Tag Archives: muslims

After sabotaging Beinart talk, East Bay Jewish Federation leader vows to kill Muslims (updated/corrected)

Update/correction: I received the following note today from Peter Beinart explaining why his East Bay appearance was cancelled: “[The East Bay JCC] pulled out because a JVP person was moderator and then when there were no sponsors who were Zionist and anti-full BDS, I pulled out. I did that sadly–cause I agree with JVP on the awfulness of the occupation–but given my strong opposition to BDS targeting all of Israel, it didn’t make sense for me to speak to a forum in which there was not one anti-BDS organization sponsoring.”

Last week, when Peter Beinart embarked on a tour to promote his new book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” leading pro-Israel figures initiated an assault that was as hysterical as it was predictable. The campaign scored its first victory on March 23, when Bay Area pro-Israel groups including the Jewish Federation of the East Bay successfully pressured the East Bay Jewish Community Federation (the same group that helped block a Gaza children’s art exhibition last year) to withdraw its sponsorship of East Bay Jewish Community Center to cancel Beinart’s scheduled appearance. The pressure began when Jonathan Wornick, a Jewish Federation board member, took to Facebook to urge his friends in the local pro-Israel community to call for pulling out the cancellation of Beinart’s talk. “Write or call the East Bay JCC and tell them to REMOVE THEIR SPONSORSHIP of this event,” Wornick demanded.

After trashing Beinart and the sponsors of his talk, Wornick opened a Facebook thread mocking the family of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed by a neighborhood vigilante for no apparent reason other than being black. At the end of the thread, Wornick offered a list of hypothetical situations that would provoke him to shoot someone to death. He added: “and of course i’d shoot anyone anywhere if they were yelling allahu akbar! [sic]”

Below is Wornick’s call to ban Beinart:

Beinart-Wornick1

After extended ranting about Beinart, Wornick linked to an article reporting the vigilante-killer George Zimmerman’s claim that his teen victim punched him. “So now that the facts have come out…are you proud of yourselves for jumping to conclusions?” Wornick railed.

WornickFBTrayvon

Several screeds later, Wornick descended into murderous fantasies:

WornickFBTrayvon3

Wornick seems to have a penchant for extreme tirades. In March 2011, he published the following rant on his Facebook page:

“When will it end? Kill or be killed? Radical Islam, or, maybe all Islam is the problem. It’s a backward, misogynistic, hateful, anti-democratic, ant-semetic, and corrupt. We need to expose this to the western world and get people to realize that NOT ALL CULTURES ARE EQUAL. Islam, if allowed will spread and destroy all Western values. In order to stop films like this we need to stop the spread of Islam. Period.”

Though Wornick’s Islamophobic screed was publicly exposed, the East Bay Jewish Federation took no action against him. There is no reason to believe they will do anything this time, either. Thus important pillars of the Jewish establishment continue to confirm Beinart’s trenchant critique of them.

By the way, I have substantial criticisms of Beinart’s book which I will make known in the days ahead and in a review for the Journal of Palestine Studies. Mark Levine seems to share my opinions. Read his excellent review at Al Jazeera English.

This was cross-posted at Al Akhbar English.

France’s #Toulouse killings and the Salafist-Far Right alliance

Members of Forsanne Alizza join Catholic rightists in protest against a supposedly "Christianophobic" theatrical production

Members of Forsanne Alizza join Catholic rightists in protest against a supposedly "Christianophobic" theatrical production

As I write this, the standoff continues in Toulouse, France between French police and Mohammed Merah, the alleged murderer of several Muslim French soldiers and Jews. One of the most salient facts about the killer, a professed Islamic radical seeking to avenge various indignities committed against Muslims by the West, is that he was a member of an outlawed French Salafist group called Forsanne Alizza, or the Knights of Pride. The group, which has expressed sympathy for Al Qaida’s cause, was banned in January after its leadership was accused of training members “for armed combat.”

Now that the Toulouse killer has been unmasked as a radical Muslim, and not a white Christian Islamophobe like Anders Behring Breivik, the French extreme right can breathe a sigh of relief. Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader vying for the French presidency, is apparently seeking to ride the tragedy all the way to victory. Today, she declared, “The Islamic fundamentalist threat has been underestimated in our country and political-religious groups are developing due to a certain laxism.”

But a glance into the recent activities of Forsanne Alizza exposes the irony of Le Pen’s words. Indeed, Forsanne Alizza has been engaged in an open alliance with neofascist figures and extreme right-wing Catholic groups who emerged from the core of Le Pen’s National Front party and who comprise some of her most loyal supporters.

The de facto Salafist-neofascist alliance was forged in October 2011 when two right-wing Catholic groups, Action Francaise (French Action) and Renouveau Francais (French Renewal) staged  a morality crusade against a performance in Paris of Romeo Castallucci’s play, “On the Concept of the Face of God.” At first, the rightists tried to halt the performance of the play on the anti-religious discrimination grounds. Their grievances focused on a scene of a son cleaning his father’s feces off the floor while images of Jesus Christ flashed on a projection screen. After failing to stop the play, the groups organized a 10-day protest vigil outside Theatre de la Ville, attempting to stop ticket holders from entering through various means of intimidation. Before one performance, seven far-right activists were arrested while attempting to enter the theater with concealed knives, teargas, and stones.

In footage below, Catholic right activists chant “France, Youth, Christianity,” during a October 29, 2011 demonstration against “Christianophobia” outside Theatre de la Ville:

Among the demonstrators at the Theatre de la Ville was Xavier Beauvais, a schismatic ultra-conservative Catholic priest with pronounced anti-Semitic tendencies. As the blog Culture Bot noted, Beauvais has lionized Leon Degrelle, a Belgian extremist who joined the Nazi SS during World War II then led various neo-Nazi outfits in the decades after. Filling out the protest ranks were members of Renouveau Francais, a far-right group that endorsed Marine Le Pen for President in 2007, and which earned an important show of support from Bruno Gollnisch for its campaign against Castalluci’s play.

Marine Le Pen and Holocaust revisionist Bruno Gollnisch

Marine Le Pen and Holocaust revisionist Bruno Gollnisch

Who is Gollnisch? He was the closest ally of Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean Marie, and unsuccessfully challenged Le Pen fille for the National Front’s leadership position in 2011. Gollnisch is also a Holocaust revisionist who was placed on probation and slapped with a hefty fine by a Lyon court for denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz, among other specious claims. Gollnisch has been a regular speaker at conferences of American Renaissance, an American white nationalist group that brings an assortment of extreme racialist figures from Jared Taylor to Sam Dickson to Philip Rushton together each year to promote biological determinist theories about the genetic superiority of Anglo-Saxon whites (read my report from the 2006 gathering of AmRen here).

Another key supporter of Renouveau Francais’ crusade against Castalluci’s play was Alexandre Gabriac. Gabriac served as a central committee member and regional councilor in Le Pen’s National Front until photos emerged showing him delivering a Nazi sieg heil salute, prompting Le Pen to expel him from the party. Despite calls from National Front cadres to forgive Gabriac, Le Pen was in the process of an intensive image makeover designed to increase her appeal among Jewish voters inclined towards National Front’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant positions. Since embarking on her campaign for the presidency, Le Pen has taken a stridently pro-Israel line, earning her a 20-minute meeting last November with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor. She was not going to let a mid-level Nazi sympathizer stand in the way of her ambitions.

Le Pen scored a meeting with Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor

Le Pen scored a meeting with Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor

Gabriac was present along with 300 Catholic rightists at the October 29 protest at Theatre de la Ville. There and during a march earlier that day in Paris, the right-wing Catholics were joined by members of the Salafist splinter group Forsanne Alizza. According to the French blog, Poisson Rouge, Forsanne Alizza issued a press release on its website calling for members to protest with the Catholic fundamentalists. And so Forsanne Alizza activists marched side-by-side with members of Renouveau Francais and Action Francaise, echoed their chants, and expressed solidarity against “Christianophobia.”

At 1:03 in the video below, a Forzanne Alizza leader explains (in French — translation coming soon) why his group joined the protests against Castalluci’s play:

Though Le Pen will spend the coming weeks holding forth about the supposed failure of the French government to crush Forzanne Alizza, there was a time when some of her most committed political-religious partisans united with the group that allegedly helped inspire the Toulouse killer in a crusade against the thing they hated more than anything else — more than Islam and even mass immigration. That thing was liberalism itself.

This was cross posted at Al Akhbar English

Anders Behring Breivik, a perfect product of the Axis of Islamophobia

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store visits the Utoya Labor Youth camp a day before Breivik's killing spree. He earned loud cheers with an unapologetic call for Palestinian rights.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store visits the Utoya Labor Youth camp a day before Breivik's killing spree. He earned loud cheers with an unapologetic call for Palestinian rights.

When I wrote my analysis last December on the “Axis of Islamophobia,” laying out a new international political network of right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, Tea Party activists and racist British soccer hooligans, I did not foresee a terrorist like Anders Behring Breivik emerging from the movement’s ranks. At the same time, I am not surprised that he did. The rhetoric of the characters who inspired Breivik, from Pam Geller to Robert Spencer to Daniel Pipes, was so eliminationist in its nature that it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone put words into action.

As horrific as Breivik’s actions were, he can not be dismissed as a “madman.” His writings contain the same themes and language as more prominent right-wing Islamophobes (or those who style themselves as “counter-Jihadists”) and many conservatives in general. What’s more, Breivik was articulate and coherent enough to offer a clear snapshot of his ideological motives. Ali Abunimah and Alex Kane have posted excellent summaries of Breivik’s writings here and here and a full English translation is here. It is also worth sitting through at least a portion of Breivik’s tedious video manifesto to get a sense of his thinking.

From a tactical perspective, Breivik was not a “lone wolf” terrorist. Instead, Breivik appeared to operate under a leaderless resistance model much like the Christian anti-abortion terrorists Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph. Waagner and Rudolph organized around the Army of God, a nebulous group that was known only by its website and the pamphlets its members passed around in truck stops and private meetings. If they received material or tactical support, it occurred spontaneously. For the most part, they found encouragement from like-minded people and organizations like Operation Rescue, but rarely accepted direct assistance. Breivik, who emerged from the anti-immigrant Norwegian Progress Party (which built links with America’s Tea Party) and drifted into the English/Norwegian Defense League sphere of extremism, but who appeared to act without formal organizational support, reflects the same leaderless resistance style as America’s anti-abortion terrorists.

While in many ways Breivik shares core similarities with other right-wing anti-government terrorists, he is the product of a movement that is relatively new, increasingly dangerous, and poorly understood. I described the movement in detail in my “Axis of Islamophobia” piece, noting its simultaneous projection of anti-Semitic themes on Muslim immigrants and the appeal of Israel as a Fort Apache on the front lines of the war on terror, holding the line against the Eastern barbarian hordes. Breivik’s writings embody this seemingly novel fusion, particularly in his obsession with “Cultural Marxism,” an increasingly popular far-right concept that positions the (mostly Jewish) Frankfurt School as the originators of multiculturalism, combined with his call to “influence other cultural conservatives to come to our…pro-Israel line.”

Breivik and other members of Europe’s new extreme right are fixated on the fear of the “demographic Jihad,” or being out-populated by overly fertile Muslim immigrants. They see themselves as Crusader warriors fighting a racial/religious holy war to preserve Western Civilization. Thus they turn for inspiration to Israel, the only ethnocracy in the world, a country that substantially bases its policies towards the Palestinians on what its leaders call “demographic considerations.” This is why Israeli flags invariably fly above black-masked English Defense League mobs, and why Geert Wilders, the most prominent Islamophobic politician in the world, routinely travels to Israel to demand the forced transfer of Palestinians.

Judging from Breivik’s writings, his hysterical hatred of the Labor Party’s immigration policies and tolerance of Muslim immigrants likely led him target the government-operated summer camp at Utoya. For years, the far-right has singled Norway out as a special hotbed of pro-Islam, pro-Palestinian sentiment, thanks largely to its ruling Labor Party. In 2010, for instance, the English Defense League called Norway a future site of “Islamohell,” “where unadulterated political correctness has ruled the roost, with sharp talons, for decades.” Yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal editorial page rushed to blame Muslim terrorists for what turned out to be Breivik’s killing spree, it slammed the Norwegian government for pulling troops from Afghanistan and demanding that Israel end its siege of Gaza. For his part, Breivik branded the Labor Party as “traitors.”

There is no clear evidence that Breivik’s support for the Israeli right played any part in his killing spree. Nor does he appear to have any connection with the Israeli government. However, it is worth noting that in November 2010, the Israeli government joined the right-wing pile on, accusing the Norwegian government of “anti-Israel incitement” for funding a trip for students to New York to see the “Gaza Monologues” play. Then, the day before Breivik’s terror attack, which he planned long in advance, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stor visited the Labor Youth camp at Utoya. There, he was met with demands to support the global BDS movement and to support the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid. “The Palestinians must have their own state, the occupation must end, the wall must be demolished and it must happen now,” the Foreign Minister declared, earning cheers from the audience.

Breivik’s writings offer much more than a window into the motives that led him to commit terror. They can also be read as an embodiment of the mentality of a new and internationalized far-right movement that not only mobilizes hatred against Muslims, but is also able to produce figures who will kill innocent non-Muslims to save the Western way of life.

Being Jewish in Turkey, before and after the Mavi Marmara (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday I published the first of two interviews I conducted with Turkish Jews during a brief trip to Istanbul. The first interview is here. In the second, I spoke with “B,” a media professional in her late 20′s who studied at a liberal arts college in the United States. As with “E,” B was adamant that I not reveal her identity, telling me that she was “really scared” of complicating her situation at work. In our interview, B expressed the same cultural outlook as E and a similar attitude to Israel: while she complained that its actions towards the Palestinians affect her negatively as a Jew in a Muslim majority nation, the situation remains abstract and disconnected from her identity. In both cases, I found my interview subjects to be wise beyond their years. “I never took security for granted,” B told me. “I’m more ready for battle than [Americans]. So it’s completely logical that I would survive more easily in a challenging situation.”

Our interview follows:

MB: On a basic level what is it like being Jewish in Turkey and do you feel like you stand apart from the majority of Turks?

B: Being Jewish in Turkey has its ups and downs. Jews have an accent and when we speak in Turkish we stand out. I don’t know where it comes from but probably from Ladino. In the last 70 years Jews were pushed to speak Turkish and were constantly told the slogan, “Citizens speak Turkish.” At home the accent comes from your parents. It’s like a whisper. In the US for Jews the accent comes out when you are upset. Imagine if it came out without being angry!

MB: So how does that affect you in your daily life?

B: In the social world you are aware that you are an other. You can’t be sure what anyone’s idea of the situation is. But in the social arena you’re often surrounded by others like you. In the business world being Jewish is sometimes positive because we are seen as good at commerce and Jews almost always repay their debts here.

But to be honest I would say I’m putting in more effort than ever at work because the moment I slip up, I become the foreigner. At work there are always a few people I have to win over. I have to prove my Turkishness to them somehow. And then these people see me as “the good Jew.” But they don’t represent the general consensus. And I wouldn’t say there is any anti-Jewish movement in the country even though we are an easy target when people look for someone to blame.

MB: Why don’t you simply confront those people at work instead of trying to live up to their standards?

B: If someone came out and said, “the Jews are horrible,” I would confront them for sure. But sometimes it’s better to lead by example. Consistency will prove that I’m a good person.

MB: Yesterday “E” told me that Israel’s actions sometimes cause problems for the Jewish community here. Do you agree?

B: Definitely. The big problem is that whenever something happens with Israel we automatically become “Israelites,” not Jews. I don’t see myself as an Israeli Jew — I’m Turkish. But whatever happens in Israel affects us here and safety becomes an issue. Some people here have fish minds and can’t distinguish between Jews and Israelis.

MB: So how has the phenomenon played out in your personal life?

B: I can give you an example. I was importing lingerie for five years. When Israel began bombing Gaza, I was importing all these brands from the states. And a trade magazine for the lingerie retailers [in Turkey] put out a boycott list that focused on Jewish owned brands. My brands were on the list. I’m not a public person so it’s hard to know that I’m Jewish at all. But my brands were listed because I’m Jewish. Who am I? How do you know who I am? The magazine was a small publication in some rural city. I only knew about the boycott list because some salesman found it and showed it to me.

The boycott also spread on Facebook. Who knows if it distinguished between Jewish and Israeli? The page said, “The owners of these brands help Israel in its efforts against Gaza.” What the hell do I have to do with Israel? These people don’t know the difference between Jews and Israelis. And the extremists take advantage of this [lack of distinction].

MB: What about after the Mavi Marmara incident? What was it like for you and other Turkish Jews?

B: Everyone was scared to go to malls or synagogue. Not that I ever go to synagogue but in times of trouble I limit my risks. During the crisis some protesters blocked the entrance outside the Israeli consulate and were waving flags and shouting. Even if I wasn’t Jewish I would have been scared to go there. This wasn’t a peace march. The crowd wanted blood. If it came out that I was a Jew, what they have done to me?

MB: Do you think the government played a productive role at all?

B: The Prime Minister [Recep Erdogan] took a stand saying Jews are not Israelis, they are Turkish. He made the differentiation clearly. That was a very positive thing for us.

MB: Are you a Zionist? It seems like Israel does not factor into your identity very much.

B: I’m not a Zionist. Israel is an abstract place for me just like France. But there is a connection as a Jew and it is a safe haven in a sense. They are welcoming you with open arms and there is a sense of community. At least it’s better to be attacked as a community than on your own. Of course I’d rather go to London but if another Holocaust happens where will I go?

MB: Do you seriously think the Holocaust could happen again? It seems a little far-fetched to me.

B: Maybe? Who knows? It happened before and no one expected it.

MB: Do you have any interest in learning more about the history of the conflict in Israel-Palestine? Or what about taking a tour of the West Bank and seeing the occupation up close for yourself?

B: No, I don’t think I’d be interested in something like that. Right now Israel’s just an abstract place. I have been three times. Basically I go to the beach in Tel Aviv and come back.

MB: What do you think about anti-Zionist Jews and do you have any here in Turkey?

B: Whether a Jew is Zionist or not has nothing to do with their faith in Judaism. That’s not the issue for me. The issue is non-Jews failing to distinguish between Jews and Israelis. And of course [in the Turkish Jewish community] anti-Zionists would be accused of being self-hating. But who would even take such a stand? We’re not political here. Our only concern is self-preservation.

MB: When you studied in the US what were the principal differences you noticed between yourself and American Jews, and between you and Americans in general.

B: I went to a Bar Mitzvah in the US and it was like a Broadway show. It was for entertainment purposes and educational. For us in Turkey, Judaism is about religion. We get together for our ceremonies and in the synagogue, where many of our melodies come from traditional Ottoman songs, and I find solace in that.

On the more general question, the way I grew up is different from the way Americans grew up. I never took security for granted. I’m more ready for battle than they are. So it’s completely logical that I would survive more easily in a challenging situation than an American. That’s why America reacted the way it did to 9-11. Their whole naivete bubble popped in a day.

MB: What was is it like for you personally being in America right after 9-11?

B: For a long time I had worn a Chai necklace. But I eventually took it off, like I just didn’t feel like wearing it anymore. But after 9-11, suddenly I wasn’t Jewish enough because I wasn’t Ashkenazi, I was Eastern, and I have an Arab sounding last name. At my college I had to advertise that I was Jewish so I wouldn’t be seen as a Muslim. So I suddenly put my necklace back on and everything was okay. When I’m over there I feel a level of safety as a Jew.

MB: Your experiences remind me of a term that was used to describe Jews in the US but isn’t really used much anymore: “insider-outsider.”

B: Exactly. We are living with a foot in both worlds. But it’s hard to get through the door when you can’t use both feet.


Anti-Muslim Hate Rally Organizer Eliezrie to Teach “Kabbalah of Love” at Jewish Federation Vegas Mega-Event

It's a thin line between love and hate

It's a thin line between love and hate

It should be clear to anyone who has seen the video of the anti-Muslim hate rally in Yorba Linda that the organizers of the event are extremely dangerous and demented people. If their pathological racism was not apparent before the video surfaced, then it is confirmed now. So why is the Jewish Federation and a who’s who of established Jewish organizations, from Birthright Israel to the New Israel Fund to JDate (even Rock The Vote is involved somehow), hosting one of the hate rally’s key organizers this weekend at a major gathering in Las Vegas billed as “an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration that will draw over 1,500 Jewish young adults (ages 22-45) from across North America?”

Last week, Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Yorba Linda chapter of Chabad was among a mob of local extremists who screamed racial epithets at immigrant families. On Monday, however, the rabbi will lead a session at “Tribefest” on “the Kabbalah of Love.” “Love has always been a central theme in Jewish teachings,” the event description reads. “In an interactive experience we will explore the mystical and classical sources about love.” How touching.

The Great Islamophobic Crusade

Crossposted with TomDispatch.com.

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly — and perhaps predictably — morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.

Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.

Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.

Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.

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The Return of Ghosts: Debating the rise of Geert Wilders and the far-right at the Nexus Symposium

The Nexus Institutes Return of Ghosts conference was inspired by the rise of far-right politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands

The Nexus Institute's Return of Ghosts conference was inspired by the rise of far-right politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands

I spent last week in Amsterdam, where I participated in the “Return of Ghosts” symposium of the Nexus Institute, a discussion/debate about the resurgence of neo-fascism in Europe and anti-democratic trends in the West. Besides providing a forum for debating European politics, the symposium was the occasion for the first public appearance in Europe by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa since he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. The arrival of Vargas Llosa, one of the world’s foremost intellectuals, resulted in an overflow crowd filled with members of the Dutch media, the country’s political class, and the royal family.

Even with Vargas Llosa in the spotlight, the participants’ attention was focused on Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which is now the third leading party in the Netherlands. With his gathering influence, Wilders has essentially placed the Dutch coalition government in a stranglehold; the government meets with him every Wednesday to gauge his opinions and ask for his instructions. While Wilders dictates at will to the government, he remains independent of it, comfortably avoiding the consequences of policies he has helped to shape. It is the perfect position for a politician whose agenda is comprised exclusively of xenophobic populism, and typical strategy of the far-right in countries across the continent.

Wilders’ base lies in the mostly Catholic south, where ironically few people have ever encountered a Muslim. He has also generated support in the city of Groeningen, once a citadel of the communists. Seeking to expand his base, Wilders promised to hire scores of “animal cops” to investigate and prosecute the abuse of animals, a clever wedge strategy in the only country I know of that has a party dedicated exclusively to animal rights. Of course, Wilders could care less about our furry friends. His stated goal is to end immigration not just to Holland but to all of Europe; ban the Quran (free speech is only for the “Judeo-Christian” community), and severely limit the rights of Muslim citizens of Europe by, for instance, instituting what he called a “head rag tax” on Muslim women. Wilders’ international allies include the goosestepping neo-Nazis of the English Defense League, the far-right pogromist Pam Geller, the Belgian neo-fascist party Vlaams Belang, and a substantial portion of the US neocon elite. Over the course of just a few years, he has become perhaps the most influential Islamophobe in the world.

But does this make Wilders a fascist? Rob Riemen, the director of the Nexus Institute, thinks so. Riemen has just published a book entitled “De Eeuwige Terugkeer Van Het Fascisme,” or “The Eternal Return of Fascism” (I eagerly await its English translation), dedicated to highlighting the danger of Wilders’ eerily familiar brand of right-wing populism. In the book, Riemen urges readers to compare Wilders’ politics to the early incarnations of European fascism, not to the genocidal terminal stage fascism of late World War II. He calls the parallels between Wilders and the early fascists “one-and-one.” In an economic and civilizational crisis like the kind the Netherlands is facing, Riemen warns that reactionary figures like Wilders can easily seize power while centrist elements stand by politely and passively, refusing to call a spade a spade. Where Wilders’ ascendancy will lead is unknown, but if he is not stopped in his tracks, Riemen is certain the story will not end well. In the week after its publication, Riemen’s book flew off the shelves, selling 5000 copies while generating heated reactions from across the spectrum of debate.

Riemen told me that despite the public enthusiasm for his book, his characterization of Wilders has been attacked as “un-Dutch.” In Dutch culture, as in so many others, open confrontation is avoided at all cost. Political disagreement is welcomed only if it is expressed in a collegial manner, as though nothing more than reputations were at stake. So the Dutch cultural elite generally goes along to get along. The resistance Riemen has met since he called Wilders out seemed to have alarmed and frustrated him. Why was it so difficult for liberal elements in the Netherlands to recognize the clear resonances of fascism in Wilders’ political style? he wondered. And why did they seem more concerned with regulating the terms of debate than with forming a united front against the far-right? Once the symposium opened and I was able to see the Dutch elite in action, I began to understand Riemen’s indignation.

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