My fortnightly column for Ceasefire magazine, 6th August
By Asa Winstanley
Since Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway two weeks ago, much of the Islamophobic right has been ostensibly scrambling to distance themselves from his terrorist act. English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) appeared on Newsnight pointing out that Breivik called the EDL “naïve fools” in his 1500-page political manifesto, distributed over the internet on the eve of his “martyrdom operation” (Breivik’s term). Jeremy Paxman, outrageously soft-balling, failed to point out that Breivik also said of the EDL that “although having noble intentions [they] are in fact dangerously naïve” because they did not support his particular form of violence.
Another mass killer that right-wing Islamophobic zealots around Europe have certainly not distanced themselves from is the state of Israel. Breivik himself is clearly a big fan of Israel, having a free hand to regularly slaughter Muslims as it does. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to Israel: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists”. This is from page 1163 of his “compendium”, large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.
Breivik’s extreme Zionism has led to some media attention on the gowning links between Israel and extreme right-wing, and fascist groups from around Europe. Die Spiegel recently ran an article on the subject (“Europe’s Right-Wing Populists Find Allies in Israel”, 29 July). But this has been a growing trend for years now, and still not enough attention is being paid to it.
The British National Party these days of course supports Israel. Their leader Nick Griffin during this controversial 2009 Question Time appearance boasted of his support for Israel saying the BNP was now “the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”. The EDL is notoriously pro-Israel, waving Israeli flags during their thuggish demonstrations, even establishing a (failed) “Jewish Division”.
Blogger Richard Silverstein has paid a fair amount of attention to Israel’s growing links to European fascists. He recently wrote about a visit of Russian neo-nazis to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) – a story even I couldn’t quite believe until I read past the headline (Settler MKs Welcome Russian Neo-Nazi Holocaust Deniers to Knesset, Yad VaShem, 28 July).
So what is going on here? The common denominator all these right-wing parties and groups have is of course fanatical and bigoted hostility to Muslims. Many commentators have been perplexed by Anders’ Zionism, and have tried to analyse it as if it were some sort of contradiction. But it’s not. The BNP was notorious for anti-Semitism in its past and Griffin is often accused of Holocaust denial. Breivik also clearly has some anti-Semitic ideas, implying that the German Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves: “Were the majority of the German and European Jews disloyal? Yes, at least the so called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that opposes nationalism/Zionism and supports multiculturalism” (page 1163 again).
Zionism and anti-Semitism are not contradictory: in fact they often complement each other and have a history of alliances. Tactical synergy led to the Zionist-Nazi Ha’avara (“transfer”) agreement of the 1930s.
German Jews were allowed to remove some of their funds in the form of German-produced capital goods which were then sold in Palestine (as well as in the US and Britain), and part of this investment would then be recouped later (you can read about that in Mike Marqusee’s brilliant political memoir “If I am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew”). There was also the attempt by the Lehi terrorist group of Yitzak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel) to establish links with Hitler during Second World War.
But there are deeper ideological links between Zionism and other ethnocentric right-wing reactionary nationalist movements. They share the same goal: Hitler wanted to get rid of Jews from Europe and the Zionist movement wanted to bring as many European Jews as possible to colonise Palestine. Zionism is “united with anti-Semitism in its retrograde tenets”, as Yasser Arafat said in his famous first speech to the UN in 1974 – “another side of the same base coin”.
To understand this seeming contradiction, we need to understand that, in a similar way to the Nazi hatred of Jews, the bile of the the Islamophobes is not based on any logical thinking or rational opposition to Islam. It is bigotry plain and simple: hatred of The Other. Whip up enough irrationality and politicians can distract you from their schemes – all while you are busy picking on the most vulnerable in society.
While the EDL weakly distances itself from Breivik’s particular form of terrorist violence, it has no qualms about using racist abuse, street violence and intimidation aimed at Muslim communities around the country. Blaming the victim, the EDL outrageously tried to lay the guilt on Muslims for Breiviks’ terrorist attack: “what happened in Norway is a wake-up call. The fact that so many people are scared – people have to listen to that,” says it’s leader (“EDL leader brands Norway gunman Anders Breivik a ‘ horrible monster’”, Evening Standard, 27 July).
At the same time, Breivik’s was clearly not some insane lone gunman, as his lawyer now claims. Read his manifesto and you can see that. It is very deliberately put together. He claims to have spend nine years compiling it, and details the whole process of the how is funded and carried out his terrorist murders. The book contains long, elaborate descriptions of how he built the bomb, and how he prepared for his “martyrdom operation” (although he survived, it appears that he had been willing to die).
It is reported that at his first court hearing Breiviks claims there are other cells of like-minded “cultural conservatives” ready and able to carry out similar attacks. This is probably another one of his fantasies – but if so (and the possibility should still be investigated) it is a calculated fantasy. He is hoping to inspire others to carry out similar acts. That is clear from the detailed instructions in his book. He seems to have spent months “email farming” on Facebook so that he would have a solid list of “nationalists in all European countries” to send is completed manifesto to.
Although the large budget he claimed to have amassed from playing the stock market means it would not be easy to imitate him, we cannot rule out the possibility he will inspire other racist fanatics.
All this only makes combating groups like the EDL, who directly and viciously build on the growing climate of Islamophobia, ever more important. The EDL says it is going to “march into the Lions den” of Tower Hamlets on the third of September. In the spirit of Cable Street, it’s vital to stop the hate-mongers in their tracks once and for all.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.