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Zimmerman: Neo-Fascism, the New Outsiders, and the Strangest of Bedfellows

August 3, 2011

The grotesque terrorist attacks in Norway last week shocked the world.  In this age of instant transmission and global connectivity people from one end of the world to another were almost instantly filled in on the terror and before a blonde, white Norwegian native was identified as the shooter, the mainstream media of much of the Western world had immediately leapt onto Islamic terrorists as the culprits.  Anders Breivik, the shooter who massacred 76 Norwegian youths at a Labour Party camp (the day after a call for a boycott forIsraeland support for Palestinians), is ironically enough a staunch anti-Islamic ideologue.  The massacre was undertaken to “launch a revolution” against European nation’s liberal immigration policies that have allowed large amounts of Muslims into the continent (a large peninsular landmass sprouting off the West of Asia in actuality).  The targets were not Muslims but representatives of Norway’s Left-leaning ruling party.  Breivik claims the target is not just Islam, but “cultural Marxism” that he and others of his ilk believe have taken over Europe.

Quite frankly, as horrified as I am of the massacre, I cannot say that I am that shocked.  For the past few years I have witnessed a steady trend of anti-Muslim/anti-Leftist discourse on the Right.  It is nothing new inEuropewhere nationalism has a long history (a likely place as it is the birthplace of the concept of the modern nation-state).  There have been confrontations between Muslim immigrants and reactionary forces in the past and anti-Islamic discourse has found a safe haven in some spaces of public discourse.  Right-Wing populist parties have experienced success in various elections across the continent.  These parties, such as the Freedom Party of Austria, are staunchly nationalist and anti-immigrant, particularly anti-Muslim.

I hesitate to use the word ‘fascist’ in most cases, but I believe that the ideology that these parties and groups espouse resembles the mood of a pre-fascistItalyandGermanyduring the Great Depression.  These are ideologies of fervent nationalism, that is, the designation of strict criteria of insiders and outsiders and strong xenophobia towards those designated as outside of the nation.  The outsiders of yesteryear were European Jews, Roma (gypsies), and other ethnic and religious minorities.  The hostility was extended to Leftist and internationalists who spoke out against the dangers of such stringent nationalism.  Today’s uber-nationalists view immigrants, particularly Muslims, as the outsiders and, as is evidenced from the terrorist attack in Norway, harbour a deep hatred for Leftist who they see as national traitors and collaborators with an imaginary Islamic/Marxist conspiracy to take over the West.

These trends are not confined to Europe and I’ve seen worrying signs here in Canada.  Ultimately it hasn’t been as severe as Europe, but, as stated above, I have seen signs of it here inCanada, largely in the form of right-wing blogs.  One blogger has recently spoken with some favour of Brievik, not for his specific actions, but for his beliefs.  This blogger would have picked a different target:

“It blows my f*cking mind how anyone could think killing his fellow countrymen would be a good way to cut down on the amount of foreigners in the country. It’s mathematically impossible! What were you thinking, you idiot? Here is a perfectly good opportunity – on a Friday, no less – to shoot up a mosque. To kill the enemy, not the neighbor’s kids. (And, irony of ironies, he shoots one Afghan kid at the camp – and the kid survives!)” (

This dehumanization of the ‘other’, clear distinction between those considered insiders and those considered outsiders, sense of self-victimhood, and the use of such inflammatory words are common trademarks of these ultra-nationalist blogs.  Observe the hysteria, the exaggerations, and simplifications from the following blogger:

“Canadahas changed irrevocably. Easy air travel, lax immigration and security systems, cushy welfare and freebies for “new Canadians”, and an ongoing massive influx of people from repressive, sometimes backwards countries – many of them Muslim-majority countries ruled by Sharia law – has brought ancient conflicts into our formerly safe, comfortable existence.

What are we going to do about it?” ( (Let us hope not something similiar to what Breviek just did).

Another feature that many of these blogs share is a hatred for Left-wingers who they see as defacto collaborators in this Islamic conspiracy for world domination.  This is the reason why Brevik targeted the Labour Youth Camp outside ofOslo.  The rhetoric of some of these bloggers is laced with emotional appeals (pathos), strict definition of nationalism (ethos) and who is to be considered part of the nation, nostalgia for a past era, and paranoia of outsiders.  I do not directly compare the users of such rhetoric to the fascists of yesterday, but one cannot help but notice a similar mentality here.  This type of speech is becoming more respected in parts of Western Europe and there are attempts to do so inCanadaas well.

One of the more prominent of these is Michael Coren, a conservative Christian fundamentalist who hosts a talkshow where he attempts to expose fundamentalist Islam as an encroaching danger to Western civilization.  He once featured Mark Steyn, a conservative writer who constantly writes on this conspiracy theory of Islamic domination of the West, and also spoke up in defense of the English Defense League, an anti-Islamic far-right wing group inEnglandwho are known for aggressive street violence.  Various footage of them on youtube and other sites show them yelling and swearing at Muslim Britons and referring to them as “f*cking Pakis”.  It has also been alleged that the EDL have attacked businesses run by Muslim immigrant families, in one case smashing windows.  Coren himself, on his blog, Coren’s Comment, had this to say in regards to the recent massacre inNorway:

“Tragic irony. The teenagers at the socialist youth camp on the Norwegian island who were victims of terror had just demanded that Israel remove the separation fence – the wall – that has saved any number of innocent, Jewish children from Islamic terror gangs. They also condemnedIsraelfor, well, pretty much everything, and showed no empathy at all for Jewish suffering, and the experience of living with terrorism for more than sixty years. So sad, but so typical.” – Michael Coren

It is difficult to discern exactly what Coren is trying to say, so I will let his quote speak for itself.  Coren tends to try to represent these right-wing fringe groups and individuals with a light of respectability.  Perhaps if Coren did not constantly make comments such as the one above more people would believe him.  Another factor (one mentioned in Coren’s comment above) that often unites this anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bloggers is their support forIsrael.  Many of the right-wing groups in operation inEuropestem from anti-Semitic sources, such as the British National Party, yet in many cases their hatred of Jewish people is overshadowed by their hatred for Islam.  In this case strange bedfellows have emerged in the Jewish State and its Zionist supporters and ultra-nationalists.

WhyIsrael?  The simplified, binary view of these individuals and groups sees the Israel/Palestine conflict as the meeting place of West and East, the core issue that epitomizes their strict “us” vs. “them” mentality.  The Israelis, in this distorted context, are the bearers of Western culture and values and democracy (ignore the fact that people all over the Arab world are agitating and protesting for democracy right now), whereas the Palestinians are irrational, animals (all Muslims as well apparently) who only hate Israel due to a deep-seated hatred of Jews and Westerners.  In their mind the conflict has nothing to do with the mass expulsion and mistreatment of Palestinians and is only a representation of some vague ‘Clash of Civilizations’.  Some of these bloggers have even described themselves as Crusaders and glorify the medieval Christian conquest of Muslim lands as some defensive fight for Christendom. Israelis seen as the only democracy in the Middle-East.  This is flatly untrue, although it is true that most Arab states in the region are currently dictatorships.  This has to do with historical contexts linking with British and French colonialists who left a top-down administrative system in place, yet these nationalist bloggers and analysts speak as if it was a natural deficiency in the Arab character to be undemocratic.

Israel is also seen as a model for immigration policies.  InIsrael the demographics are constantly in danger of shifting towards an Arab majority (largely due toIsrael’s occupation of the territories).  Zionism, since its inception, has called for a Jewish state that must at all times maintain its Jewish character with a Jewish majority.  They have even gone so far as to deport Israeli-born children of foreign workers for not being Jewish.  Anti-Islamic nationalists in Europe (and to some extent North America) seeIsraelthus as a model and wish to reproduce such fixed notions of citizenry and who are to be considered insiders and outsiders.  This train of thought also invokes the mentality of fascists and ultra-nationalists from the early twentieth century, that is, the mentality of “Germanyfor Germans,Englandfor English” and now “Israelfor Jews”.  A return to such short-sighted and selfish fervent nationalistic ideologies may be underway if these trends are allowed to continue.

I wish to include here a recent event that took place in Toronto at a public school. ValleyParkMiddle School, located in Etobicoke.  The school has a large Muslim population and typically devout students would head to a Mosque across the street every Friday for prayers.  The school administrators were worried about the kids getting hit by cars crossing the busy street and in time came to use the cafeteria as a makeshift mosque.  Only students who wished to pray had to go, the boys and girls were separated during prayers, and female students who were menstruating were exempt from prayer (that is, if they didn’t want to show when they normally did, it was fine).  Now, before I go on, as a secular humanist I believe that prayer has no place in public school, which is why I believe there should be one school board inOntarioand not a separate one for Catholics.  So long as our tax dollars fund Catholic schools with prayer, however, I don’t think we have much legitimacy in denouncing these prayers.  My personal view is that no religion should be in public schools period, no matter the faith.  The school administrators should have come up with an alternative solution (perhaps getting volunteers to escort the minority of students who prayed across the street, for instance).

I am also personally not a fan of organized religion period, particularly the more conservative and fundamentalist divisions, Islam included.  However, what followed this story was a confrontation that revealed the true ugliness of unfettered hate for Muslim people.

The reaction, chants of “No Islam in our schools!”, “No Muhammed in our schools!” and signs calling for the banning of Islam inCanada, was inflammatory and revolting.  Two young Muslim women, one who was wearing a hijab for the first time by her own choice, were shouted at aggressively by the protestors who belonged to the Jewish Defense League (friends of the EDL), the Christian Heritage Party, and others.  The young women claim they heard shouts of “Terrorists!” and “Go back to your country!” emitting from the crowd.  Are these rational citizens upset about prayer in school or reactionary bigots?

Tarek Fateh, a self-described moderate Muslim has come out speaking against Islamic extremism.  There is nothing wrong with a member of the Muslim community speaking against extremists in itself, but upon reading material from Fateh and viewing videos with him being interviewed, one cannot help but sense a xenophobic tone.  He refers to the case ofValleyParkMiddle School“”I’ll pay your one-way tickets – why don’t you take this cancer and go back to where it originated from.”

Criticizing the decision of these school administrators is fair.  Criticizing more fanatical and/or conservative denominations within a religion is fair.  But once you use words like “cancer” to describe others, I think a certain line within civilized discourse has been crossed.  Linking human beings with cancer, which is something to be removed, to be cut out, brings us into dangerous waters.  If this were a school with a majority Jewish students who started performing a conservative interpretation of Judaism in public schools and someone referred to them as “cancer” I believe that alarm bells would go off in many people’s minds and they would find this specific rhetoric in poor taste and hurtful.  Why then, is so little said when it targets the Muslim community, a vast and diverse group of people with varying opinions on politics, philosophy, values, and religious practice?

How far do we let these trends go on?  How long until we find that this type of discourse is considered ‘respectable’ as anti-Semitism, anti-Slavism, and anti-Romanism once was?  What will it take to face this latest scourge of xenophobia, paranoia, and ultra-nationalism?  I don’t plan to be silent and I plan to keep an eye on these trends.  I hope others can do the same within their own capacity.

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