Springtime for Fascists
- March 23, 2019
It’s become something of a cliché to look back on Nazi Germany and shake our heads and ask how the country of Goethe and Beethoven could have descended into barbarism. There are obviously very specific historical reasons why Germany took the path it did, but there is also a more universal lesson that can be applied to other historical contexts.
To put it simply, societies tumble off the abyss and become what the medieval historian RI Moore once called ‘persecuting societies’ because the forces that might have prevented this outcome either don’t recognise the warning signs in time or they don’t act on these signs when they have the chance to do something about them.
Here in the UK it is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit has acted as a catalyst for a social and political transformation that goes beyond the shenanigans and political convulsions in Westminster, and that will not be resolved by ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexits or arguments about the kind of deal on offer. Consider the events of the last week.
Last Saturday a Romanian woman in Doncaster was savagely beaten by a group of teenagers who called her a ‘Polish cunt’ and told her to ‘fuck off to your country.’ The following Monday the yellow jacket thug James Goddard and his followers virtually took over a court hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, and forced the judge to flee the court. Goddard’s followers went on to storm the Attorney General’s office.
Last Thursday the Labour MP for Brighton Kempton Lloyd Russell-Moyle was attacked on the street and called a traitor because he called for a delay to Brexit. In the same week MPs were advised to take taxis to and from Westminster in case they were attacked, and Independent Group MP Anna Soubry announced that she no longer goes home because she is afraid of attacks.
Yesterday the monitoring group Tell Mama reported a staggering 593% rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes across the UK since the Christchurch massacre. These incidents included attacks on five Birmingham mosques with sledgehammers, another attack on a mosque in Scotland, and the stabbing of a teenager in Surrey. In Oxford, Southampton and north London, Muslim men and women reported gun gestures or firearms noises being directed at them, and verbal abuse that included shouts of ‘you need to be shot’, ‘you deserve it’ and ‘Muslims must die.’
There was a time when you might have expected people who feel like this to keep their mouths shut – in public at least – in the aftermath of a white supremacist atrocity in which 49 Muslims were savagely murdered. Yet instead of being chastened by the massacre in Christchurch, the perpetrators of these hate crimes appear to have taken inspiration from it, and they felt confident enough to actually threaten British Muslim men and women with something similar.
Contemptuous disregard for the rule of law; threats against MPs; violent attacks on foreigners; the exultant celebration of mass murder – if these are not warning signs then I don’t know what is.
None of this fell out of the sky. It’s been clear ever since 2016 that the referendum has actively emboldened and empowered the older far-right and its newer variants, and that Brexit has given these forces a cause celebre and a new constituency that is willing to listen to an ethnonationalist agenda which is profoundly hostile to Muslims, foreigners and immigrants, and also to the Westminster ‘traitors’ and ‘liberal’ elites who supposedly facilitated the foreign (and Muslim) ‘invasion.’
This is why Jo Cox was killed. Yet even when an MP was murdered by a white supremacist shouting ‘Britain first’, the significance of this horrific crime tended to be obscured by media narratives that dismissed the killing as the act of an isolated ‘loner’ with mental health issues.
Three and a half years later, we now have a country where the mass murder of Muslims is seen in certain circles as something to be celebrated. We would be very foolish indeed to dismiss the possibility that actual deeds may one day follow last week’s threats. And we are to prevent the country sinking any deeper into the toxic political sewer that has made the events of last week possible, we need to recognise that this transformation is partly due to Brexit.
Neither the Brexit right nor the Lexit left likes to admit that Brexit has contributed to the climate where such acts are now possible. To do so would tarnish the image of Brexit as a popular rebellion against the ‘elite’, which both the right and some sectors of the left still adhere to.
Suggest that Brexit is, in part, an ethnonationalist project with racism and xenophobia at its core, and you’re likely to hear the same banal arguments that ‘not all Leavers are racists’ or ‘ it’s not racist to be concerned about immigration’ or ‘a few bad apples don’t define a country’ etc, etc
But we need to join the dots, even if they produce a picture that we would prefer not to see. We need wide and deep mobilisations across the country to defend our communities and uphold the diverse, open society that an emboldened and empowered extreme right is now looking to ‘take back’.
We also need to take the country back – from them. And unless we can do this, these forces will get stronger and more vicious, and we will face the very real possibility of a further descent into our own kind of barbarism.