Notes From the Margins…

Europe: the return of the beast

  • February 01, 2016
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In every  era and in every  society, there are those who would like to do to the left what the Chilean army once did to Victor Jara, or what the Freikorps did to Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg.  It used to be common in Greece for Golden Dawn militants to taunt leftist anti-fascists by referring back to the Greek dictatorship and telling them ‘we fucked you once and we’ll do it again.’

Such fantasies are not unique to Greece.  The Guardian‘s Andy Beckett recently wrote of the anonymous soldiers or former soldiers on the British army’s online Army Rumour Service  who described    anti-capitalist protesters as ‘hypocritical, unemployable, leeching and parasitic’ and declared ‘ This scum needs a good dose … kicked into them.’

Last weekend National Front demonstrators in Dover told  an LBC broadcaster  that she ought to be raped so that she could not have children.  Amongst the comments  on the  Daily Mail’s  latest McCarthyist  smear on the ‘chilling’ London2Calais activists  Syed ‘Red’ Bokhari and his wife Mona Dohle, one poster looked forward to the day when ‘  the majority of the law abiding people in this country will wake up to the damage being done by these loonie lefties and will turn on them, sooner rather than later if we want to save our country.’

Usually the same people who would like to ‘turn on’ leftists would like to turn on immigrants and foreigners as well, because they see the left as the ultimate facilitators of the immigrant hordes who are paving the way for the destruction of their national cultures, fomenting multiculturalism and ‘mass immigration’, allowing ‘Muslim rape gangs’  to exploit ‘our women’ etc, etc.

The people who make these observations are never racists  or fascists  – in their own eyes at least – and any suggestion that they are is just another manifestation of the politically-correct elite conspiracy that has silenced the ‘truth’ that only they have the courage to proclaim; that Europe is becoming a ‘colony of Islam’; that all refugees are ‘economic migrants’,  rapists, parasites, terrorists, invaders and culturally incompatible aliens who cannot ever be like us and don’t even want to.

These truthtellers dream of ‘resistance’, of ethnic and civil wars in which they will drive out the immigrant invaders and the bleeding heart liberals and leftists who let them in, and shoot down refugees on land and on the high seas in order to ‘protect our borders’, and build enormous walls all around their countries that nobody will ever be able to cross without their permission.

From time to time they also act, as Anders Breivik did when he carried out his ‘inspirational’ slaughter of teenage Labour Party activists on Utoya island.  Or as Golden Dawn has done many times in its attacks on migrants and refugees and the leftists who have supported them.

In the last month vigilante groups have been beating up immigrants and foreigners in Cologne and other cities.  Last week a grenade was thrown at a refugee reception centre in the town of Villingen-Schwhenningen, which failed to go off.  This weekend hundreds of masked men went on the rampage in Stockholm, beating up North African refugee children  in order to ‘give them the punishment they deserved’, and National Front members in Maidstone daubed a coach with blood-stained swastikas.

At present such attacks are the work of a minority, but it’s a minority that clearly feels legitimized and emboldened by the current ‘refugee crisis’  and Europe’s chaotic and dysfunctional response to it.  There was a time when the hatred that feeds this kind of violence was confined to  the fringes of the internet, or weird Facebook selfies of isolated loners in army fatigues showing off their guns and knives.

Nowadays, however, it can be found on the comments pages of almost every national newspaper that posts an article about article about immigration or refugees, such as the Daily Mail reader called ‘Disgusted’ who wrote in response to last week’s failed grenade attack in Germany ‘Shame it was a dud.’

No one will be surprised to find such observations in a paper that has done more than any other newspaper in the country to foment hatred and prejudice towards immigrants, but look in the comments pages of supposedly liberal newspapers, and you will find the same implacable hatred, the same whining victimhood that presents  immigrants  as invaders and privileged usurpers, the same vicious condemnations of anyone who argues otherwise as a liar or an elite gatekeeper who has paved the way for the destruction of ‘their’ country..

These narratives are scavenger narratives that seize on anything that will suit them.  Isis terrorists with Syrian passports; refugees attacking ‘our’ women; immigrants stealing ‘our’ jobs; immigrants preventing our veterans from getting homes – anything will do, as long as it contributes to the demonisation and dehumanisation of the foreigner and the immigrant Other.

Make no mistake about it; such hatred is corrosive and corrupting.  It can easily deaden our sensibilities to the point  when the drastic solutions proposed by far right politicians such as Alternative for Germany’s Frauke Petry can become unproblematic and acceptable.

We haven’t reached the stage yet, when governments are prepared to implement Petry’s proposals that refugees should be shot at the border, but that is nothing to be complacent about.  Her party’s popularity is rising because of, and not in spite of its extreme proposals.    A few years or even months ago, no one could have imagined that European governments would oblige refugees to hand over their personal valuables, or that border guards in Hungary and Macedonia would fire tear gas at refugees and beat them with truncheons

Our preoccupation with the unique racial barbarism of Nazism and the lessons we have supposedly drawn from that experience can easily blind us to the dangers of a very different kind of fascist revival, which doesn’t necessarily require stormtroopers, jackboots and concentration camps – yet.

It is not melodramatic or hyperbolic to suggest that we are drifting towards a ‘pre-fascist’ atmosphere in which disenchantment and disgust with democratic politics as they are is overlapping with xenophobia, nativism and the new ‘culturalised’ racism.   These conditions haven’t sprung out out of nowhere.

For some years now the   politics – if not the violence – of the far-right and populist anti-immigrant parties have become increasingly indistinguishable from the anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from mainstream newspapers and politicians, of which David Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ remark was one more example.

When Marion Maréchal Le Pen told Channel 4 News that her party’s positions on immigration and security were no longer very far removed from the other political parties in France, she wasn’t wrong.  So these are perilous times, and the dangers can’t be underestimated.

And now, more than ever, it is essential for those of us who believe in an open and inclusive Europe and in the principles of solidarity and justice,  to construct a broad political movement  that can force the haters, racists and xenophobes back to the fringes, and mobilize the millions of Europeans who have not yet succumbed to the fascist temptation,  in support of a very different project.

To say this is difficult in the present time doesn’t even begin to describe it, but if we can’t do it, then we are all lost.  And we may all live to see not so much a repetition of Europe’s dark past, but a new, ugly and terrifying chapter in the continent’s history, in which the haters finally get the chance to realize the fantasies they have been rehearsing in their own minds for so long, and the radical and drastic solutions that they have been proposing in the darkness are accepted as normal or necessary evils in broad daylight.



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  1. Kieran

    1st Feb 2016 - 7:15 pm

    The rise of overt populist fascism is like the sprouting of mushrooms – they are the visible outgrowth of a much larger and more establlished subterranean fascism that has come to dominate much of the planet. The antecedents (and the models) are the crytofascist neocolonies such as Pinochet’s Chile and Suharto’s Indonesia.
    I posted a couple of lengthy explorations of the new Fascism at my blog if anyone is interested:

  2. Vaarunika Dharmapala

    1st Feb 2016 - 7:24 pm

    Absolutely. I’ve been feeling this for a long, long time. I saw how quickly attitudes changed in Australia in the late 90s (when I still lived there) with the advent of the One Nation party and their success in swinging the Liberals even further to the right with their immigrant baiting. And ever since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, I’ve been seeing it all over again across the Western world. I know some people like to think of the murderously extreme racism of the Nazis as being an anomaly in Western civilisation; but it seems to me that, in variously adapted forms across the world, these ferocious sentiments are integral to the functioning of modern party politics in class-based societies – not all of them Western, of course. Along with perpetual war, such misdirected rage and fear are too convenient a means of distraction in times of exaggerated inequality or political crisis for the situation to be any different.

    I found your blog after the Stop the War debacle and have read it with appreciation ever since. You write what I feel! Solidarity and best wishes to you.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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