Generally, sparring with morons online can be fun. Being told that I’m a pawn of the devil, or a self-hating Jew often makes me smile. But there are more disturbing moments. The ongoing fascist-style campaign to paint all people of Muslim descent as an evil threat to the Western World becomes ever-more reminiscent of what was done to the Jews across Europe and America in the 1930s. Usually, the offenders are semi-literate Bible-bashers, but increasingly, just as in the 30s, secular “liberals” can be found in the melee, swinging a punch or a kick.
Recently, for no apparent reason I could identify, I was accused by some fellow Atheists of “defending Islam”. Now, I’m not aware that I’ve ever “defended Islam”. In fact, that term itself has an Orwellian ring to it, like “supporting terror” or “promoting homosexuality”. It seems “defending Islam” is something that good, secular liberals everywhere must avoid, or face public condemnation. In response, I pointed out that defending Muslims from attack isn’t “defending Islam” – to which I was told: yes it is: because all Muslims uphold Islam, which (as any moron knows) is an evil ideology. I pointed out that I know people who identify as Muslim, but who don’t practise, or in some cases don’t even believe. But these Atheist defenders of rationality told me I was wrong: anybody who claims Muslim identity is bad by definition, I was told.
Fascist stuff indeed: identity, I’ve always believed, is for the individual to choose for himself, and nobody else to force upon him. In my own experience, I tend to feel most Jewish when I encounter anti-Semites (and least Jewish in the company of other Jews). And certainly, a similar transformation is taking place among European and American Muslims: hatred towards Muslims is growing at breakneck speed, and the more times someone has MUSLIM screamed at them, the more Muslim they will feel. Like Judaism, Islam is a deep culture, with its book, traditions and routines. I remember childhood Friday evenings lighting sabbath candles and being allowed a sip of red wine; the prayers and tastes of the Passover dinner; the unique smell of a room decked in fruit and leaves during Sukkot, the harvest festival. My nostalgia over those memories, and my feeling that I was enacting an ancient ritual, are still there, despite my Atheism – the Jewish religion still forms a part of my experience, memories and identity, although I reject its superstitious beliefs. Muslims likewise, both secular and religious, will remember the rituals, the tastes and smells, of their childhoods, and feel Muslim, however little they practise their religion.
The Nazi propaganda campaign against Jews was subtle and sophisticated. How do you persuade Europeans that a tiny minority could be a threat? Some conditions are required: first and foremost, the population must be ready and willing to believe. And indeed, hatred of Jews (and Muslims) is an old European (and Catholic) tradition, dating back many centuries. Next, you take some grains of truth. And then you build up layer after layer of lies.
Post-9/11, the far-right leaped into action and repeated Nazi methodology to the letter. The far-right British National Party didn’t mention Muslims at all prior to 9/11. Their target was “Asians”, but this hate campaign failed to gain much traction. Within days of 9/11, their leaflets were rewritten, and Muslims had replaced Asians as the threat. Those people attacking Muslims today use the Islamophobe’s favourite phrase: I’m not racist; Islam isn’t a race. But to attack Muslims in the UK means to attack Pakistanis, who have been the target of race hate since at least the 1970s. And French fascists now label North and West Africans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. And Dutch or Spanish fascists now label Moroccans (who they’ve always attacked) as Muslims. Bit by bit, European and American fascists have clicked into gear with each other. The anti-Muslim messages have been standardised, strengthened and amplified.
Secular fascism has returned. The Muslim-hating Atheist spreads similar stories of hate to the Christian crusader. Of course, the secular fascist tends to be more intelligent, and more persuasive. Unlike the Christian fascist, the secular fascist can uphold gay rights and women’s rights without hypocrisy, and hence sound more compelling. Secular fascists can sound liberal, and then use their “liberalism” against Islam – or more accurately, against their definition of Islam. Or more accurately still, against Muslims, whatever they believe, and wherever they live. Because the target of European fascism isn’t a religion or ideology, but minority groups: fascism gains strength by demonising minorities. Pre-9/11, there was no coherent “threat” for fascists to unite around. 9/11 gave them a common narrative.
A favourite way to “confront Islam” (or bait Muslims) is to cherry-pick.
“Islam oppresses women”.
“Look at Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.”
Note how these three countries are repeatedly chosen as examples, ignoring most of the other 50 Muslim countries. Never mind that Saudi Arabia is home to a fundamentalist cult, Wahhabism; or that war-torn Afghanistan is home to the ultra-conservative group, the Taliban; or that Iran is a theocracy. Never mind that these three countries have totally different cultures to each other. Never mind that the modern state of all three societies has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with 20th century Western and Russian foreign policy, with oil, and the American imperial war. In the mind of the moron, this argument is enough. Of course, anything can be “proved” this way: Christian countries have the world’s highest rates of rape. Therefore Christianity is the rapist religion – easy! But of course, fascism is doesn’t target Christians. It targets Muslims, Jews, Roma, blacks… any group that forms a distinct minority in the West.
This was the Nazi method by which the Jewish Problem was invented. The corruption of a Jewish financier, or the explosion of a Zionist bomb, or the “backwardness” of fundamentalist Judaism were unrelated issues. But a combination of clever propaganda and a moronic public turned them into the same thing. Never mind that most Jews who were eventually dragged into concentration camps were neither Zionists nor fundamentalists nor financiers. The Jewish Problem came to mean everything Jewish.
The modern equivalent of the Jewish Problem is Radical Islam. It is equally meaningless, equally misleading, and equally capable of persuading morons that a real threat exists. It is a term that can be stretched to include any group or event. The 9/11 attacks were by Radical Islam, not Saudi dissidents protesting against US occupation of Arab states. Radical Islam (not the conservative Taliban) stopped women from being educated in Afghanistan, and stops women from driving in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaida, a terrorist organistion, and Hizbollah, which exists to defend against terrorism, are both Radical Islam. It’s enough that both groups are Muslim (although in fact, Hizbollah also has Christian members – details always spoil a simple story). The peace-loving Muslim who prays 5 times a day and the loud-mouthed protester who burns poppies in protest at British involvement in Afghanistan, are both Radical Islam. Support for Iraqi insurgents (and why shouldn’t anyone support those fighting against invasion of their own land?) is Radical Islam, and so is a group of teenagers throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who are helping to destroy their village’s crops. Palestinian activists who belong to the secular Fatah movement are Radical Islam. British Muslims who come out to defend their streets against EDL street thugs are Radical Islam. Women in burqas or hijabs are Radical Islam. The conservative, Islamist government of Turkey is Radical Islam. The conservative Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt are Radical Islam.
Fascism has risen again in Europe, and real people are being hurt today in real attacks – that is the real result of fascists, both religious and secular, “confronting Islam”. When street thugs target Muslim homes and businesses, they don’t care whether the owners are religious or not, political or not. While we’re easily distracted by the moronic antics of street thugs like the EDL, the most dangerous fascism now, as in the 1930s, lives among the middle classes. Generally, fascism is most prevalent among religious conservatives, but secular liberals can be the most persuasive and dangerous advocates of fascism. Seeing some of my fellow Atheists joining the bullying campaign against ordinary people (whether religious or secular) saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me. After all, Atheism isn’t a movement – it’s simple a lack of belief in a god. I find the religious beliefs of Muslims (and Jews, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists) to be ludicrous – but that debate must be one that accepts the right to believe. Using religious intolerance as a proxy for a race war isn’t a new trick – but apparently it’s one that is as powerful today as it always was.