Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Anders Behring Breivik, the Balkans and the new European far-right

The Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik appears very interested in the Balkans. A lot of space in his ponderous 1,518-page ‘manifesto’ is devoted to discussing Balkan themes. This is not limited merely to praising Radovan Karadzic (‘for his efforts to rid Serbia of Islam he will always be remembered as an honourable Crusader and a European war hero’), supporting the past Serb ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Albanians, condemning Kosovo’s independence and demanding that all Bosniaks and Muslim Albanians be deported from Europe (while the Muslim Turkish populations of Cyprus and western Anatolia are to be deported to central Anatolia). It involves also lengthy ruminations on hundreds of years of Ottoman and Turkish history, in which Breivik demonises all aspects of the Ottoman heritage.

Some commentators have argued that this psychopathic mass-murderer represents such an exceptional case that his actual beliefs are irrelevant to understanding his actions. According to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, ‘The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.’ As a rule, Jenkins is absolutely wrong about everything, and this is no exception. Breivik represents the exemplar of an extremely dangerous trend in Western and European politics, and his interest in the Balkans – or rather, in his own mythologised narrative of Balkan history – flows naturally from this.

Breivik’s actions are exceptional, but his views are not. His views on Islam and on immigration are in some important respects typical of the right-wing Islamophobic current, some of whose prominent members and groups he cites or sympathises with in his manifesto: Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Srdja Trifkovic, Mark Steyn, the English Defence League (EDL) and others. He sees immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, coupled with liberal multiculturalism and political correctness, as a mortal threat to European or Western society. Such views are often justified by their holders as being ‘pro-Western’, whereby ‘the West’ is counterposed to ‘Islam’, as if the two were binary opposites. In reality, the very opposite is true: modern European civilisation was built upon foundations that were Islamic as well as Christian, Jewish, pagan and others. The Enlightenment gave rise to a Europe in which the sectarian religious animosities that characterised the pre-Enlightenment age could be transcended; modern Western liberal and secular values are founded upon the principle of religious toleration.

Far from being ‘pro-Western'; our contemporary right-wing Islamophobes, in seeking to rekindle the religious divide between Christians and Muslims that characterised pre-Enlightenment Europe, reject Western values in favour of pre-Western values. During their successful Vienna War of 1683-1699 against the Ottoman Empire, Austrian Habsburg forces slaughtered, plundered, expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity the Muslim population of the Hungarian and Croatian territories they reconquered, which were forcibly de-Islamised; the Austrians burned the Ottoman Bosnian city of Sarajevo to the ground. The subsequent Ottoman Bosnian victory over Habsburg forces in the Battle of Banja Luka of 1737 saved the Bosnian Muslims from their destruction as a people that an Austrian conquest of Bosnia would have involved. Yet when the Austrian Habsburgs did finally succeed in occupying Sarajevo and Bosnia in 1878, they protected the Muslim population and respected the Islamic religion. Europe, in the interval, had experienced the Enlightenment. It is the pre-Enlightenment Europe to which today’s right-wing Islamophobes look back nostalgically; something symbolised in the name of the anti-Islamic hate-blog, ‘Gates of Vienna’, named after the Ottoman siege of Vienna of 1683 and cited approvingly by Breivik. Hence Breivik’s own obsessive demonising of the Ottoman ‘other’ and its history, all the way back to the Middle Ages.

The right-wing Islamophobes are the mirror-image of the Islamists they claim to oppose. Nineteenth-century opponents of liberal secular values frequently became anti-Semites, seeing the Jews, as they did, as the beneficiaries of these values, to which the Jews owed their emancipation. Today’s Muslim opponents of the Enlightenment have inherited Christian anti-Semitism, whereas the Christian reactionaries have transferred their animosity to a different – Muslim – minority. Apologists blame individuals like Breivik and groups like the EDL and British National Party (BNP) on supposedly ‘objective’ problems of aggressive Islam and immigration that mainstream politicians are supposedly failing to tackle. Just as apologists for Islamism blame it on supposed ‘root causes’ to be found in US imperialism or the behaviour of Israel. Just as earlier apologists for anti-Semitism blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews. The Islamophobes point to Muslim support for Islamic extremism as their anti-Semitic predecessors once pointed to Jewish support for communism. As their Islamist counterparts point to Jewish support for Zionism. And so on.

Such chauvinistic ideologies are not caused by the minority or foreign groups that they target. Undeniably, popular anti-Semitism before World War II tended to be strongest in countries with large, visible Jewish populations, like Poland and Romania, just as popular Islamophobia today is often strongest in West European cities that have experienced large-scale Muslim immigration, but this does not mean that the victims of the bigotry are to blame. Muslim immigration does not automatically give rise to Islamophobia, any more than Zionism automatically gives rise to Muslim anti-Semitism, or ‘US imperialism’ gives rise to Islamist terrorism. Right-wing Islamophobia, Islamism, anti-immigrant racism and modern anti-Semitism are all, in their different ways, expressions of a more general reaction against, and rejection of, modernity and what it implies.

Interestingly, Breivik, who apparently never had a proper girlfriend and lived with his mother until he was thirty, shares Islamism’s extreme misogyny and gender insecurity. His manifesto rails against the ‘feminisation of European culture’ and the supposed emasculation of the contemporary European male, complaining that Muslim immigrants are systematically raping white European women, but that ‘As a Western man, I would be tempted to say that Western women have to some extent brought this upon themselves. They have been waging an ideological, psychological and economic war against European men for several generations now, believing that this would make you “free”… Western women have been subjected to systematic Marxist indoctrination meant to turn you into a weapon of mass destruction against your own civilisation, a strategy that has been remarkably successful.’ But of course, not all Islamophobes are straightforwardly conservative; some oppose Muslims and Islam on the grounds that the latter are sexist and homophobic. Such syntheses of liberalism and illiberalism are nothing new; European fascism and its sympathisers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s had their liberal roots and tendencies too, however paradoxical that might sound (readers are recommended to read Julian Jackson’s excellent France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, that describes the synthesis of liberal, conservative Catholic and radical right-wing currents that found expression in the 1940s Vichy regime in France).

What our contemporary Islamophobes share – conservatives and ‘liberals’ alike – is conformism, xenophobia, fear of change, hostility to diversity, paranoia about minorities and a longing for the order and certainties of a lost, idealised ‘golden age’ that, in some cases, may not even be very long ago. In the Nordic countries, home of the Jante Law, where an apparently model liberalism frequently masks extreme conformism and insularity, where foreign guests and immigrants usually find it very difficult to fit in (in a way that they don’t in London or New York, for example), and where virulent anti-immigration parties such as the Danish People’s Party and Sweden Democrats have enjoyed success at the polls, this takes its own particular form. Far from needing to be shielded from greater diversity, my feeling is that the Nordic world would benefit from more of it; that even if Norway has no pressing economic reason to join the EU, immersion and participation in the common European project would benefit it culturally and spiritually. But for all that, the sickness that created Breivik is a European and global sickness, not just a Nordic sickness.

This brings us back to the Balkans, a region that resembles the Nordic world in the extent of its often stultifying insularity. For all that Serbia appeared to pursue its own sonderweg during the late 1980s and 1990s, at another level, the Serbian nationalist right and anti-democratic left were exemplars and pioneers of what became an all-European anti-immigrant and Islamophobic trend. Serbian nationalist and Communist hardliners railed against the restrictions supposedly placed on Serbia by membership of a multinational community – the Yugoslav federation. They railed against high Muslim and Albanian birth-rates that were resulting in the Serbs being ‘out-bred’, while lamenting the lower birth-rate among Serbs as symptomatic of national decline. They railed against the supposed mass immigration of ethnic Albanians from Albania into Kosovo; against the supposed Kosovo Albanian cultural ‘otherness’ and refusal to assimilate; against Kosovo Albanians allegedly raping Serb women while the authorities stood idly by. They lamented the supposed corruption and decline of their national culture while indulging in medievalist escapism. All these themes have now been taken up by nationalists in other European countries. For example, in Breivik’s words, ‘The Muslims in Bosnian Serbia; the so called Bosniaks and Albanians had waged deliberate demographic warfare (indirect genocide) against Serbs for decades. This type of warfare is one of the most destructive forms of Jihad and is quite similar to what we are experiencing now in Western Europe.’

Andrew Gilligan, writing in the Telegraph, has claimed that the danger posed by far-right (i.e. white, Christian) terrorists like Breivik is simply not on the same order of magnitude as that posed by al-Qaeda: ‘Over the last 10 years, nationalist terrorists, even counting Breivik, have killed about 200 Westerners; al-Qaeda has killed about 4,000… The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities – but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat.’ But this is wrong: tens of thousands of Muslims were killed by white Christians in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s. Breivik has praised the killers, both Radovan Karadzic and Vladimir Putin; the numbers of their victims in Europe dwarf those of al Qaeda.

The danger is that Breivik is the harbinger of a trend. Extremism and chauvinism among the majority will always ultimately be more dangerous than extremism and chauvinism among minorities. Right-wing populists such as Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen may not themselves incite violence, and cannot be equated with a killer like Breivik. But the climate of intolerance they are promoting threatens to give rise to many more Breiviks. The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Friday, 29 July 2011 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Immigration, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Norway, Political correctness, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Henry Jackson Society and Douglas Murray

Update: Since publishing this article, I have resigned from the Henry Jackson Society and severed my links with it. I have published a full exposé of the HJS’s degeneration.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am the European Neighbourhood Section Director of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a think-tank that promotes democratic geopolitics, and of which I have been a member since its foundation. I believe that the HJS is a positive, progressive voice that has been and is listened to with respect by British politicians and government ministers, both Labour and Conservative. We were founded in reaction against the shameful conservative-realist British government policies of the first half of the 1990s, that resulted in British inaction over, and collusion in, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. We are guided above all by the belief that idealism is the best realism, and that British and Western interests are best served by support for, and promotion of, democracy and human rights globally. We have strongly urged Western support for the struggle for democracy in the Middle East, on the side of the people and against the dictatorships in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. We are pro-European and pro-American, strongly upholding both Britain’s alliance with the US and our close involvement in European affairs.

Readers may have noticed, however, that I have not written or otherwise worked for the HJS since March of this year. The reason for this is that I have deep reservations about the decision of the HJS, announced in April, to merge with another think-tank, the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), and to appoint its director, Douglas Murray, as the HJS’s own associate director. I was not consulted on this step, and learned about it only after it had been publicly announced. Had I been consulted, I would have argued against it, since I consider many of the political positions upheld by Murray and the CSC to be antithetical to my own positions and to those for which, I believed, the HJS stood. I am referring to Murray’s frequently stated views on Muslims and Islam. I have not wished to contribute further to the work of the HJS until I have had time to decide what my own response to the merger with the CSC and to Murray’s appointment should be, and to make my views clear on the matter.

I should begin by saying that I share Murray’s principled opposition to Islamic extremism, and his view that the British political classes in the past have been complacent in facing up to the threat that it poses. I agree with the views expressed by our Prime Minister, David Cameron, in the fantastic speech he gave at the Munich Security Conference in February of this year:

‘Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.  Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this.  We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.  We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad.  Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem.  We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.  Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.  As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.  So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?  Do they believe in equality of all before the law?  Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?  Do they encourage integration or separation?  These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.  Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly-funded institutions like universities or even, in the British case, prisons.  Now, some say, this is not compatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry.  Well, I say, would you take the same view if these were right-wing extremists recruiting on our campuses?  Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons?  And to those who say these non-violent extremists are actually helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense.

Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism?  Of course not.  But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are, and that is completely unjustifiable.  We need to argue that terrorism is wrong in all circumstances.  We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.’

For those who have not done so, I strongly recommend that you read this speech in its entirety. Among the many sensible points that Cameron made, was the following:

‘We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie.  That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.  We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam.  Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people.  Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.  At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia.  Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.  It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.  Time and again, people equate the two.  They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.  So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist.  This is profoundly wrong.  Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.  We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.’

Unfortunately, the distinction made by Cameron – between Islamic extremism and Islam – is not one that is made by Murray; on the contrary, he conflates Islam and Islamism, and attacks not just Islamists, but Muslims and Islam in general.

Murray has stated:

‘In the middle of the last century, there was an almost negligible Muslim presence in Europe [sic !] At the turn of the twenty-first, in Western Europe alone, there were 15-17 million Muslims – that’s a very fast migration, ladies and gentlemen; one of the fastest in human history, and no society would find it easy to deal with that kind of migration. As it happens, European societies, Western European societies, have, I think, dealt with this, much better than some would. Certainly, Muslims coming to live in Britain and in Western Europe enjoy more rights and better rights, among them freedom of worship, than they do in any Islamic country on the Earth here today. We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it’s one we’re going to have to deal with. It’s a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I’m not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe. I’d argue, Islam has failed its Muslims.’ [emphasis added]

At the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference of 2006, Murray stated:

‘It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.’

Murray has described the English Defence League as:

‘an extraordinary phenomenon which, by the way, in my opinion wouldn’t have occurred if the government had got a grip on al-Muhajiroun. It only came about because the authorities didn’t do anything about the that particularly thuggish organisation. These things have consequences. The English Defence League, when they started protesting, had banners saying things like, you know, sharia law discriminates against women; sharia law is anti-gay. Well, I’m good with both of those sentiments; I’m sure most people in this room are. If you were ever going to have a grass-roots response from non-Muslims to Islamism, that would be how you’d want it, surely ?

But of course, we all know, there are awkward things around this. There have been exposed links from the EDL with-far right organisations, in individual cases, and maybe – others will know more about this – wider than that. But you know, for instance, Louis Amis wrote a very interesting piece in the Standpoint magazine some months ago, after investigation, and he said, and others have said, that as far as they can see, within the EDL, they have tried to kick out BNP sentiments. Does this mean that they aren’t racist or that they are ? I’m not making a definitive point. I’m just saying that these things are extremely complex, and we ought to be careful before dismissing whole swathes of people.’

It is true that on an earlier occasion, Murray said of the EDL, ‘In an interview, EDL “spokesman” Paul Ray said they were opposed to “all devout Muslims”. The EDL say they are not BNP, but there are certainly BNP people who have been involved with them and as a result, and because of Ray’s awful comment, I think it important to have nothing to do with them.’ Yet Murray’s subsequent comments still present rather more nuance than I consider appropriate when dealing with a fascist organisation of street thugs such as the EDL. The nuance does not appear to have deterred the EDL from promoting Murray’s comments about it on its website.

Murray also, on the same occasion, said of Robert Spencer, a director of ‘Stop Islamization of America’, that ‘I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he is a very brilliant scholar and writer’. I do not consider that an appropriate way to describe Spencer, who is the proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim site ‘Jihadwatch‘ and a promoter of Srebrenica genocide denial.

Murray has denounced the idea of the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ as a ‘sick joke’. He has written passionately in defence of Geert Wilders, a Dutch far-right populist politician who believes that the Koran should be banned. He has described Islam as a ‘very backward ideology’, and complains that ‘Britain has already gone too far in accommodating Islamic ideology into our culture’. He has accused the Pope of having been ‘forced to pacify the Islamic beast’, and spoken of ‘the laughable, ahistorical and uniquely retrospective form of religious imperialism that Islam is’. In March of this year – immediately prior to the merger of the CSC with the HJS – Murray travelled to Athens to argue, alongside Melanie Phillips, against the opening of a mosque in that city, on the grounds that such a mosque could become a centre for Islamic extremism, and that ‘Islam when it is in a minority, is extremely good at talking about tolerance. In a minority, Islam loves to talk about the tolerance that people must show towards minorities [but] whenever Islam is in a majority, minority rights are nowhere to be seen. It’s a one-directional talk of minority rights… You better hope, ladies and gentlemen, that your mosque here is a first internationally, and that nobody with any unpleasant statements, any unpleasant ideas could possibly come to it’, before issuing further lurid warnings of the Islamic danger to his Greek audience, including a reference to the Islamism of the current Turkish prime minister. Murray said these things in Greece, a country where the Orthodox Christian nationalist right is extremely powerful, aggressive, intolerant and Islamophobic, while the Muslim Turkish minority is denied basic democratic rights.

Murray’s appointment as Associate Director of the HJS has placed me in a dilemma. I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying. I condemn them absolutely and without reservation. I think it is problematic, to say the least, that an organisation that promotes democratic geopolitics, and agitates in favour of democratisation in the Middle East, should have an associate director who opposes freedom of religious worship in Western countries, and who believes that immigration into Europe and foreign residency here should be guided by religious discrimination. Yet I believe the HJS remains an important force for good in British and Western politics, and feel personally committed to it. I do not believe that Murray’s views on Islam and Muslims are representative of the HJS as a whole, or of any of its other leading members.

I am hoping that membership of the HJS will lead Murray to moderate his views on Islam and Muslims. I am not, however, optimistic that this will be the case (in a debate last month held by the Spectator magazine, he was quoted as saying that ‘Islam is not violent per se, though they’re quite good at it when they’re in charge.’) I am far from wishing to dictate what a fellow member of the HJS can or cannot say. But if Murray does continue to agitate on an anti-Muslim basis as he did before becoming Associate Director of the HJS, I shall regretfully be unable to remain a member of this organisation.

Friday, 29 July 2011 Posted by | Immigration, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare, Neoconservatism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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