15 December 2011
On The Drum last week, Chris Berg attacked the book On Utoya (to which I’m a contributor) for suggesting a link between Islamophobic rhetoric and Anders Breivik’s anti-Muslim rampage.
“There is,” Berg said, “an enormous moral leap between believing multiculturalism is a bad policy and systematically slaughtering 77 members of the Norwegian Labour Party, some as young as 14 years old. To suggest they are on the same continuum is to obscure how anybody could make that leap.”
I wonder if Berg actually read the book.
On Utoya‘s not about people who believe “multiculturalism is a bad policy”. Rather, it discusses rightwing commentators who, like Breivik, see multiculturalism as a cover for what they generally call “Islamicisation”.
As it happens, one of the more extreme and repellent of these Islamophobic pundits was just in Australia.
A few weeks ago, the Q Society hosted an Australian tour by the American writer Robert Spencer.
Spencer runs a website called Jihad Watch, in which he publicises whatever slurs about Muslims that Google sends his way. Recently, he launched an “Action Alert” over a nefarious plot to force halal birds upon innocent Americans. Butterball turkeys represent, you see, the latest gobbling incarnation of the “stealth jihad” by which Islam enslaves the West and its people. He also helped initiate an ad-boycott against a reality TV-show All American Muslim: the Florida Family Association, with whom Spencer has allied himself, claims the show about average Muslim families is actually “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values”.
Spencer works closely with the blogger Pamela (‘Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s Son’) Geller, another big name in the so-called “counter jihadi” milieu. Together, they run the group Stop the Islamization of America, an outfit described by the Anti-Defamation League as “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy ‘American’ values.”
Both featured repeatedly in Breivik’s manifesto.
“About Islam,” he wrote, “I recommend essentially everything written by Robert Spencer.”
As you would expect, in the aftermath of the Oslo massacre, Geller and Spencer hastily condemned their Norwegian admirer (though Geller couldn’t resist pointing out that the teenagers he murdered were “future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims who refuse to assimilate”, nor posting a picture with a caption about how the camp attendees had “faces which are more MIddle [sic] Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian”).
For his part, Spencer noted that Breivik had explicitly criticized the non-violent orientation of Jihad Watch, a criticism that meant, he said, any connection between his work and Breivik’s actions was ludicrous.
It’s true that Spencer and Breivik disagree about how to fight Islamicisation.
But they don’t disagree that its happening. Spencer’s Melbourne talk concluded like this:
This is an unconventional war. We are in a war, we are in a clash of civilisations. The thing I want to leave with you in closing is that we are the soldiers. The soldiers are not in uniform. There are no armies on the field. The armies on the field are there, they’re doing noble work but that’s only one small part. The main struggle is right here. And we are it. This is a battle for the soul of Australia, for the soul of Europe, for the soul of America, for the soul of the west. And it’s outcome is not at all decided, as dire as it may look, because we have not yet begun to fight. It is up to us
Breivik, too, thinks a war with Islam is already underway.
His disagreement with Spencer and Geller, then, isn’t about the diagnosis. It’s just about the nature of the cure.
That’s the real jump – from accepting rhetoric about war, to taking up the gun to fight it.
Naturally, the vast majority of those who attended Spencer’s lectures won’t embrace violence (and nor did he urge them to).
In that sense, the debate about Breivik’s sanity is moot. By definition, if you commit mass murder, you’re not normal, simply because normal people aren’t mass murderers.
On the same tautological level, Berg’s correct to say no-one’s responsible for Breivik’s actions except Breivik. He’s the one who pulled the trigger – not Spencer, not Geller, and not anyone else.
Yet Berg refuses to acknowledge what Breivik himself was perfectly clear about – ideas and actions are related.
Spend some time on the big anti-Islam websites, and you’ll read over and over and over again that Muslims are violent, dangerous and determined to destroy everything the West holds dear. On Spencer’s page, for instance, commenters refer to Muslims as “subhuman barbarians”, “parasites”, “savages”, “people infected with the musloid faith”, “vermin” and so on.
LoonWatch noted one thread that contained
thirty-five comments by JihadWatch readers, and not a single one who opposed the idea of ethnic cleansing of Germany (or the entire non-Muslim world) and the nuking of Mecca on ethical grounds (with the notable exception of Ronald who thought that it would mean losing the oil reserves and another user who thought there are more creative ways to deliver “pure insult and humiliation” upon Muslims). Not a single commentator on the thread opposed either of these two ideas on moral grounds.
Geller’s blog is the same: almost every post descends into overt eliminationism.
Oh, of course, Spencer says he’s not responsible for his readers and their desires for racial murder. He doesn’t, his blog says, necessarily endorse their comments. But where, we might ask, do they get these ideas? Why do advocates of mass slaughter feel so comfortable around him?
Spencer and Geller also work together on another hate group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. One of its original board members is a certain John Joseph Jay. Back in 2008, Jay explained on Pamela Geller’s blog how this war against Muslims should be conducted:
“We should declare war on iran, syria, egypt and saudi arabia, as well as libya and the sudan and somalia, and we should kill people by the scores. no science. no precision bombing. no shock and awe designed to ‘impress’ and send ‘signals’, but old fashioned war with wholesale slaughter including indiscriminate death of innocents and babes. down to the last muslim, if necessary.”
“Old fashioned war with wholesale slaughter including indiscriminate death of innocents”: that’s pretty much what Breivik provided a few years later.
Like Breivik, Jay’s enthusiasm for murder extends beyond Muslims to a Left that he says facilitates “stealth jihad”. That’s why, on his own blog, he urges readers to
buy guns. buy ammo. be jealous of your liberties. and, understand, you are going to have to kill folks, your uncles, your sons and daughters, to preserve those liberties.
Yes, there’s a difference between Spencer denouncing liberals as traitors and Jay declaring they should be exterminated, just as there’s a gap between Jay preaching mass murder and Breivik actually carrying it out.
But it shouldn’t be difficult to understand how the constant shared rhetoric about existential war breaks down Berg’s “enormous moral leap” and makes it far more likely that a keyboard warrior will creep out from behind his PC, believing, as he lifts his rifle, that he’s saving Christian civilization, that he’s finally doing what all his friends just talk about.
Chris Berg says that Breivik was a “shocking outlier”, indicative of nothing.
It’s a ludicrous argument.
With their epic struggle against the Mooslamic turkeys, Geller and Spencer might seem like fringe nutters. But they’re not. They’re both widely published (two of Spencer’s books have been New York Times best-sellers); they appear regularly on the circuit of right-wing radio and Fox News.
Together, they wrote the 2010 book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America, in which they argued a line almost identical to Breivik’s manifesto:
Transformational issues facing this nation and the world at large—the world at war, creeping Sharia, the perversion of the rights of free men—hang in the balance during the Obama administration as never before. The stakes could not be higher. On foreign policy, Europe has lain down. The political elites have capitulated to Islamists and to multiculturalists. Europe is committing slow cultural and demographic suicide. It seems unclear that they could hold up their end even if America did the heavy lifting.
That book appeared with a glowing foreword by former ambassador to the UN John Bolton – a man who Newt Gingrich has recently announced will be Secretary of State under a Gingrich presidency. Indeed, Gingrich himself seems on-side in this lunatic crusade. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination recently announced that “sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world as we know it”.
Meanwhile, in Europe, far-right groups, many with histories stretching back to the fascist era, are re-orienting to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment – and, as a result, they’re growing.
Mattias Gardell, a Swedish expert on the far right, provides the following list of what he calls “redesigned brown [ie fascist] parties”:
Fremskrittspartiet, (Progress Party, Norway), Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), Sannfinländarna (True Finns), Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, Netherlands), Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), Front National (Belgium), Front National (France), Mouvement pour la France, British National Party, Lega Nord (Northern League, Italy), Futuro e Libertá (Italy), Schweizerische Volkspartei (Swiss People’s Party), Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Germany), Pro Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany), Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria), Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (Alliance for the Future of Austria) and Laikós Orthódoxos Synagermós (People’s Orthodox Rally, Greece).
Some of these have been remarkably successful. Dansk Folkeparti gained nearly 14 per cent of the votes in Denmark’s 2007 election; Fremskrittspartiet – of which Breivik was once a member – received 23 per cent of the vote in Norway’s 2009 election; and Partij voor de Vrijheid – whose leader Geert Wilders seeks to ban the Koran – became the third largest party in parliament, with 17 per cent in the 2010 election. In Sweden, Sverigedemokraterna – whose ideologue Kent Ekeroth believes that Sweden and Europe are cast in an apocalyptic war with Islam and Muslims, and who co-funds the anti-Muslim network out of which Breivik emerged – became the first brown party in the country’s history to enter parliament, with close to 6 per cent in the 2010 election. In Finland, True Finns – whose ideologue Jussi Halla-aho says that Europeans have but two options when confronted with Muslim immigration: war or surrender – gained 19 per cent in the 2011 election, just 1 per cent away from becoming the largest party.
There are no adequate statistics on hate crimes in Europe, since few countries collect information about violence against Muslims. Nonetheless, the latest OIC Islamophobia Observatory report documents disturbing incidents from May 2010 through April 2011.
In one instance in Norway, where the massacre also took place, vandals desecrated a mosque in August, 2010, with spray-paint writings saying “oink” and “Allah is a [picture of a pig]”. In another 2010 Mosque attack, this time in the Netherlands, a dead sheep was found hanging in the place where a mosque was to be built. In a similar incident in Normandy, France, inscriptions reading “Islam get out of Europe”, “No to Islam and to burkas”, along with swastikas, were discovered on 15 July, 2010, which the report suggests might be encouraged by a law banning women from wearing the full-face Islamic veils in public, since the timing of the events coincide.
A few months ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned: “A dangerous trend is emerging, a new politics of polarization. Some play on people’s fears. They accuse immigrants of violating European values. Europe’s darkest chapters have been written in language such as this. Today the primary targets are immigrants of the Muslim faith.”
Most of the rebadged far-right organisations have retained their old-school anti-Semitism even as they choose, for strategic reasons, to campaign against Islam (and, often, support Israel). Indeed, the tropes of traditional anti-Semitism generally reappear in the new discourse of anti-Islam bigotry. Gardell explains how:
anti-Muslim conspiracy theory comes complete with its own version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Evoking a Manichean vision of a struggle between the forces of light and darkness, it tell us that for 1300 years the Western world has been locked in an apocalyptic conflict with ‘Islam’, which is depicted as an animated being with a sinister agency, which tirelessly seeks the eradication of Christian Europe, the last outpost of freedom.
The journalist Colm Ó Broin has produced a neat demonstration of the relationship between the old hate and the new hate, with a close comparison of Spencer’s writing on Muslims next to the propaganda of Julius Streicher, the editor of the notorious anti-Semitic magazine from the Nazi era, Der Stuermer.
Here are the first nine of his parallels.
Muslims/Jews have a religious duty to conquer the world.
“Islam understands its earthly mission to extend the law of Allah over the world by force.” Robert Spencer.
“Do you not know that the God of the Old Testament orders the Jews to consume and enslave the peoples of the earth?” Julius Streicher.
The Left enables Muslims/Jews.
“The principal organs of the Left…has consistently been warm and welcoming toward Islamic supremacism.” Robert Spencer.
“The communists pave the way for him (the Jew).” Julius Streicher.
Governments do nothing to stop Muslims/Jews.
“FDI* acts against the treason being committed by national, state, and local government officials…in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.” (Freedom Defense Initiative, Robert Spencer/Pamela Geller organisation).
“The government allows the Jew to do as he pleases. The people expect action to be taken.” Julius Streicher.
Muslims/Jews cannot be trusted.
“When one is under pressure, one may lie in order to protect the religion, this is taught in the Qur’an.” Robert Spencer.
“We may lie and cheat Gentiles. In the Talmud it says: It is permitted for Jews to cheat Gentiles.” From The Toadstool, children’s book published by Julius Streicher.
Recognising the true nature of Muslims/Jews can be difficult.
“There is no reliable way for American authorities to distinguish jihadists and potential jihadists from peaceful Muslims.” Robert Spencer.
“Just as it is often hard to tell a toadstool from an edible mushroom, so too it is often very hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and criminal.” From The Toadstool, children’s book published by Julius Streicher.
The evidence against Muslims/Jews is in their holy books.
“What exactly is ‘hate speech’ about quoting Qur’an verses and then showing Muslim preachers using those verses to exhort people to commit acts of violence, as well as violent acts committed by Muslims inspired by those verses and others?” Robert Spencer.
“In Der Stuermer no editorial appeared, written by me or written by anyone of my main co-workers, in which I did not include quotations from the ancient history of the Jews, from the Old Testament, or from Jewish historical works of recent times.” Julius Streicher.
Islamic/Jewish texts encourage violence against non-believers.
“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter… — 2:191.” Koranic verse quoted by Robert Spencer on Jihadwatch.org.
“And when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally: men and women and children, even the animals. (Deuteronomy 7:2.).” Biblical verse quoted by Julius Streicher in Der Stuermer.
Christianity is peaceful while Islam/Judaism is violent.
“There is no Muslim version of ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’ or ‘if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also’.” Robert Spencer.
“The Jew is not being taught, like we are, such texts as, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’, or ‘If you are smitten on the left cheek, offer then your right one’.” Julius Streicher.
Muslims/Jews are uniquely violent.
“(Islam) is the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers.” Robert Spencer.
“o other people in the world has such prophecies. No other people would dare to say that it was chosen to murder and destroy the other peoples and steal their possessions.” Julius Streicher.
It’s pretty remarkable stuff. But then we come to the tenth point, and it’s the real kicker.
The final parallel is a shared insistence that such criticism has no relationship to violence.
“There is nothing in anything that I have ever written that could be reasonably construed as an incitement to violence against anyone,” says Robert Spencer.
In a strict sense, that’s probably true. Spencer himself, unlike his associates, knows to watch his mouth. In Orwell’s terms, he’s the kind of person always somewhere else when the trigger gets pulled.
Then again, so was Streicher.
For that was his defence at Nuremberg – he’d never personally incited violence.
“The contents,” Streicher argued, “of Der Stuermer as such were not [an incitement to violence]. During the whole 20 years, I never wrote in this connection, ‘Burn Jewish houses down; beat them to death’. Never once did such an incitement appear in Der Stuermer.”
Streicher didn’t burn houses down himself. Nor, he claimed, did he encourage others to do so.
But if you publish article after article claiming that a particular minority group is a deadly menace, a violent, existential threat to the nation and its citizens, can you really claim surprise if others take you seriously?
Which brings us back to Berg and the IPA.
If someone toured Australia peddling Streicher-style slurs against Judaism, the Jewish community would be rightly outraged, precisely because of the relationship between talk about war against a minority and actual physical violence against them.
Would Australian conservative think tanks argue they had nothing to worry about? Would they tell them that rhetoric about “war against Jews” was merely a suggestion that multiculturalism was a bad policy? Would he reassure them that past examples of deadly violence were the result of an apolitical lunacy for which no-one other than the direct perpetrators were responsible?
If not, wherein lies the difference. During his Australian sojourn, Robert Spencer was invited onto ABC Queensland to discuss his theories. Would a peddler of hatred against any other minority have been treated that way?
That’s the thesis of On Utoya: that bigotry against Muslims has been consistently downplayed in the mainstream, thus creating an environment in which violence becomes more likely.
Unfortunately, the argument seems more relevant than ever.