Tag Archives: far-right movement

Norwegian Psycho? – Anders Behring Breivik as Everyman

I doubt that I need to repeat here the details of the events that happened in Oslo and Utøya last week, when within a couple of hours a car bomb exploded in front of a government building and an assassin shot into a crowd of people participating in a political youth camp on a nearby island. Almost eighty people were killed, many more were injured or pronounced missing.
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During the immediate aftermath, bloggers and activists were quick to point out the premature judgment of some of the biggest news sources in the world, who hastily concluded that Muslim terrorists must have been responsible for these heinous attacks, even though no evidence whatsoever had been released by the police or witnesses. Turns out the perpetrator was a man who goes by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, and whom the New York Times chose to describe as “an ethnic Norwegian, a blond, blue-eyed man” (the statement has since been redacted).
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So, like, the exact opposite of a Muslim, right? Who could have guessed?
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And this aftermath, the media response, is part of the whole tragedy for me: the shock, the disbelief and the defensive demeanor at the fact that a white middle-class European could have done something that we normally attribute to those barbaric, medieval Islamist extremists. Which is why the media tends to describe him as a killer, a mass murderer and a homicidal maniac, but not a terrorist. If we can agree on a basic definition of a terrorist as a radical who commits violent acts for political, ideological or religious reasons in order to provoke fear (terror) in the general public, then Breivik can easily identified as such.
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Thanks to his extensive “legacy” in the shape of a ca. 1500 pages long essay and Youtube videos, we can all find out exactly what his motivations were, just as he intended to, and learn that this man has some very strong convictions and opinions, and he knows how to justify them, too. How strange, then, that the public was quick to condemn him as a sick freak, a lunatic, in short: a social aberration. As though what he believes in, supports and, eventually, killed for was completely ridiculous, crazy, unheard of. Sure, he may not be an historian or political scientist, but he’s no Jared Lee Loughner either. He read his news, some Marx, some Spengler probably, some political commentators and he voiced his opinion on Facebook, on blogs and in forums… In short: He is one of us!
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We may or may not agree with his views (I know I certainly don’t) but we have to understand that this person cannot be dismissed as a crazy obsessive, a social accident. To do so would be dangerous. After all, his views on society are not the product of a madman, they are very common these days, especially in Europe, and they have become perfectly socially acceptable.
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narcissism, megalomania, aggression...

Breivik is in many ways the everyman of today’s Western society, a society in turmoil. Being a white, middle-class heterosexual male he is at the pinnacle of privilege and power, or at least he should be, right? But all he can see are violent and criminal immigrants, reducing the notion of being Norwegian to having a passport, Muslims imposing their habits, even their laws, on him and his nation, and women being STD-carrying sluts when they should be having blond babies. Losing privilege hurts those the most who have the most. Which is why it is mainly those with privilege who can call Breivik’s concerns legitimate, proving once again how “normal” he really is:
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His views regarding immigration and the loss of a nation’s identity are perfectly compatible with a lot of conservative parties in Europe, in fact, with the new far-right movements and political pundits, which have been gaining momentum for a while now. Of course, the owners of the names Breivik drops in his so-called manifest are trying to distance themselves; they have to. It would be outrageous if they didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that they share a system of beliefs, one that is inherently racist, often classist and sexist.
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Breivik is also a classic antifeminist, alarmed by society’s “moral decline” and “ladies” who don’t know their place anymore (at home, making babies). He can thus be easily related to the chauvinism and misogyny of Men’s Rights Activists, another fairly recent but increasingly popular “backlash” in Western societies. Add to that some homophobia, the fear of political correctness and anti-progressivism and you have a European version of a Tea-Partier.
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This is not too say that any of these people who share Breivik’s beliefs will end up going on a shooting rampage and bombing government buildings, but fear-mongering can lead to hate which can lead to violence. It doesn’t take a psychopath to do the math, and if it does, we are all potential psychopaths.
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the white male in crisis?

Europe’s Refugee Crisis Tightens As North Africa Remains In Turmoil

While the world is looking towards Japan, holding its breath, it is imperative not to neglect everything else that is going on in the world right now. Most importantly, we should not forget to keep up to date with the situation in North Africa, where Tunisia and Egypt are going through crucial transformation processes and Lybia, Bahrain and Yemen are still engaged in protests and civil wars.
Since attention has shifted away from these states, the ruling dictators of Lybia and Bahrain have surreptitiously restored some of their power by taking back cities from the rebels and crushing the protests with violence and intimidation. This has prompted more and more Lybians and migrant workers living in Lybia to leave the country and flee to the liberated Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia and Egypt, unable to cope with this refugee crisis in their current state, try to funnel the displaced people towards Europe. Since December thousands of people have arrived on the Italian island Lampedusa, waiting to be allowed to move on to other countries where they have friends and family and hope to find work.
So far the European nations have left it up to the Mediterranean states to deal with the refugees, a policy which has lead to scandalous humanitarian crises, such as the situation of refugees in Greece. The affected countries have tried to deal with this burden in their own ways, by suggesting to build a wall to keep out unwanted immigrants, funding questionable agencies such as Frontex to do the dirty work, or settling for shady agreements with North African governments (for example: Italy had an agreement with Ghadafi to keep migrants bottled up in Lybia, which has now been suspended).
France has already warned that it won’t accept any of the migrant workers that don’t qualify as refugees. Yesterday Marine Le Pen, head of France’s right-wing party Front National and strong political contender, visited Lampedusa in order “to observe Europe’s frontline in illegal immigration”. She ended up telling the immigrants that they were not welcome in Europe, and suggested that they should not even be allowed to ever set foot on European soil. Instead of trying to find acceptable solutions to this crisis, Le Pen is eager to shift the responsibility away from Europe to nations that are even less equipped to deal with it. This ignorance and arrogance is dangerous and inhumane, and it is heartbreaking to see how this attitude has become more and more mainstream in Western Europe.
The truth is: political turmoil like what we’re seeing in North Africa right now will continue. Natural (and man-made) disasters like that of Japan will happen. Being a born European citizen is not a right, it is a privilege. Europe cannot look away. We have to be ready and face the problem head-on. One thing is for sure: National leaders claiming that multiculturalism has failed is not an answer. Restricting immigrants’ lives is not an answer. Populist right-wing rhetoric is not an answer. We all should ask ourselves how we want to live our lives: in solidarity or in shame?

michelle rogers "lampedusa" 2006

Slavoj Zizek On The Rise Of The Far Right In Europe

Yesterday on Democracy Now!: Amy Goodman interviews Slavoj Zizek on the Far Right and Immigrant Politicians that are on the rise in Europe.

Zizek on the emergence of the new far right movement:

[…] it’s absolutely crucial how this anti-immigrant explosion is linked to the withdrawal of leftist politics, especially in the matters of economy and so on. It is as if the left, being obsessed by the idea that we shouldn’t appear as reactionary in the economic sense, that is to say that “No, no, no, we are not the old trade union representatives of the working class, we are for postmodern digital capitalism” and so on. They don’t want to touch the working class or so-called lower ordinary people. And here right-wingers enter. Do you know, the horrible paradox is that, apart from some small leftist fringe parties, the only serious political force in Europe today which still is ready to appeal to the ordinary working people are the right-wing anti-immigrants?

To cut a long story short, very briefly, ’til now, we had the standard situation that you also have it up ’til now here: one big left-of-center party, one big right-of-center party—they are the only two parties which address the entire population—and then small fringe parties. Now, more and more in Europe, another polarity is emerging: a big liberal capitalist party, which can even be in social matters like abortion, women’s rights, relatively progressive—pure, let’s call it, capitalist party—and the only serious opposition is the immigrant—anti-immigrant nationalists.

And on the strikes in France:

Of course, in general, in principle, I support those who strike and so on. But did you notice how they are mostly—mostly—state employees with guaranteed employment and so on. […] Those who dare to strike today are usually the privileged, those who have a guaranteed state employment and so on. And they strike for these things like, no, we don’t want to freeze our salaries; we want raise them up, while, for example, in my country, there are thousands of textile workers, women, who, if one were to offer them what—that situation with regard to which those who strike today are protesting, like “we guarantee you permanent employment, just with frozen salaries for next five years,” they would say, “My god! That’s better than we dared to dream.” […] The truly needy and poor one don’t even dare to strike.

Well, what the left is missing is a kind of a more global idea of how to restructure entire economy. I mean, they are not addressing the true causes. This makes me very sad. This is typical. All that the left can do today is to propose—sorry, oppose—protest against reductions. The left is, let me be very frank, in this social sense, a conservative force. In the social sense of social, fast changes and so on, it’s capitalists who are today the revolutionary class. This makes it very sad, the situation.

You can watch it here (part 1 and part 2 of the interview).

The Issue with Public Opinion: How the Sarrazin Debate Encourages Socially Accepted Racism

The current debate in Germany about Berlin’s former finance minister and social democrat Thilo Sarrazin may not have lead to solutions regarding Germany’s integration problem, but it sure has once again pointed out the great divide between the public opinion and the political and cultural elite. While many politicians, authors and academics have spoken out against Sarrazin’s highly questionable theses, public opinion polls have shown that a large percentage of the population supports his ideas. Regardless of whether these people constitute a majority or not, it appears necessary at this stage to question the will of the people. Does living in a democracy mean people should be able to directly vote on subjects such as building mosques and wearing head scarves because of their gut feeling?

Let’s face it – the whole debate has generally been more about emotions than based on actual facts. The controversy already started before Sarrazin’s book was even released and many of his supporters and critics refer to his general ideas and interviews more than to his actual written theses. And that is what people respond to: not to all the numbers and statistics but to the public statements that confirm what they believe they already know.

When talking about political and media-related phenomena it usually pays off to take a look at what’s happening in the United States where one can often find similar examples taken to the extreme. The analytical comment by Jakob Jochmann does just that by relating the current debate to the satirist Stephen Colbert’s concept of ‘truthiness’, “a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” Jochmann gives two examples: the current debate about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, which is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero, and the well-established, yet completely absurd belief that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

“Professional demagogues such as Thilo S. take advantage of this new media reality. The often quoted master of ‘truthiness’, also known as ‘inconvenient truth’, is a child of the zeitgeist rather than a prophet, because self-promoter Glenn Beck uses the same virtuosity on the claviature of this attention spiral to fire up the American culture of outrage.” [my translation]

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin are all perfect examples of demagogues who appeal to the people’s gut feeling, which now equals the truth that needs to be vocalized by someone even if it ‘hurts’. However, these ‘truths’ are not inconvenient or difficult at all. They are simple solutions to complex problems. Instead of trying to find ways which encourage integration and a feeling of belonging among immigrants and to lessen the current fear of the Islamic take-over, which often is little more or less than the common fear of the unknown – instead of doing actual hard work, Sarrazin reduces all of these problems to the inferiority, be it cultural or biological, of a certain group of people.

Luise F. Pusch examines this way of thinking within a feminist framework. She sees parallels to the Eva Herman controversy from a few years ago by pointing out that both debates are about putting a certain group of people, be it women or foreigners, in ‘their proper place': “In the past, an entire sex – mine, the female one – was considered “dumb” and genetically inferior. That is one reason why I am not keen on those theses that deny the intelligence of entire groups of people. […] Because women were dumb, had a smaller brain than men and studying would harm their uteri, they were not allowed to study, to vote – so as not to steal men’s place in the sun.”[my translation]

The parallels to the Sarrazin controversy are obvious and emphasize that his theses are not only not helpful for the immigration discourse, they are simply discriminatory and tainted with his belief in racial and class superiority. What complicates the whole issue is the fact that Sarrazin is a member of the social democratic party and not part of the spectrum of the far right and a potential Tea Party activist. However, he should seriously reconsider his political convictions. Being left does not necessarily mean being anti-racist and many voters of the left-wing parties wish for social benefits and welfare, but only for the ‘genuine German population’ (whatever that might mean) and not for immigrants. However, the left parties generally stand for equal chances for everyone, and that means equal support as well. Sarrazin believes that some people are more valuable than others and therefore more equal than others, and that disqualifies him as a social democrat. It is not surprising, then, that openly nationalistic far-right parties such as the NPD and the Pro Köln movement have announced their support for Sarrazin and welcome the current debate as a means to make racism (in their words: “critique of foreign infiltration”) socially acceptable. If Sarrazin continues to be stylized as the martyr for middle-class worries, they will be right. Far-right movements and xenophobic attitudes are on the rise all over the world, but at least Germany should know better than that.

“In the 19th century and during the 1st World War, poverty, hunger and a lack of working opportunities forced many Jews from the east of the austro-hungarian monarchy to relocate in Vienna. After 1918, the systematically fuelled fear of foreign infiltration made anti-semitism a popular element in almost all political parties.” [my translation]