Excuses are the sickening thing. When something ghastly is in the news, you are horrified, but man has always been wolf to man. It’s listening to the sounds people make as they try to evade the reality that really turns the stomach.
I kept coming back to that thought when surveying the American Right’s reactions to the Charleston atrocity. On Fox and Friends Steve Doocy tried to place the blame for the death of ten African-Americans on hatred of Christianity and remarked, “extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime”. Others eschewed false trails in favour of pure obfuscation, such as Jeb Bush whose sole comment was “I don’t know what was on his mind” and some even escape into the supernatural; Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum insisted that this was “clearly the work of the devil”. Hermant Mehta, who runs the Friendly Atheist blog has a depressing round up of such reactions.
This stuff is exactly like the specious excuses we hear in the wake of every atrocity perpetrated by jihadists. There’s an interesting game you can play online: find a pundit righteously denouncing the current evasions, then read back through their archive to see if you can find his response to the Charlie Hebdo massacres. Four times out of five, there will be a marked divergence. The most egregious example I have found so far is from the journalist Glenn Greenwald. In the wake of the racist murder of Jews, he decided it would be a good idea to publish anti-Semitic cartoons of Jews drawn with hooked noses and either dripping with blood or as diabolical puppet masters. I wonder if he will republish some classic Jim Crow cartoons, with thick lips and watermelons galore.
On his show, the American comedian Bill Maher knew where to place the blame – “I know where [Roof] got his news”, and added that while he didn’t advocate a drone strike on Fox news, the American government did strike Anwar al-Awlaki. Perhaps, but I wonder how Maher squares this with his friendship and praise of Michael Moore, whose films are used by Hezbollah for inspiration and recruitment, and who has openly supported the Iraqi “insurgency” that we now know as ISIS.
However, Maher is wrong about Roof’s inspiration. Roof no more drew his inspiration from the mainstream Right than Islamic jihadists are inspired by the mainstream Left. The Left wishes that Islamism didn’t exist and plays it down because it knows its existence plays into the Right’s hands. The Right wishes racism didn’t exist and plays it down because it knows its existence plays into the Left’s hands. The sin is one of evasion rather than excuse.
But there is another tradition that calls itself right-wing, both in Europe and America, one that is as radically different to the mainstream Right as it is to the Left. This tradition is happy to admit that racism exists, and says that it is a good thing to be encouraged. This is not the conservatism of Edmund Burke, but that of Thomas Carlyle.
Burke is usually thought of as the conservative counterweight to Thomas Paine’s radicalism. In reality, the two had more agreements than arguments — on the importance of the American revolution, on the evils of imperialism and slavery. Carlyle took the contrary view on all those issues, most notoriously defending slavery in his Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question.
Carlyle is a forerunner of the fascist tradition, and if you want to read real excuses being made for the crimes Roof has been arrested for, then you need to turn to its advocates. The best of these would probably be the white nationalist Jared Taylor.
In his interview, Taylor was asked how his followers were reacting to the atrocity in Charleston: “They’re horrified by this, absolutely horrified by this because this gives our opponents just the kind of ammunition we don’t want them to have.”
That tone of self-pity, that tactic of pretending that the real victims are not the murdered but the killer’s intellectual kin reminds me of every single wail and fret we’ve had to hear that the sight of Muslim supremacists murdering innocents will lead to a “backlash” and to “Islamophobia”.
Taylor went on to say, “If we want to prevent this . . . the absolutely wrong thing to do is keep piling on this notion of guilty white people. That’s just not going to work”. Why do I find myself thinking of Sayeeda Warsi’s recent comment that what was leading British Muslims to join the Islamic state and so forth, was “disengagement” by politicians?
It is true that there are many Muslims who feel disenfranchised, as indeed there are many white Americans who feel cast aside. Whether or not it is polite to discuss this so soon after the atrocity, it is beyond discussion that it’s just not on to focus exclusively on this and ignore the rather larger problem of an entrenched culture of bigotry and hatred. In the same way as white supremacists see all other races as subhuman, Islamists see all non-Muslims as subhuman.
The parallels are quite eerie once you look. Jihadists take their marching orders from the Koranic injunction to conquer infidels and “make them feel subdued”. What is this but the sacralised version of the Klu Kluxer’s line that lynching is necessary to prevent blacks from “gittin’ uppity”? We are often lectured that jihadis are really motivated by political grievances over Iraq or Palestine, and that we should therefore accede to their demands. Well, Dylann Roof’s embrace of the Rhodesian and white South African flags was certainly political and yet I have no interest in acceding to his demands.
Conversely, on Bill Maher’s television programme the black American journalist Joy Reid expressed her frustration that “healing” initiatives always placed the onus on the black community. Slavery, segregation and so on are to be “no foul”. Hard to argue with that, and isn’t it exactly the same as how any rhetoric about addressing the “root causes” of jihad-terror always places the onus on the non-Muslim victims?
To return to where I started, those on the Right should think about how they feel whenever they hear some shifty excuse being made for jihad terror and adjust their words about Charleston accordingly. Not just as a matter of principle, not just out of concern for the victims, not just as a matter of sound politics, but because the real struggle of the 21st century is not between Right and Left, but between the fascist Right and the democratic Right.
If it is true that Dylann Roof acted on highly unpleasant ideas, iti s also true that those ideas did not originate with him. Preventing further such atrocities means taking on their ideological base, and in this I would not trust the Western Left any more than I would trust a dipsomaniac with bomb disposal. The only left-wing response to stuff like this seems to be yelling “Racist!” at various decibels, or putting out long, tiresome pieces in which the word “privilege” is scattered about like dollops of chloroform. That tactic might work when it comes to humiliating Benedict Cumberbatch for saying “coloured actors” rather than “actors of colour”, but it is worse than useless when it comes to real racism and fascism.
Not least because Jared Taylor is not a stupid man. Like his European equivalent, Guillaume Faye, he is intelligent, well-spoken and able to argue powerfully (interestingly, both Faye and Taylor are graduates of the Paris Institute of Political Studies). Also, I have to admit that Taylor is extremely charming and likeable; he reminds me of Orwell’s confession that, though he’d kill Hitler on sight, he’d never been able to dislike the Fuhrer. This means that taking on and discrediting Taylor’s ideas involves a lot of hard and boring spadework, which I think only the Right is capable of doing.
The democratic Right needs to realise that the fascist Right is its real enemy, and to get serious about dealing with it — because if we don’t, who will?