Illustration: Eric Lobbecke
.... The neo-Nazis are not the jihadis’ opposite. They are their twins.
Both inhabit parallel universes in which all the strings are pulled by powerful cabals; both exalt violence as a purifying force; both, in their millenarian fantasies, seek an end of days.
They are, in that sense, neither of the Left nor of the Right. After all, those terms, born almost accidentally in the French Revolution, were forged into their present significance by the democratic contest.
The Left, with its confidence in government and belief in human perfectibility, stood on one side of that contest; the Right, with its attachment to individual liberty and recognition of human frailty, occupied the other.
Between them occurred what could only be an endless conversation, the balance of power sometimes favouring one side, sometimes the other.
But that is not a conversation of which the jihadis and the neo-Nazis want any part. On the contrary, their objective is to eliminate it once and for all, replacing politics, the process by which we reconcile competing, ever-changing, visions of the good life, with a caliphate or Valhalla that is frozen in time.
Nor is that all they share. Both are consumed by a hatred of Jews, who are at the heart of the conspiracy theories that frame their view of the world.
There are, for sure, neo-Nazis who harbour a murderous rage against Muslim immigrants. But as political scientist George Hawley argues in his careful analysis of the alt-Right, “because it is so obsessed with race, the alt-Right does not really care about the tenets of Islam” — rather, it is anti-Semitic rants, and calls for the destruction of the “Zionist money power”, that dominate its websites.
Little wonder then that there is far-reaching co-operation between neo-Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists. Painstakingly documented by George Michael, an American political scientist who is an authority on extremism, the basis for that co-operation was bluntly stated by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan:
“The real danger to all heritages is Jewish supremacism, which seeks to destroy every heritage but the Jewish heritage.”The result is that seemingly incongruous partnerships have developed. The most galling, given his comments about Australia, is the close alliance between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and the political party founded by Hitler’s most ardent and violent Turkish supporters.
But equally, in France, some of the most vicious anti-Semitic propaganda is spread by a double act which unites Dieudonne M’bala M’bala — a French comic of Cameroonian origin who has repeatedly condoned Islamist terrorism — with neo-Fascist writer Alain Soral. And just as European Holocaust deniers helped finance al-Qa’ida, so the Holocaust deniers now benefit from Turkish, Arab and Iranian largesse.
Of course, the Islamists and the neo-Nazis operate on a vastly different scale. As Michael says, “there is no real right-wing terrorist infrastructure to speak of; leaderless resistance — actually a sign of desperation — predominates”. Lacking state sponsors who could “offer intelligence, funds, sanctuaries, training facilities and other kinds of support, the effectiveness (of white supremacist movements) has been very limited”, and has been further undermined by the reluctance to engage in suicide operations.
Chronically split into warring factions and sub-factions, they are nowhere near developing the deep links with local communities that sustain the Islamists and allow them to mount complex attacks such as those in Paris.
Yes, the internet has been a boon to the neo-Nazis and the alt-Right more broadly. According to Hawley, the culture of anonymity has been especially important, encouraging people to air views they would otherwise never express in public; but anonymity also impedes the formation of durable membership structures, preventing the movements from translating an online presence into an effective fighting force.
That is not to deny that their prominence has grown, thanks largely to an intensely polarised political environment in which issues of collective identity have played an increasing role. Nonetheless, as both Hawley and Michael conclude, the amorphous cloud of their followers remains a fringe of the fringe, which, while profoundly abhorrent, poses a security threat that scarcely compares to that posed by the jihadis.
That certainly doesn’t mean the white supremacists should be ignored. There is, however, a risk that horrors such as the massacre in Christchurch will be used to deflect resources and public attention from the still pressing dangers of radical Islamism. As in Britain’s Labour Party, and increasingly among the Democrats in the US, a double standard seems to be evolving that treats radical Islamism and its anti-Semitism with kid gloves while damning those who confront it as bigots.
That makes it all the more troubling that the government decided to bar the entry into the country of Milo Yiannopoulos — who, as Hawley shows, has been a target of the alt-Right’s incessant hostility, not least because he denounces violence — while permitting Sheik Omar Abdel Kafi, a Holocaust denier who repeatedly calls on Allah to “take revenge of the Jews”, to tour Australia and vent his anti-Semitic ravings.
No doubt, the government has its reasons; but it is equally apparent that it has set a precedent that could haunt this country for years to come.
Instead of promoting harmony, it will encourage the cancer of hatred to take root and flourish.
Ultimately, US President Donald Trump is right in describing the white supremacists as “a small group of people;” he is wrong, however, to suggest they have “very, very serious problems”, as if their behaviour were due to mental illness.
Nothing comes more readily to the modern mind than to convert sin into sickness, absolving those who trample on the moral law of the burden of responsibility. But the perpetrators of the atrocities we have witnessed are not lunatics; whether cloaking their assault weapons in the mantle of prophet or of the master race, they know all too well what they are doing when they commit crimes we can neither adequately punish nor conceivably forgive.
They are, to use the old-fashioned term, evil. And be they Islamists or neo-Nazis, it is the duty of our democracies to call them out, and to do so as unwaveringly when it is contentious as when it is easy.