‘Islamofascism’ is an often-disputed term. Drawing an analogy between Islamic extremism and fascist movements can be controversial. Roger Griffin, a leading authority on fascism, argues that jihadism is significantly different to European fascism: it isn’t nationalistic, nor does it make (officially) much of race or rely on a de novo created spirituality. Instead it relies on texts a millennium old. A similar argument was made by Lee Harris, who said the difference between Islamic totalitarianism and the modern totalitarianisms of fascism and communism, is that the latter were new creations, whereas the former has deep roots within pre-existing cultures.
Part of the reason why the response to Islamic jihad within “infidel” nations — like the UK — has been so haphazard is the lack of any real model of how to deal with such a problem. However, in looking at the way that Germany deals with its persistent neo-Nazi problem, there are solutions available. The similarities between the neo-Nazi and neo-fascist enclaves in Germany and the Islamic totalitarian nests in Britain are quite startling.
Both regard themselves as keepers of a sacred tradition that cannot be expressed in rational terms. Therefore both call on their members to hold themselves apart from and outside society — to avoid contamination. Both flatly reject their nation state and pledge allegiance to another body — the Ummah in the case of the jihadists, the Reich in the case of the neo-Nazis. Both seek to establish their own chunks of turf in which their writ run, instead of the law of the land. Both say that they must bide their time until they have sufficient power to overthrow the liberal order. Both dream of a mindless empire, in which women are reduced to machines to breed more soldiers. Both cultivate more polished and deceptive figures to act as the disseminators of the ideology in the wider body politic. And both have a taste for ruthless violence as a way of backing this up. This makes these phenomena entirely different from any other group within liberal democracy.
Debate is the great coordinating mechanism of the liberal society. Individuals and groups can disagree loudly about all sorts of issues, they can damn each other as the worst thing to happen to the country since records were kept, they can loudly say that they would never want a child of theirs to marry one of the others — but the fact that they only use rhetoric and argument unites them far more than it divides.
However, German neo-Nazis and Islamic totalitarians have no interest in winning a debate, but in winning a war. Take the case of seizing turf: in Britain, the ‘Sharia Patrol’ in East London, harassed couples and confiscated alcohol from drinkers on the grounds that they were in a ‘Muslim area’. German neo-Nazis similarly try to create what they call volksbefreitezonen. Literally translated, ‘zones freed by the people’, and more literally translated, areas where it can be extremely unwise to to look like an immigrant, or even simply anti-fascist.
It is the willingness to use violence that makes a fool of liberal attempts at ‘dialogue’. You simply can’t have any sort of debate or discussion with people whose final argument is a knife or a baseball bat — or a bomb. Neo-Nazi terrorism is no laughing matter: the National Socialist Underground has been responsible for two bombings and a string of murders in Germany throughout the last decade. On top of the deaths, the effect of intimidation is powerful. Those that merely leave the neo-Nazi ‘scene’ — let alone those who speak out — often need witness protection for fear of retaliation. A direct comparison can be made to the fact that even in Britain, those who leave Islam often do so in fear of their lives, and to criticise Islam or jihad can prove extremely dangerous.
Some people say there should be more liberal Muslim voices denouncing the crimes and inhumanities perpetrated in the name of their religion. What is more surprising is that there are any at all — because Islamic totalitarians enjoy an acceptance and toleration that the neo-Nazis do not. When Michael Schaeffer, of the German NPD, was caught on camera giving a Hitler salute at a Blood & Honour concert, it was the end of his public life. When Mehdi Hasan was caught on camera bellowing about kafirs being of congenitally low intelligence, he continued his career unscathed. It’s not even necessary to think of the more polished deceivers — Ken Livingstone famously embraced Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports suicide-murder and death for apostasy (renouncing your religion), among other things.
This is partly explained by the desperate hope of liberal minded people to treat everyone with the same methods of discussion and dialogue. It’s understandable, and even admirable, but it’s futile. It creates an atmosphere where you don’t need to be a totalitarian to play on the threat of violence, you can just be an unscrupulous opportunist, such as Baroness Warsi. On resigning from the cabinet, Warsi said that if Britain’s policy towards Israel and Palestine did not change, it would “lead to further radicalisation of Muslim youth”.
There’s no point in being evasive: that’s a threat. It is saying “while I wouldn’t advocate the bombing of public transports, there’s nothing I can do if young Muslims do so because of Gaza, and don’t say I didn’t warn you…” It’s a blatant challenge to the liberal and democratic state.
The German experience of dealing with the problem of the neo-Nazi underworld paves the way for how liberal societies can deal with such types. The German government has broad powers when it comes to clamping down on them, including banning the organisations, as well as their symbols and regalia, and seizing the property of these illegal organisations.
Many intellectuals consider such measures unacceptable. In Welcome to Everytown, Julian Baggini describes his discussions with working class Brits about why not to deport hate-preachers from Britain — because they might face torture abroad. The response was “We don’t care about their rights, what about ours?” Baggini says this attitude is illiberal.
But it is only illiberal if one ignores the history of liberalism, particularly in its Anglo-American form. In The Rights of Man Thomas Paine argued that a bill of rights was also a prescription of duties. If I claim the protection of a set of rights, I am obliged to defend those rights for the rest of that nation. Not to passively accept, mind you, but actively defend. Conversely, someone who does not accept that duty will enjoy no protection. That’s the source of the term ‘outlaw’. It did not mean someone who had transgressed the law; it meant someone who was now beyond its protection, whose crimes meant that no violence done to them would ever be prosecuted by the state.
John Locke certainly understood this point. In his 1689 ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’ he argued for tolerance of the different Protestant sects, but not for the Catholic Church. At the time it seemed the Catholic Church would likely exploit any acceptance and reassert itself in England, then eradicate the protestant sects, destroying any hope of open-mindedness. In short, intolerance of the intolerant was necessary for tolerance to exist at all.
A similar principle underlies the German laws on counter-fascism. It’s all very well to say that the state should only intervene against the explicit — like a skinhead beating up a kebab vendor — but in practice that’s completely unworkable. Any witnesses would know that the skinhead’s comrades could easily take revenge. So even with these broad powers, once a neo-Nazi gang has burrowed into a community, creating a volksbefreitezone, it can be a devil of a job to dig them out again.
In short, if the British working class is illiberal, it is only as illiberal as John Locke and Thomas Paine. There are worse things in the world. There is nothing illiberal whatsoever in saying that if someone wants to see apostates killed, or blasphemers jailed, or immigrants beaten up, they should pack their bags and get out. After all, in the nineteenth century, Nietzsche remarked that it would be moral and useful to expel all anti-Semitic ranters from Germany, and one rather wishes people had listened.
In the classical sense there are two kinds of tolerance. Tolerance-from-acceptance is the tolerance due to anyone who accepts the responsibilities that come with rights, and it is due to anyone who makes that acceptance, regardless of colour or creed. Tolerance-from-sufferance applies to those that reject that basic compact, explicitly repudiate liberalism, but are too much trouble to remove.
This isn’t to say that in Germany there aren’t illiberal and stupid laws on the books. Consider the laws against holocaust denial. Holocaust deniers may be vicious fools with ridiculous views, but their positions can be quite easily shredded in open debate. David Irving never recovered from the intellectual thrashing he received in the Deborah Lipstadt trial. The dividing line here is the willingness to use and support violence.
If the British state wants to get serious about the spread of totalitarianism amongst its Islamic population, it must take a few lessons from Germany. Cancelling the citizenship of anyone who goes abroad to join a jihad group, expelling hate preachers, seizing the property and funds of any group involved in supporting jihad are all perfectly feasible. Much more important, though, it should support those speaking out. The German government provides protection and support for those speaking against the neo-Nazis; I don’t know of any comparable program by the British government to support Islamist apostates and dissidents. Similarly, why are there no funds set aside to help those fleeing the claws of ISIS?
There’s also a cultural matter. No newspaper would dream of refusing to print a cartoon that annoyed a neo-Nazi gang. Yet during the Prophet Muhammad ‘cartoon crisis’, that was the position of most media outlets, cringing behind the excuse of ‘respect’.
It’s depressing how, despite these congruent points, many anti-fascists seem determined not to get it. Øyvind Strømmen has written hard and well about European fascism. His only comment on jihadism has been a smirking article saying that none of his Muslim friends had tried to kill him yet. At the International Conference for Radicalization Research, Alexander Melagrou Hitchens and Hans Brun tried none to subtly to place the counter-jihadists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer with the likes of the Golden Dawn, and implied that any concern about Islam or jihad was the product of washed up neo-Nazis, looking for a new schtick. You are perfectly free to believe that, I suppose (to be fair, when I spoke with Roger Griffin, he assured me that a significant number of anti-fascist academics regarded the jihad as the filthy pest it is). As regards Spencer and Geller, I’ve criticised them before, but to try to tar them with the fascist brush is not just pathetic but dangerous.
You cannot claim the mantle of anti-fascism while ignoring the source of violent Jew-hatred infesting Europe. You can’t say that there’s nothing to worry about in Islam when British born lads are travelling all the way to Syria to help with the slave trade. You can’t wave aside concerns about Islamisation when everyone thinks twice about criticising Islam out of fear of the consequences. And you can’t dismiss the idea that Islam is being shielded from criticism when you are doing exactly that.
Conversely, no ‘counter-jihadist’ can even afford to flirt with anything that even resembles fascism or racism. I’m thinking here of Pamela Geller’s creepy eulogy for the white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche amongst other things. Quite apart from the moral dimension, there is the matter of practicality. The most important reason why people are reluctant to criticise Islam is fear of violence. But the second reason is a fear of lending credence to anything that could support prejudice or bigotry. That is a completely legitimate and honourable concern.
The only way to tackle either Islamic jihad or European fascism is to tackle both, and the only practical way to do that is through internationalism. By defending the rights of refugees and other communities abroad, one can flush out that non-negligible group for whom concerns about Islam are only another way to bash foreigners. And only by taking the menace of Islamic totalitarianism seriously do anti-fascists have any hope of depriving present day fascism of its main recruitment tool.