Throughout the long drama of the Cold War, advocates of liberty were left in a dilemma by the failure to define the struggle as anything other than communism versus anti-communism. The latter’s unwillingness to define itself as anything positive, as pro-Capitalism, left it willing to side with the unacceptable and defending the indefensible, whether it was the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
This left the conscientious defender of liberty in a dilemma. If one considers the American civil rights movement, its proponents could ask how the land of the free could deny liberty to millions of its citizens and use them as canon-fodder solely on the basis of pigmentation? However, its opponents could ask how a movement could advocate justice for the descendants of slavery while defending a system that had just enslaved a third of mankind? Only a vanishing minority were able to oppose both.
I mention this history because a horrible repetition seems to be underway in the counter-Jihad movement. A loose and sloppy definition of what it is for, rather than against is empowering fantastically illiberal movements. I am thinking of two leading lights of the movement, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.
To even begin to make this case, I must make several concessions. It is certainly true that the decision to prevent their entry into the UK is a disgrace. It is also true that one must tackle the ball and not the man; the menace of the Islamic far-Right is not diminished no matter who points it out. Finally, going too far is infinitely preferable to a mainstream that goes nowhere at all. (The most tiresome experience in the recent row over Richard Dawkins’s tweets were the number of people who said that, yes, of course they believed it right and proper to criticise Islam, as long as it was under the right circumstances and in the right time, and really, tweeting was just going much too far.)
None of this can make the issues of racism and fascism non-existent or irrelevant.
Once again, I must stress that I do not believe that either Spencer or Geller are racists or fascists or have any sympathy whatsoever for either of those views, and acknowledge that these terms have been abused almost to the point of meaninglessness. However, just take Ms Geller for starters. In her blog, Atlas Shrugs 2000, alongside her anti-Islamic material one finds a rather impassioned piece on the murder of Eugene Terreblanche, the former leader of the South African AWB. Now, what exactly is blog supposedly dedicated to opposing Islam’s Jihad doing writing a eulogy for a racist thug, and former leader of a white supremacist terrorist gang? Why, to ask the larger question, are the internal affairs of the new South Africa of any interest whatsoever to Geller and her readers?
There’s an obvious answer and it is wrong. Genuine racists do not go out of their way to, for example, form close friendships with escaped Sudanese slaves.. Geller certainly does not want for courage — the defence of slave’s rights and the prevention of at least one honour killing is a better days work than I have ever done. However, she suffers from a fantastic lack of discrimination in the stuff she publishes and advances, and this sometimes leads her to recirculate, the work of a truly rancid fringe of the American right — a fringe for whom the present day sufferings of white Afrikaners is a cause celebre and a fringe that had exactly nothing to say about the Apartheid system. That she seems to be completely clueless about the nature of what she is defending, is not a defence that is particularly reassuring.
To further the point about a lack of discrimination, I invite the reader to consider the following. It is true that the world will stop using fossil fuels before the American political process stops using hysterical paranoia, but even by those standards, an article, promoted on Miss Geller’s blog, that argues President Obama is the lovechild of Malcolm X is excessive. Her defence is worth nothing — that she didn’t believe that President Obama was the lovechild of Malcolm X, merely that the article in question made some other valid points. Well, the prosecution rests.
Bias declared, I find it grotesque that Ms Geller’s appropriates for her blog the title of Ayn Rand’s famous book, and I am far from the only Objectivist who thinks so. To the best of my knowledge, Geller is no Objectivist and is not affiliated with any official Objectivist institution. I should also add that the two greatest moments I have been privileged to witness in my lifetime have been the fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of Nelson Mandela. It is absolutely insufferable to see anyone make mockery of that great moment for the lowest kind of cheap political capital.
Robert Spencer is another matter. One cannot accuse Spencer of intellectual unseriousness — at least not on the subject of Islam and Islamic doctrine. You simply cannot seriously argue about the question of the conflict between Islam and modernity if you have not carefully read his work. However, whenever his writing touches on other matters, it reverts to standard American Conservative boilerplate.
American conservatism may be loosely described as an uneasy marriage between classical liberalism and evangelical Christianity. This leads to a number of oddities — the defence of capitalism as the product of “Judeo-Christian civilization” and so forth. The real problem arises when this stuff crosses the Atlantic, for in continental Europe, Christian civilization means something very different.
Take the closing passages from Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades:
It is time to say “enough,” and teach our children to take pride in their own heritage. To know that they have a culture and a history of which they can and should be grateful; that they are not the children and grand-children of oppressors and villains; and that their homes and families are worth defending against those who want to take them away, and are willing to kill to do so.
The problem lies not in these stirring words, with which I agree, but with the final sentence that follows them:
Call it a Crusade.
The problem with this is that the last crusade was not the counterstroke of Christian Europe against Islamic aggression, but rather La Ultima Cruzada — the assault, by General Franco, at the head of an army of Muslim mercenaries, enjoying the support of Hitler and Mussolini and the blessing of the Vatican to destroy the Spanish republic.
This is the crucial cultural difference between America and Europe. Despite fantastic hysteria from the chattering classes, the danger of “radical Christianity” can be easily dismissed in America. The worst that the American Christian Right can produce are tiresome bigmouths who demand cash to oppose gay marriage and are promptly found curled up with rent boys. One can rightly point to this spectacle and say: you expect me to be frightened by this?
The European Christian Right is another beast. The extreme European Christian Right does not have names like “the Moral Majority” or “Focus on the Family”, but names like the Ustasa, the Falange, and the Legion of the Archangel Michael. The word for these movements, used correctly for once, is Fascism.
Mention this word, and someone always quotes Orwell: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” What very few people seem to remember that the essay in question, “Politics and the English Language”, concludes as follows: “Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this.” In contrast to what is assumed, Orwell was warning, not that there was no such thing as fascism, but that sloppy language gave a dangerous cover to fascism.
This is the problem with disordered stuff about “Judeo-Christian civilization”. Under such a broad term, very unpleasant things can creep in. In the introduction to Spencer’s book Religion of Peace: Why Christianity is and Islam isn’t, he approvingly cites the essayist Fjordman (Peder Jensen) that Western civilization requires both its Christian and its Jewish legs to stand. The first problem with this is that it seems to forget the Hellenic and Latin legs. The second problem is that Jensen, alias Fjordman, is a principal inspiration for Anders Behring Breivik.
Once again, a great deal of rubbish needs to be cleared away here. It is unfair and unjust to brand anyone Brevik chose to cite in his manifesto as an inspiration for his act of mass murder, and it is both grotesque and pathetic that Breivik is used as an excuse to silence discussion of Islam and the Islamic far-Right — in fact, it is those who have spent the last ten years making excuses for the violence of Islamic fascism who bear the bulk of responsibility. However, Jensen is not simply a critic or opponent of Islam. In his writings he says, quite explicitly, that given the failure of Europe’s democratic leadership to tackle Islam, it is necessary to violently overthrow it and institute a rule that will take the necessary steps. In so many words, that is the Breivikist position.
There is a counter-argument that used to have a great deal of weight. Be serious, it goes, despite the endless use of the term, Europe’s fascist numbers are so low that the BNP is outnumbered 40-to-one by Britons who identify as Jedi. Besides, no one can do everything, and there are enough people keeping an eye on the native far-Right, so we can afford to just focus on the Jihadis.
This used to carry a great deal of weight, but it no longer does. Not after Breivik. The problem of a reborn European fascist movement cannot be dismissed as only propaganda, regardless of how many do use it only as propaganda.
The question that both Spencer and Geller need to answer is: what ultimate aim is their work supposed to achieve?
Here is one endgame, from the website Gates of Vienna, which publishes Jensen’s work. The argument made, in particular by their blogger El Ingles, is that European democracy is so decadent and cowardly that it will simply deliver all nations to Islamic rule or civil war without rousing itself. Therefore, it is best to begin the civil war as soon as possible, while the odds are most in infidel favour. Therefore terrorist actions should be carried out against Muslim civilians to provoke a backlash, which in turn will drive more European infidels to violence, ultimately shattering the democratic states, providing the chaos necessary for the violent revolution necessary to “save” Europe.
Let us grant that the internet is full of swaggering blowhards and if 10 per cent of what is said in its dank recesses was serious then no European capital would be substantially different from Mogadishu. Granting that, to just dismiss this as braggadocio would be irresponsible in the extreme — a point understood by the person who brought this to my attention. You might think that this was Searchlight or the American Southern Poverty Law Center. In actual fact, the person who first spoke of his concerns of the wickedness and danger of this stuff was none other than Nick Griffin.
Prior to writing this, I wrote to Mr Spencer and raised my concerns about Fjordman. He told me he had long since broken with Jensen and Gates Of Vienna, but he had no interest in making any sort of public declaration. That is not even remotely good enough. Anyone reading Spencer’s earlier material will find links endorsing and praising both. It really is not asking too much to expect both Spencer and Geller to show the same level of sensitivity and moral concern to the possibility of far right violence as that exhibited by the leader of the BNP.
I am not the first to notice this. During the last US presidential race, Geller and Spencer got into an argument with the blogger Ace of Spades over the Republican Governor of Texas Rick Perry, and Perry’s supposed conciliatory attitude towards Islam. Ace, as he is known, is no one’s idea of a bleeding heart, and the exchange is well worth reading, particularly for its conclusion, where Ace writes:
I don’t think either comprehends that when they begin claiming that even the smallest gestures at bridge-building with the Muslim community — even if those gestures are doomed to produce no good results — are “dhimmi” then I don’t really see any policy choices except girding for war, external and internal.
I don’t know if they think about this at all.
Maybe they just think about their next blog posts.
That is admirably exact. Geller and Spencer have no right whatsoever to be this blasé about the subject, and nor can they claim to be apolitical commentators whose only concern is charting the violence of the Islamic far-Right — for the simple reason that both have made deeply political commitments, in particular in their defence of the English Defence League. (Something they have been criticised for by Melanie Phillips — again, no one’s idea of a bleeding heart.)
The EDL attracts a great deal of misguided commentary, most on the question of whether or not it is racist. The evils of racism in the last century make most assume that a non-racist or anti-racist movement must be, at least to some extent, virtuous. That is not so; it is precisely the EDL’s lack of racism that has allowed it to go from a BNP splinter group to one that dwarf’s its parent by twenty to one in nothing flat. It is that lack of racism that makes it incredibly dangerous.
To illustrate the point, consider something else that Geller and Spencer have been slow to acknowledge: the movements called forth in response to Islamic Jihad have historically been at least as terrible in their own right. Despite Spencer’s rather original reading of history, the Crusaders massacred European Jews and Byzantine Christians long before they slaughtered Muslims in the Holy Land. The Spanish Reconquista gave us the Inquisition. In response to Islamic oppression of Christians, Hulaghu Khan killed every Muslim man, woman and child in Baghdad. And it was Alijah Izbetovic’s Islamic Declaration that allowed the rise of Milosevic and the horrors of Bosnia.
A similar dynamic exists today. In the subcontinent, the emergence of the Hindu fascists of the Shiv Sena and RSS, despite being formed in reaction to Islamic fundamentalism, spend a significant amount of time persecuting local Christians and, in our own country, hounding the great secular and humanist painter M.F. Husain. (Note this well: in tribal and sectarian war, it is those who want no part of it who suffer first and most). In Myanmar, the 969 Buddhist movement explicitly declares itself a sister to the EDL. And all across Europe, far-right parties have been invigorated through the foulness of the Islamic far right.
Here is where nightmare scenario of Gates Of Vienna becomes a possibility. Imagine the following and try to say it is implausible. Imagine another ten years of business-as-usual where our cultural elites fail to tackle the problem of the Islamic far-Right. The Islamic far right swells, and in response the EDL grows to ten times its current number (hardly implausible, given its prior rate of growth). Then, in response to something ghastly — another 7/7 for example — the EDL marches on number 10, reinforced by Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other allies. What, exactly, is the next step but civil war?
As unlovely as the EDL’s membership may be, it is a collection of Sunday school picnickers compared with some of the forces on the continent. In the outrage over his atrocity, far too little attention has been paid to the amount of evil intelligence in Breivik’s action. Through careful planning, he was able to carry out an attack that was, on a per-capita basis, as lethal as 9/11. Moreover, it was not targeted against a Mosque or an immigrant centre, but against the most vulnerable portion of Norway’s ruling class: their children.
I have written before about the nature of the European New Right, and got some mockery for describing Guillaume Faye as the most dangerous man in Europe. Well, his first star pupil proves my point. Breivik is no bed sheeted Klansman or white-supremacist loser intermittently holding down a series of minimum wage jobs. He is the first of a new breed of European fascist: highly intelligent, highly competent, and highly dangerous.
I began this essay with an allusion to the moral default of the Cold War, but the real parallel may be far worse. Following the First World War, Ludwig von Mises noted that the Communists’ willingness to embrace any length of violence had the effect of relieving the right wing militarists’ restraint on using the same tactics, and thus fascism was born into the world. In Germany Rosa Luxemburg, having just helped deliver Russia into tyranny, attempted to repeat the trick in Germany. In response, the social democratic government unleashed the Freikorps, and you may remember how well that worked out.
The prospect of European civil war, between Islamic jihadists on the one side and Breivikist far right on the other is almost too awful to contemplate, but contemplate it we must, if it is to be avoided. I have a suspicion that, being Americans, neither Geller nor Spencer nor the founders of Gates Of Vienna have any idea how horrible total civil collapse is, nor how easily it can come about. Geller and Spencer would certainly say that they do not advocate such a thing, and do not support any violence. Indeed, they have said this many times. And I would reply: so what? No one wanted the Great War. No one, not even the Nazi leadership, wanted the Second World War, and as late as 1943, one can find Goebbels fearful of the prospect of “a genuine world war”. They got it nonetheless.
Let me finish by noting three things that are essential to at least reduce the risk of such a conflagration. The first is that Geller and Spencer and others in the counter-Jihad have to be willing to unambiguously define what they are for and to do it in such a way that leaves no room for confusion. They must also take on those who both deal in violence and advocate for it. This cannot be at the level of pro-forma denunciation; it has to be a deep and theoretical refutation. The same thing, in other words, that they, rightly, ask of liberal Muslim spokesmen towards the jihadists.
Liberal and democratically minded Muslims have to reciprocate. I fully appreciate that it isn’t very pleasant to have to confront the nasty elements of one’s religion, especially when the nasty elements have a habit of responding with more than just rhetoric. But this is their fight more than anyone’s: neither the Jihadists nor the Breivikists will show them any quarter if this goes wrong.
Finally, the liberal mainstream has to cease its squeamishness when it comes to the criticism of Islam and the Islamic far right. There are very many decent people who do not want to touch this subject out of fear of giving support to racists or worse. That is a fine and noble motive, but it is utterly misguided. Unless one thinks that the Islamic far-Right is going to just mysteriously vanish, it will remain a feature of our daily news coverage. That means that there will be more and more people looking for answers, and if liberal minded people are not willing to provide them, others will.