1920s, Hitler expressed his admiration for the United States as the one place where the white race was making its best efforts in preventing racial mixing and thus promoting its advancement.

The Nazi party hierarchy admired the fact that the American immigration system placed race, and white racial ‘purity’, at the front and centre of its entry and application criteria. When the Nazis passed the Nuremberg laws in 1935 preventing marriage and sexual relations between ‘Aryans’ and Jews, they did so by following the direct examples of American anti-racial mixing statutes.

James Q. Whitman, a lawyer and professor at Yale Law School, wrote an extensive study of how and why the Nazis examined, and were inspired by, American racial laws. In his book, Hitler’s American Model, he elaborates how the United States was in its time, the place where legalised racism was most advanced anywhere in the world. It was in the United States, the Nazis noted, where efforts to stop the ‘mongrelisation of the white race’ were most developed. Whitman makes the astute observation that America, known for its innovation in corporate law today, was famous for its innovative race-laws in the decades prior to World War Two.

None of this is to suggest that the Americans are responsible for the crimes of the Nazi party and German military. Of course the lawyers and officials in Germany did not simply imitate American laws – they did not ‘copy and paste’. The German ruling class enacted its own bit of imperialism by joining the scramble for Africa in the late 19th century. However, the conquest of African nations, while welcomed by the Nazi party, did not interest them as much as acquiring lebensraum – living space – in the East of Europe.

Indeed, it was the white American conquest of the indigenous nations – the misnamed American Indians and their near-annihilation – which inspired the empire-builders of the Nazi white supremacists. If white colonisation could achieve a white-dominated society on the American continent, surely the same economic and political reordering could be achieved in Europe? When Hitler made his statement “Our Mississippi must be the Volga and not the Niger”, he was expressing a reorientation of German imperialism from Africa – the conquest of which he nevertheless approved as the Lord’s Judgement in enslaving an ‘inferior’ race – towards the annihilation of Jews, Slavs and other ‘inferior’ races.

White nationalism, and associated notions of ‘preserving its purity’, are neither uniquely Nazi in origin, nor confined to Germany. If the DHS wants to confront the ideology of white nationalism, it could begin by examining their own commander-in-chief, who has done his utmost to turn the Oval Office into a white nationalist pipeline. US President Trump has recycled and normalised the main ideas of white supremacy, whether he is talking to a domestic audience, or speaking on the international level.

Trump, standing in a long tradition of white supremacy, is providing a pole of attraction for ultra-rightist parties and corresponding ideology across the Atlantic. If the ADL understood this, and took steps to combat this ideology in the United States, they would not be so surprised.

The racist politics of Hungary’s Orban, Tony Abbott and the shadow of Enoch Powell

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently attended a conference in Budapest, where he praised the race-based immigration policies of the ultranationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Abbott recycled claims that ‘military-age’ migrants were ‘swarming’ into Europe, seeking to overturn the European character of the continent. Orban had opened the conference with a reference to the conspiratorial ‘Great Replacement‘ theory, which holds that liberal cosmopolitan elites are allowing an influx of non-white migrants to overwhelm the white population of Europe.

What is this ‘Great Replacement’ theory, and why is a former Australian Prime Minister supporting such an outlandish characterisation? To answer this question, we need to examine the racist politics of Hungary’s leader – Orban – and also elaborate how a white supremacist vision is gathering adherents in Europe and around the world.

The notion that immigration constitutes an ‘invasion’ threatening to drive the white nations to ‘extinction’ is nothing new in European politics. Orban, however, is the mainstream European leader who has done his best to advocate and normalise this anti-immigration sentiment. The ‘Great Replacement‘ theory dates back to the early part of the twentieth century, when French racist intellectuals, introduced the term ‘Great Replacement’. For instance, French fascist writer Maurice Barres, worried that ‘Western’ and French national identity was under siege from a huge influx of non-white immigration, particularly from France’s African colonies.

In the 1970s, French intellectual Jean Raspail repopularised the notion of a ‘white extinction’ in his racist dystopian novel, The Camp of the Saints. The novel is a paranoid racist fantasy, depicting the destruction of French/Western civilisation by a mass influx of non-white immigration. Raspail’s work was approvingly cited by former Trump campaign manager, Steve Bannon.

In 2012, French racist writer Renaud Camus recycled the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory, claiming that the Jews – the traditional ethnic scapegoat – are organising the importation of non-white migrants for the purpose of colonising Europe and ousting the white race. Camus approved the actions of the white nationalist rioters at Charlottesville in 2017, and justified white supremacist terrorism as an understandable response to the influx of immigration.

Orban has, on numerous occasions, resorted to the ‘Great Replacement’ theory to underscore his government’s anti-immigration policies. Perhaps Tony Abbott does not know about the origins of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy. That is likely, because Abbott does not know anything. Nick O’Malley, senior writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that if Abbott is unaware of the provenance of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, then he should be.

The white nationalist killers, such as the Australian-born racist murderer in Christchurch, have cited the ‘Great Replacement’ theory as a direct motivation for their actions. If Abbott had done his homework, he would have discovered that white supremacist killers, such as the El Paso shooter, have portrayed their actions in defensive terms, simply responding to an alleged influx of black and brown people. Not only in the ‘Great Replacement’ theory a rationalisation of white nationalist terrorism, it is also an incitement to racial civil war.

The racially paranoid fear of ‘white genocide’ is not uniquely European. Other colonial powers have constructed their own versions of an immigration-driven path to extinction. Writing in Jacobin magazine, Rosa Schwartzburg examines the racist dystopian novel The Turner Diaries. Authored by American white supremacist William Luther Pierce, the novel depicts a violent racist uprising by white guerrillas against the Jewish-inspired and black-enforced ‘new world order’ in the United States.

The United States has a long and deeply-embedded history of white nationalism. It was The Turner Diaries, with its portrayal of a white ‘Aryan revolution’ and apocalyptic genocide of the non-white races, that updated white supremacy and modernised it. No longer were white supremacists hankering for the days of the slave-owning Confederacy; now there was a vision of a racially-motivated uprising. The Turner Diaries has inspired acts of violence by American extremists, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

There is one ideological influence on Abbott’s thinking which has been omitted from the discussions in the media about his speech at the Budapest conference. The Liberal Party, of which Abbott is a member, takes direct ideological inspiration from the British Conservative party. If there is one politician who casts a long shadow until today, it is the late Enoch Powell. A diehard Tory conservative, he gave a speech in 1968 that has become a seminal work in the ideology of the racist ultraright.

Powell, a backbencher in 1968, lamented the decline of the old colonial British empire. Bemoaning the loss of British power and status, he envisioned a racist fantasy that the streets of Britain would run red with ‘rivers of blood’ should immigration from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and other nonwhite nations continue. His speech, though denounced by mainstream conservative figures and commentators, still received respectful coverage in the British media.

Powell, in line with other Tory figures, derived his support from upper and middle class voters. However, after his speech, there were demonstrations by working class people in his support. While a member of the elite – he was a Cambridge-educated professor of ancient Greek – he portrayed himself as a ‘tribune of the people’. A far right politician, Powell denounced the liberal elites for pushing multiculturalism and immigration on a reluctant (white) working class – a tactic that is familiar today.

Interestingly, Powell not only used ‘whiteness’ as the uniform around which to unite against the immigrant ‘tidal wave’, he was also one of the first political figures to advocate what we would nowadays call neoliberalism. Attacking big government bodies, such as the National Health Service, Powell proposed the privatisation of public assets, a crackdown on trade unions, and a repudiation of the post-World War Two social welfare state.

These ideas were taken up with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher upon becoming prime minister in 1979. Thatcher adopted the racial ideas of Powell, warning of ‘cultural groups’ who refuse to assimilate. This goes to show that neoliberal capitalism is not only an economic project, important as that is, but a racial one as well. It is possible and necessary to talk about race and class at the same time. Race and class require specific discussions, but they also operate together to sustain the capitalist system.

It is time to repudiate the politicised hysteria about a mythical ‘immigrant swarm’ and examine the economic power structures Abbott and Orban are doing their utmost to preserve. Concerns about a ‘white working class’ being overwhelmed by an influx of foreigners are being used to disguise the economic and social policies of neoliberal capitalism – measures which immiserate all of us. Ethnic communities have been part of the working class for generations.

Until the Last Man Comes Home – reviewing the Vietnam POW/MIA issue

There have been a wealth of books and articles published about the Vietnam war, and the concurrent issue of prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIAs) from American involvement in that conflict. Not many authors have examined the cultural and political impact of the Vietnam POW/MIA lobby on American society. The outsize role of the POW/MIA campaign on American politics, and how that came to pass, is the subject of a remarkable volume by Northwestern University history professor, Michael J. Allen.

The book Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War is a scholarly and wonderful account of the fascinating, disturbing and largely unrecognised story of how the POW/MIA issue became such a durable and impactful feature of post-Vietnam war American society. Based on Professor Allen’s doctoral thesis, the book is a welcome addition to a subject that still stirs passions today.

From the middle of the 1960s, as the US government escalated its war on Vietnam, American military aviators were shot down over enemy territory. Some were captured, and became prisoners of war. Their cause was at first treated with extreme secrecy by the Johnson administration. He did not a reduction in morale, with the news of American POWs.

The families of the downed pilots, concerned about the POWs and those aviators whose fate was unknown, formed a lobby group which subsequently became the National League of POW/MIA Families. This group, formed in the late 1960s, was taken under the wing of the Nixon presidency and turned into a conservative political and cultural force. There are various reasons why Nixon and his team adopted this approach.

By the late 1960s, domestic opposition to the war was mounting. Vietnam veterans were protesting the war – joining peace groups to pressure the government. Anti-war activists had traveled to North Vietnam to secure the release of American POWs. Allen details how, in 1965, two American servicemen released from North Vietnamese captivity, went on to denounce the American war in press conferences after their release.

Nixon and his colleagues found the perfect counter to the antiwar and anti-establishment sentiment sweeping the nation – the families of the captive and missing American aviators. The possibility of outright military victory in Vietnam was particularly remote – especially after the Tet offensive. The concern for POWs, while legitimate, was exploited by the Nixon administration to the fullest extent. The National League of Families became his conservative political allies on the domestic scene.

The US administration constructed a new way to think about loss in Vietnam. Why the aviators? Because, as Allen explains, the aircrews were mostly white, from affluent and middle class families, well-connected with the military hierarchy. The loss of the thousands of conscripts – poor white, black and Hispanic Americans – was quickly sidelined. The Americans were now the victims, and the North Vietnamese cast as hostage-takers.

The National League of Families became the establishment’s answer to the anti-establishment protesters; clean-cut, well-dressed, dutiful wives and girlfriends waiting for their menfolk to return from the war. Here was the perfect way to depoliticise the Vietnam war – surely all Americans are hoping and praying for the safe return of their loved ones?

Ronald Reagan, a longterm MIA activist, elevated the recovery of ‘every last man’ as a national priority of his presidency. The 1980s represent the high point of the National League’s influence – any politician who dared to suggest that all the captives had been returned in the 1970s at the war’s conclusion – risked being denounced as a ‘traitor’ and ‘Communist sympathiser’ by the MIA lobby.

Hollywood churned out numerous films, novels were published, hewing to the common theme of heroic Vietnam veterans returning to Indochina to rescue the mythical POWs and MIAs. The POW/MIA flag fluttered atop government buildings to keep the flame of hope going – the belief that the Hanoi authorities were secretly holding Americans captive was all-pervasive.

In fact, as Allen demonstrates, this category of POW/MIA is a deliberately confusing concoction unique to the Vietnam war. After every conflict, there are POWs, who are returned, and unaccounted for personnel, now lumped into the one category called MIA. There are still at least 78 000 American personnel still unaccounted for from World War Two. The recovery of remains, if at all possible, does not always result in a positive identification. There are American personnel classified as KIA/BNR – killed in action/body not recovered.

There are at least 8 000 American personnel still unaccounted for from the Korean war. The usual practice of the military with regard to those classified as ‘missing in action’ was to allow a seven year window – if in those seven years, no credible or verifiable information could be gained to indicate that the person is alive, the presumption of death was upheld. As for the Vietnam conflict, all American POWs were returned at the conclusion of that conflict as part of the Paris Peace Accords.

Never before has there been a stubborn, influential campaign to demand a ‘fullest possible accounting’ of every single American soldier after the conclusion of hostilities as there has been with the Vietnam war. Successive US administrations have maintained the possibility that MIAs might still be alive and held captive in Vietnam; and in this way, the war with Vietnam could continue indefinitely.

The POW/MIA campaign became, as Allen explains, the way the Vietnam war is memorialised in the United States. By associating that war with noble sacrifice, stoic heroism in the face of enemy cruelty, the American military’s crimes in Vietnam become lost amidst a constructed narrative of American loss. The accusation that the US government was engaged in a ‘coverup’ of POWs/MIAs was a staple of rightwing conspiracy theories for decades.

In 1994, former US President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam, and he normalised relations with that nation the following year. Over the vociferous objections of the MIA lobby, Clinton did not use the POW/MIA issue as a barrier to normal economic and political relations with Vietnam. The National League of Families, while still a force, has declined in recent years, especially since 2000.

Professor Allen’s book is a necessary and informative contribution to a debate that is sorely needed in American society. Long after the hostilities in Vietnam ended, the POW/MIA lobby exerted a powerful political and cultural grip on the American public. Allen’s book is a timely and well-researched examination of the long shadows cast by US involvement in Vietnam.