Advance warning – the below article does include a quote from Breivik’s self-justifying manifesto, though I purposely have not linked to it
I’ve thought long and hard about how best to write this post, because the issue is so sensitive and (sadly) some are keen to leap on any poorly phrased comment about the recent horrors in Norway for political ends. Hopefully it does justice to the point that I’m trying to communicate, because it’s a point I feel that those of us who support freedom and democracy cannot afford to miss, at the risk of severe consequences.
The media are already struggling to characterise Breivik’s motivations and the views that led him to commit the appalling atrocities in Norway, and some interpretations are bordering on a serious misinterpretation.
It’s not the media’s fault (despite Breivik publishing a lengthy manifesto to provide his own justification) – the problem lies in the fact that we’ve got a deeply embedded understanding of the idea of neo-Nazism, a term which is now only partially accurate for the extremist threat that we face.
Neo-Nazis do exist and are a serious problem – as you can see from this Nothing British report on British neo-Nazism, there’s an extensive subculture characterised by anti-semitism, skinhead culture, heavily tattooed thrash metal bands and coded references to Hitler (such as Combat 18, the group whose number derives from Adolf Hitler’s initials as the 1st and 8th letters of the alphabet). If you’re looking for a pop culture shorthand for this neo-Nazism, you can find it pretty well summarised in the superb film American History X.
But it’s difficult to map that culture and ideology to Anders Behring Breivik, either in his appearance and lifestyle or in his self-declared motivations. Because he was clearly opposed to immigration, many have reached for the term “neo-Nazi” to describe him in that tradition. But where is the skinhead? Where is the swastika tattoo? Where’s the Hitler worship or the antisemitism? For that matter, where is the knuckle-dragging incompetence that has previously and mercilessly confounded most neo-Nazi terror plots?
That these factors don’t appear to be there (in the evidence produced so far, at least) appears to be because he is drawn from a linked but different ideology. An ideology which is just as evil and just as (or possibly even more) threatening to our free democracy, and one that we must understand and recognise as distinct in its own right if we are to defeat. You can even spot indications of his different roots in the reaction of neo-Nazis to his views; the deeply unpleasant neo-Nazi forum Stormfront is alive with condemnations of him because, in the words of one poster:
it’s a big disappointment and serious grounds for suspicion that he didn’t name the jew [as his enemy]
And there we have the core of this relatively new ideology – Breivik may well be a racist but it is primarily hatred of Muslims that seems to have motivated him, in stark comparison to the neo-Nazis’ antisemitism. Take this extract from his manifesto, for example:
Whenever I discuss the Middle East issue with a national socialist he presents the anti-Israeli and pro-Palestine argument…I was unable to discuss this issue further after I was banned and kicked out by Stormfront
For this reason, Breivik and those like him tend to look down on Nazis and sneer at, rather than venerate, Hitler. After all, in their view Hitler had the wrong target; Breivik has reportedly written that Hitler should have helped to clear the Muslims from Jerusalem.
He’s not alone in that – the English Defence League, as I have written before, are Britain’s most recognisable example of a new evolution of extremism which is virulently anti-Muslim, often pro-Israel and has attempted to ally itself with Jews, Sikhs and gay people on the grounds that Shariah presents a common threat. It’s also true that in recent times the BNP have largely moved to focusing on Islam, though they are arguably motivated more by a strategic post-9/11 opportunism and new laws against racial hatred.
The point is that to characterise Breivik as a neo-Nazi in the recognisable, traditional mould is inaccurate and misleading in addressing the threat he and his ideology poses. Like many a neo-Nazi he is evidently a nut and is obviously attracted to violence as well as ludicrously pompous military imagery, as evidenced by his view that he’s a modern day Knight Templar, but it’s time we recognised this is a different school of extremism.
There is contact and sometimes overlap between neo-Nazism and whatever we want to call this new ideology – both are dangerous and evil, and it’s evident from Breivik’s own dabbling in neo-Nazi forums that the two sit very close to each other in various way.
We’re seeing calls in the UK for a strategy to address what you could loosely call White Power extremism. But one sole, catch-all strategy to fight both neo-Nazis who hate Jews and anti-Muslim “culture war” conspiracists will fail to defeat one or the other, or even both. We need a distinct strategy to combat each strand of thought.
One of the worst threats to the campaign against fascism and racism is the thuggish and totalitarian nature of the hard left activists who squat at its core. Where you should have a mass movement refuting the BNP’s absurd arguments in a public forum, you have a minority clique like Unite Against Fascism who repel the general public, campaign for censorship and – ironically – have political views on economics and state power that are remarkably close to the fascists they claim to oppose.
Take, for example, the case of Martin Smith (pictured right, and yes he really did dress like that on Newsnight).
Smith is heavily involved in UAF and is the organiser of Love Music Hate Racism.
On Tuesday, Smith was convicted of assaulting a police officer during protests outside the BBC against Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time. A Magistrates’ Court found that he had kicked a policeman who was there to make sure the protest didn’t turn violent. As the Ian Tomlinson case showed, some police officers certainly can be violent themselves but there have been no such allegations in this case – this was a thuggish protester lashing out with no good reason.
The remarkable thing is that instead of condemning such violence and thuggery, Smith’s colleagues have rallied round to suggest the courts are somehow biased in favour of neo-Nazis. Even Mark Serwotka at the PCS Union has suggested that conviction in a free and fair court of law will “provide encouragement for the abhorrent views of racist and fascist organisations” and represents “the unequal way in which anti-fascist campaigners and activists are treated in comparison with racist and fascist thugs.”
The simple fact is that the UAF and their mates are just as totalitarian and unpleasant as the BNP – Smith’s aim is to secure the censoring political parties that he doesn’t like. Brands like Love Music Hate Racism are designed to suggest the UAF are mainstream, ordinary people – but how ordinary is it to go around kicking coppers because of production decisions on Question Time?