The current pandemic shows us we ignore science at our own peril

The news cycle over the recent months has been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the health and wellbeing of the wider society. One important lesson that gets lost in the mass coverage is the importance of the public understanding of, and engagement with, science. With that in mind, let us highlight one long-standing obstacle in the public’s awareness and understanding of science – the religious Right’s ongoing and persistent science denialism.

Let’s unpack these issues. Science, and the promotional of science journalism, has been relegated to secondary status, not only by politicians who zealously advocated free-market supremacy as the ultimate arbiter of a society’s general health. Public engagement with science has also been sidelined by the sustained campaign of political ignorance by the evangelical Christian Right, particularly in the United States.

Over at the New York Times, Katherine Stewart has written an op-ed piece stating that the religious right’s decades-long science denialism has contributed to the current failure of the US authorities to adequately tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The ulttaconservative evangelical religious base of Trump supporters did not arise out of nowhere.

They have nurtured and promoted an evangelical Christian nationalism that has resulted in, among other things, a dogmatic refusal to critically engage with the important science issues of our times – whether it be evolutionary biology, human-induced climate change, or ecological sustainability.

Rather than promoting an understanding of, and education in, these scientific issues that impact our communities, the evangelical Christian Right has attacked these subjects, and science in general, as ‘doctrines of unbelief’. Trump and his ultraconservative supporters are located firmly in the tradition of 19th century proslavery theologians who campaigned against the abolition of slavery as a Satanic-inspired measure contrary to God’s teachings.

The evangelical Christian nationalist preachers are not denying that Covid-19 is a problem – at least, not anymore now that the pandemic has spread its lethality to the United States and Europe. They have a long track record of opposing any branch of science, or scientific understanding, that conflicts with their political and theology underpinnings and goals. Amanda Marcotte, writing in Salon magazine, states that:

The Christian right has always been a threat to public health. They were a threat during the AIDS crisis, when they successfully exerted pressure on Republican leaders to minimize the disease, which conservative Christians saw as a punishment for sinful behavior. They have contributed to the spread of all manner of STIs, in fact, by convincing schools to replace sex education with programs meant to discourage the use of condoms.

It is not only in the area of public health in which the conservative evangelical Right has been waging a politico-cultural war. The belief in supernatural capacities to overcome, or indeed provide a cause, for natural and/or material realities has provided a traditional blockage to scientific inquiry. The denial of evolutionary biology by theologians and faith-based groups is a huge subject to cover, however, we can observe the underlying trend of science denial running through to today’s evangelical Christian nationalist advocates.

Since at least the 1980s, the evangelical Christian Right has campaigned against the teaching of evolution in schools. Adopting a cynical tactic, they have promoted the pseudoscience of ‘intelligent design‘, portraying their efforts to marginalise evolution as simply advocacy of ‘teaching both sides’. The latter is a wonderful principle; teaching both sides of a controversy is great. But it is not a cover for surreptitiously introducing supernatural concepts into a science course. Intelligent design is properly understood as a religiously-based alternative, and belongs in religion class.

A number of Christian denominations have declared a truce, or a kind of peaceful accommodation, with evolutionary biology. The Anglican Church has taken a hands-off approach when confronting scientific subjects, and indeed Pope Francis has advised his Catholic followers to accept evolution, stating that is the monotheistic god is not a magician with a magic wand. However, the American Christian nationalist Right is not interested in scientific debate, but the reshaping of US society along theocratic lines.

It is no secret that the evangelical Christian Right has been a staunch reservoir of climate change denialism, viewing environmental concerns and green issues as the thin edge of the dark Satanic wedge. Deriving from the conservative Moral Majority movement in the 1980s, these ultrarightist disciples of Reagan reject ecological issues as an ostensible ‘leftist-Communist’ plot to destabilise the current system. Denying the evidence for human-induced climate change, nevertheless accept ecological breakdown as part of the fulfilment of apocalyptic Biblical prophesies.

In the current pandemonium about the Covid-19 pandemic, my fellow Australians have largely forgotten that we have only just emerged from the most catastrophic bushfire season the Australian continent has ever experienced. Longer, hotter summers along with more sustained and widespread bushfires are the result of human-induced climate change. Rejecting the evidence for global warming has lethal and economically devastating consequences. The scope and intensity of the fires were unprecedented, and it will take decades for the local ecosystems to recover.

When rejecting the cumulative scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming, the evangelical Christian Right provides a buttress of support for continuing current neoliberal economic practices – the very economic model responsible for inducing the current climate emergency. The road to hell was not caused by the Christian nationalist Right – but they are doing their utmost to ensure that we get there as quickly as possible.

The current pandemic demolishes the myth that the private sector equals the economy

There has been a steady stream of commentary, and reams of critical analysis written, about the current Covid-19 pandemic and how it has adversely impacted the economy. The pandemic we are now witnessing exposes the inability of the capitalist economy – as it is currently structured – to respond decisively to this burgeoning health and social crisis. The economic breakdown we are experiencing at the moment was certainly precipitated by the pandemic – but not caused by it.

The capitalist economy was already in crisis before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The economic crisis has certainly metastasised into an all-out health and safety issue, affecting every aspect of society. It is not only viruses that mutate. The ongoing crisis reveals that we have been slaves to an enduring myth – that the unhindered operation of the ‘free market’ leads to the best possible outcomes.

Indeed, if this pandemic is to teach us anything – and every crisis is an opportunity to learn – we must readjust our economic and social priorities, because it is those priorities that have led us into our current predicament. If our existing political and economic structures cannot respond adequately in a time of serious crisis, then why continue working with them?

As Abi Wilkinson asks in Jacobin magazine:

If foundational economic principles must be abandoned when things get tough, does capitalism really serve our needs? If rapid, radical change is possible when circumstances demand it, what excuse is there for failing to act with similar urgency to prevent cataclysmic climate change?

Let us tackle one main myth that has sustained free-market fundamentalism since the early 1990s. This is the false claim that the private sector is dynamic, innovative, and quick to adjust to new realities, as opposed to a sclerotic, inert, and unimaginative state sector. If only ‘red tape’ were to be abolished, and government bodies stepped out of the way, the private enterprise sector would rapidly implement decisive innovations and deliver optimal outcomes for the public – so we were told.

The Atlantic consensus – shaped by the Thatcher-Reagan years – was implemented by the former Eastern bloc countries from the early 1990s. The economy – and by that term was meant private enterprise – became the supreme value against which everything else was measured. Why consider the environment, koalas, trees, fresh air – part of the economy?

In Australia, we have a deeply ingrained suspicion of advice from ‘foreigners’, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). Australians are fiercely independent, so we are led to believe, and never allow ‘foreigners’ to tell us what to do. The one ‘foreign’ import that we have implemented unhesitatingly is the doctrine of neoliberalism – the free market will deliver the best outcomes.

Silicon Valley, the ultimate paragon of private enterprise ingenuity and dynamism seeded by venture capital, built itself up with IT technologies developed by government institutions. The US Department of Defence, the National Institute of Health, sectors in the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation – began the research, development and innovation that produced the core technologies of the IT industry. The state sector provided the funding, experts and innovation that characterised the burgeoning tech giants.

The ground-breaking medical innovations that have revolutionised modern medicine were funded by the public sector. The algorithms that make the iPhone and smartphone possible today were researched and developed by state-funded institutions. The state has created and managed markets for the end-products of their research and development. Amazon, Google, Apple – today’s IT behemoths would not be in existence were it not for massive state subsidies, tax breaks and government-implemented labour laws that provide a flexible workforce.

Adam Tooze, writing in the Guardian newspaper, states that the free-market orthodoxy that has prevailed in economic circles needs to be questioned while restructuring our society after the pandemic. The 2008-09 financial breakdown is still fresh in our minds – at least it should be, when examining the way out of the current crisis. Neal Lawson elaborates that the practice of stripping away state structures, and associated legislation, has contributed to our current predicament:

The first priority of the crisis is of course public safety, especially for the groups most at risk from catching the virus. But there are public policy issues, and different futures that might arise as the crisis unfolds. Covid-19 doesn’t exist in a political vacuum.

Removing government legislation and oversight, ostensibly to allow the private sector free rein to innovate, has been the mantra of the free-market ideologues. But does that actually work? In Australia, we have just emerged from a catastrophic 2019-20 bushfire crisis. While that may seem like a purely environmental issue, there were definitive economic and political decisions that contributed to the scale and severity of the bushfire emergency – scaling back environmental protection laws.

Nick Kilvert, a fauna ecologist, wrote that throughout the 2000s, removing environmental protection legislation and enabling developers to override ecological concerns left the ecosystem vulnerable and exposed to serious impacts.

Serious losses of wildlife were occurring well before the 2019-20 bushfire season. Increased land clearing, weaker environmental safeguards, and regarding the economy as distinct from the environment, laid the necessary groundwork for the unusually severe and widespread bushfires in Australia.

It is interesting to note that for all their talk of ‘hating red tape‘, the partisans of free-market fundamentalism have been passing reams of government legislation – whether it be restricting trade unions, anti-terrorism measures, increased powers of surveillance, increased police powers, restrictions on the ability of indigenous groups to sue the government. While ‘red tape’ is presented as a powerful obstacle, it is only so when impeding the operation of big business.

Earlier, we mentioned Unesco. Why is that? The Great Barrier Reef, which falls within the protections offered by Unesco, is dying. Coral bleaching of the reef has been proceeding for many years.

Are we going to wait for the private sector to solve this problem? Should we ignore the recommendations of Unesco, because it is a ‘foreign organisation’? Or should we, as a community, recognise that the economy and the environment are inextricably linked, and refocus our priorities on putting people and community lives before corporate profits?

Racism and class inequalities are closely intertwined – Part Two

Is racism an unfortunate, incidental feature of American capitalism? Or is the class structure of American society racialised and discriminatory to its very core? This question goes to the heart of understanding the relationship between race and class. In the previous article, we examined the beginnings of the new American republic, and the dispute surrounding Project 1619.

The pushback against the Project 1619 takes many forms, but one line of criticism has importance over others. The charge levelled at the authors of Project 1619 that they are ignoring class disparities, and that class not race is the main division in American society, is simplistic and misguided. The detractors of Project 1619 may be questioning this or that historical conclusion – that is all well and good. However, accusing the Project 1619 of dismissing class differences – “it’s class not race” – detracts from the undeniable inclusion of white nationalism in the founding of American capitalism.

At the opposite end of this debate is the charge ‘class reductionist‘. This is another scare term which is meant to convey the impression that by emphasising class distinctions necessarily ignores non-class forms of oppression, such as race and gender. Centrist liberals have long accused socialism of dismissing racial divisions and reducing society to class divisions. The debate then becomes a vituperative ping-pong match of accusations and snarling insults. Accepting the racial disparities of American society does not blind us to the fundamental underlying class divisions that characterise the capitalist system.

Fighting class oppression, and challenging the power of the ultrawealthy billionaire elite, goes hand-in-hand with the struggle to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. Counterposing demands for economic justice to those of antiracist struggle indicates either a wilful misdirection or ignorance of the way the capitalist system operates. As the late Reverend Dr Martin Luther King argued, the struggle for racial justice is inseparable from the fight for economic equality. He realised that he was fight a racialised capitalism that put people of colour at the bottom economic rung of the ladder.

Marx, and socialists after him, have been routinely accused of ignoring racial disparities and overemphasising class differentiation. But even a cursory glance of Marx’s writings on the subject exposes the falsity of that accusation. Has not racism always existed, since the dawn of human civilisation? No. The ancient empires of Greece and Rome had slaves, and a slave-owning economy. They regarded outside of their original states as ‘barbarians’. What they did not have was any concept of race, or racial classifications.

Indeed, contact between the Mediterranean empires and the black African civilisations also involved cultural and informational exchanges. There was no upsurge of African slave-trading when Greeks and Romans conquered territories in Africa. As time went on, black Africans began to be assimilated into the hierarchical structures of the Mediterranean empires.

To be sure, there were proto-racial ideas in precapitalist societies. Religious institutions and associated scholars preached the ‘curse of Ham‘ upon the darker-skinned peoples. Muslims who converted to Christianity – particularly the Moors in Spain – were regarded as possible ‘carriers’ of non-Christian doctrines in the blood. But while the Catholic church held primary sway over Europe, that is as far as those ideas got.

With the advent of capitalist relations of production, there arose a new political formation – the nation-state. That required doctrines to unite formerly feudal principalities into united entities. Here is where racial ideas began to crystallise – the transatlantic African slave trade brought anti-black racism to the forefront. A new division of labour began to emerge – racial divisions based on perceived skin colour.

The North American road to white supremacy was paved by Europeans, but took on a distinct character. While the first slave labourers in Europe were Eastern European – hence the name ‘Slavs’ – they were white. In North America, the African slaves – and after Emancipation, the black proletariat – formed a distinct racial category which occupied the lowest rung of society, even below that of the white European worker.

Slaves were, and nonwhite minorities today are, the internal enemy from the point of view of the white American ruling class. The new American republic did provide freedom and security – declaring a kind of ceasefire between white Europeans. The religious wars of Christian-dominated Europe had witnessed barbaric results. The American patriots provided sanctuary for Germans, Dutch, French – Protestant or Catholic.

The emergent American capitalist state opened up a new battlefront – that of race. The nonwhite populations were deliberately excluded from the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness guaranteed by the founding fathers. Black oppression – coupled with the exploitation of other nonwhite races – was and is an inbuilt characteristic of American capitalism. Coupled with the rise of pseudoscientific ideas about ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ racial stocks, and the United States became the nation that implemented white nationalism in its very foundations.

The United States was founded, and continues to be, a social experiment in racial capitalism. We have witnessed extreme examples of this in apartheid South Africa, and formerly white Rhodesia. The US, much like Australia, is founded on a transplanted capitalism which built into itself a racialised hierarchy – a white ethnocracy, if you will.

Imperialist powers, such as Britain and the United States, have issued declarations respecting the equality of nations and support for human rights. When these are issued, the nonwhite peoples of the world are left wondering if these declarations apply equally to them. When Dr Martin Luther King denounced racial and economic inequalities, and called for a multiethnic struggle against injustice, he was striking at the very heart of American racial capitalism.

Racism and class inequalities are closely intertwined – Part One

In the previous article, we examined how the FBI director does not understand the close interlinkage between class disparities and racism. There was an American leader who understood perfectly how class and racism work together to immiserate the working class – the late Reverend Dr Martin Luther King. We will get back to Dr King later on. For now, we have an opportunity to examine the relationship between racial discrimination and class-based inequalities.

Racial discrimination and racism, on the one hand, and economic inequities on the other, are usually discussed separately. That is all well and good – however, we must never forget that racial disparities and economic inequalities are inextricably interlinked. In other words, race and class are best understood not by counterposing them, but by understanding how they are reinforce and symbiotically support each other.

I am not raising this subject out of thin air.

The election of Trump in 2016, and his current reelection campaign, have prompted discussions about the role of race and class in his electoral triumph. While examine Trump’s platforming of white nationalism is interesting and relevant, we need to dig deeper. To fully appreciate the interaction of race and capitalism, we need to have a historical perspective. The New York Times began just such an exploration. In what way?

Project 1619

1619 was the year that slaves were first brought to the British colony of Virginia – what if that year, rather than 1776, marked the true beginning of the nascent American republic? Hence, the New York Times magazine collaborative Project 1619, dedicated to examining the impact of racism on American society. Racialised slavery, rather than being a peripheral occurrence, was fundamental in creating the financial wealth and political character of the new republic.

The American Revolution of 1776, presented to the world as the epitome of democratic liberty, did not result in equality for all people. While the American colonists and patriots were united in their opposition to the British monarchy, they were also motivated, at least in part, to preserve the operation of slavery. While the so-called founding fathers of the American constitutional republic privately opposed slavery, they did not publicly oppose it.

The American colonists fought for revolutionary reasons, uniting against the feudal British monarchy. They created, if not a slavocracy, then a mercantile racial capitalism, where everyone could pursue their individual liberty and happiness – as long as they were white. General George Washington, in 1775, officially decreed that black persons would not be permitted to join the Continental Army.

The British authorities cynically exploited the prospect of freeing and arming the slaves as a tactical manoeuvre against the rebellious patriots. While promising to free the slaves, Britain benefited from the Atlantic slave traffic. There had been numerous slave uprisings in the Caribbean colonies throughout the 1700s, and the spectre of organised slave revolt terrified the insurgent colonists in mainland America.

The contention that some of the American patriots were motivated in part to preserve slavery has provoked a firestorm of debate among various academics and historians. The claim that the preservation of slavery was a main motivation for the American revolutionary patriots is controversial, but nothing new, nor confined to the political Left. Adam Serwer, examining the dispute between Project 1619 and historians critical of the project, explains that this is not merely a disagreement about historical accuracy:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles?

After the British forces were defeated, the American republic continued to allow slavery to operate as normal. In fact, American capitalism became wealthy and powerful because they tapped into slavery and slave-produced products, not in spite of it.

Slavery has been portrayed as a uniquely Southern institution, separate and distinct from the industrial North. However, the mercantile and industrial North profited handsomely from the slave-owning industries, and were linked with the transatlantic slave trade in myriad financial ways.

It may be comforting to us to think of American capitalism as unblemished by the stain of racialised slavery – but the mercantile North was just as culpable as the South in profiting from the proceeds of slaves. Though the African slave trade was officially outlawed in 1807, Northern capitalists continued to invest heavily in the Southern slavocracy, and Northern wealth was directly tied to products originating in the materials provided by the South.

Slavery was not only an economically dynamic core of the US economy for the first half of the 1800s, the slaveowners and their bankers received significant federal government subsidies and loans in support of their business. Through various financial instruments and derivatives, using slaves as collateral, the wealth of the North became inextricably linked with the sugar, cotton, tobacco and textiles of the South. Federal government intervention, rather than being a hindrance, was actually a crucial supporting factor in the operation of this private enterprise.

Project 1619 compels us to reexamine the consensus view that the United States is a beacon of freedom and equal opportunity for all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity. The founding fathers certainly fought for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – as long as the people rallying under that banner were white Europeans. Slavery was left unchallenged by the American revolution; that barbaric heart of American capitalism was only shattered decades later by the civil war.

Martin Luther King, among other black American scholars and activists, understood the connection between economic power and racial disparities. We will elaborate on this subject in the next article. Stay tuned.

The FBI director does not understand the interlinking of white supremacy and American capitalism

Early last month – February 2020 – the FBI director, Christopher Wray, elevated the threat of white nationalist right wing terrorism to the same national priority allocated to Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS. Explaining the reasons for making this decision, Wray stated that the threat from neo-nazi terrorism was unrelenting and formidable.

Wray elaborated the measures the FBI is taking to combat white supremacist terrorism, and detailed the arrests that his organisation made in clamping down on organised white racist groups. Later in February, the director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, also elevated the threat of racially-motivated terrorism to a national priority.

While right wing terrorism has a long and persistent history in Australia – like most resilient pests – this is the first time that a senior Australian official has highlighted right wing extremism as a threat requiring an increased national focus alongside foreign extremism. Burgess went on to say that:

Intolerance based on race, gender and identity, and the extreme political views that intolerance inspires, is on the rise across the Western world in particular. Right-wing extremism has been in ASIO’s sights for some time, but obviously this threat came into sharp, terrible focus last year in New Zealand.

It is interesting that Burgess, and his counterpart in the United States, focused on the increase in ultrarightist terrorism across the Western nations. Let’s remember that point, because we will return to it later. In response to the Asio chief’s assessment, the current Home Affairs minister, Peter Dutton, demonstrated his appalling ignorance by mixing up Islamist terrorism with left wing extremism.

Others have responded to Dutton’s woeful comments – for instance, Bernard Keane has written a thoughtful post here. Islamist extremism has ideological correspondence with ultrarightist groups, thus falling into the purview of right wing extremism. Other commentators have the patience and inclination to explain Introduction to Sociology 101 to the Antipodean Himmler-minister – let us move on to more important things.

White nationalism is transnational violence writ large

In approaching the question of white nationalist terrorism, perhaps the FBI director should examine the ideology that fuels such violence on a national and transnational scale. It is no secret that the US President – the FBI director’s ultimate boss – has provided a platform to propagate white nationalist talking points. Trump has consistently embraced and promoted ideas of white victimhood, portrayed immigration as a ‘national security’ threat, and encourages vigilante violence against his political opponents.

White nationalist doctrines, while not confined to the United States, have reached their ultimate development and application in that nation. Steve Bannon, former advisor to the Trump campaign, may have left US politics, but he has not ceased being a political operator. A US citizen who despises immigrants, he has been enthusiastically embracing and promoting anti-immigrant and racist parties in Europe. White nationalism has a transnational appeal.

Perhaps the FBI director should consider what actions he will take to stop American white supremacists, such as Bannon, from building an international coalition of the xenophobic. Wherever white nationalist views gain a foothold, there is a causative and corresponding increase in hate crimes and racist attacks. The FBI’s own experts have documented a dramatic increase in hate crimes in 2019, continuing an upward trend in racist attacks over the previous four years.

W E B Du Bois understood how capitalism and racism are interlinked

Perhaps the FBI director should consult the writings of African American sociologist, and the first black man to earn a PhD from Harvard University, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868 – 1963). An activist and scholar, William E B Du Bois was one of the earliest sociologists to discuss the interlinking of white supremacy with the development of American capitalism. He wrote about the intertwining of race and class in the United States.

Race and class can and should be discussed separately. It is easy and proper to focus on issues of racism. However, we also need to highlight how class and racism interact to perpetuate a system of socioeconomic and racial oppression. Du Bois noted that the problem of the colour line – the racial divisions of the US – was the main axis of contention throughout the 20th century.

Du Bois located the racial divide in the country within its economic system of capitalism. Mutually reinforcing, white nationalism and capitalism have coexisted and undergirded each other for the entire duration of the United States. Speaking out against racial segregation and discrimination was always the main priority for Du Bois. His famous remark that the black person has a ‘second sight’ captured the experience of racism in the US.

Second sight for Du Bois meant the ability of black Americans to see themselves in the way that white America regarded them. The African American is not blinded by the privilege and relative wealth of ‘whiteness’. The outcast within the racial-capitalist system is compelled to perceive themselves as they are seen by white nationalism. A racially-exclusive capitalist structure operates to immiserate the African American not only as a labourer, but also as an African American.

The 2017 white nationalist rally at Charlottesville – more accurately described as a race riot – was but a symptom of a nation founded as a project in white-minority rule. There have always been ethnic minorities in the United States, notwithstanding the specific foundational ethnic and cultural genocide of the indigenous nations. The organising principle of the newly emergent United States was white supremacy, built up on a capitalistic structure. Du Bois articulated the capitalist and colonialist underpinnings of white nationalism.

The working class has always been multiracial. Ethnic minorities are not recent additions to the ranks of workers, but have been working away in the industries and factories of American capitalism for decades. Of course there are white working class people – that is not in dispute.

The ultrarightist parties – taking their cue from the mainstream conservatives – deploy the concept ‘white working class‘ as an exclusionary political weapon, to exclude racial minorities and pivot white workers towards a collective notion of white racial resentment. Trump and his American co-thinkers encourage the same resentments in the US.

When the late Enoch Powell, and his current Tory counterparts such as Boris Johnson, use the term ‘white working class’, they are setting up an anti-immigrant platform with which the working class can be divided. White nationalism thrives in a climate of attacks on the poor, the deindustrialisation and immiseration of communities, and the promotion of xenophobia by mainstream politicians.

When we downplay the crimes of Nazi-era collaborators, we help to revive the doctrines of the far right

World War 2-era Eastern European Nazi-aligned collaborators are being hailed as heroes in Europe today. By rewriting their criminal histories, we are assisting in the rehabilitation of their white supremacist and fascistic doctrines. This is a goal of today’s ultrarightist political parties.

Let’s examine this subject more thoroughly. This is not just an exercise in refuting historical falsification – important as that is. It is also an examination of how the Eastern European far right, and their ideological brethren in the West, are gaining ground at the expense of those who gave their lives fighting fascism.

Chetniks march on Anzac Day

Australian readers will appreciate the following observation, because of its connection to Anzac Day. During the march on the said Anzac Day, a Serbian paramilitary formation, the Chetniks, are allowed to participate. The Chetniks are a Serbian ultrarightist group who collaborated with the invading Nazi forces in World War 2.

The Chetniks, responsible for numerous atrocities against Jews, Croats, Roma and antifascist Serbs, have been getting a makeover of sorts since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Chetnik military and political commanders, once condemned as mass murderers and war criminals, are currently being exonerated by an ultranationalist rewriting of World War 2 history.

Serbian diaspora communities, which are solidly ultranationalist, are contributing to this whitewashing of Nazi-era crimes. The supporters of today’s Chetniks are being welcomed in, among other places, the Anzac Day march in Australia. This action, endorsed by the Australian Returned Services League (RSL), is a disrespectful slap in the face to all the Anzacs who fought against fascism in World War 2.

The Chetniks found a working alliance with Hitler’s Germany to be a logical consequence of their racist, ultranationalist ideology. They were already loyal participants in an anti-Communist military formation, fighting under the command of Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Cooperating with Nazi Germany was neither opportunistic nor involuntary; their crimes of ethnic cleansing were carried out in accordance with Nazi-aligned political objectives.

The rewriting of history throughout Eastern Europe

It is not only in the former Yugoslavia where there is a concerted, sustained campaign to rewrite WW2 history along ultranationalist lines, and thus forgive the horrendous crimes of Nazi-collaborationist groups. With the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, the former Communist nations began to explore the deepest corners of the Soviet experience – that is to be welcomed. But what has happened is not a mere academic exercise in historical rectification.

From the Baltic states to the Balkans, there has been a systematic campaign to deny or exonerate the crimes of Eastern European ultranationalism, rehabilitating those who cooperated with the Axis powers. This historical revisionism is a cynical and perverse exercise in restoring the reputation of convicted Nazi collaborators, and thus absolve East European nationalism of its complicity in the Holocaust and associated ethnic cleansing.

This ultranationalist rewriting of history has contemporary ramifications – feeding the nationalist resentment that underpins today’s European far right political parties. The goal of Eastern European ultranationalist parties is not only to remove their own culpability for war crimes, but also to reinforce current geopolitical motives that sees the West – mainly the United States – build up an anti-Russian, militarised coalition in the former Eastern bloc.

The Baltic states have led the charge, so to speak, in pursuing a path of obfuscating their own role in the killing of Jews, and contributing to the perverse historical fiction of ‘red equals brown’. After all, if the Soviets can be portrayed as being ‘just as bad, even worse’ than the Nazis, then Eastern European nationalism can occupy the ground of a perpetual victim. Its active participation in the anti-Semitic killings can be washed away amidst this tide of pseudo-historical revisionism.

Horseshoe theory is horse manure

The ‘red-brown symmetry’ – the claim that the Nazis and Soviets were just as bad, indeed the same, as each other – has a certain appeal in the West because of the pseudo-clever ‘horseshoe theory‘. This academic thesis contends that the far left and far right do not occupy opposite ends of a political spectrum, but are actually more alike – hence the metaphor of the horseshoe.

This ridiculous fiction has a superficial appeal – the capitalist system and its supporters like to smear any deviation from the ‘sensible centre’ as extreme. This shallow and anaemic claim overlooks the many and varied links between the capitalist ‘centre’ and its bastard progeny – the ultraright. Capitalist powers routinely encourage and nurture a fascistic presence in order to confront an organised working class.

Nazi Germany, in the process of smashing trade unions and the organised Left, looked for inspiration in passing its laws of racial segregation, to the United States. While the two nations had significant differences, it is crucially important to remember that the racial project of Nazism was inspired by the ‘successful’ example of American racial legislation. The far right commonly employs a leftist mask, employing the rhetoric of the Left while targeting the most vulnerable sectors of the community.

It is one thing to denounce the crimes and distortions of the Soviet system, as the current Russian government has done. It is quite another to draw an equals sign between the system that produced Auschwitz and those that demolished it. The falsity of the ‘red-brown’ equivalence is tuned for political expediency. As David Broder has written in Jacobin magazine, this perverse distortion of WW2 history relativises the crimes of fascist ideology and its doctrine of race war and conquest.

While the Soviets did sign the often-condemned Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, singling out this event as a unique occurrence and evidence of conjoint Nazi-Soviet responsibility is hypocritical in the extreme. The Eastern European nationalist regimes had a long history of pacts and alliances with Nazi Germany, beginning back in the 1920s. The Soviet foreign ministry’s repeated attempts to formalise an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and other Western European nations were routinely rebuffed.

Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and writer, stated that while the gulag was appalling, the Soviets never produced an Auschwitz. Last month, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army, we must remember that while the Nazis were the main architects of industrialised racial mass murder, they had willing accomplices in Eastern Europe.

The Iraqi protests – an ongoing nationalist uprising

Since October 2019, Iraqis have taken to the streets in a sustained, organised, community-based uprising against the corrupt and sectarian Baghdad regime. Installed in the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the government of Iraq has been unable to unify the country, or provide basic social services. The regime propped up by the US has institutionalised a sectarian-based power sharing agreement.

Over the last week, a new Prime Minister, Mohammed Allawi, has been selected, breaking months of deadlock. The protesters have rejected his appointment, stating that he is still part and parcel of the Baghdad regime. Camped out in Tahrir Square in the capital city, the Iraqis on the streets have undermine the entire structure of the regime and its political parties. In Nasiriyah, a southern city of Iraq, anti-government demonstrators issued a statement rejecting the sectarianism of the regime and vowed to continue their protests.

Let’s examine the background of the current events, and place them in a wider political context. The current uprising represents a crisis of the Baghdad government and is a striking rejection of the entire post-2003 American-imposed political structure. There is intense and widespread outrage at the catastrophic results of the 2003 invasion and the corruption of the political elites.

In January this year, a ‘million-man march‘ was organised by the powerful political cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The latter, a populist-nationalist Shia politician, has joined the protest movement, but also leads the largest political bloc within the current Baghdad government. While his supporters have participated heavily in the antigovernment protests, Sadr has played a balancing act, negotiating between the bourgeois parties and the demonstrators.

The march brought into focus the continuing presence of US troops in the country. No doubt among the demonstrators are those whose lives have been scarred by the 1991 First Gulf War, the punitive US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, through to the 2003 full-scale invasion of that nation. These measures amount to an act of criminal and predatory sociocide carried out by US imperialism.

While the Sadrist bloc has participated in the protests, the party that has seen its fortunes rise most noticeably and appreciably is the Iraqi Communist Party. No single political group leads the demonstrators, however, the Communist party’s activists are solidly embedded with the protest movement. The party has a practical alliance with the Sadrists, while maintaining its own independent political platform.

The Iraqi Communists have demanded that only a complete overhaul of the entire post-2003 regime will suffice. The sectarian power-sharing system, established by the US occupation authorities after 2003, seems on the surface a reasonable idea. However, the purpose of such a confessional-based system is to purposely divide the Iraqi population into sectarian-ethnic components, thus implementing the old tactic of divide-and-rule.

The rise of sectarian violence is a direct consequence of the US invasion of 2003. The role of the United States has been, whether overtly or covertly, to increase and exacerbate the religious-sectarian divide. Let us dispose of the tired cliche of ‘ancient hatreds’ as an explanation for sectarian violence in Iraq. Professor Stephen Zunes writes that it was deliberate US policy, not ‘ancient hatreds’, to cultivate a system based on sectarian hostilities.

The current armed Shia militias, commonly called Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) are for the most part allied with Iran. These forces arose after the 2003 invasion and subsequent dissolution of the Iraqi Army. Iran has gained influence in Iraq, and the US believed that the Iranian-backed militias would be effective in fighting all those Iraqis who opposed the US occupation. Having fought ISIL, and becoming incorporated into a new Iraqi army, the PMU groups are now turning against the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian General Qasim Suleimani.

Resorting to the explanation of ‘ancient hatreds’ between Sunnis and Shias may be popular among the American punditocracy, but has no bearing to reality. In fact, such cliches only serve to shift culpability for the US invasion and its destructive consequences onto some mythical ‘historic forces’.

It is worthwhile to note that the demonstrators have denounced the economic and social inequalities of the post-2003 invasion regime. Since the US invasion, Iraqi society has been marked by high unemployment, rampant corruption and poverty. Indeed, corruption has become an institutionalised feature of the Baghdad government, in much the same way as corruption was a feature of the US-backed client state of South Vietnam in its day.

The protesters, by emphasising their rejection of sectarianism and corruption, pose a striking similarity to the Iraqis of earlier generations who rose up in rebellion in 1920. The nationalist uprising of that year, opposing the then-colonial power Britain, rejected sectarian divisions and demanded greater social equality. The British government at the time, one of whose ministers was a young Winston Churchill, responded with unrestrained savagery. Churchill, for his part, recommended the use of poison gas against the Iraqi insurgents.

It is imperative, for us in Australia, to build up an antiwar movement capable of responding to the manoeuvres of the pro-war and imperialist Australian ruling class. Australia, as a junior partner of American imperialism, has consistently joined every measure of the US ruling class to carry out its colonial ambitions. From Vietnam to Iraq, Australia has voluntarily joined – even pushed its way – in every American overseas war. It is time to break this pattern and listen to the Iraqi people’s demands for sovereignty.

Travel guides, being a tourist in Tel Aviv, and the unreality of reality TV

Being a tourist is an enjoyable and enriching experience. Understanding the nation you are traveling in is another story.

The Australian TV series Travel Guides, based on a British series of the same name, is only one of a number of so-called ‘reality tv’ shows sweeping across free-to-air television programming. It features several groups of Australians, mostly but not all of them families, who go on holidays to various destinations. Their experiences are captured and then broadcast for the entertainment of the viewer. The participants take on the role of travel critics – and in one episode, they venture to Tel Aviv, a major city of Israel.

The following comments are directed at my fellow Australians – please understand that the Middle East does not consist purely of camels and tents; yes, Tel Aviv is a built-up city (just like Miami, according to the surprised observation of one traveller), and yes, people from the region are capable of speaking more than one language. Let’s clear up one thing for the benefit of one pair of travellers on the show – Tel Aviv is a city; ‘Tal-i-ban’ is something completely different.

You may watch the episode and make your own judgement. However, my purpose is not to ridicule the – shall we say uninformed perspective – of the show’s participants. It is to make a suggestion to my fellow Australians. Have fun and enjoy wherever you go. If you want wine, music, beaches and hooking up with the locals – go for it. But also, please understand the country in which you are travelling.

Reality TV is heavily edited and choreographed by its producers to create an entertainment product; it is not an educational or informative piece of television. Every now and then, reality actually seeps through the scripted lens of ‘reality TV’. Jaffa, featured in the travel guides episode above, is described as the old quarter – which it is. But how did it become the old quarter?

Jaffa was the epicentre of economic and cultural life in historic Palestine, prior to 1948. It had a population of around 120 000 thousand Palestinians, living in the city and its surrounding districts. With the growth of its agricultural sector, Jaffa developed bustling commercial/banking enterprises, financing local industrial production. The city had a vibrant cultural life, producing Arabic-language newspapers, athletics and sporting clubs, and cultural societies.

All of that came to an abrupt end in 1948-49, with the seizure of Jaffa by Zionist forces and the subsequent expulsion of the Palestinian population. From March through to May 1948, the Zionist military laid siege to Jaffa. After seizing the city, the majority of the Palestinians were forced out, constituting an act of land armed robbery. The remaining Palestinians were ghettoised, surrounded by what became the new Jewish-only city of Tel Aviv.

The Palestinians lost the city, their economic and cultural life, and were corralled by Israeli authorities into a ghetto. Today’s Tel Aviv is a thriving city, but its Palestinian history has been largely excluded. Just like reality TV, the authorities in Tel Aviv have constructed an exclusionary reality.

Our intrepid band of Australians travel from Tel Aviv to the Masada fortress. A long journey, they made the trek to learn about the holy land and Jewish history. It is a historic location, majestic in its beauty. Archaeological tourism is one of the great drawcards for the Israeli authorities, and that is all well and good.

What is less well-known is the ongoing efforts by the Israeli government to weaponise archaeology, linking that discipline with an ideological quest to eradicate the rich archaeological heritage of multiple societies that have settled in historic Palestine. Archaeology has become an exercise in displaying raw religious-nationalist muscle, excluding the non-Jewish inhabitants and their cultural legacy in Palestine.

In Forward magazine, authors Talya Ezrahi and Yonathan Mizrachi elaborate how the Israeli Culture Minister, Miri Regev, intends to ‘bring the Bible to life’ through the promotion of biblical archaeology. The purpose of encouraging a biblically-based archaeology is to provide another buttress for nation building. Religious nationalism infuses the archaeological project, and the Israeli authorities have the advantage of controlling access to major archaeological sites.

The promotion of tourism to the Masada fortress are not just an exercise in archaeological appreciation, but helps to construct a historical perspective of the Jewish people – today in the state of Israel – as an embattled minority, obscuring the colonial settler annexationist designs of Israel’s founders and leaders. The heritage of the Palestinians, Byzantines, Romans, Ottomans, and others does not fit neatly into the Zionist project of nation-building.

As Palestinian villages and archaeological sites, such as Silwan in East Jerusalem, are gradually eroded, a new imaginary historical reality takes its place. Archaeology itself is being annexed into the service of a religious-colonial nationalism. The Israeli Culture Ministry proceeds to build access tunnels, infrastructure and projects that demolishes – at least bypasses – non-Jewish archaeological heritage. Unesco has repeatedly protested this kind of cultural vandalism, only to be perversely accused by the United States – a strong supporter of Israel – of having ‘anti-Israel bias’.

Everyone should enjoy travelling while they can. If we ignore the Palestinian struggle for human rights, my fellow Australians will continue to have an understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict as shallow and unrealistic as the end-product of the shockingly misnamed reality TV.

The Black Hebrew Israelites are a hate group – and they operate within the toxic ecosystem of American racism

Over the last few months of 2019, there were several anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Two of them, occurring in December last year, were perpetrated by assailants described by the authorities as having links to the black Hebrew Israelites. The latter, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) does not have a history of violence, but has become more apocalyptic in its rhetoric in recent years.

If you are asking yourself who the black Hebrew Israelites are, you are not alone. Let’s get some details first, and unpack these issues.

It is undeniable that anti-Semitic attacks have increased under the Trump administration. The latter has directly contributed to the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes, platforming a range of anti-Semitic themes and providing political cover for white nationalist groups. The attacks on Jewish communities in December last year fit into an overall pattern of hate crimes.

The attack on the Hasidic Jewish community during Hanukkah in late December last year was carried out by Grafton Thomas, an African American man said to be linked – at least interested in – the black supremacist theology of the Hebrew Israelite church. Earlier in December, two assailants attacked the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Jersey City, New Jersey. In that fatal incident, the New Jersey authorities have stated that the killers expressed interest in the black Hebrew Israelite movement.

The majority of anti-Semitic killings have been perpetrated by white supremacist groups – and while African American organisations have trafficked in anti-Semitism, black American attacks against Jews are exceptionally rare. These recent murders have thrown the spotlight on the Hebrew Israelite theology. This focus is to be welcomed, but the speed of the media in highlighting black anti-Semitism stands in stark contrast to the decades it took for the US ruling class to admit the lethal threat of white nationalist domestic terrorism.

The black Hebrew Israelites, a theological movement that dates back to the nineteenth century has splintered into different sects, factions and detachments – but all of them share a basic set of beliefs. Black Hebrew Israelism dates back to the days of emancipated slaves and Reconstruction after the civil war.

The various churches that belong to the Hebrew Israelite tradition regard the black population as the literal descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In their worldview, it is the blacks who are the original chosen people – the Israelites. Today’s Jewish population, they contend, are mere imposters, falsely claiming that they are the Hebrews of the Bible.

While the roots of Black Hebrew Israelism are nonracist, they have adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric, denouncing the Jewish people as usurpers of the ‘chosen people’ mantle, engaging in worldwide financial conspiracies to enrich their own people at the expense of others. Their adherents have been non-violent, however, there are sects within the overall church that have encouraged confrontations with persons from non-African American backgrounds.

With the dispersion of ten out of the twelve ancient tribes of Israel after the Assyrian conquest, the black Hebrew Israelites contend that their mission is to regain their biblically-sanctioned rightful place as the descendants of the dispersed Hebrews. Drawing up a tortuous, bizarre theological ancestry from the purportedly lost ten tribes of Israel, the black Hebrew Israelites promote a theme of an oppressed people returning to their promised land.

The myth of the ten lost tribes of Israel, familiar to Western audiences through their knowledge of the Bible, has long provided fertile grounds for the growth of increasingly bizarre, pseudoarchaeological theologies that underpin many Christian-like cults until today. The Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), have incorporated into its theological doctrines a story of descent from the mythical lost tribes of Israel.

Certain Mormon doctrines hold that the indigenous Americans are the literal descendants of those scattered lost tribes. That sounds unusual to those of us on the outside of the Mormon church, however, the English-speaking world is not unfamiliar with such doctrines. Anglo-Israelism, sometimes called British Israelism, is the pseudoarchaeological contention that today’s people in Britain are the genetic descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

The black Hebrew Israelites are a minority group, but they have shown a willingness to commit acts of politically motivated violence. This move away from their traditional nonviolence takes place within the toxic ecosystem of white American racism – an ecosystem fed by the Trump administration and its supporters. The Hasidic Jewish community has faced growing expressions of intolerance and hate as it has moved out of New York and into the suburbs.

As the ultra-Orthodox Jews have moved into Monsey, Rockland County – the scene of the Hanukkah attack – local authorities have passed zoning laws preventing the construction of ‘new places of worship’, such as synagogues. Republican party legislators and their supporters in the area have spoken of a ‘Jewish takeover’ of the county, undermining the ‘American way of life’. Such rhetoric has entirely foreseeable consequences.

Perhaps what makes the black Hebrew Israelites so outrageous for the white power structures is that they see a reflection of themselves. An oppressed group, such as African Americans, will search for a sense of belonging and cultural fixation in a system in which they are lost.

While conducting this search for meaning, and looking for a way to explain their suffering, they have adopted the doctrines of their white American oppressors. The black Hebrew Israelites are a reflection, in their own way, of the religiously-informed political outlook upon which the white American state is founded.

Nikki Haley, the Confederate flag and the fraudulent ‘Lost Cause’

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina – and previous US ambassador to the United Nations – made a curious remark about the Confederacy. Earlier in December 2019, Haley stated that the Confederate flag represented ‘service, sacrifice and heritage’ until it was ‘hijacked’ by Dylann Roof. The latter is a white supremacist murderer responsible for the shooting deaths of multiple African American worshippers at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

When carrying out his attack, Roof was wearing, among other racist emblems, the flag of the Confederacy. Haley, who was governor in 2015, oversaw the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina legislature building. Her remarks defending the flag as an honourable emblem may seem surprising, at least initially. Haley, the child of Indian immigrants, represents an American success story. Intelligent, articulate and resourceful, her life typifies the social mobility of non-white migrants for which America is supposedly famous.

So why, as a member of a racial minority, is she defending a symbol of an openly racist enterprise? Haley has positioned herself – with help from her colleagues in the Republican party – as a moderate and reasonable voice, in contrast to the overtly misogynistic, vulgar and racist Trump. With her comments defending the Confederate flag she has, in one swoop, demolished her status as a ‘moderate’, but has also used her racial-minority status to deflect from her party’s racist platform.

The Confederate flag – a response to civil rights

The deployment of the Confederate flag, and the building of statues of slave-owning Confederate generals, is not a benign exercise in remembering the past. The flag, and associated monuments to the military leaders of the Confederacy, were erected as a direct response to the push by African Americans for civil rights. As black Americans organised themselves to fight segregation and racist legislation, politicians from the former Confederate states – such as South Carolina – raised the Confederate flag on state buildings.

In the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War, Confederate monuments and symbols all but disappeared. They were resurrected after World War 2, as the struggle of black Americans for civil and economic rights gathered momentum. National Geographic magazine published an article, in 2015, detailing how white segregationist politicians revived the Confederate flag in order to promote the white supremacist cause. Rather than being simple reminders of the Civil War, the Confederate monuments provided a rallying point for modern-day white racism fighting a rearguard action.

Since the end of the Civil War, there have been attempts by the neo-Confederate partisans to whitewash the purpose of the Confederacy by claiming that states’ rights was the main rationale for secession. Today’s defenders of Confederate monuments make the same claim. But this dishonest explanation is undermined by the words of those who began the Confederacy – slavery and white supremacy was encoded in the founding documents of the slave-owning states.

The ‘Lost Cause’

White supremacy was defeated, but it also metamorphosed – into segregation and legalised discrimination. In the 1950s and 60s, as segregation was being rolled back, the Confederate flag reemerged as a symbol of a white racist backlash. In the discussions about race and racism in the United States, the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ was born – the Confederacy’s violence against African Americans was obfuscated by a wilful rewriting of its history. Racist vigilantism against black communities was rationalised as defence of a ‘lost cause’ and the values of an imagined past.

White Southerners have been passing on this mythology of the ‘lost cause’, wrapping the Confederacy in a reimagined past of honour and sacrifice. The South consisted of ‘gentlemen’ willing and able to sacrifice themselves against the Northern invaders – the Confederacy became a fixture of regional identity. Reinventing the Confederate flag as an emblem of ‘Southern pride’ allows white supremacy to cast itself in the role of victim – precisely the kind of voters Haley’s political career depends upon.

The neo-Confederate revision of history – sanitising the racism of the white South and promoting a fictionalised version of the Confederacy – is a main plank in the platform of the Alternative Right today. When Haley contributes to this fictional portrayal, she is actively aiding and abetting the extreme racism of the white Right. Dylann Roof did not ‘hijack’ the flag, but carried out the kind of violence the flag represents. Since the conclusion of the Civil War, white supremacy has fought a racial-vigilante-type of warfare against the African American community.

Lawless racist vigilantes – the forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan – may sound like relics from a bygone era, but today’s white supremacist terrorism falls squarely in that tradition. The main emblem of these killers is the Confederate flag. It is not unusual for white vigilante groups to direct their violence against federal authorities – white victimhood at the hands of ‘multicultural elites’ is a recurring theme of racist organisations.

When Haley defends the Confederate flag, she is providing a platform for recycled racism – or at least a ‘respectable face’ for white supremacy. She has proven that she is articulate and intelligent, unlike Trump – but just as extreme as the US President in her ideology. When she excuses Trump’s racist comments directed at Representative Ilhan Omar – ‘go back to where you came from’ – she is facilitating a white nationalist agenda. There is no rehabilitating white supremacy.