75 years ago this October, my grandfather, the son of Jewish immigrants to London’s poor East End, took to the streets with thousands of others to stop the ultra-nationalist British Union of Fascists from marching through a largely Jewish area. The event turned into a pitched battle, with Oswald Mosley’s fascists and the Metropolitan Police on one side, and locals, Jews, Irish, socialists and communists on the other. The fight (which became known as the Battle of Cable Street) ended with victory for the anti-fascist side, with the fascists and police beaten off the streets.
Following the Holocaust, Fascism became a dirty word, but Nationalists have continually tried to detoxify their brand and reinstate themselves into the mainstream. Mosley returned in the 1950s, this time labelling black immigrants, rather than Jews and Irish, as the main “threat” to the “British way of life”. In the late-60s, Conservative MP Enoch Powell became famous for predicting that mass immigration would lead to “rivers of blood“. Through the 70s, right-wing nationalism and street-thuggery rose in the form of the National Front, but the movement was resisted on the streets, and finally dissolved in the early-80s as a new, multicultural music scene brought young black and white people together socially. By the 90s, nationalism seemed to be a thing of the past, but the 9/11 attacks gave the racist right a chance to re-brand as an anti-Islam force. Nearly ten years on, and we can see that the “Islam is a threat” message has worked its way from fascist meeting rooms into the political mainstream-right in Europe and the US.
Gradually, the anti-Islam message has morphed back into a more traditional anti-immigration message, being amplified by the right-wing tabloid press here (and Fox News in the US). The nationalist, anti-immigration message isn’t easy to sell; it relies on persuading people that the past (or rather, an imaginary, idyllic past) is being replaced by a more dangerous future as immigrants join their society. Prior to 9/11 it seemed that the Western World had moved beyond irrational fear of foreigners, and that society’s liberal tendencies had prevailed; but we soon learned that race hate and xenophobia weren’t far beneath the surface; that US and European society had changed less since the 1940s than we’d convinced ourselves.
When the drum of fear and hate is being pounded consistently, the infection will naturally spread. For most fear-infected morons, the outlet of Twitter or a blog is enough. But it’s inevitable that angry or mentally-disturbed individuals like Anders Behring Breivik will become infected too, and violence will follow, as it did last Friday in Norway. Breivik’s choice of target, the mainstream, liberal Norwegian Labour Party, was a natural one for anyone understanding the history of European nationalism. He chose a multicultural youth camp, something designed to ease racial tensions in Norway, but also proof (in Breivik’s confused world view) that evil forces were trying to dilute Norway’s racial and cultural past into something new and alien.
Whether Breivik acted alone, it can be stated with certainty that he was influenced by master-manipulators of the nationalist movement. It’s already been established from his own blog (English translation provided by @Dilmunite) that he admired the far-right English Defence League; according to many EDL Facebook posts, Breivik had many EDL Facebook friends, and attended an EDL rally in the UK in 2010. I’d recommend following @BanTheEDL and @EverythingEDL on Twitter for a collection of evidence linking group members with Breivik.
Another key Breivik influencer was someone I’ve often mentioned: Pamela Geller, a self-appointed “defender” of America against “creeping Islamification”. Pamela spent the weekend tweeting new myths distancing herself from the terrorist, for her army of moron followers to disseminate.
In my Twitter feed, I’ve long watched morons large and small disseminate misinformation about Islam, Muslims and immigration. Their purpose was to spread enough hatred widely enough that sooner or later someone would take action, and set a chain of violence underway. It looks as though they found a new disciple (though not their first – right-wing terror plots have long been of concern, especially in the US), and no doubt other “white heroes” are watching and contemplating whether to follow Breivik’s example (as was clearly his intention).
Western governments now need to decide whether Islamaphobic lies and smears equate to hate speech, and whether to prosecute the most virulent of these liars. The shock following the Norway attacks will quickly pass, and lack of action against armchair-nationalist morons by governments will result in more confidence in the nationalist movements, and inevitably more violence.