Tag: Martin Niemöller

The link between plots to murder left wing politicians, the rise of social prejudice and Conservative neoliberal dogma

hope-not-hate-national-action-4.pngNational Action, a far-right group that was banned in 2016 by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd over its support of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed to death in 2016 by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair. The group was not disbanded, however and continued to operate under the cover of front groups.

“A prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.” Gordon W. Allport

The plot to murder Rosie Cooper

The leader of a neo-nazi group was arrested following a police investigation into a murder plot to target Labour MP Rosie Cooper. He has been given an eight year sentence.

Cooper, the MP for West Lancashire, has thanked a former neo-Nazi group member for saving her life after he exposed the far-right terrorist plot to murder her with a machete.

The National Action group is a far-right neo-Nazi organisation based in the UK. Founded in 2013, the group is secretive, and has rules to prevent members from talking openly about the organisation. “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” became a slogan for the group after being said in court by Thomas Mair, who was glorified in online propaganda calling for “murders.”

Police had no intelligence that the extremist National Action member was preparing to kill Rosie Cooper until one of the group members, Robbie Mullen, sounded the alarm to a campaign group, Hope Not Hate, who passed the information on to Rosie’s fellow Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. The group’s former chair and plotter, Jack Renshaw, was later arrested. 

The 23-year-old extremist Renshaw has admitted plotting to kill his local Labour MP and had already bought a 19 inch machete, which investigators found hidden in an airing cupboard at his home. He had also researched his targets’ movements. 

Cooper said: “I think it’s awful that any public servant – teacher, nurse, doctor, police, MP – should be targeted and threatened with violence simply because of the job they do. To that end, I’d like to thank Robbie Mullen whose information saved my life.  

“I’d also like to thank Lancashire and Merseyside Police and the counterterrorism police who have supported me greatly, and who have kept me, my staff and the general public safe.”

Mullen had been in contact with Hope Not Hate for several months as he tried to find a way out of the terrorist organisation, which went underground following the government ban.

His fears that its repulsive rhetoric against Jews, non-whites and “race traitors” would tip over into bloody action were confirmed when the group met in a Warrington pub on 1 July last year. Renshaw felt antagonised after being arrested on suspicion of sexually grooming a child and for stirring up racial hatred with two of his speeches in Blackpool and Leeds. Seeking revenge on both the police and “establishment”, he told fellow fanatics of a plot to kill both Rosie Cooper and a female officer who had investigated him.

Mullen said that Renshaw felt that police officers were “destroying his life and trying to make it sound like he was a paedophile”.

Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing to engage in an act of terrorism by buying a knife to kill the politician and threatening a police officer. Renshaw, from Skelmersdale in Lancashire, has also been convicted of inciting racial hatred in speeches in 2016.

He was accused of being a member of National Action, but the jury failed to reach a verdict.

They also failed to reach verdicts on Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35.

Garron Helm, 24, was acquitted of the same charge.

National Action is the first extreme right-wing group to be banned by the government since World War Two and had recruited up to 100 members. 

The court heard that the group planned to “wipe out” non-white people” by “any means necessary”.

Jack Renshaw
Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing an act of terrorism and threatening a police officer

Head of Investigations for Counter Terrorism Policing in the North West, detective superintendent Will Chatterton, said: “Today’s result has enabled the spotlight to be shone on the sickening activities of the banned extreme right-wing organisation National Action.

“During the trial, one of those jailed today stood before the court and openly denied the Holocaust had taken place – an unimaginably horrific event that resulted in the murder of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime.

“Today’s result is a body blow to extreme right-wing organisations such as National Action.

“It sends out a clear message that counter-terrorism officers and partner agencies will rigorously identify and investigate any violently extreme individual or group who seek to bring a reign of terror to our shores.”

London’s Old Bailey heard: “Renshaw stated that if he was charged, he was going to kill Rosie Cooper, his local MP. He explained his plan was then to take some people hostage in a pub and when the police arrived he would demand to speak to DC Victoria Henderson.

“When the officer arrived, he would kill her. Renshaw said that after he had killed Ms Henderson he would then commit ‘suicide by cop’ by pretending to have a suicide vest on.”

Prosecutors said the would-be terrorist intended to make a “white jihad” video stating that the attack was carried out in the name of National Action that would be released after his death.

Another National Action member, Matthew Hankinson, said Renshaw should target a synagogue – even if there were children inside – because “all Jews are the same, they’re all vermin”. During the conversation, Renshaw said that he had purchased a machete to use in the attack, which was found days later hidden in a cupboard at a home where he was staying in Skelmersdale.

After stating his intentions, he wrote a series of ominous Facebook posts saying he was “past caring” and “it will all be over soon”. 

One comment said: “I’ll laugh last but it may not be for the longest.” 

Matthew Collins, the Hope Not Hate researcher who was contacted by Mullen, said police “knew absolutely nothing” of the plot. He told the Independent:

“They didn’t monitor them [after the ban on National Action], “They thought that because they were a bunch of skinny little white boys that when they banned them they would go to bed like naughty children. But they had an ideology that developed like a sickness, they developed a lust for violence and an attack was inevitable.”

Renshaw admitted the plot, while fellow neo-Nazis Christopher Lythgoe and Hankinson were also jailed for terror offences. Lythgoe declared himself national leader of the terrorist group, while Hankinson organised security and gave a speech calling for Nazis to “split the people into two groups, the racially loyal nationalists and the traitors”.

A jury deliberated for 20 hours to find Lythgoe guilty of membership of National Action but clear him of involvement in the terror plot, which he was alleged to have approved by telling Renshaw not to “f*** it up”.

Jailing the 32-year-old for eight years, Mr Justice Jay said he “did nothing to stop or discourage” the plot to kill Ms Cooper, adding: “You are a fully-fledged neo-Nazi complete with concomitant, deep-seated racism and antisemitism.”

The judge described National Action as having a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of waging a race war and said that without Lythgoe’s obsessive determination it would have “withered and died on the vine”.

“Fortunately… the truly evil and dystopian vision I am describing could never have been achieved through the activities of National Action, a very small group operating at the very periphery of far-right wing extremism. The real risk to society inheres instead in the carrying out of isolated acts of terror inspired by the perverted ideology I have been describing.”

Hankinson, 24, of Newton-le-Willows in Merseyside, was also found guilty of being a prominent member of the terrorist group and was jailed for six years. The Old Bailey jury acquitted Garron Helm, 24, of Seaforth in Merseyside, of being a member of National Action after it was made a proscribed organisation.

It failed to reach verdicts on Renshaw, Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35, from Warrington, for the same charge. 

Cooper, who was in court for the verdicts, later thanked Jeremy Corbyn, the prime minister and “every single member of this house for the kindness they have shown me” in an emotional address to parliament.

Theresa May replied: “Can I first of all say how very good it is to see her in her place and I know from the response that is a view that is shared across the whole of this house.”

However, I have written previously more than once about how the extremely divisive approach of Conservative governments has provided a space for far-right groups to flourish. The Thatcher era also saw the rise of neo-Nazi groups like the National Front. White supremicist thinking, be it from the likes of academics like Charles Murray or ordinary UKIP members, seems to be a key symptom of a broader disease – competitive individualism, which lies at the heart of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a system that enables a handful of ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers’. That is, after all, the nature of competition.

However, the public would be unlikely to accept a socioeconomic system that benefits so few people unless it was sold to them with the idea that anyone may benefit, providing they deserve to do so. Neoliberalism is therefore sold as a system of opportunities. We are led to believe that there is room at the top for everyone, and those at the bottom are there because of their own personal flaws, rather than because the system itself inevitably distributes opportunities very unequally and demands the establishment of a hierarchy comprised of a few ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers.’  Furthermore, it’s a system that enables winners to keep on winning. This continued winning is facilitated by dispossessing everyone else.

Neoliberalism, competitive individualism and racism

“What is familiar tends to become a value.” Gordon W. Allport

The myth of meritocracy – the idea that an individual’s personal qualities, skills and character may justify social inequality is itself an endorsement of the differential values placed on social groups by government and society, establishing a hierarchy of human worth. Notions of meritocracy have whitewashed historical forms of dispossession. Individuals are blamed for their poverty or held in esteem for their wealth and power, even when at least a third of very wealthy people inherited their wealth, regardless of their personal qualities and character.

These justifications of inequalities have been normalised since the Thatcher administration, though Conservatives have traditionally been elitist. Institutional discrimination has somehow sidestepped the issue of traditional marginalisation and  dispossession of some social groups, and the hate crimes with which it is historically associated. The culture of individualism itself is both a blind justification for and an explanation of social injustice and inequality.

Neoliberal ideology demands that every aspect of social life is brought (or bought) within the competitive market place, including relationships, thus objectifying and dehumanising, transforming norms, moral and ethical values, culture, ideals and principles – such as democracy and even the environment – very planet we live on.

It is the basis of how neoliberal ideology determines worth, allocates a category, a numerical and moral value, depending on how a person, human group, resource or geographical area stand up to the neoliberal test – their potential exploitability for profit. Justice, health, welfare, education, opportunity, the means to meet basic human needs and human potential itself are reduced to commercial commodification.

Within this overarching neoliberal framework, we have witnessed the rise of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the reoccurrence of virulent parochialism and nationalism, of pathologising, scapegoating and dispossession of disadvantaged groups and the rapid expansion of injustice and inequality. The world in its entirety exists solely for the benefit of the neoliberal market. Those not buying are being sold.

The ability to deflect public anger away from the architects of inequality and direct it at a variety of politically constructed scapegoats, demonstrates the consistent pattern for neoliberal demagogues – the government perpetually blames others for the failings of neoliberal dogma and policy.

Anti-racist scholar Robin J DiAngelo has argued that the discourse of individualism functions to: deny the significance of race and the advantages of being white; hide the accumulation of wealth over generations; deny social and historical context; prevent a macro analysis of the institutional and structural dimensions of social life; deny collective socialisation and the power of dominant culture (media, education and so on to shape our perspectives and ideology; function as neo-colourblindness and reproduce the myth of meritocracy; and make collective action difficult.

Furthermore, being viewed as an individual is a privilege only available to the dominant group. He argues that while we may be considered individuals in general, white insistence on individualism in discussions of racism in particular functions to obscure and maintain racism. Racists tend to see others as a threat to individualism, their perceptions and their own culture. Individualism tends to undermine regard for communities.

From internationalism to nationalism

The Conservatives (and those further right) have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis, reducing us to a gossiping around the parish-pump type of politics. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism. 

Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rights, as we are currently witnessingParochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of [internationally agreed] principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.

Even to the social groups that you may not like.

The whole point of human rights is that they apply universally, and that they are not simply provision for the already wealthy and powerful. They are a mechanism that is designed to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.

The Conservatives have suspended the human rights of some disadvantaged communities, and made a “hostile environment” the norm for its policy strategies directed at marginalised social groups. The policies that extend the hostile environment are founded on the government’s traditional prejudices. In doing so, the government have normalised those prejudices, legitimised discrimination and role modelled behaviours and attitudes that are not only fundamentally unacceptable. They are dangerous.

The subtext of discriminatory policies permits the open expression of social prejudices. The message presented to the public is that some communities should not be included in our society, they are not worthy of human rights, nor should they be treated with dignity and respect. Furthermore, the punitive nature of Conservative policies aimed at disadvantaged groups signals that punishing others is acceptable. 

The Conservatives have historically hated trade unions, and have launched a raft of laws to disempower the trade union movement. Recently, the far-right launched an unprovoked violent attack on senior RMT official Steve Hedley after he and thousands of other anti-fascists had turned out in central London to oppose a “free Tommy Robinson” march.

It seems extraordinary that working class Tommy Robinson supporters are turning acts of violence on an official of an organisation that promotes working class rights and solidarity, and fights oppression.

Sometimes the oppressed are very oppressive too.

 Hope Not Hate)

Steve Hedley, following the unprovoked violent attack last weekend

However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that fascists never stop at discriminating against and persecuting the one social group of your choice. Fascists are fascists and tend to discriminate almost indiscriminately. However, fascists generally spare the establishment, curiously enough. Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed public complicity and the consequences of bystander apathy and silence when he wrote: “First they came for the socialistsand I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist…”

Of course Britain is not divided by race and culture: it’s divided by wealth inequalities fueled by the government’s ideology, policies and austerity programme.  Blaming people who are unemployed, sick and disabled, refugees and immigrants for the failings of the government has fueled misperceptions that drive support for the far-Right. People complain they can’t get council houses, surely the only really honest question an honest politician ought to ask is: “Why aren’t there more council houses?”

And when there are large numbers of people receiving unemployment benefit or tax credits, then the only honest question to ask is: “Why is the economy failing to provide enough jobs, or ensure that employers pay adequate wages?”

As a society that once promised equality and democracy, we now preside over massive inequalities of wealth: that’s a breeding ground for racism, classism and other vicious resentments.

Hate crime directed at disabled people has risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become.

Austerity cuts and the steady and deliberate erosion of democratic inclusion have served to awaken the disgruntled beast within people, the one that feeds on anger, disempowerment, demoralisation, fear, resentment and uncertainty. And loss of a sense of meaning and identity.

And wherever antipathy and a degree of enmity exist, the far-Right have always tried to perpetuate, exploit and increase public rancour. The fascism of the 20s and 30s gained prominence because it played on wider public fears, manipulating them, and deflecting attention, as ever, from those who are truly to blame for dire social conditions: the ever-greedy elite. There’s a well-established link between political extremism, economic hardship and recession and social cleavages, with the far-Right “anti-system” parties now deceitfully winning the support of those who would never previously have thought of themselves as extremists. 

The political right have always sought to divide sections of the poor and middle class and set them to fight one against the other; to have us see enemies in our midst which do not exist, so that we see economic policies – the Tory-rigged “free market” competition – as the solution rather than the cause of our problems.

Many people are disgruntled because of our socioeconomic circumstances. Prejudiced discourse is being used politically to divert attention from the fact that our socioeconomic organisation is the problem, rather than those that have been diminished and denigrated by it. 

When you just feed the disgruntled beasts, you only end up with beasts.

I’ve often written about the right’s tendency to infrahumanise, dehumanise and create categories of “others”; scapegoating, using the media to stigmatise groups, create folk devils, and to extend the politics of division and prejudice, and hate-mongering rhetoric. I’ve also written about how Conservative governments always work to encourage the rise of far-right groups and a toxic climate of individualism and nationalism. 

Thatcher’s government was no different. Now Conservatives need to take some responsibility for what that kind of context does to people’s sense of identity and mental health, to social solidarity and community cohesion. They need to take some responsibility for transforming what was a diverse and reasonably tolerant culture into one of labeling and bullying, and ultimately into one of murder and plots to murder. Perhaps the Conservatives need to read Gordon Allport’s work about how prejudice escalates and as a reminder from history about the terrible social consequences of that, again.

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

Decades of research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.

The process always begins with the political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.

Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

Prejudice requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising sociopolitical system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. Because we permitted it to do so. 

The government (and the media) have shown contempt for rational debate, democracy and for the opposition. They role model appallingly authoritarian, abusive and bullying behaviour for the public to see. Their language is dehumanising, referring, for example, to the left as a “cult”, and these strategies permit others to engage in the same behaviours. 

The Conservatives have also tended to lump reasonable opposition, challenges, legitimate democratic dialogue and action into the same category as examples of abuse. 

The government made a strategic decision to discredit, smear and delegitimise the official opposition, portraying Labour’s left supporters as “extremists”, “dangerous”, and “terrorist sympathisers”. Such an attack tactic has some very chilling and profoundly anti-democratic implications, because it leaves the left exposed as a dangerous internal enemy, which legitimises radical right wingers’ belief that the left needs to be “eliminated”.

The Conservatives then claim that the “hard left” are abusive to divert attention – this “abuse” accusation is one of many techniques used by the right to police the boundaries of “acceptable” political thought.

Jo Cox was murdered. This has been linked to the rhetoric employed by hardcore right-wing Brexit campaign. Others, including myself, have also linked it with a growth in wider social prejudice, and the social divisions which have been politically fostered, motivated and manipulated by the Conservatives. Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle racism and negative campaigning strategies have been a key feature of elections over recent years and have normalised below the radar “coded” racist messaging, with the inbuilt “safeguard” of plausible deniability.

Dog whistling is designed to trigger previously indoctrinated prejudice, bigotry and  hatred without being recognised by outsiders as hateful speech in prejudiced communities. The legitimising of sentiment which has previously been considered inappropriate is one of Crosby’s trademarks, and this approach has steadily pushed at public moral boundaries, making hate speech and hate crime much more likely. 

The philosopher Jennifer Saul has how the linguistic drift of increasingly intolerant speech can lead to racist violence. As we become habituated to a subject of speech, our standard of what is acceptable to say (or not say) shifts, which in turn opens up possibilities for how we may act.

Of course intolerant speech is that which creates categories of outgrouped others, and this process of othering hasn’t been confined to ethnic minoritiesThe Conservatives have also stigmatised disabled people, social security claimants more generally, trade unions, public sector workers, among others and have systematically demonised and personally discredited critics, opposition (including charities and academics), and especially, those on the left.

The government has consistently sent out a broader message, in the form of a series of coded emotive appeals and sometimes, quite explicitly stated, that the left has/will take your taxes and give it to “undeserving” minorities. Those “minorities” are disabled people, people in low paid work, people who have lost their job, as well as asyum seekers and migrants.

As opposed to tax cheating millionaires and rogue multinationals.

This is a government that has sneeringly labelled those reasonably calling for an end to austerity, adequate funding for our public services and adequate social security protection for disabled people as “unrepentant Marxists”, “Trots”, “the Hard Left”, “the Loony Left”,  and who ran almost all of their election campaign as a strategic, pointed, deeply personal smear attack on Jeremy Corbyn and some of the shadow cabinet. 

The Conservatives ran an election campaign that was almost entirely about character assassinations and smearing the opposition, rather than offered policies. It was also about telling the electorate who they must and must not vote for. They seem to have forgotten that it is the public who decide who is “fit” to run the country, not the increasingly authoritarian incumbent government. We live in a democracy, after all, not a one-party state.

We need to recognise their moral and rational boundaries are being politically manipulated and systematically pushed. That has consequences. Increasing inequality, poverty, prejudice, discrimination and social injustice and social isolation, decreasing democracy, social inclusion and civic rights are just some such consequences. There are many more, some happening at a profoundly existential level. All at a time when supportive provision is being steadily withdrawn, public and mental health services are in crisis because of the Conservative cuts to funding. And many people are dying as a consequence.

Against this backdrop, it’s also become almost normal for the far right to murder and plot to murder left-wing politicians. Those of us who object and challenge the way things have become are dismissed and labelled with derogatory terms like “scaremonger”, “virtue signaller” and so on. 

Jo Cox was a dedicated Labour MP, who fought tirelessly for social justice. She was just 41 and was taken from a husband and two young children, as well as her friends and constituents. Her final words were “my pain is too much.” Jo’s grieving husband, Brendan, has urged us to “fight the hatred that killed her.”  We must.

It must be time to recognise that each and every one of us bears some responsibility and has some positive contribution to make to the kind of society we live in.

To make it the one we want to live in.

And surely that society is not the one we witness today.

 

Related image

Related

Austerity Brings Extremism: Why the Welfare State Is the Key to Understanding the Rise of Europe’s Far Right

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism

The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

It’s time the government took some lessons in the ethical use of power and influence amid the discussion about abuse

Not one day more: Tory councillor suspended for sneering racism and vindictive Tory anti-welfarism

A couple more lies that politicians and the media have told about Jeremy Corbyn – editing someone’s character is abusive

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious

 


 

 

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Promoting social solidarity is a positive way to address antisemitism and the growth of social prejudice

Oppose antisemitism and malicious accusations by supporters of the Tory Party

Jeremy Corbyn addressing the huge rally at Cable Street 80 in 2016.

In 2014, the Guardian reported that “Antisemitism is on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis.'” As far back as 2012, a survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights agency of some 6,000 Jews in eight European countries – between them, home to 90% of Europe’s Jewish population – found 66% of respondents felt antisemitism in Europe was on the rise; 76% said antisemitism had increased in their country over the past five years.

In the 12 months after the survey, nearly half said they worried about being verbally insulted or attacked in public because they were Jewish. It was commented on then that a process of normalisation, whereby antisemitism is being made somehow acceptable, was happening. 

In 2015, it was reported in the Guardian that antisemitic attacks in the UK were at highest level ever recorded. The Community Security Trust recorded 1,168 incidents against Britain’s Jewish population in 2014, more than double that of the previous year. 

There were extremely worrying reports of violence, property damage, abuse and threats against members of Britain’s Jewish population. The Community Security Trust, a Jewish security charity which runs an incident hotlinerecorded 1,168 antisemitic incidents  directed against Britain’s 291,000 Jews in 2014, against 535 in 2013 and 25% up on the previous record in 2009.

Theresa May, the home secretary at the time, described the figures as “deeply concerning” and “a warning to everyone to do more to stop antisemitism in Britain”, while Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said they were “appalling”.

In 2014, one in five of the incidents were threats or abuse on social media, fuelling claims that Twitter, among others, is not cracking down hard enough on hate-speech. In August, Luciana Berger, the shadow health minister, received a message on Twitter from a 21-year-old neo-Nazi, Garron Helm, that showed her with the Star of David on her head. It used the hashtag #Hitlerwasright and called her a “communist Jewess”. Helm was jailed for four weeks.

Berger was then bombarded with more than 2,500 hate messages tagged #filthyjewbitch. After Helm’s release, more antisemitic tweets began to emerge from his Twitter account. When Ed Miliband tweeted a link to his article about Holocaust Memorial Day, the user of the account tweeted back “Burrrn! lol”. 

Berger said she was horrified by the CST figures. “I know from the online hate campaign directed at me by neo-Nazis at home and abroad, that antisemites are using every digital platform to intimidate and harass Britain’s Jews,” she said. “Digital media companies, particularly Twitter, need to sharpen up their acts and move faster to remove accounts being used to spread and incite hate. To date, they have been too lax, and moved too slowly, allowing racists a free rein.”

Cooper called on “companies like Twitter to take stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms”. She outlined Labour’s hate-crime strategy which urged Twitter to speed up its removal of racist and antisemitic tweets, improve its communication of criminal activity online to the police, and prevent offenders simply restarting abuse from fresh accounts from the same IP address. 

That was in 2014. The same year I wrote an article about the dangers of nationalism and commented on the toxicity of socially divisive political and media rhetoric. I outlined the dangers of permitting far-right rhetorical flourishes to define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This has been used to justify active political exclusion of the constitutive Other.

In 2016, I spoke at a psychology conference in Manchester about the dangers of neoliberal notions of competitive individualism, stigma, and the new era of political-economic scapegoating more generally. I spoke about how neoliberalism, as a totalising doctrine, embellishes our separability from other human beings. It profoundly seperates and alienates us. 

Neoliberalism scripts social interactions that are adversarialand hierarchical in nature, rather than social and cooperative. It is the antithesis of collectivism, mutual support, universalism, cooperation, solidarity and democracy. Neoliberalism has transformed our former liberal democracy into an authoritarian state that values production, competition and profit above all else; including citizens’ lives, experiences, wellbeing and social conditions. 

I have also written about the dangers of essentialising traditionally marginalised social groups, and  rise of eugenic policies more recently, critiquing notions of  politically constructed categories, such as an “employment resistant personality” and its easy elision with notions of “improving” the qualities of particular populations, copled with political concerns regarding the reproduction of people with “undesirable” qualities. The recent limiting of tax credit/universal credit support for children in poor families to two children, to “incentivise behavioural change”, has dangerous eugenic consequences.

Furthermore, such a eugenic approach has a profoundly damaging and reductionist focus on individuals, casting them as biologised neoliberal commodities, which obscures wider social problems, such as political-economic neglect, inequality, imbalanced power relationships, poverty, political exclusion, abuse and oppression. These attitudes are shaping social perceptions and relationships.

 

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120. Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party. We are unaware whether efforts to identify antisemitic social media content within the Labour Party were applied equally to members and activists from other political parties, and we are not aware of any polls exploring antisemitic attitudes among political party members, either within or outside the Labour Party. The current impression of a heightened prevalence of antisemitism within in the Labour Party is clearly a serious problem, but we would wish to emphasise that this is also a challenge for other parties.” 

The rise of antisemitism in our society prededated Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. Yet this past week I have experienced abuse online – on Twitter in particular – on the basis of my political beliefs. I support Labour party policies. I do not support antisemitism. I challenge it. As someone who has written a lot about prejudice, discrimination and oppression more generally, and as someone who holds strong principles of internationalism, inclusion, equality and I also value and have a deep respect of diversity, I was deeply upset at being accused of being an “apologist”,  “complicit” with antisemitism, and of supporting a party where it is “rife”. 

If you point out that this is untrue, the next outraged accusation is that you are “in denial”, “evil”, “disgusting”  and that you “don’t care”. Many of these posts were directly aimed at linking Corbyn and Momentum with antisemitism. However, that does not address the antisemitism and the growth of prejudice, intolerance and oppression more generally in our society. It does nothing at all to ensure that everyone takes responsibility for challenging antisemitism, by passing it off as merely “Labour’s problem”. 

The growth of social prejudice, which was politically directed at traditionally targeted social groups, predated Momentum and Corbyn’s leadership. However, that does not mean that the Labour party has no responsibility in addressing these issues, both within its membership, and within wider society.

Abusing people because of intolerance and discrimination based on the political beliefs they hold does not address antisemitism, nor is it right to devalue the need to by directing prejudiceand hatred at those on the Left. People have a fundamental human right to hold political beliefs without being discriminated against. The right have been trying to pathologise legitimate democratic opposition for a long time now. The language they use is an attempt to discredit Her Majesty’s opposition, and impose a one party state.

Nothing contributes more to the rancor of political discourse than the indiscriminate use of political labels as partisan and prejudiced epithets. Terms and phrases like “cult”, “snowflake” ,”leftard”, “virtue signaler”, “Communist”, “Marxist” ,”Putin’s useful idiots”,  and of course recently, there is the irrational and guilt by association tag “antisemite” and “apologist” are being bandied about by pundits, politicians and those on the right (and some of the left wing neoliberals) more generally.

This oppressive language entailing the wide use of such terms of abuse, aimed at discrediting people on the grounds of their political beliefs, has become so normalised, that when you point it out, people cannot see it for what it is. The practice of labeling persons is dehumanising, it’s a way of dividing, outgrouping and turning human beings into an “it”. When labels are used as weapons to attack and discredit a person, a group, a politial movement, or ideas, they are insidiously irresponsible and repressive. They exploit base emotions and encourage a dangerous mindlessness that buries reason along with its victims.

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In the face of such profoudly toxic divisions in our society, it is worth remembering this. Jewish people, trade unionists, socialists and other groups once stood together, side by side, united in the battle of Cable Street, for example. In solidarity, they fought together against the growth of fascism in the UK.

Depiction of the Battle of Cable Street. 

Let’s also not permit other expressions of prejudice and oppression to be taken out of our collective history. It is important to remember the other victims of the Holocaust, too, who include disabled people, Roma people, socialists, communists, trade unionists, other political dissidents including anarchists, gay people, poor people, Polish people, Jehovah witnesses and Afro-Germans, as well as Jewish people, among other groups.

Living among us today remain Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was an unparalleled atrocity, it mobilised global opinion against eugenics and antisemitism, powerfully stripping it of the terrible prejudice, discrimation and oppression status at its heart, that had been fostered in many European countries. But that does not mean it vanished. The more recent wave of antisemitism is expressed in slightly different language, but the prejudices and hatred behind the rhetoric are the same, which is plain to see.

It is not “whataboutery” – an attempt to deflect from one injustice by referring to the suffering of others – to discuss the rise and impact of social prejudice more generally, and to point to other social groups that have been politically marginalised and othered. There is no hierarchy among groups who are oppressed and persecuted. As I have said on many occasions, prejudice multitasks and grows. This was a point made only too well by Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for a widely-paraphrased statement, of which he made different versions, one of which is “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Socialist ...”. Pastor Niemöller understood the dangers and horror of bystander apathy.

Prejudice, discrimination and oppression is part of a political-social process that tends to affect more than one traditionally marginalised social group over time. 

In the UK, disabled people are also experiencing an unprecedented rise in experiences of hate crimes, discrimination and oppression. A United Nations inquiry, prompted by disabled people, verified that disabled people’s human rights have been systematically and gravely violated by the government, because of their extremely punitive policies and the systematic withdrawal of lifeline social security support. We live in fear for our future. Yet currently, we stand alone in our fight for justice, dignity and freedom. Yet the only way we can fight oppression is by standing together in solidarity to face it. 

The rise of antisemitism is a global phenomemon, and is directly linked to the rise of other forms of prejudice

The Jewish Socialists’ Group has expressed a serious concern at the rise of antisemitism, especially under extreme right wing governments in central and Eastern Europe, in America under Donald Trump’s Presidency and here in Britain under Theresa May’s premiership. The recent extensive survey by the highly respected Jewish Policy Research confirmed that the main repository of antisemitic views in Britain is among supporters of the Conservative Party and UKIP. 

The group say: “This political context, alongside declining support for the Tories, reveals the malicious intent behind the the latest flimsy accusations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. These accusations have come from the unrepresentative Board of Deputies and the unelected, self-proclaimed “Jewish Leadership Council”, two bodies dominated by supporters of the Tory Party.

“Between now and the local elections the Tories would love to divert the electorate on to accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party rather than have us discussing austerity, cuts to local authority budgets, the health service, and social care. Many Jews within and beyond the Labour Party are suffering from these policies along with the rest of the population, and oppose them vehemently.”

The group goes on to say: “The Jewish Socialists’ Group includes many members of the Labour party, and we know many Jews who have joined or re-joined the Labour party enthused by the progressive leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

“Labour is the party that brought in anti-discrimination legislation at a time when many Tory members were open supporters of and investors in apartheid South Africa. The Tories are the party that have dished out the harshest treatment to migrants and refugees, especially when Theresa May was Home Secretary. Shamefully, they are still refusing to accede to the proposal of Labour peer, Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish refugee on the Kindertransport, to take in a small but significant number of unaccompanied child refugees from Syria.

“We have worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years, and we have faith that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour-led councils across the country, will be best placed to implement serious measures against all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry.

Corbyn has spent his entire political life fighting all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression. We should all do the same.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett named the rise of the far Right in various countries, the refugee crisis and the Internet as major factors spurring an increase of antisemitic incidents around the world, as he presented the annual antisemitism report to the government in January, 2018.

In his opening comments, Bennett noted that while the number of violent antisemitic incidents recorded around the world decreased, the number of general antisemitic incidents had increased. “Antisemitism is the dangerous fuel feeding our enemies for generations,” he said. “We must ensure every Jew in the world can live a safe and proud life.”

“Also in 2017, we saw a strong antisemitic presence online,” Bennett said. “Much of this discourse was related to the changes in governments around the world, the refugee crisis and the visibility of antisemitism in social media. We must act with all available tools against current antisemitism to ensure the security of the Jewish People, in Israel and the Diaspora.”

Presenting the report ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was marked on January 27, the ministry highlighted the record number of antisemitic incidents recorded in the UK in the first half of 2017 – there was a 78% increase in physical attacks and a 30% increase in the number of overall antisemitic incidents.

The ministry also flagged the rise of the far Right in Germany and the influx of refugees to the country as factors that have negatively impacted the Jewish population. A study released in December by the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations in Berlin found that antisemitism among Muslim refugees is rampant and requires urgent attention. A new edition of Adolf Hitler’s antisemitic manifesto Mein Kampf also became a bestseller in German bookstores in 2017, the report noted.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who attended the cabinet meeting, addressed the link between the far Right and antisemitism, noting that 15 years ago he proposed a method to distinguish antisemitism from legitimate criticism of Israel among the left, but today extremists from both sides of the political spectrum must be addressed.

Today we are witnessing a new and alarming phenomenon: The rise and emboldenment of right-wing political parties in Europe that profess support for Israel while supporting such antisemitic measures as outlawing circumcision and kosher slaughter, as well as historical revisionism of the Second World War and the rehabilitation of Nazi soldiers,” he said.

On the one hand, they proclaim that they stand with Israel, while on the other hand, they target and harm Jews. We see this in Austria, for example, where the local Jewish community has announced that it will boycott the official Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Vienna if ministers from the far-right Freedom Party attend the event. I have counted at least seven such political parties across Europe.”

We do not need and should not court such double-faced support, on either the right or the left,” Sharanksy said. “We must remain vigilant and not permit antisemitism to go without opposition and protest under the cover of convenient diplomatic stances or intercommunal bridge-building. I note both phenomena with alarm and demand that we do not play into the hands of antisemites, regardless of their political affiliations.”

The rise of the far right in the US was also flagged in the report, and specifically the violent “Unite the Right” rally, which was held in Charlottesville in last August.

The report also noted that the “continued increase of hate discourse among radical left-wing movements, which is mainly felt on college campuses.”

The picture in general in the US, is cause for concern. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual report on antisemitism released in November found that there was a 67% increase in antisemitic incidents across the US from January 1 to September 30, 2017, in comparison with the same period in 2016.

According to the FBI’s 2016 Hate Crime Statistics report, Jews, African Americans and Muslims are targeted more often than any other religious or ethnic group in the United States. The report found that more than half of the racially-motivated incidents in 2016, 54.2%, targeted Jews.

This figure is especially prominent in light of the low percentage of Jews in the US population,” the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report said. It also noted that the statistic was high when compared with attacks against other minorities: A quarter of the targets reported were Muslim, 4.1% were Catholic, 1.9% Eastern Orthodox and 0.5 Mormons.

Troubling statistics also emerged from Ukraine, with double the number of antisemitic incidents being recorded in comparison with the previous year, according to the report.

This included dozens of despicable acts of vandalism against memorials, museums and synagogues.

Additional findings highlighted by the ministry were extracted from a PEW survey conducted in 18 Central and Eastern European countries and published in May 2017. The ministry emphasized that the survey had found that 20% of citizens of those countries aren’t willing to accepting Jews as fellow citizens and 26% wouldn’t want Jews as neighbors. Only 42% would be willing to accept Jews as family. The attitudes expressed toward Muslims and Roma’s, were more negative.

About 57% of respondents said they would be willing to accept Roma’s as fellow citizens, 37% would be willing to accept them as neighbors and only 19% as family members.

Meanwhile, 65% would accept Muslims as citizens, 55% would accept them as neighbors and 27% as family.

My own thoughts and concerns about the growth of social prejudice more generally over this over the last few years summarised here. They are echoed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who spoke the Park East Synagogue in New York City In January. The Secretary-General  warned against rising antisemitism and discrimination, saying that the world must “stand together against the normalization of hate.” Guterres spoke about the recent appearance of neo-Nazi groups and the violence they have espoused.

“They are less crude and more dangerous,” he said, adding that oftentimes, groups have tried to rebrand themselves so as to appear more gentle towards Jews.  White supremacist groups, for example, often tout their main cause as reaffirming “white culture” and “white pride,” but in doing so, vilify other ethnic groups, including Jews. 

“The neo-Nazi threat is growing,” he told the audience, which included Holocaust survivors. “Some still seek to deny or diminish the fact of the Holocaust.” 

Guterres added that now more than ever, organizations are using social media to rally groups that espouse hate. 

The UK government’s policies must lead by example and must be predicated on respect for human rights and the rule of law. We must also, as a nation, support those citizens around the world and within our country who are struggling for human dignity and liberty. That is what any civilised nation must do.

Many of our right wing politicians and pundits are so busy trying to discredit and demonise any person speaking from the Left that they fail to recognise their own profound antisemitism. Trying to discredit a left-leaning Jewish group on the basis of their political beliefs, is antisemitic. 

andrew neil antisemitic

 

 
“See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.”  Zygmunt Bauman

With thanks to The Jerusalem Post for providing the information used in the second half of this article.

 

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The Conservatives’ slippery slope and Allport’s scale of prejudice

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical and socio-psychological processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrated how the unthinkable becomes acceptable: it happens incrementally. It happens because of a steady, nudged erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards others, all of which advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees. 

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an enemy or a social burden in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon W. Allport uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe how “little acts,” which often go unnoticed, can lead to serious and deadly individual and collective behaviors.  This framework describes, in ascending order, five “rungs” of intolerance and injustice: speech, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack, extermination.

Allport's ladder

The Conservatives are authoritarians, they manufactured an economic recession, as did the previous Conservative administrations. Though the sheer pace and blatancy of Cameron’s austerity programme  – a front for the theft and redistribution of public wealth to Tory-supporting private bank accounts – is unprecedented, even for Conservatives.

And prejudice towards vulnerable minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait. The media is being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. This process of outgrouping and othering has historically been used by tyrants to target, oppress, persecute and murder some social groups.

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The Conservative party has said that they are “controlling immigration” by clamping down on benefits tourism and health tourism – so that we only welcome those who want to “work hard and contribute to our society”, cutting net immigration from outside the EU to levels not seen since the late 1990s – to “ease pressure on the schools and hospitals that all hardworking people rely on”, and introducing a new citizen test with “British values at its heart”.  Such policies pander to public nationalism and normalise political fascism.

David Cameron is asking for our views on immigration. I didn’t bother responding to the highly selective, deliberately poorly designed, directed and loaded survey.

As someone who has designed sociological and psychological surveys, I know that rule number one for conducting genuine research is that we do not use loaded or leading questions. And I can’t abide the distraction and diversionary tactics – “finger pointing” politics at its very worst: scapegoating and bullying towards politically exploited minority groups, those least able to speak up for themselves.

We know that it is Tory polices that have damaged our Country, and not migrants, or ill and disabled people, or the poorest citizens. So I sent the following qualitative response to David Cameron:

“I’ve always felt the Tories don’t belong here, they have stolen all of our money, jobs, best houses, they’re scrounging off the hard-working taxpayer, and are draining our publicly funded public services – the welfare state, social security; legal aid, social housing, and they are bleeding the NHS dry. We can’t afford Conservatives, they contribute absolutely nothing to society, and cost ordinary people pretty much everything. They are also known criminals and terrorists, so they should be immediately deported back to the feudal era, where they  belong and never allowed back to civilised, democratic society again”.

Well, it is said that in satire, irony is militant. I pointed back and found the truth.

We are obliged to critique, in every  way we can, the constant subliminal drip of Tory bullying, imperialist white supremacist, social Darwinist, patriarchal political culture, because it is normalised by political narrative, a complicit mass media, and rendered opaque, presented tacitly as unproblematic “common sense”. 

It isn’t common sense. It’s nasty, manipulative right-wing prejudice, scapegoating and diversion. For those of you who welcome the political permission to exercise your own racism, it’s worth bearing in mind that prejudice tends to “multi-task”.

Once a social group is targeted for outgrouping and discrimination, others quickly follow, as Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed very well, in his famous statement about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

 

  Related 

When the oppressed are oppressive too

UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

Techniques of neutralisation – a framework of prejudice

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

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Art work courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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