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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Some More Thoughts On Communalism

Having woken up rather early on this Tuesday morning, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to my post on communalism in East London and expand on a few points and clarify a few others. For one thing, as was pointed out to me in the comments by Phil from Existing Actually and John from Shot by Both Sides, the case of Respect and its appeals to specifically Muslim sentiment is more complicated than the rather superficial account I gave. So, in fairness, I should link to this report by Meaders on a speech by the Birmingham Sparkhill candidate Salma Yacoub, where she mentioned that she had been declared an 'apostate' by some local Islamist loons, and this article on George Galloway being denounced as a 'false prophet' and threatened with death by a group of Islamists in East London. Still, though, just because these candidates angered the most extreme element of the local Muslim communities in which they stood, this doesn't acquit them of pandering to Muslim voters communally. For instance, see some of the leaflets I linked to in the previous post, particularly one produced for Mark Krantz in Stretford & Urmston, where positions on international Muslim issues are emphasized over positions on everyday things like healthcare, education, crime, and so on.

On the issue of the BNP, one of my strongest beliefs is that, in Britain as elsewhere in Europe where the far-right is on the move, the very logic of multi-culturalism guarantees the revival of white majoritarian nationalism. If you have an ideological system that says that minority cultures must be protected, respected, and preserved, that opens an enormous gap for ultra-nationalist parties to drive through screaming "we love our culture and we want it preserved!" This opportunity is enhanced by the fact that multiculturalists are often, while praising traditionalist aspects of minority religions or 'cultures', virulently opposed to the traditions of their own white/European 'cultures'. The end result of putting this cultural preservation meme out into the public mind, of telling each little sub-division of the population that their identity background is paramount, is that it racializes all the little conflicts of life, ethnicizing all aspects of life. And the result will inevitably be a larger vote for the ultra-right, because they are the absolute loudest at identifying themselves as being for the preservation of 'white culture', whatever that is or means.

Despite its identification with liberal/progressive thought, multi-culturalism is essentially a conservative idea, where people are indelibly marked by their ethnic/religious/whatever background, and these cultures are, at core, unchanging and set in stone. The ultimate logic of this is segregation in the name of 'cultural preservation' and 'sensitivity'. I don't particularly think that when groups of people migrate to another country they should abandon everything from their homeland, but the reality is that culture is not static, but dynamic, and people change over the generations, whether in outward aspects like dress or tongue, or in inward aspects like values and morals. After all, I am writing this in English, not German, as my Helms ancestors would have before my great-grandfather came to the United States. There is nothing particularly wrong with integration, as it is simply a mechanism of time, and this is one of the most dangerous aspects of multi-culturalism, the idea that integration is somehow tyrannical or genocidal, and that migrant communities should strive to turn themselves into some kind of moving history exhibit.

These ideas give succor to groups like the BNP, because it allows them to set themselves up as the champion of 'white interests' (again, what that means I couldn't say, but in the terms of multi-culturalism it is no more illogical than 'Muslim interests' or 'Chinese interests' or 'black interests' or whatever). Multi-culturalism, in itself, is essentially a form of approval for different ethnic or religious nationalisms, a goader of passions, thus it provides a very convenient language through which white ethnic chauvinists can speak. In the comments, Phil mentioned the strength of multiculturalism as political truism coinciding with the absence of economic class from today's political landscape. This is true, yet I also think that multiculturalism is itself often a form of class politics in practice. Quite often middle-class multiculturalists use it as a stick to beat the white working class, deriding them as hopelessly racist and sentimentally attached to obsolete traditions, while exalting working-class members of minority ethnic groups as 'bringing wonderful diversity'. This, unsurprisingly, breeds resentment, and provides a fertile territory for far-right recruitment.

At the moment I am reading a book called The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton (great book by the way), and one of the key points he makes about fascist movements was that they marketed themselves as being a radical answer to politics-as-usual that was at the same time against the class politics of the Left. The various fascisms had a mystical belief in the necessity of creating trans-class unity among the volk or the razza. This, I do not need to remind you, is not a million miles away in logic from much multi-culturalist thought, despite the latter's origination on the Left. Now, I know that throwing around accusations of 'fascism' is bad form, and that it has been done so much that the charge has lost almost all sting, but all of the European far-right groups of today are descended, in ideology at least, from thought-strands from the ultra-nationalist and fascist movements of the 1920's and 30's. Although it is unintentional, in practice multicultural ideas about the almost mystical qualities of x people mean that the inheritors of fascist ideology have the territory on which to move marked out for them.

In the case of the BNP itself, this merely readies the ground for them, and their continuous growth over the last five years at local and national level also required them to change. Without the changes that Nick Griffin has made since becoming party chairman in 1997 I doubt they would have been able to grow so quickly. They have also been ably assisted by the race to the rhetorical bottom by the two main political parties and much of the press on the issues of immigration and asylum. These twin ideas, the multiculturalist idea that 'culture is worth preserving' and the tabloid paranoia of 'the country is being overrun', are, I believe, a central explanation for the growth of the BNP.

In and of itself, I don't think that the BNP represents a major long-term threat. They are simply too hamstrung by their own past, by the street violence and overtly neo-fascist rhetoric of the party when John Tyndall was leader, or by Griffin's own extremely dodgy past involvement in the National Front, the International Third Position, and the Political Soldier movement. Although the party has markedly moderated its rhetoric, it is still very extreme by British political standards, and it (and its senior leadership) still has caverns worth of skeletons to hide. What worries me about the BNP is that the sort of things they say at the moment are not much different from what the much more successful far-right parties on the Continent are saying. So, I believe that if there was a new ultra-nationalist party in England without the baggage of the BNP I think they could do quite well, and their presence and ideas could go a long way towards poisoning matters further in places where religious/ethnic tensions are already quite strong.

|| RPH || 11:45 AM || |