ANZACs vs Jihadis? Examining the far right’s WWI narrative

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on the far right. Subscribe here.

Article by Byron Clark.

On April 30, 2019, the website Right Minds, operated by Diewue de Boer, published an article headlined “Christian Man Threatened With Arrest For Anzac Day Sign”.1 The sign in question featured pictures of the man’s uncle accompanied by the text “Died of wounds incurred at Gallipoli fighting against the Islamic Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire — fighting for God, King, and Country.” The reverse side of the sign read “Allah has no Son and so cannot be the God & Father of Jesus Christ — the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob — the God of the Holy Bible — your Creator & mine. Honour our Fallen Soldiers — Resist Tyranny — Fight for Freedom.”

According to Right Minds, the man had been told by police, “people are feeling intimidated and unsafe”. Those feelings would be an understandable response to a man making an explicitly anti-Islam statement a mere six weeks after a far-right terrorist murdered fifty-one Muslims in Christchurch. It should be noted that de Boer, the co-founder of Right Minds, told Stuff that he had read parts of the shooter’s manifesto and agreed there are points where it overlaps with his movement, despite his opposition to terrorism and violence.2 (In early 2020 police raided de Boer’s home over a suspected illegal firearm.3)

The man attending ANZAC day commemorations in Titahi Bay, identified only as Aaron, was promoting the idea that the First World War was a clash of civilisations between the Christian and Islamic worlds. There are elements of truth in this narrative – for example the Sultan-Caliph of the Ottoman empire proclaimed an official “Great Jihad” on 14 November 1914 – but as is usually the case with the kind of historical narrative that can fit on two sides of a plywood board, the reality is much more complex.

When the war began, 90% of the world’s Muslims resided in lands colonised by Europeans.4 The Ottoman empire, where most of the remaining 10% resided, remained uncolonized but was highly sought after by the European powers. The Dutch Orientalist Christiaan Snouck wrote in The Holy War, Made in Germany:

The competition with England, France, and Russia again made it desirable for all parties that their spheres of interest should be determined. Before the war the understanding had come so far that they were expected in the present year to reach an agreement, by which England would receive Southern Mesopotamia as its economic territory, France; Syria, Germany; the part of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor which is bounded on the one hand by the 34th and 41st degrees of east, longitude, and on the other by the 36th and 39th degrees of northern latitude, whereas the northern part of Asia Minor was to be given to a French-Russian combine for railway construction.”5

The Ottoman Empire in 19146

Snouck goes on to write “For this economic sphere of influence Germany would have felt slightly grateful, but by no means satisfied.”

Germany alone can save Turkey, and she has a huge interest in doing so since only the preservation of the complete integrity of the Ottoman Empire will make it possible for Germany to protect and to develop the economic position which she has gained in it. Besides, Germany is the only one among the large powers with which Turkey has to count who would not wish to annex a single foot of the country, and could not even if she wanted to. Germany’s geographical position would prevent her from effectively protecting such possessions and deriving profit from them. That is why during the twenty-five years of her more intimate relations with Turkey, Germany has always been the only trustworthy friend of the Empire of the Sultan-Caliph. There is between the two countries, apart from all questions of sentiment, a natural community of interests, whereas the interests of all the other large powers can only be furthered at the cost of Turkey’s welfare, and finally of her existence.7

For Snouck, the declaration of jihad was a ploy to further German colonial interests. His work Holy War Made in Germany is primarily a polemic against the writing of the German politician Hugo Grothe.

[T]he question remains whether, as Grothe hopes and expects, the Mohammedan nations under European rule will really be so charmed by the call to arms issued in the name of Sultan Mehmed Reshad, that they will attack their masters ”here with secrecy and ruse, there with fanatical courage.” Grothe already sees in his imagination how ”the thus developed religious war”—so he openly calls it—is to mean especially for England ” the decline of her greatness.”8A goal of German strategy in the war was to have the Muslim populations of the British and French empires rebel against their colonisers – all in aid of Germany’s own imperial interests. To this end the Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient (Intelligence Office for the East) was established. Max von Oppenheim, the head of this office, produced reports with titles such as “Die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete unserer Feinde” (Bringing about a Revolution in the Muslim Territories of our Enemies).9 In a memorandum titled “Exploitation of Muslim prisoners of war” (“Benutzung der kriegsgefangenen Muhammedaner”, dated 2 October 1914 he suggested that a mosque be constructed in the prisoner of war camp where Muslims were being held.

The Intelligence Office for the East suggested the construction cost should be funded at least in part by Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II in order to present the mosque as a gift from the German Kaiser to the Muslims. Due to resistance from the treasury, the mosque’s construction was financed from the regular budget of the military administration of the prison, but the mosque was still used for German propaganda efforts. Newspapers at the time described the good treatment of Muslim POWs “nearly as guests of the German people” (“fast als Gäste des deutschen Volkes”).10 A newspaper produced by the Nachrichtenstelle titled al-Jihad was produced in numerous languages and distributed at the Halbmondlager (Half Moon Camp) where Muslim POWs from the British and French armies were held, and the camp in Zossen that was used to hold Muslim POWs from the Tsarist army.11The success of this propaganda effort was severely limited. Some former POWs were sent to the Ottoman empire as Jihad volunteers, where they were deployed mainly at the Iraqi front. They were expected to write enthusiastic letters to their fellow jihadists still remaining in Germany describing their successful inclusion in the Ottoman army and the weakness of the British enemy. In reality though there was a lot of dissatisfaction due to inadequate accommodation, lack of food and poor treatment by the Ottoman officers, which led to insubordination and desertion. Besides that, the Ottoman authorities had preferred Germany to send settlers and workers instead of soldiers. The Jihad propaganda was ended at the end of 1916.12There was divided opinion among Muslims regarding the war. The Islamic reformer Rashid Rida heavily criticised the Committee of Union and Progress, the ruling party in the Ottoman empire, describing them as “enemies of Arabs and Islam.” Highly sceptical of German colonial ambitions in the middle east, Rida believed if Germany succeeded in building their planned Berlin to Baghdad railway, then British military power would never be able to “stop the stream of German greed.”13While Rida was an advocate of full Arab independence – from both the Ottoman Empire and European colonialism – he regularly stressed that Britain was preferable for many Muslims to Russia, Germany and France for the justice and the religious freedom given to British subjects in the colonies. Throughout the war, Rida attempted to persuade British Intelligence in Cairo of his ability, through the Decentralization Party, to influence Arab officers in the Ottoman army to rebel against their Ottoman and German commanders. He was eager to replace the Ottoman Caliphate with an Arab one after the war. While he later confirmed his allegiance to the Ottoman Caliphate (which he distinguished from the CUP government) this was only after British authorities were unwilling to provide the Arabs with any support.14When looking more deeply at the historical context of Islam in the first world war, the idea that the war was some kind of clash of civilisations between Islam and the Western (or Christian) world is hard to justify. It may be true that the uncle of the man who brought his homemade sign to the ANZAC commemorations in Titahi Bay was “fighting against the Islamic Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire;” however the British Empire, of which New Zealand and Australia were part, was not in a religious war with an Islamic caliphate but in a war of rival colonial powers in which the interests of one of those powers, Germany, were aligned with the interests of the Ottoman empire.

Few of the world’s Muslims conceptualised the war as a religious conflict either (Rashid Rida for example saw the conflict as a “greedy” materialistic war which had nothing to do with religion.15) with most of the world’s Muslims living outside the Ottoman empire and many fighting alongside the allied powers.

Simplistic black and white narratives of history are pushed by those who seek to wield history as a weapon in the interests of power or the ideology of nationalism, they rarely – if ever – tell the complete story. This has implications for the present. Erik-Jan Zurcher writes in the introduction to Jihad and Islam in WWI, a collection of conference presentations first given on the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Snouk’s book, that what fuels the fear of Jihad in the western world today is not so much the acts of extreme and demonstrative violence that occur, but the uncertainty about the degree of support for the Jihad among the large Muslim communities in European and American countries.16 It’s this fear that was exploited by Donald Trump when he campaigned on instituting “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”; closer to home, individuals like Aaron attempt to grow that fear.

1 “Christian Man Threatened With Arrest For Anzac Day Sign”, Dieuwe de Boer, Right Minds 30-04-2019, Archived at https://bit.ly/3rR22DR

2 “Radical losers and lone wolves: What drives the alt-right?”, Philip Matthews, Stuff, 23-03-2019. Archived at https://tinyurl.com/deboerstuff

3 “Far-right activist’s house raided over suspected illegal firearm”, Matthew Theunissen, RNZ, 11-01-20. Archived at https://tinyurl.com/o2kowvz4

4 Snouck Hurgronje, Christiaan. The Holy War, Made in Germany. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1915, p.9. Available at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Holy_War,_Made_in_Germany

5 Snouck, p.20

6 ‘Map of Ottoman Empire in 1914’, Ministry for Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/map-ottoman-empire-1914, updated 14-Aug-2014.

7 Snouck, p.21

8 Snouck, p.22

9 “Introduction” in Zurcher, Erik-Jan (ed.), Jihad and Islam in WWI, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 20

10 Gussone, Martin, “Architectural Jihad: The ‘Halbmondlager’ Mosque of Wünsdorf as an Instrument of Propaganda”, in Zurcher (ed.), p.189

11 Ibid. p. 23

12 Ibid. p.211

13 Ryad, Umar, “A German ‘Illusive Love’: Rashīd Ridā’s Perceptions of the First World War in the Muslim World”, in Zurcher (ed.), p. 312

14 Ibid p.321

15 Ibid p.316

16 “Introduction” in Zurcher (ed.), p 27

The genocide that inspired the Christchurch shooter

ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images)

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on the far right. Subscribe here.

Article by Byron Clark.

At the start of the livestream video that accompanied the terror attack in Christchurch, (quickly deemed an objectionable publication) the shooter plays the song “Karadžić, Lead Your Serbs”. Karadžić refers to a Serbian war criminal dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” by the media in the 1990s. The song is also known as “Serbia Strong” and “God Is a Serb and He Will Protect Us”, or in the online far-right spaces the terrorist frequented, as “Remove Kebab”. It’s a jingoist folk song dating back to the conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, which culminated in the largest genocide on European soil since the Holocaust.

The Royal Commission report into the shooting notes that while the terrorist travelled in the former Yugoslavia in late 2016 and early 2017 it’s “at least possible that he visited some places because of their association with historical events in which he was interested”1 describing his travels as not the cause of his mobilisation to violence, but as the setting for it.

The individual was thus in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina between 25 December 2016 to 31 January 2017. It was during this time that he wrote to the Bruce Rifle Club, which we see as the first tangible indications of his mobilisation to violence.

This article will examine how a nationalism with a specifically anti-Muslim character, and a lack of historical remembrance of the Bosnian genocide created an inspirational story for the modern far-right, specifically the man who murdered fifty-one Muslim worshippers in Christchurch.

Historical background: constructing a nationalist narrative

The Balkan region was a kind of geographic midpoint for the different religious groups of Europe and the near east. After the great schism in Christianity in the eleventh century, the region contained the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Western Catholic Croats. There has been a history of armed conflict between these two groups, largely confined to the 20th century.

The region’s Muslim population dates back to the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, the idea that Slavic Muslims and Serbs are ancient enemies, prominent during the wars of the 1990s, is much more recent; it was constructed by nationalist Serbs in the nineteenth century and projected back to the 1389 battle of Kosovo (and then back even further.)2In the five centuries following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, Muslims and Christians coexisted in what was a relatively tolerant environment for the times. Under Ottoman rule a formal charter guaranteed the freedom of the region’s Christians to practice their religion, and Ottoman Sarajevo provided sanctuary to Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.3The battle of Kosovo was fought between the invading Ottoman Empire and a Serbian army led by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, who ruled the most powerful state on the territory of the disintegrated Serbian empire. The way history remembered these events has changed in recent times.

The battle was not the central theme of Serbian historical stories. Prince Lazar would become a significant historical figure only in the nineteenth century, when his story was taken up by Serbian nationalists. It was later also taken up by the Christchurch shooter, who wrote Lazar’s name on one of his guns.4Nations are not things that occur naturally; they are always socially constructed. The Serbian nationalists of the nineteenth century could have taken a cross-cultural, cross-religious view, and based their nationhood on language. This was the approach of philologist and linguist Vuk Karadžić (1787-1865). For him, Serb nationality was a function of the language; all speakers of the South Slavic dialects, whether Catholic, Muslim, or Orthodox, were considered Serbs.5This contrasts with the views of poet and prince-bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1813-1851) For Njegoš, the region’s Muslims could never be part of the nation. By converting to Islam , Njegoš insisted, Slavic Muslims had “Turkified,” adopting not just the religion of the Ottomans, but actually transforming themselves into Turks. By converting to a religion other than Christianity, Njegoš believed people were converting from the Slav race to an alien race.6After gaining its autonomy and then independence from the Ottoman empire in the 1910s, Serbia as a state expanded. In his book Genocide in Bosnia, Norman Cigar writes of what this meant for the region’s Muslim population.

In the territories acquired during this phase, the Muslims were forced to convert, leave, or be liquidated. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Kingdom of Serbia had been largely cleansed of native Muslims and of the Turkish minority. The problem re-emerged, however, after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when Serbia was able to seize and annex two predominantly Islamic provinces from the hapless Ottoman Empire: Kosovo and the Sandzak, as well as Macedonia, which had a large Muslim population.7The establishment of Yugoslavia in 1918 united all Serbs in a single state, but significantly this wasn’t a Serb nation state. In 1933 during a reshuffle of internal borders, Yugoslav President Milan Srskic explained changes saying it was “Because of the Turks [Muslims]. I cannot stand to see minarets in Bosnia; they must disappear.”

By the late 1930s, these ideologues were encouraged by the rise of intolerance in many parts of Europe, and the situation had reached the point that plans were drafted for the mass expulsion of Yugoslavia’s largely Muslim Albanians. Yugoslavia, at the time, didn’t have the political or military power to put this plan into action.

During World War II, fascist states allied to Nazi Germany were established in Croatia and Serbia. In addition to the pro-Nazi state established in Belgrade, other Serbian nationalists organised the Chetnik movement, led by Draza Mihailovic. The goal of the movement was to establish a Greater Serbia in the Balkans.8Operational orders provided by Mihailovic to his field commanders made the Chetniks’ intent toward the Muslim population clear:

Point 4. To cleanse the state territory of all national minorities and anti-national elements. Point 5. To create a direct, continuous, border between Serbia and Montenegro, and between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing the Sandzak of the Muslim inhabitants and Bosnia of the Muslim and Croatian inhabitants.

The objective was clarified further in instructions sent from Mihailovic’s headquarters to the commander of a Chetnik brigade:

It should be made clear to everyone that, after the war or when the time becomes appropriate, we will complete our task and that no one except the Serbs will be left in Serbian lands. Explain this to [our] people and ensure that they make this their priority. You cannot put this in writing or announce it publicly, because the Turks [Muslims] would hear about it too, and this must not be spread around by word of mouth.

The defeat of the Chetniks by the Communists in World War II left them unable to complete their nationalist programme, but as a compromise Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito granted Serbia control over several areas in the region, and Serbs were given a disproportionate share of posts in the federal bureaucracy, military, diplomatic corps, economic infrastructure, judicial system, and Communist Party – a situation which prevailed until the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Modern History: Nationalism in the late 20th century

By the time Yugoslavia disintegrated, a ready-made nationalist ideology was available for exploitation. But the re-emergence of nationalism was not inevitable. Cigar writes:

The transformation in interethnic relations needed for the mass mobilization of the Serbs in support of a more confrontational relationship, including vis-à-vis the Muslims, was neither spontaneous nor unavoidable. Instead, a preparatory phase, marked by an intensive and methodical top-down political and information campaign in the 1980s, was required to change the value system of an entire generation of Serbs.

Well before the actual breakup of Yugoslavia, influential figures in Serbia had begun to shape a stereotypical image of Muslims as alien, inferior, and a threat. The novelist Vuk Draskovic in his book Noz, wrote Muslim characters as treacherous, cold-blooded murderers. The book even contains an explicit denial of the Muslims’ existence as a legitimate community. One future commander of the Serbian Guard militia spoke of the influence the novel had on him:

I beat up many Muslims and Croatians on vacation in Cavtat because of his Noz. Reading that book, I would see red, I would get up, select the biggest fellow on the beach, and smash his teeth.

Anti-Islam ideology become prominent among Serbian intellectuals. When, for example, Belgrade’s Muslim community requested land for a cemetery, political scientist Miroljub Jevtić responded:

From land for the dead, the next step is to conquer land for the living. They will then seek a mosque, fully legitimately, but then, around the mosque, they will seek land on which to settle Muslims. Then, it will not be long before non-Muslims will leave, initially voluntarily but later under pressure. . . . What is planned is to settle Muslims in those areas, and to then step up the birth-rate in order to achieve numerical superiority gradually.

This concern about birth rates among Muslims is a precursor to the modern ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which posits that there is a deliberate plan to overwhelm white populations with people of colour (often Muslims specifically) – the Christchurch shooter went so far as to name his manifesto ‘The Great Replacement’. Much like the modern far-right’s claims of a “white genocide” being imminent, Serb nationalists in the 1980s claimed a genocide against Serbs by Muslims in Bosnia and predominantly Muslim provinces of Serbia was a real possibility. In his book The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia Michael Sells writes:

By the time the Bosnian conflict began, the national mythology, hatred, and unfounded charges of actual genocide in Kosovo and imminent genocide in Bosnia had been shaped into a code: the charge of genocide became a signal to begin genocide.

In the late 1980s Serbian nationalists marched in Bosnian cities with the bones of prince Lazar, and the proclamation “We will do our utmost to crush their race and descendants so completely that history will not even remember them.”

The Bosnian war

Beginning in 1992 Serbian militias began to put this plan into action. When Serbian nationalists came to a predominantly Muslim town, the first people they targeted were intellectual and cultural leaders. Religious authorities, teachers, lawyers, doctors, business people, artists, poets, and musicians. According to Michael Sells, the goal of this was to destroy the cultural memory of the Bosnian Muslims.

In an incident recounted by the Bosnian writer Ivan Lovrenovic, a Serb army officer had entered the home of an artist in Sarajevo. This artist was Serbian but among his works was a piece that depicted a page from the Qur’an. Infuriated, the officer had all the artwork taken out into the street, lined up, and shot to pieces with automatic weapon fire.

The Serbs destroyed the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, which was home to the largest collection of Islamic and Jewish manuscripts in the region, and later the National Library and National Museum. Mosques were another target. Between them, Serb and also Croat nationalists destroyed an estimated fourteen hundred mosques. In many cases the site of the mosques were ploughed over and turned into car parks, all evidence of their prior existence removed. Graveyards, birth records, work records, and other traces of the Bosnian Muslim people were eradicated.

Prior to destroying the recorded history and culture of Bosnian Muslims, Serbian nationalists had been emphasizing their own historical narrative. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo had been elevated to the level of national lore by the nationalists of the nineteenth century. That was still very much the case a century later. In his speech commemorating the six hundredth anniversary of the battle, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic proclaimed :”Today, it is difficult to say what is true and what is legend about the Battle of Kosovo. Today, that is not even important.”

Norman Cigar wrote of this nationalist use of history, not as an actual chronological record of the past and its scholarly study, but as an “ideological club” whose greatest utility was as “a potential mobilization vehicle.” The story was influential not just in the region but worldwide. Cigar writes:

One cannot explain today’s developments, much less the occurrence of genocide, simply by taking a mechanistic linear view of such a milestone as, say, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, in which the Ottomans defeated the medieval Serbian state. This battle, however, has been perceived by many Western observers as the root of an enduring Serbian-Islamic struggle and, ostensibly, the mainspring of the current situation.

Michael Sells writes that when the national mythology was appropriated by political leaders, backed with massive military power, and protected by NATO nations, it became an “ideology of genocide.” A set of symbols, rituals, stereotypes, and partially concealed assumptions that dehumanize a people as a whole, and justify the use of military power to destroy them.

In the city of Banja Luka, it was announced on local television that one thousand Muslims would be allowed to remain in the city (out of over 28,000). All the others would have to go, “one way or another.” By the end of 1993, of the 350,000 Muslims living in the Banja Luka region before the war, only 40,000 remained. In Bijeljina, Serb officials set the appropriate quota of Muslims who could continue to live in the town – 5 percent of the pre-war number. And in the town of Kozarac, houses were color-coded according to the owner’s ethnicity and then “destroyed systematically.” Samantha Power, a journalist covering the Yugoslav wars at the time who later became the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, writes:

Sometimes Muslims and Croats were told they had forty-eight hours to pack their bags. But usually they were given no warning at all. Machine gun fire or the smell of hastily sprayed kerosene were the first hints of an imminent change of domicile. In virtually no case where departure took place was the exit voluntary. As refugees poured into neighbouring states, it was tempting to see them as the by-products of war, but the purging of non-Serbs was not only an explicit war aim of Serb nationalists; it was their primary aim.9

For the next three years as this euphemistically named “ethnic cleansing” went on, the West did little to stop it, and in fact, did much to facilitate it.

Passing on September 25 1991, UN Security Council Resolution 713 imposed an arms embargo that locked into place the vast Serb army advantage in heavy weapons, reinforcing the power imbalance that allowed genocide to be carried out with impunity. The Serbs had access to the resources of the Yugoslav army, who, supported and financed by the Western powers, had stockpiled immense stores of weapons in anticipation of a Soviet invasion that never came The five permanent members of the Security Council; the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China all voted for the embargo.10In the following years it become increasingly clear that what was happening in Bosnia was not a civil war, but a genocide of one ethnic group by another. The international community didn’t completely ignore what was going on. The UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions, deployed peacekeepers, and helped deliver humanitarian aid. What the United States and its NATO allies did not do until it was too late, however, was intervene with armed force to stop genocide.11According to Samantha Power, the US was reluctant to intervene as they had no national interest in the region, unlike in the Gulf War of 1991.

Iraq had eventually threatened U.S. oil supplies, whereas Yugoslavia’s turmoil threatened no obvious U.S. national interests. The war was “tragic,” but the stakes seemed wholly humanitarian. It met very few of the administration’s criteria for intervention.

Within the US establishment there were numerous high-profile resignations in protest at the administration’s inaction. On August 25, 1992, George Kenney, the acting Yugoslav desk officer resigned from the State Department. News of Kenney’s departure made the front page of the Washington Post. “I can no longer in clear conscience support the Administration’s ineffective, indeed counterproductive, handling of the Yugoslav crisis,” Kenney wrote in his letter of resignation, which the newspaper quoted. “I am therefore resigning in order to help develop a stronger public consensus that the U.S. must act immediately to stop the genocide”12It was not as if the atrocities were unknown in the West; rather, they were simply ignored by those with the power to stop them. One of the most poignant demonstrations of this was the 14 January 1994 letter to the New York Times from Louis Gentile, a Canadian diplomat who at that time was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bosnia:

The so-called leaders of the Western world have known what is happening here for the last year and a half. They receive play-by-play reports. They talk of prosecuting war criminals, but do nothing to stop the crimes. May God forgive them. May God forgive us all.“13

The Bosnian war

On 6 July 1995 the Serbs attacked the UN safe zone of Srebrenica. There had been attacks before, but what made this one different was that the Serbs did not just attack the Bosnian Muslims, but surrounded the positions of the UN peacekeepers. Knowing about the UN soldiers’ ‘don’t shoot unless shot at’ mandate, the Serbs never directly attacked them.

Colonel Tom Karremans, the Dutch commander of UN troops, requested NATO air support from his superiors. But because the UN soldiers were not directly under threat, his request was denied. On July 9th, Ratko Mladić, general of the army of Republika Srpska, the Serb- held territories in Bosnia, took over the Srebrenica operation. The next day, the Serb forces pushed forward, with the goal of taking over the enclave. Two subsequent air support requests were rejected, the first because the Serbs stopped advancing until the planes ran out of fuel and had to return to base, and the second because when the planes were refuelled and the Serbs started advancing again, it was too dark. Karremans met with Muslim military leaders that night and assured them that forty to sixty NATO planes would arrive at 6am the next day to stage a “massive air strike.” But that didn’t eventuate.

There is no agreed-upon account of why the planes didn’t come that morning, but they didn’t. Karremans made another request over the phone, and was told he needed to submit a paper form. So a form was filled out, then returned because it was the wrong form. Once the right form was submitted, he was told air support would arrive within 45 minutes, but at 9:45am it was denied. The misunderstanding was that command support said air support *could* arrive in 45 minutes, not that it would. Another request was made at 10am. Again though, Karremans was told he had to submit a form. By the time the air strike could be approved, the planes again had to refuel. This bureaucratic back and forth arguably prevented a decisive change in the course of events.14Mladic summoned Karremans for a pair of meetings at the local Hotel Fontana; he warned that if NATO planes reappeared, the Serbs would shell the UN compound in Potocari, where refugees had gathered. Later, with Karremans looking on, Mladic asked the Muslim representative of the Bosnian government who had been called to negotiate whether the Muslims wanted to survive or “disappear.”

The Serbs had chosen that the Muslims would disappear. What followed was the largest massacre of the war, later ruled a genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. One survivor described what he experienced:

They took us off a truck in twos and led us out into some kind of meadow. People started taking off blindfolds and yelling in fear because the meadow was littered with corpses. I was put in the front row, but I fell over to the left before the first shots were fired so that bodies fell on top of me. They were shooting at us … from all different directions. About an hour later I looked up and saw dead bodies everywhere. They were bringing in more trucks with more people to be executed. After a bulldozer driver walked away, I crawled over the dead bodies and into the forest.

In the town of Kravica, north of Srebrenica, Muslim men were herded into a large warehouse. Serb soldiers positioned themselves at the windows and doorways, fired their rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and threw hand grenades into the building, where the men were trapped. After the soldiers shot bullets into any bodies that were still twitching, they left a warehouse full of corpses to be bulldozed.

Eventually, there were NATO air strikes which did lead to the end of the war in Bosnia. It came too late, though, for the eight thousand dead in Srebrenica. When Serbia began to ethnically cleanse the province of Kosovo, NATO was not as slow to act as it had been in Bosnia.

There was a section of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto about that Kosovo conflict. It wasn’t quoted in any New Zealand media, but it was in Balkan Insight, the website of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. The terrorist criticised NATO forces for what he saw as attacking Christian Europeans who were attempting to remove “Islamic occupiers” from Europe.

This view was held not just by extremists like the terrorist, but by mainstream politicians in Europe and elsewhere. In 2008, the Austrian MP Heinz-Christian Strache argued that Kosovar independence was an attack on Serbia’s identity, that European nations had to band together to protect the “Christian Occident” and that a failing to do so would entail that “Europe is likely to experience the same fate as Kosovo”.15 When the attack happened in Christchurch, Strache was Austria’s vice chancellor.

In the quarter century since the Bosnian genocide the events of the early 90s haven’t taken their rightful place in our collective memory, where we can recognise Islamophobic rhetoric and fearmongering about birth rates and know the end point of this rhetoric is genocide. Instead, we have seen publications such as Renaud Camus’ Le Grand Remplacement (2011) a book whose English title is shared with the shooter’s manifesto, and Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe (2017).

Perhaps more significant though has been the deluge of far-right content on social media, in particular on YouTube. The Royal Commission report into the Christchurch shooting noted that “[the shooter’s] exposure to such content may have contributed to his actions on 15 March 2019 – indeed, it is plausible to conclude that it did.”16 The commission also found that the shooter had donated money to Rebel Media, which employed Lauren Southern, who produced a documentary on the supposed Great Replacement, and Stefan Molyneux, whose YouTube channel promoted discredited ideas about race and intelligence.

Southern and Molyneux travelled to New Zealand in 2018. While they were eventually unable to find a venue to host their speaking tour, the event had sold a significant number of tickets, showing that their rhetoric is resonating here. If we do not learn from the atrocities of the past, we are never far from similar atrocities happening again.

1 https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/firearms-licensing/the-regulation-of-semi-automatic-firearms/

2 Sells, Michael. The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, University of California Press, 1998.

3 Cigar, Norman. Genocide in Bosnia, Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

4 https://www.smh.com.au/world/oceania/christchurch-shooter-s-manifesto-reveals-an-obsession-with-white-supremacy-over-muslims-20190315-p514ko.html

5 Sells.

6 Sells.

7 Cigar.

8 Cigar.

9 Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, Basic Books, 2002.

10 Sells.

11 Power.

12 Quoted in Power.

13 https://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/14/opinion/l-in-banja-luka-terror-seems-uncannily-normal-870200.html

14 Untold Killing podcast, episode 2: “The Fall”

15 Zdravko Harmens, Hans. Karadžić Lead your Aussies?, 2020. https://studenttheses.universiteitleiden.nl/handle/1887/137654

16 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack in Christchurch: https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/firearms-licensing/assessment-of-the-individual-and-the-terrorist-attack/

Aunties Book Review: An essential collection

It was satisfying to receive a Big Red Book in the mail.

Book title: Aunties
Editors: Kassie Hartendorp, Ella Grace, M.Newton, Nadia Abu-Shanab
Released: 2020
Review by: Ani White

The Aunties collection was crowdfunded in 2018, a collection of articles bringing together the perspectives of women, transgender, non-binary, and intersex people involved in political organising across Aotearoa. This was an initiative of editors Ella Grace, M. Newton, Kassie Hartendorp and Nadia Abu-Shanab (although they assert on the website that “we’re not editors, we’re organisers”, the collection is well-edited).

Crowdfunding from the community has allowed this collection to be accountable to the community, rather than to NGOs or even corporate funders who tend to downplay anti-systemic perspectives. For example, the decision to include a prison abolitionist perspective from People Against Prisons (PAPA) organiser Emily Rākete goes beyond what prison reform NGOs would allow.

Although the collection took three years to produce after the crowdfunding campaign, this is reflected in the breadth of the collection, with 25 articles spanning 100 pages. Many articles are brief, but rich. The collection is beautifully produced, with excellent design by Natasha Mead, Natalie Thomson and Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho – and many lovely illustrations and photographs throughout.

The cover is Simply Red, and it was satisfying to receive a Big Red Book in the mail. Although digital media has transformed communication in important ways, and can’t be ignored, there’s something to be said for a print collection in bringing together diverse articles in one lasting place, rather than isolated articles or fleeting 240-character hot takes. That said, for those who can’t afford the collection, there is a free pdf online until the end of the year – a good decision in terms of accessibility, in contrast to the academic approach which locks away important knowledge in subscription journals. The printed collection is also available to purchase for $30, and if you can afford that, it’s worth supporting the work and expense involved in drawing the collection together (international orders are also included).

The introduction accurately captures the conjuncture this collection intervenes in:

We face a number of challenges to our collective survival. We share an awareness of these challenges. Sometimes it makes us feel heavy and lost as we struggle to find our place.

We came together to make this magazine because you’re not alone. You shouldn’t feel like you have to face these things by yourself. You can’t and shouldn’t.

This emphasis on collective self-determination, as a solution to various interlocked crises, runs throughout the collection. Articles include a brief interview with Ihumātao organiser Pania Newton (for international readers: Ihumātao is a struggle for Māori land against property developers), an interview on organisation with beneficiary rights stalwart Sue Bradford (who calls for a “large scale party to the left of Labour and the Greens”), and an interview with veteran indigenous activist Hilda Harawira, among many others.

The collection takes in the perspective of both leading activists, and other contributors who may be erased even in activist politics. Related to the inclusion of these often-erased perspectives, Ihumātao ‘leader’ Pania Newton questions the very concept of ‘leadership’ in movements, as she has in her public speeches.

Although drawing clear political lines in the sand, the collection reflects the complexity and nuance of the various liberation struggles women and gender minorities are engaged in across Aotearoa. In part this stems from the emphasis on lived experience. The collection is also intergenerational, as suggested by the title Aunties.

Given the feminist decision to include only articles by women and gender minorities, often indigenous and women of colour, some may mutter about ‘identity politics.’ This is a bugbear of both the right and, unfortunately, much of the Conservative Left. However, a simple flick through the contents reveals that this collection transcends the tired identity vs class argument, with pieces by union organisers alongside wider community organisers and writers. Working-class self-organisation is not mutually exclusive with challenging multiplied forms of oppression, such as colonisation and sexism, and this collection reflects that fact. As union organiser Tali Williams outlines at the inception of her article:

A lot of the problems women experience stem from what happens at work. That’s why for centuries women have united and organised to confront the boss.

And as union organiser Shanna Olsen-Reeder points out in her article, the abuse she experienced from a boss “was a symptom of the system in which we operate: capitalism.”

All three union organiser contributors offer practical, useful and inspiring accounts of workplace organising, with Tali Williams writing on organising at a major NZ clothing brand, Shanna Olson-Reeder on organising at JB Hi-Fi, and Jacky Maaka interviewed on her work in the health sector respectively. This practicality of the approach to class is also reflected in the decision to include a WINZ Rights Info Sheet. 

That said, there is one weakness in the collection’s class politics: the articles on workplace organising are written by paid representatives, although at least one of them was first recruited from the shopfloor, and another is an elected paid delegate. In part this limitation is simply a reflection of wider conditions: no large-scale rank-and-file movement exists, so leftists tend to orientate towards left officials. Another underlying issue here is that even organised workers run the risk of facing (often illegal) disciplinary action if they speak up publicly, but a strong rank-and-file union movement should be able to back up workers who speak out publicly – perhaps anonymity is another option. I understand there was an intention to include more rank-and-file union perspectives, but this can be difficult to achieve in contemporary conditions  (as Fightback editors can attest).

The point here isn’t to moralistically condemn paid organisers, many of whom are good comrades. However, although organisers place an emphasis on workers’ self-organisation (Shanna Olsen-Reeder asserts that workplace organisers “didn’t rely on a union organiser to come in to our workplace” and Tali Williams asserts that there are “no experts here!”), we only hear the perspectives of paid representatives. This reflects the complex question raised by Pania Newton about the nature of ‘leadership’ in movements. Across the pond in Australia, I’ve been involved in a rank-and-file struggle against the collaborationist approach of the National Tertiary Education (NTEU) leadership, an approach sadly shared by the leadership of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) in Aotearoa – although more militant unions do not necessarily share that approach, the collaborationism during the COVID crisis has not been challenged the way it has in Australia. Bringing in more rank-and-file union perspectives would have strengthened a generally excellent collection, which does tend to otherwise emphasise self-organisation of oppressed and exploited communities.

Another thing which would strengthen the collection is a consideration of how struggles in Aotearoa are interlocked with international struggles, for example the role of labour migration to Australia (recently politicised with the COVD-era backlash against returning New Zealanders, many of whom have lost work in Australia). The question of refugee rights, such as the recent growth of refugees from Syria, also indicates how local issues are interlocked with international ones. That said, even with 100 pages of brief articles, there’s only so much space to include Everything That Matters. Also, work by Pasefika activists and writers, such as Leilani Visesio’s article, does bring an Oceanic perspective to the collection.

Overall, this is an essential collection for anyone looking to learn about liberation movements across Aotearoa, or to strengthen their organising work – perhaps the underlying message of the collection is kia kaha, be strong. We need more work like this, collecting together the experiences and lessons of various connected struggles.

How the far-right found a home in the New Conservative Party

by BYRON CLARK

Candidates | newconservative

“We’ve got some awesome candidates that are stepping up for us,” announces New Conservative Party deputy leader Elliot Ikilei in a video posted to their Facebook page on March 27, 2020. “This is going to be one person over here. Now he is a little bit over there, a little bit over to the far-right…” (Ikilei moves to his left.) “So here we are, and this is a great man, this is a man who many of you will know, and we are so excited to have him on board! Now I’m just going to give it over to him. Sir! What is your name, and tell us a little about yourself?”

“My name is Dieuwe de Boer, and I am a candidate for the New Conservative Party.” announces de Boer. “I’m rather infamous at this point, for my conservative political commentary,” he says to giggles from Ikilei. The joke about de Boer’s infamy, and the earlier double entendre about his location on the far-right, is in reference to an article published by RNZ in January which described him as a “far-right activist”, when reporting on a police raid of his home over a suspected illegal firearm.

Not everyone saw the humour in that headline. Max Shierlaw complained to the Media Council about the use of the term “far-right”. He noted that de Boer was a Christian, a conservative, and a family man who supports gun ownership; these things did not, in Shierlaw’s opinion, make him a “far-right activist”, a term he argued was more properly used for neo-Nazis and racists, which de Boer is not. The Media Council did not uphold the complaint, noting in their response:

It is RNZ’s view that Mr de Boer’s statements put him somewhere on the far-right continuum and the Council agrees that, while ‘far-right’ is an inexact term, it was not an unreasonable description. While not everyone who opposes immigration has far-right views, Mr de Boer has also been openly critical of Islam, saying it was ‘fundamentally incompatible with western values and culture’, has expressed support for nationalism and had supported visiting speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, whose views have consistently been described as far-right. It was also telling that Mr de Boer himself had been quoted as saying that ‘far right’ might not be a bad description of his views.

“All of that makes far-right a rather meaningless and harmless slur.” commented de Boer in an article on his Right Minds website. He’s not necessarily wrong; the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish NGO based in the United States which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, describes the term as “more vague than extreme right or radical right”, the terms they use to describe violent hate groups that exist outside of mainstream conservatism.

While begrudgingly accepting that the far-right label is going to stick, in that same article de Boer announces that his barrister had issued a cease and desist letter for what he describes as “a series of libellous tweets” about him, including one noting that he “regularly appears on Australian hate-monger Tim ‘Pinochet did nothing wrong’ Wilms’s podcast”. Dieuwe de Boer is indeed a regular guest on the podcast in question, The Unshackled, appearing in a weekly “trans-Tasman talk” segment. The slogan quoted in the tweet, “Pinochet did nothing wrong” is one that appears on a t-shirt that Wilms has worn in YouTube videos.

Augusto Pinochet was military dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, and is known for his  persecution of leftists, socialists, and other political critics. In particular his regime is remembered for death flights, a method of extrajudicial killing where dissidents were thrown to their deaths from helicopters. The phrase “free helicopter rides” has become a meme on the alt-right, a dog whistle to those who know the meaning, and a seemingly nonsensical joke to those who don’t.

Wilms’ t-shirt belays another meme to those in the know: the letters RWDS printed across the sleeve stand for Right-Wing Death Squads. While originally coined to describe paramilitaries in Colombia in the 1980’s, the term has been adopted by the modern alt-right. Searching for the phrase will bring up a SoundCloud track by that name featuring a picture of an armed man in silhouette in front of a Black Sun, the symbol featured on the cover of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. One SoundCloud user comments: “Remember lads: Subscribe to PewDiePie”, quoting the shooter’s livestream and echoing another meme appropriated by the alt-right.

Of course, there are several degrees of separation between de Boer and these commenters; he can easily distance himself from them, and even from Wilms. “I am not responsible for Tim’s wardrobe.” he writes, before going on to say, “Tim’s views are generally not too different from mine”.

The Right-Wing Death Squads meme is noted in another of de Boer’s articles. Reporting on a protest he attended in Auckland’s Aotea Square where the right clashed with anti-fascist activists, he writes:

On our side there was someone in a t-shirt that said “Right Wing Death Squad” with a helicopter on it. No one on the other side knew the meaning of the joke, and it is unlikely that everyone reading this would get the joke too, which is why I think it is a terrible one.

He notes that this protestor can’t be labelled a white supremacist because while he would occasionally “yell something in German and talk about physical removal of leftists”, he was ethnically Chinese.

The Unshackled podcast and YouTube channel was previously a joint effort between Wilms and Sydney man Sukith Fernando, but Fernando was dropped from the project after it became widely known he was a Holocaust denier following an article published by Honi Soit, the student paper at the University of Sydney where Fernando was studying at the time. Fernando repeatedly claimed that he “didn’t know” whether the Holocaust happened when confronted by liberal students on campus. He had been part of a ‘Holocaust Revisionism’ Facebook group and had commented “Wow Hitler really did nothing wrong” under a video questioning the holocaust that was posted on his page.

The Unshackled has on numerous occasions provided a platform for one of Australia’s most notorious far-right extremists, Blair Cottrell. Cottrell is the founder of the United Patriots Front (UPF), and later the Lads Society. As reported by ABC News, the man who perpetrated mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques in March 2019 had been an admirer of Cottrell, frequently commenting on his Facebook live streams, referring to him as “Emperor” and donating to the UPF.

Tom Sewell, president of the Lads Society, had – prior to the shooting – tried to recruit the man who was later to perpetrate the Christchurch mass shooting to join a group looking to create a society of only white people. The man, who at this point was about to move to New Zealand, declined. “The difference between my organisation, myself and [the shooter], is simply that we believe, certainly at this stage, that there is a peaceful solution for us to create the society we want to live in,” Sewell told Newshub“If we are not given that opportunity, well, time will tell. I’m not going to give you any explicit threat but it’s pretty fucking obvious what’s going to happen.”

Again, de Boer maintains a degree of separation from these figures, but he has spoken openly about the overlap between the content of the Christchurch mass shooter’s manifesto and his movement. “The overlapping views obviously are that we favour nationalism and have an opposition to the United Nations,” de Boer told Stuff. “We want stronger controls on immigration. We haven’t talked much about replacement, but I would definitely highlight that Western nations in general have low birth rates.”

And highlight those birth rates he has. A 2017 article on Right Mindsis headed with a line graph showing the declining birth rate in New Zealand since the 1960s. Despite saying that Right Minds haven’t talked much about replacement, this article heavily implies that something akin to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, after which the Christchurch mass shooter named his manifesto, is going on. “Every single one of our childless liberal leaders wants to import more immigrants to be the children they don’t have” writes de Boer. “Perhaps these parties should remove their gender quotas, official or otherwise, and replace them with some offspring quotas.”

Coming into the New Conservative fold

Initially de Boer was less than enthusiastic about the New Conservatives. In a June 2018 article he describes them as “boring” and lambasts them as “more green than the Greens” for missing an opportunity “to stand out here to and straight up call out the global warming lie”. In reference to an income splitting policy he asks rhetorically “does that mean a Muslim man can split income between all four of his wives and pay no tax?”, and concludes that the party has “run-of-the-mill socialist policies, much like every mainstream party in New Zealand.” By eighteen months later he had completely changed his attitude.

I got a message from deputy leader Elliot Ikilei, who told me that he had read my critically dismissive review, he thought I had some good points, and he wanted to meet up to talk about it. That one simple olive branch changed my life and I know he’s extended many more like it to others. Perhaps enough to alter the course of this nation.

Rather than ignoring the fringe blogging of a young man who said his party was not pushing climate change denial hard enough while dismissing every mainstream party as “socialist” and throwing in some barely hidden Islamophobia, Ikilei had specifically sought out de Boer. It may be that the politics of New Conservative are not as different from Right Minds as de Boer originally thought. His article endorsing the party praises Ikilei for saying that western culture is superior to all other cultures: “That’s a line you won’t hear from any politician”.

Other figures from New Zealand’s far-right have also been drawn to the New Conservatives. Canterbury man Lee Williams, whose YouTube channel boasts over twelve thousand subscribers, posted a video on July 19th 2019  calling for the small “right of centre” parties opposed to the United Nations Compact on Safe Orderly and Regular Migration (commonly known as the UN Migration Pact) to unite together. Underneath the video, one commenter writes: “A party has been formed”, “New Conservative Party (NZ) Good people here. Check it out.” Williams replies, “I’m in touch with Elliot”.

A few weeks later, he was in Auckland to speak at a Free Speech rally, along with Elliot Ikilei and others. Speakers were introduced by Dieuwe de Boer. In his speech, Williams begins “Well here we are, the white supremacists of New Zealand, according to Patrick Gower and the lying New Zealand mainstream media!”, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Williams is referencing a Newshub piece that reported on members of the far-right attending a protest against the UN Migration Pact in Christchurch. Newshub reports that at that rally the notorious while supremacist Phillip Arps had called for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters to be hanged. Arps has served a prison sentence for sharing the livestream video of the mass shooting at Al Noor Masjid, and had left pigs’ heads at the same mosque in 2016.

Williams was not mentioned in the piece, but has reason to gripe about the story. He was the one speaking at the rally when Arps, who had been standing beside him waving a New Zealand flag, yelled out “Hang him! Publicly hang him!” when Williams mentions Peters. In his speech, Williams states that “Europe and its people are being replaced”, referencing the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, a phrase that New Zealanders would become familiar with a few weeks after that rally when it was used as the title of the Christchurch mass shooter’s manifesto.

It’s likely that the content of that speech, and other videos such as one uploaded two weeks later where Williams claims “these [Muslim] wives are just knocking out babies with baby factories, you know, and vastly outnumbered the birth-rate of native populations – this is in every country in Western Europe”, were the impetus for police visiting him on two occasions after the Christchurch shooting.

After attending a public meeting in Christchurch in August, Williams made a video announcing his endorsement of the New Conservatives.

Anybody who’s informed and they watch what’s happening in Western Europe and they know what’s happened in the United States with the Democrats, Donald Trump if you – if you support Donald Trump, if you’re on one of the secret supporters of New Zealand then I would say you’d probably like New Conservatives. If you’re pro-Brexit, if you’re pro-freedom of speech, if you’re anti-mass migration, anti-United Nations Global Compact on migration, then the New Conservatives is for you.

When a commenter asks if the New Conservatives are “of a similar persuasion to A-M Waters and the ‘For Britain’ party in [the] UK?”’ Williams replies: “yes similar”. The For Britain Party was founded by the anti-Islam activist Anne-Marie Waters after she was defeated in the UK Independence Party leadership election in 2017. Their platform includes reducing Muslim immigration to the UK to near zero.

The New Conservatives have a zero net migration policy that doesn’t single out any particular ethnic group or religion. But the comments from their Botany candidate are not the only time the party has been associated themselves with that kind of ideology. On April 2nd 2019, the New Conservative Facebook page shared a video promoting Douglas Murray’s 2017 book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam,describing it as “a powerful understanding as to why our culture is suffering,” and noted: “We absolutely agree.” The book claims that Europe is under threat from Muslim immigration and higher birth rates, and is popular on the far-right.

Much like Ikilei’s olive branch to de Boer, the party didn’t ignore the endorsement of a fringe YouTube personality who believes – among other things – that the United Nations is run by an “unholy alliance” of Islam and “cultural Marxists”, and that there is a deliberate plot to emasculate western men to weaken white majority countries. Instead, they shared Williams’ video on their Facebook page with the comment: “we are so humbled and encouraged to see critical thinkers jumping onboard.”

In a video uploaded to his channel in September 2019, Williams and an unnamed friend, who also attended that same meeting in August, call on people to vote for the New Conservatives, describing them as “the closest we’ve got to a Salvini or a Viktor Orbán”, referring to far-right politicians in Italy and Hungary. Lee Williams is wrong about a lot of things, but in that instance, he’s probably correct.

Introduction: ‘Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism’ Special Issue

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To order our pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for $20, please contact us at Fightback.australasia@gmail.com, or subscribe to our publications at Fightback.zoob.net/payment.html.

This Special Issue began as a response to the events of March 15th in Christchurch New Zealand, the murder of 50 Muslims by a far right terrorist.

On a personal note, a week or two before the attack I visited a local mosque to purchase a book. One old man, perhaps sensing a nonbeliever, kept saying “We are one people, Homo sapiens.” The awkward attempt to be inclusive was appreciated. The story of the old Afghani man at Al Noor mosque whose last words were “welcome brother” reminded me of this. Muslims welcome strangers into their places of worship, yet are not welcomed in so many countries.

We argue that stopping events like the March 15th attack from happening again requires that wider social processes are identified and stopped – particularly the spread of Islamophobia.

We also seek to undermine the false dichotomy between fighting Islamophobia and fighting anti-Semitism. Both reinforce each other, both are key building-blocks of fascism, and both are interlocked with all other forms of oppression and exploitation.

Despite the cries of ‘religion not race’, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are racist: race is not a genetic category, it is a social one, and religious minorities are racialised by white supremacists. As for claims that Islam is inherently regressive, the Arab Spring proved that Muslim-majority countries are crying out for radical democracy, although the revolutions have now collapsed.

All forms of racism do not operate identically. The US regime, still the most powerful nation on Earth, promotes Islamophobia to justify its expanding military and surveillance state. Anti-Semitism has not apparently enjoyed the same level of structural support – although Trump recently dog-whistled about George Soros, reflecting his general tendency to not so much widen the Overton Window as tear it off its hinges. Russia, a nascent imperialist power, encourages both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as part of its strategy of courting the international far right.

Anti-Semitism poses a distinct kind of threat for the left. As Marxist theorist Moishe Postone highlights, anti-Semitism does not rely on a myth of inferiority like most racism, but rather a myth of superiority – the myth of a conspiratorial elite. This myth has found a new lease on life in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. This means while anti Semitism is not distinct to the left, and not the only form of racism that leftists reproduce, it can pose a special threat on the left, because it appears superficially to match a class critique of capitalism – yet it covertly replaces class with ethno-nation, a dangerous swap that lets many exploiters off the hook while scapegoating many of the exploited.

This collection comprises two Fightback articles, and two reprints. The first three pieces form a chronology of responses to the Christchurch attack; first, Faisal al-Asaad’s “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organise”, published the day after on Overland; second, a Fightback analysis of the processes that led to the attack, published a week after; finally, a piece reflecting on the relationship between Islamophobic attacks and anti-Semitic ones, published just over three weeks after.

The fourth and final piece was first published in 2014. This offers a more general perspective on how to criticise Israel – a key promoter of Islamophobia – without being anti-Semitic.

We hope this collection helps foster the solidarity needed to finally overcome the nightmares that continue to plague humanity.

Ani White, coordinating editor

From Pittsburgh to Christchurch: Why we must fight Islamophobia and anti Semitism together

Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA - 29 Oct 2018

Left: Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch. Right: Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburgh.

By Ani White.

Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. To buy a copy for $20, please get in touch at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe by PayPal or credit card here.

On the 27th of October 2018, a fascist terrorist killed 11 attendants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, USA. Five months later, on March 15th of this year, another fascist killed 50 worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It should now go without saying that both attacks reflected an international upsurge of the far right. Despite targeting different faiths in different countries, both attackers were motivated by transnational far right ideas fuelled by mainstream dog-whistles, and incubated in ugly corners of the internet. Both posted their plans on niche online forums just before carrying them out.

However, the links between the attacks are more intricate than this simple observation. After the Christchurch shooting, the Tree of Life synagogue released the following statement on their website:

We stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence. We will continue to work towards a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”1

The group also established a gofundme to support the Muslim community in Christchurch, raising over $60,000 at the time of writing.2 In the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, Muslim organisations raised over $200,000 for the victims.3

The Tree of Life synagogue’s solidarity with Christchurch Muslims was a continuation of a long-standing policy. In fact, their support for Muslims and refugees played a role in motivating the choice to target Tree of Life. The shooter posed the following statement to white supremacist-friendly social media site Gab:

HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people.

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics, I’m going in.4

The post refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which helps resettle refugees in Pittsburgh. Although the HIAS was founded to help Jewish refugees, in the 2000s the group expanded to help refugees from all backgrounds. Seven days before the shooting, the HIAS led Jewish groups in a ‘Refugee Shabat.’5 After the attack, HIAS senior vice president Melanie Nezer released a statement saying: “[T]here’s no denying that this is a devastating moment… But I don’t think it lessens our resolve. If anything, it makes us feel more strongly that we need to stand up for what’s right.”6

As pointed out in a Vox article at the time, an old conspiracy theory about Jews populating ‘white’ countries with refugees and immigrants motivated the attack:

The obsession that appears to have tipped the gunman over the edge was a conspiracy theory insinuating that the migrant caravan currently making its way through southern Mexico, and which President Donald Trump and conservative media have treated as an existential threat to the United States, is a Jewish plot.

His response was an attack that was both anti-Semitic — an attack on Jews and Jewish values — and characteristic of Trump-era xenophobia, which is generally expressed toward Muslims and Latinos.7

In other words, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism fed eachother in motivating the attack. This contrasts with accounts that Israel’s crimes motivate the rise of anti-Semitism: the far-right’s Islamophobia undermines such an explanation. In fact some on the far right have come to support Israel as a bastion against Islam, in spite of their continuing anti-Semitism.

It’s essential that we have a sharp analysis of the far right. Unfortunately, many left-wing responses to the situation are grossly inadequate. After the Pittsburgh shooting, a branch of the UK Labour Party voted down a motion to condemn the Pittsburgh shooting and anti-Semitism in general.8 At best this reflects a fight over the definition of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, prioritising factional battles over the principle of opposing violent anti-Semitism everywhere. At worst, the decision reflects genuine anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The most convicing way to discredit accusations of anti-Semitism is to not behave anti-Semitically. A dispute over what constitutes anti-Semitism may be legitimate, but not a dispute over whether to condemn anti-Semitism.

Conversely, Israeli reactions to the Pittsburgh shooting were also inadequate. First of all, Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi David Lau refused to recognise the Tree of Life synagogue as a synagogue, since it does not follow Orthodox Judaism.9 Secondly, Israeli officials refused to condemn Trump for fuelling racial hatred, reflecting a recent tendency to actually befriend racists and anti-Semites outside Israel. Finally, Israeli opposition leader Avi Gabbay said the attack should motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel rather than staying in the USA.10 An article in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper, suggested that “American Jews may never forgive Israel for its reaction to the Pittsburgh massacre.”11

In part, these inadequate responses reflect a strategic perspective of Zionism (note: modern political Zionism can be most usefully defined as support for a Jewish state, on Palestinian land). For Zionist leaders, there is no point in fighting anti-Semitism in the diaspora, rather Jewish people must migrate to Israel. In this account, the colonisation of Palestine is the only way to ensure Jewish safety. In this sense, anti-Semitism in the diaspora fuels Zionism, as Israeli leaders take advantage of anti-Semitic attacks to call for escape to Israel. It’s often pointed out that Israeli propagandists weaponise accusations of anti-Semitism to discredit legitimate criticism, but their refusal to fight genuine anti-Semitism in the diaspora is a subtler strategy. Combating anti-Semitism in the diaspora is therefore essential to undermining the Zionist colonial project.

The need to fight Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together is not only ethical, it is practical, as they reinforce eachother. The solidarity between Pittsburgh and Christchurch, in the face of attacks that seek to divide, is a model for all who seek liberation. The Jewish diaspora slogan “wherever we live, that is our homeland” must be demonstrated in practice, by ensuring Jewish and Muslim communities are safe and welcome everywhere.

See also

‘Fighting Islamophpbia and anti-Semitism’ pamphlet to be released

In the wake of the Christchurch tragedy, Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

If you would like to pre-order a copyfor $20, please contact us at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe here: https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Christchurch terror: How did this happen?

Hajid Daoud

Haji-Daoud Nabi, whose last words were “welcome brother.”

By Byron Clark, Daphne Lawless, Tyler West, and Ani White.

You’ve heard the news: on March 15th, 2019, Aotearoa/New Zealand experienced its largest mass shooting since the colonial massacres, a coordinated terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch. Throughout the day the death toll climbed; first 6, then 27, then 40, and finally 49 (with more passing away in hospital beds in the ensuing days). Victims included resettled Syrian children, fleeing terrorism in one place only to encounter it in another.

In the aftermath, many said “This is not Aotearoa.” However, while the attack may not have represented Aotearoa, it did represent the ugly underbelly of white New Zealand.[1] We cannot simply blame the involvement of an Australian – for one thing, Christchurch has long been the city where the far right is strongest in this country. Although the attack is unprecedented, it did not come out of nowhere.

When Tūhoe Māori activist Tame Iti noted the legacy of colonial violence which this attack echoed,[2] many in comment threads called this ‘segregation’ or ‘divisiveness.’ However, if we don’t identify the roots of racist violence, it will only happen again and again.

We will examine four factors that should be considered in comprehending the incomprehensible; 1) The history of far-right groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 2) The alt-right internet’s incubating role, 3) Activist-left complicity in Islamophobia and 4) Complicity of the coalition government parties. We must “clean house” if we are to stop this from ever happening again.

Always present: NZ’s far right in history

The savagery and scale of the attacks in Christchurch are without a doubt unprecedented in recent New Zealand history. Attempts to reach for a comparison must go as far back as the 1943 Featherston POW massacre, the 1918 Surafend massacre, or further still to the 19th century colonial wars. However, whether the motivations and violent nature of these attacks are unprecedented in New Zealand is another matter entirely.

Research on New Zealand’s far right is scarce, but what does exist puts the immediate lie to claims by the likes of Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and National Party MP Gerry Brownlee that white supremacy has not been a problem in Christchurch (or, by extension, New Zealand). The origins of New Zealand’s far right as an organized force lie with the emergence of racial exclusion leagues over the 1880s to 1920s, and the development of interlocking immigration laws which became known as the White New Zealand Policy.

While the origins of white supremacy lie with the confiscation of Māori land and the bitter wars of the mid-19th century, its cohesion as a conscious doctrine originates in the fears of immigration eroding said power towards the end of the century. The early exclusionary leagues acted as relatively simple lobbying groups and utilized entirely legal means to further their aims, which in practice acted to reinforce and extend an increasingly whites-only border policy. Through the 1880s to 1900s groups with names like White Race League, Anti-Asiatic League, and Anti-Chinese League began to appear; generally garnering popular support.[3] At the same time, the lattice of immigration law which upheld the White New Zealand Policy started to be enacted.

A non-exhaustive list of that legislation includes[4]:

  • Restrictions on non-British gum diggers in 1898, 1908, and 1910; specifically aimed at Dalmatian (sometimes referred to as Croatian, Yugoslav, or just Slav) labourers who had entered the industry.
  • Undesirable Hawkers Prevention Bill 1896 which was aimed at Syrian and other Arab immigrants, while acting broadly as a roundabout way to slow immigration by non-white British subjects.
  • Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act 1919 placing special requirements on immigrants from the former German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
  • Immigration Restriction Act 1899 which acted to impede all non-British immigration.
  • Over two dozen pieces of legislation aimed specifically at Chinese migrants. Poll tax increases in 1881, 1888, and 1896; naturalization bans in 1892, and 1908; additional language tests in 1907; and thumb printing in 1908 are among the most notable.
  • Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1920, which acted as the formalization of the White NZ Policy and functionally ended non-white immigration.
  • Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1931, which severely impeded attempts by Jewish refugees from Europe attempting to enter New Zealand

These racial leagues and the immigration restrictions eventually created the atmosphere that resulted in the infamous murder of Joe Kum Yung, an elderly Chinese miner, on Haining Street in Wellington on 24th September 1905. The killer, Lionel Terry, was a relatively popular racist agitator of a British merchant family and military background who’d been promoting his manifesto/verse booklet The Shadow leading up to the murder. The murder shocked the country, but crucially had no effect in blunting the popularity of whites-only immigration to NZ and a great many continued to support him.[5]

This atmosphere also culminated not only in Yung’s murder in 1905 and the formalization of the White NZ Policy by the Act passed in 1920, but also in the founding of the most notorious of the racial exclusion leagues, the White New Zealand League. While the politics of this league were functionally little different to earlier leagues, it was the most explicit about ensuring New Zealand be a white state. With the common belief that Māori were either a ‘dying race’ or destined to be assimilated into white NZ, this meant that like previous groups the White NZ League focused near exclusively on Asian immigration.[6] As a marker of the League’s incredible popularity, through the mid-1920s it sent requests to 200 local bodies around NZ asking them to pass resolutions supporting the aims of the League. They received positive replies from 160 of these local bodies, representing some 670,000 people (about 47% of the population at the time).[7]

Anti-Semitism, while rarer than anti-Asian sentiment, was far from unheard of either. Within the Social Credit movement in particular, which had strong support especially from the ‘old petty-bourgeois’ (rural small-landowners, typically farmers), anti-Semitism was rife in the 1930s. A survey of Social Credit publications from the 1930s-1980s by sociologist Paul Spoonley reveals a persistent slew of anti-Semitic content, even after the Social Credit Political League itself expelled its extreme right-wing in 1972.[8] Social Credit acted as a harbour for anti-Semitism until the post-war period from the 1950s onward, when the far right began to fully develop and new organisations appear.

A full chronology of all the organisations of the far right in New Zealand established since the 1950s would be fruitless. Suffice to say that from 1954 with the formation of a NZ wing of the British League of Empire Loyalists (primarily based in Auckland and Christchurch) through to his writing in 1987, Paul Spoonley recorded the formation of nearly 100 far right organisations in a 33-year period.[9] Plainly, many more have formed in the interim 32 years.

While none of these groups have managed to become a mass movement or electorally successful party, some have attained significant support. Organisations expressing solidarity with white rule in Southern Africa, particularly South Africa and Rhodesia, began to appear in the 1960s and grew rapidly over the coming years.[10] Meanwhile the League of Rights, cousin to the Australian group of the same name and a home for the extreme right exiled from the mainstream Social Credit party, garnered surprising success in spite of their notoriety as an anti-Semitic and virulently racist organization. After its 1971 formation the League had a stable membership and support base of around 200 people for the duration of the decade, which soared to at least 1000 in the early 1980s as a result of the 1981 Springbok Tour and the rapid social changes of the time. The League further established numerous front-groups and operated in coalition with more mainstream conservatives over issues like abortion and homosexual law reform, giving them access to the political mainstream and some hard-line MPs. Estimated yearly expenditure for the 1980s, primarily funded by large volumes of book & paper sales, was as high as $50,000; a figure packed up by the publication of massive numbers of pamphlets, such as 250,000 copies of one titled New Zealand First in 1981.[11]

From the 1960s onward an openly fascist wing of New Zealand’s far right began to operate, sometimes trailing into violence (National Socialist Party founder Colin King-Ansell was convicted of firebombing a synagogue in 1967). This fed in later years into the rise of often violent white power gangs in the 1990s which declined but persisted into the 2000s.[12] Arguably the most notorious, the Fourth Reich gang attracted national horror when a number of partially-ideologically motivated murders occurred after its expansion from a prison gang into a number of South Island centres in the late 1990s. Members were responsible for the murders of Hemi Hutley, James Bambrough, and Jae Hyeon Kim (and possibly more) in and around Westport from 1997-2003; Hutley and Kim for their race, and Bambrough for his sexuality.[13]

Kyle Chapman, arguably New Zealand’s most notorious contemporary neo-Nazi, confessed to numerous race-related attacks on Māori people including firebombing a marae in Invercargill in the early 1990s. After confessing and ‘leaving’ the scene in the mid-1990s Chapman led a trust in Christchurch where he was tasked with steering skinhead youth away from the white power movement, which ended when he was discovered to be using his position to distribute neo-fascist material to his wards.[14]

Chapman would go on to lead the National Front in the 2000s at a time when their supporters vandalized Jewish graves and attacked immigrants in Wellington, and later founded Right Wing Resistance which operated in Christchurch in the early years of this decade. Other stalwarts of the movement like Colin King-Ansell and Kerry Bolton (who was a member of the National Socialist Party in his teenage years, going on to be a leader in numerous neo-fascist organisations) are still active today, like the rump of the white power scene in the 1990s.

Though only a few instances of fascist terror have been elaborated here, historically New Zealand has had a demonstrably active far right subculture which has always bubbled not too far below the surface. And while it has never managed to attain mainstream success or political power in New Zealand, it has often hovered alarmingly close to that political mainstream or launched sporadic and opportunistic acts of violence from the fringe.

Internet’s incubating role: The writing on the guns, and New Zealand’s alt-right

Before he began his shooting spree, the Christchurch terrorist shared photos of his weapons on his (now deleted) Twitter account. On the guns used in the massacre he had written the names of other mass shooters, as well the phrase “14 words” a reference to the fourteen-word slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” a statement attributed to American David Lane, founder of the white supremacist terrorist organisation The Order.

On another gun he had written “here’s your migration compact!” a reference to the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This compact is a non-binding agreement around migration that was developed in the aftermath of the 2015 refugee crisis following the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was unanimously supported by all UN member states in September 2016.

The compact, relatively benign as well as non-binding, would likely have also been supported by all member states, if not for what happened next.

Beginning in September 2018, the far-right began to spread distorted information, conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about the pact. According to Laurens Cerulus and Eline Schaart, writing for Politico (see “How the UN Migration pact got trolled”[15]):

The burst of activity, including tweets, videos and online petitions, prompted politicians in several countries to take notice of the previously uncontroversial pact and revise their views. In Belgium, the controversy led to the collapse of the government.

The rapid move from online activity to political reality is an example of how a process can be hijacked by what researchers describe as a global network of nationalist, far-right activists. In this case the efforts were spearheaded by popular YouTubers and political “influencers” such as Austrian far-right activist Martin Sellner, then coordinated via chat groups and hyper-partisan websites.

The institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which monitors extremism, analysed the 100 most popular YouTube videos about the migration pact and found that 75 were created by people that they had classified as right populist, anti-migration campaigners, far-right extremists or conspiracy theorists. This online network of hard-right content creators, along with far-right members of parliaments were able to sway several European countries to vote against approving the compact, along with the US, Israel and Australia.

New Zealand was not left out from the global right-wing backlash against the compact. While her own YouTube video, entitled “WAKE UP NEW ZEALAND’ BY Carol Sakey -MUSLIM WORLD, NZ’S OPEN BORDERS.[16]” was nowhere near popular enough to be among the sample analysed by ISD, the parliamentary petition Carol Sakey started did gain some traction. The petition was shared by local right wing Facebook pages such as South Island Independence Movement, run by Timaru based Solomon Tors-Kilsen, who self-identified as alt-right when questioned by the New Zealand Herald’s Kirsty Johnson for her July 2017 investigative report on New Zealand’s far right[17] and One Nation NZ, the party founded by former New Zealand First candidate Kym Koloni to contest the Northcote parliamentary by-election in 2018.

In the hours following the shooting in Christchurch, the One Nation NZ Facebook page disappeared. It’s unclear whether it was removed by Facebook or whether it was pre-emptively taken down by Koloni (or someone else in the organisation). The page frequently shared articles fear mongering about Islam and immigration.

A bigger player in New Zealand’s far right social media ecosystem, however, is the larger and -relatively speaking- more moderate New Conservative party. The New Conservatives, who trace their origins to the Conservative Party founded by disgraced millionaire Colin Craig, have rebuilt the party as a less Christianity orientated but more conservative organisation. They are a registered party, meaning they will be on the ballot at the 2020 election, and occasionally show up in polls at around 1% of the vote.

The party has been able punch above its weight, Deputy Leader Elliot Ikilei has been a semi-frequent guest on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme as well as the Radio Live and Newstalk ZB talk-radio networks. In a video about the UN Compact on Migration posted to his Facebook page on November 25th 2018[18] Ikilei tells his audience:

Almost every sentence can be found in almost any or every sci-fi dystopia type thriller type movie type book. Almost every sentence is an incredibly dangerous clause, wish list, desire, and the fact that our leader, Winston Peters, I mean Jacinda Ardern, is all good to sign it, when other countries are aware of the absolute insidiousness of this document is just incredible.

Ikilei doesn’t quote a single word from the document, but claims “this doesn’t get any worse actually, this document, this is end game type of stuff…if you care about New Zealand, this document cannot be signed. This is the type of thing that we need to unite against, it is vicious”

He then thanks people who have sent him links and reviews, significantly he says “thank you also to the person who sent me Stefan Molyneux’s take on it, I haven’t watched it yet…I’m looking forward to watching that as well.”

A Facebook follower posts a link to Molyneux’s video in the comments, Ikilei and a few others like the comment. Molyneux is a Canadian white supremacist[19] who promotes discredited pseudoscience regarding the link between race and intelligence[20]. He came to New Zealand in 2018 as part of a speaking tour with Lauren Southern, another Canadian far-right activist.[21]

When the pair were barred from speaking at Auckland Council owned venues, Ikilei and the New Conservatives became some of their most vocal supporters. A July 7, 2018 press release[22] reads “New Conservative staunchly supports the free speech that has been occurring year after year after year at our Auckland Council venues, and utterly rejects the flawed attempt to label Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux as having views that are ‘hate speech’.”

Southern, it should be noted, has a small part in the story of the Christchurch shooting as well. In the Anglophone world, she has been one of the biggest proponents of the conspiracy theory known as “The Great Replacement” a term coined by French anti-immigration writer Renaud Camus to describe the “replacement” of Europeans by non-white immigrants.

The Great Replacement narrative influenced protesters at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia who chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and it influenced the Christchurch shooter, who titled his rambling manifesto “The Great Replacement” and wrote that “Millions of people [are] pouring across our borders … [i]nvited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce”[23]

In the hours following the shooting, Southern’s YouTube video “The Great Replacement” appeared to have been removed from the internet[24], though at the time of writing it is online.[25]

A December 5th, 2018 Facebook post on the New Conservative NZ page[26] promoting a rally against the Migration Compact states:

We were the first political party to publicly stand staunchly opposed to signing the UN migration pact. We were the first political party to publicly stand against the restrictions on free speech earlier this year, and we were on TV, radio, debates with a consistent and clear message about free speech and sovereignty.

It was through that mix of social and traditional media coverage that New Conservative was able to take the narrative on the Migration Compact that originated on the far-right conspiracy theory parts of YouTube, and inject it into mainstream political discourse.

On December 4th the mainstream conservative National Party announced it would oppose voting for the compact and pull New Zealand out of it if elected in 2020:

The Government appears to be relying on the UN to set its migration policy rather than making its own decisions. While a number of countries are pulling out of the agreement as the extent of its potential impact on the decision-making of individual countries is realised, our Government is refusing to outline its own position. For these reasons, National will not be supporting this agreement and we will reverse the decision if this Government signs up to it.[27]

Gerry Brownlee told Newshub that the migration compact would result in “pretty much open borders”.[28] Opposition to the UN pact was no longer confined to fringe far right groups but had become the policy of New Zealand’s main opposition party.

As he opened his interview with Foreign Minister Winston Peters on December 20, 2018[29] Newstalk ZB host Mike Yardley stated “the [legal] advice says that it will not compromise sovereignty nor is it legally binding, but there are still a lot of people worried about implications”. Peters, a man who it should be said has built much of his political career on anti-immigration populism, noted that the National Party had supported the compact when in government, and that the debate around it started “all of a sudden because of the alt-right and a few uniformed people…I can’t have you on national radio…repeating this uninformed drivel!”

But by then it was too late, the meme had already spread. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true, people believed it was true, or felt they could win the votes of people who believed it was true. The National Party even went so far as to create its own petition, encouraging their supporters to “to stand with National and stop this Govt from signing NZ up to this agreement”.

While the Migration Compact was signed in December, National had left the petition up on their website. That is, until they took it down- some time on the afternoon of March 15th. A copy of the page from Google’s cache is still accessible, the most recently available snapshot is from the 15th, 1:39pm New Zealand time. Archived just around the time New Zealand was starting to come to terms with the fact that we had just experienced our first alt-right terrorist attack.[30]

Islamophobia and the Left

The mainstream Right in New Zealand bears most of the responsibility for refusing to combat the spread of white-supremacist, Islamophobic, and migrant-baiting ideas, or even exploiting them for electoral advantage. We rightly mock conservative politicians and media figures shedding crocodile tears over 51 dead Muslims. But sadly, these ideas have not been absent from the activist and radical Left in this country either.

A diagram on the first page of the Nazi murderer’s manifesto (apparently taken from the defunct US fascist group, the Traditionalist Workers Party) lists “anti-imperialism”, “environmentalism” and “workers’ rights” among his principles, and the murderer later equivocates on whether he would describe himself as a “socialist”. This has been enough to allow some of the more extreme Right US websites to try to categorise him as actually far-left.[31] But it is in fact just the latest example of the phenomenon of red-brown politics – fascism adopting left-wing slogans as “camouflage”, which sadly intersects with sections of the activist Left passively or actively going along with conservative-populist ideas. Fightback has previously warned of the massive dangers of an unwitting convergence between “Conservative Leftism” and the Red-Brown movement, allowing fascist ideas to circulate within our own movement.[32]

Martyn Bradbury, proprietor of the prominent centre-left Daily Blog, was quick to come out on social media with “FUCK ISLAMOPHOBIA” after the massacre. This is exactly the same Martyn Bradbury who less than two years ago wrote: “The impact of the Asian-NZ population tripling in the space of 20 years and overtaking Māori has political, economic and cultural ramifications that haven’t been discussed yet it’s a debate that is already running.”[33]

In New Zealand discourse, “Asian” generally refers to East Asian (mainly ethnically Chinese) people, rather than from the Indian Subcontinent or the Middle East. But Bradbury’s fretting about “invasion” and “colonisation” by migrants only differs from the paranoid rambling in the Christchurch Nazi murderer’s manifesto by which ethnic group of migrants in particular he is disturbed by. If your only difference from Nazis is in which ethnicity you suspect of being a fifth column stealing the country from within, you should be excluded from the Left. The parallel with European colonisation is also dubious, given that Europeans showed up with guns, continue to own most of the property and now presume to regulate new arrivals.

The fact that Syrian refugees were among the dead adds an extra layer of irony to the participation in the outpouring of grief, rage and activism by some activist Leftists who follow a “campist” politics of identifying the USA and its client states as the main source of wickedness in the world, and apologising for or denying the imperialist ventures of Russia, China and their own client states.[34] All people with basic human decency in Aotearoa would be disgusted at the gabbling of the US conspiracy theorists who claim that the mosque murders were a “false flag” designed to justify some nefarious State plot. And yet, parts of the activist Left here in New Zealand have resorted to similar “false flag” conspiracy theories when confronted with tragedies with politically inconvenient consequences – for example, in reaction to the Assad regime’s chemical attacks in Douma, Syria, in April 2018 which killed at least 70 people.[35] Willingness to adopt conspiratorial explanations for tragedies, if they challenge our political presuppositions, puts us in danger of a slide into reactionary ideologies. It is worrying that few other activists thought that this was at all a shocking or outrageous thing to say regarding the Douma attacks; many supported the statement.

The genius of both the Russian and Chinese state-backed propaganda networks has been to recycle Western “war on terror” propaganda, demonizing Muslims as terrorists and subversives, into an anti-imperialist framework which makes it acceptable to Left-wing opinion in the West. This propaganda narrative combines Western post-9/11 Islamophobia with the older narrative that Islamist resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a creation of/funded by the West, rather than an indigenous movement.

Many Western Leftists have been sucked into repeating poisonous Islamophobia by accepting the story that every resistance movement to Russia, China or their client states which resorts to Islamic imagery are CIA funded terrorists. In this way, the whole Syrian resistance, along with Uighurs in China or the Rohingya people in Myanmar/Burma, can be equated with actual terrorist movements such as ISIS/Da’esh and al-Qaeda.[36] Murderous dictators like Bashar al-Assad or Muammar Qadhafi can be upheld as victims of imperialism and as bulwarks of “secularism” against the jihadi menace.

It must be stated plainly – when New Zealand leftists (for example) refuse to condemn China’s “re-education” camps for Uighurs, or repeat smears that 9-year old Syrian refugee Bana al-Abed’s father is an ISIS operative, they are promoting Islamophobia, whether they realise it or not. In many parts of the world this kind of “ISIS-jacketing” is a death sentence for those smeared – like “snitch-jacketing” or “cop-jacketing” in the USA. Just like the Christchurch Nazi murderer, the Russian and Chinese states characterise Muslims as tools of a Western imperialist (or “globalist”) conspiracy. Most of the New Zealand left has simply refused to debate these issues, characterising those who worry about them as sectarian obsessives. But anyone who rightly cries over 51 murdered in Christchurch while dismissing 70 murdered in Douma as a “false flag” is not showing internationalism. Campism is neither internationalism nor anti-imperialism; and supporting current Russian or Chinese foreign policy means aiding and abetting murderous Islamophobia.

The radical left must promote and listen to the voices of Syrians – as well as Arabs and Muslims generally, facing an international backlash that crosses the lines between geopolitical ‘camps.’ Resettled Syrians live in Aotearoa: this is not simply a distant geopolitical issue.

Ruling parties’ complicity

To start on a positive note, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly and surprisingly identified the Christchurch attack as ‘terrorism.’ This is unusual in an international context where white male terrorists are generally depicted as unhinged lone wolves, while Muslims and Arabs are ‘terrorists’ even before perpetrating any crime. It may be that the coordinated nature of this action made it harder for authorities to pretend it was an act of a lone wolf, but it’s a refreshing acknowledgement all the same.

However, the Government and pro-Government parties – Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens – share varying degrees of complicity with processes that led to this tragedy.

So-called ‘anti-terrorism’ efforts, under successive Labour-led and National-led governments, focused on seemingly everyone but the far right. It’s no surprise that the Christchurch terrorists were on “nobody’s radar” in Australia or New Zealand,[37] despite the rapid expansion of the surveillance state in the 21st century. In 10 years of Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) public documents there was no mention of far-right groups.[38] The list of NZ-designated ‘terror’ groups includes no far-right groups, and some legitimate resistance groups such as the Kurdish PKK.[39]

In 2002, the Labour government passed the ‘Terrorism Suppression Act’, comparable with the US Patriot Act, which saw state overreach in the wake of 9/11.[40] It’s worth noting here that white men are the most common perpetrators of terrorism in the USA despite the outsize focus on Muslims,[41] and there have been no Islamist attacks in Aotearoa at all.

As in so many countries, Muslim and Arab communities experienced profiling. As highlighted by Faisal al-Asaad in a piece for Overland entitled “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organise”:

I’ll never forget the many meetings and roundtables I attended, alongside other Muslim advocates and leaders, where we argued and pleaded, pointlessly it seems, with different government agencies to turn their attention from our communities and mosques to the real threats in this country. I’ll never forget the empty reassurances, let alone the smirking faces as someone dismissively joked, in reference to the far right and white supremacists in New Zealand: ‘It’s hard to take these guys seriously.’…

Today we need to grieve and mourn, so let’s do whatever we can to support each other and, most importantly, the immediate victims of yesterday’s atrocity. But tomorrow, we need to ask some hard questions and hold people to account for the sheer horror they enabled.[42]

The state also harassed Māori and left-wing activists. The most well-known application of the New Zealand state’s post-9/11 powers were the 2007 ‘terror raids’, in which anarchist and Māori activists were rounded up across the country.[43] Police shut down the rural, predominantly Māori town of Ruatoki, with armed officers reportedly boarding school buses full of children.[44]

Just this year, a Department of Corrections plan to fight terrorism identified “Māori nationalist groups” as a special threat, earning a rebuke from Māori Labour Party MP Kelvin Davis.[45]

In 2004, sources revealed that the SIS were investigating the newly formed Māori Party, a parliamentary party unlikely to be planting any bombs.[46] Meanwhile, the same year saw National Front members knock down Jewish gravestones,[47] and thousands of ordinary people protest against a combined march of the National Front and Destiny Church, including a student strike.[48]

It’s been left to small anti-fascist groups, lacking the resources of the surveillance state, to monitor the activities of fascists on a voluntary basis, with occasional outbursts of popular counter-protest against fascist mobilisations.

Ultimately, the complacency of the political class has allowed fascism to fester and turn septic. In the unlikely event they changed course and cracked down on far-right groups, we may not trust the surveillance state, but we certainly would not cry for the fascists.

In addition to their lopsided ‘anti-terrorism’ letting the far right off the hook, the ruling parties have also engaged in populist migrant-bashing.

New Zealand First, Labour’s coalition partner, is particularly infamous for migrant-bashing. We should be wary of simplistically labelling NZF leader Winston Peters ‘New Zealand’s Trump’, as some international commentators have.[49] Rather than a billionaire populist entering politics in a time of crisis, he is a long-term member of the political class who plays to an older conservative audience. Peters is also Māori, and has a significant rural Māori base, making it difficult to directly map the US situation onto NZ. We have pointed out in the past that Peters emerged from the “Muldoonist” faction of the National Party – anti-neoliberal and socially conservative, in the tradition of 1970s Prime Minister Robert Muldoon – and that a lowest common denominator anti-neoliberalism has led some on the broad left to work with Peters.[50]

However, none of that stops Peters pandering to fascists, or creating an atmosphere conducive to fascism. In 2005, the neo-Nazi National Front endorsed New Zealand First.[51] During the 2017 election, Peters posed with a picture of Pepe (a cartoon frog adopted as an alt-right mascot) at a student event, and defended the “European Students’ Association”, a front for white nationalists.[52]

Since the formation of NZF in 1993, Peters has pressed anti-migrant buttons too many times to count. In a grimly relevant example, Peters called for New Zealand Muslims to “clean house” and turn in any extremists after the 2007 London terror attacks.[53] We await calls from the ruling coalition for white or Christian communities to “clean house” in response to the events of March 15th.

Labour has also engaged in its own migrant-bashing. In the 2017 election, party leader Andrew Little called for cutting “tens of thousands” of migrants, a position Ardern did not reverse.[54] Infamously in 2015, Labour MP Phil Twyford highlighted the “Chinese surnames” of Auckland home buyers, not distinguishing between international buyers and citizens.[55]

Of all the parties in the ruling coalition, the Greens have by far the best record, for example opposing the abuse of surveillance powers, and introducing New Zealand’s first refugee-background MP to parliament.[56] However, even the Greens have engaged in their own migrant-bashing at times: current co-leader James Shaw controversially advocated capping migration at 1% of the population[57], a policy that was based on “statistical nonsense.”[58] Fortunately, James Shaw later retracted this statement and apologised to the Federation of Multicultural Councils,[59] after criticism both inside and outside the party.

We support attempts by Labour and Green members to challenge anti-migrant politics in their parties (although Winston Peters seems singularly unlikely to recant). Unfortunately, many on the broad left look the other way when these parties engage in migrant-bashing, or actively defend them against criticism. In the 2017 General Election, Fightback did not endorse any party, instead helping launch the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC) to challenge populist migrant-bashing across the political spectrum.[60]  MARRC spokesperson Gayaal Iddamalgoda had this to say at the Wellington vigil on March 17th this year, honouring the dead of Christchurch:

I have so many questions, hard questions that I think need to be answered by all of us..

Why was our Secret Service busy surveilling our innocent Muslim neighbours and not the extremists who sought to victimise them?

Why have the Police in this city spent more than a $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to attack peace activists protesting weapons conferences and arms dealers, while letting racist terrorists acquire semi-automatic weapons?

When will Politicians left and right own up to the fact that they have for years scapegoated and blamed migrants and refugees for social and economic problems that they are not responsible for?

And when will they admit while they have been doing this they have allowed unspeakable hatred to brew under their noses?

I want answers, I want accountability and I want something to change, but right now while I wait for these answers I want to do something to cancel out the hateful paranoid vision of these extremists and offer instead a vision of hope.[61]

Fortunately, hundreds have attended anti-fascist demonstrations in recent years (since the peak of 2004), and thousands have attended solidarity demonstrations with Christchurch. While we can and should press the ruling parties to do better, we ultimately cannot rely on them, and must mobilise ourselves to stop creeping fascism directly.

In the days following the attack, Milo Yiannopolous was banned from Australia, venues reversed course on hosting a musician with a Nazi past, and Newshub announced they would not tolerate hate speech on their Facebook page. Let’s do everything in our power to ensure this state of affairs is permanent, rather than being a passing stage of grief.

Thanks to Cam Walker for help with research on ‘anti-terror’ policy.

Recommended:


[1] Aotearoa (“land of the long white cloud”) is an indigenous name for these islands; we distinguish it from “New Zealand”, the colonial-settler state founded by the British Empire here.

[2] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12213575

[3] Paul Spoonley, The Politics of Nostalgia: racism and the extreme right in New Zealand, (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1987), 52.

[4] A short but adequate summary of these restrictions can be found on Te Ara Encyclopaedia, but more extensive analysis can be found in the PhD thesis The making of the White New Zealand policy by Phil Ferguson. Ann Beaglehole, “Immigration Regulation,” Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 18th August 2015, accessed 20th March 2019, https://teara.govt.nz/en/immigration-regulation; Phil Ferguson, “The making of the White New Zealand policy: Nationalism, citizenship and the exclusion of the Chinese, 1880-1920” (PhD, University of Canterbury, 2003), https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/4589

[5] Again, the Te Ara biography is more than adequate, however its author Frank Tod also wrote the book length biography of Lionel Terry which is the go-to for more in-depth reading. Frank Tod, “Terry, Edward Lionel,” Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, first published in 1966, accessed 20th March 2019, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t27/terry-edward-lionel; Frank Tod, Lionel Terry: The Making of a Madman, (Dunedin: Otago Foundation Books, 1977).

[6] Angela Ballara, Proud to be White? A Survey of Pakeha Prejudice in New Zealand, (Auckland: Heinemann, 1986), 88-89.

[7] Spoonley, The Politics of Nostalgia, 52.

[8] Ibid, 58-60, 291-296.

[9] Ibid, 71-72, 299-308.

[10] Ibid, 73.

[11] Ibid, 109-119. $50,000NZD in 1980 is roughly equal to $250,000NZD today.

[12] Ibid, 150-151. Jarrod Gilbert, Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013), 142-144.

[13] Gilbert, Patched, 143-144. “West Coast communities held captive by fear,” Stuff, 31st January 2009, accessed 20th March 2019, http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/feature-archive/510082/West-Coast-communities-held-captive-by-fear

[14] Gilbert, Patched, 144-145.

[15] https://www.politico.eu/article/united-nations-migration-pact-how-got-trolled

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFByD3rGlMY

[17] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11888810

[18] https://bit.ly/2Y27jdQ

[19] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Stefan_Molyneux

[20] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/02/the-unwelcome-revival-of-race-science

[21] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lauren_Southern

[22] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1807/S00097/a-line-has-been-crossed.htm

[23] https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/16/the-inspiration-for-terrorism-in-new-zealand-came-from-france-
christchurch-brenton-tarrant-renaud-camus-jean-raspail-identitarians-white-nationalism/

[24] https://twitter.com/shaun_jen/status/1106515317063331840

[25] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTDmsmN43NA

[26] https://bit.ly/2TWRsxK

[27] https://www.national.org.nz/national_would_pull_nz_out_of_un_migration_pact

[28] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/12/migration-pact-will-result-in-pretty-much-open-borders-brownlee.html

[29] https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/mike-hosking-breakfast/audio/winston-peters-peters-blames-alt-right-for-un-migration-pact-criticism/

[30] https://bit.ly/2HrO73W. Since then, National Party leader Simon Bridges has claimed that the petition was taken down by an “emotional junior staffer”. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12214180

[31] For example, Natural News (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/NaturalNews).

[32] See https://fightback.org.nz/2016/02/15/against-conservative-leftism/ and https://fightback.org.nz/2018/05/09/the-red-brown-zombie-plague-part-one/

[33] https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/10/05/waateanews-how-do-Māori-respond-to-the-next-wave-of-colonisation/

[34] https://fightback.org.nz/2015/11/05/against-campism-what-makes-some-leftists-support-putin/

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douma_chemical_attack. See the report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: https://www.opcw.org/media-centre/news/2019/03/opcw-issues-fact-finding-mission-report-chemical-weapons-use-allegation

[36] In fact, it was the Assad regime itself which cynically promoted Islamist terrorism to divide the opposition forces, by releasing from prison at the start of the uprising many of those who went on to become leaders of ISIS or other jihadi groups. https://www.newsweek.com/how-syrias-assad-helped-forge-isis-255631

[37] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/on-nobody-s-radar-anywhere-terrorist-escaped-australian-authorities-20190316-p514rw.html

[38] https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/385173/no-mention-of-right-wing-extremist-threats-in-10-years-of-gcsb-and-sis-public-docs

[39] https://www.police.govt.nz/advice/personal-community/counterterrorism/designated-entities/lists-associated-with-resolution-1373

[40] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_Suppression_Act_2002

[41] https://www.vox.com/world/2017/10/2/16396612/las-vegas-mass-shooting-terrorism-islam

[42] https://overland.org.au/2019/03/today-we-mourn-tomorrow-we-organise/

[43] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_New_Zealand_police_raids

[44] https://www.webcitation.org/5Skemn9eI?url=http://www.stuff.co.nz/4243621a10.html

[45] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12204491

[46] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0411/S00144.htm

[47] https://www.theage.com.au/world/jewish-graves-vandalised-in-nz-20040807-gdyeuy.html

[48] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0408/S00249.htm

[49] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11925795

[50] https://fightback.org.nz/2018/11/01/new-zealand-first-and-the-global-far-right/

[51] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10343503

[52] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/10/opinion-whistling-on-migration-yet-leaving-migration-high-what-s-winston-peters-playing-at.html

[53] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11870566

[54] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11841890

[55] https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/70155168/null

[56] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/election/2017/10/golriz-ghahraman-nz-s-first-refugee-mp-in-parliament.html

[57] https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/315879/greens-would-cap-migration-at-1-percent-of-population

[58] https://fightback.org.nz/2016/10/22/green-vomit-and-statistical-nonsense-the-lies-you-hear-about-immigration-and-the-auckland-housing-crisis/

[59] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2017/07/james-shaw-sorry-after-immigration-policy-slammed-as-racist.html

[60] https://fightback.org.nz/2017/10/20/racial-populism-and-the-2017-new-zealand-general-election/

[61] https://vimeo.com/324771849

 

Germany: The far right, conservative leftism and how to get rid of that shit

la gauche

Top: Die Linke’s Sahra Wagenknecht, text translates to ‘left-wing anti-immigration.’ Bottom: German antifascist flag.

By JoJo, a Fightback correspondent based in Germany.

This article will be published on Fightback’s upcoming magazine on International Perspectives. To subscribe, please click here.

In this piece, I attempt to analyze some strategies against the rise of the far right in Germany, including conservative leftism. I will argue that in order to push back fascism as well as conservative leftism, we will need to develop a new progressive leftist narrative that not only connects current struggles but also explores ways to overcome capitalism and what a post-capitalist society might look like. I’m using examples from the German context as it is the one best known to me but since developments are similar elsewhere, I hope folks might find this piece helpful.

In Germany, like elsewhere, we have seen a normalization of the far right over the last couple of years. In Fightback’s magazine on “Migrant and Refugee rights” from June 2017 I wrote about the rise of the AfD, the “Alternative for Germany”, Germany’s far right party1. Things haven’t changed a lot since then, the AfD now has seats in all regional parliaments as well as the national parliament and is scoring around 12-15% in polls nation-wide and over 20% in East Germany. This is still accompanied with far right mobilizations on the streets, most notably last August in Chemnitz (a town in East Germany) where Neo-Nazis and other far right activists exploited the killing of a 35-year old man for their racist agenda because of the suspect’s refugee status, leading to large racist demonstrations and riots.

The Left was not able to stop this development, despite some successful antifascist mobilizations. Until last year, confronting the AfD was mainly the job of the radical leftist activist milieu alone, other forces did seldomly show up or organize counter-protests. But Chemnitz among some other factors seems to have changed that: In October, a demonstration under the motto Unteilbar (“undividable”) mobilized almost a quarter million people in Berlin. It was mainly targeted against the AfD, but also made a clear point that the social question and the cause for open borders are not to be played out against each other. Trade unionists, migrants, queers and feminists marched together as they saw their interests connected to each other. In addition, demonstrations of Seebrücke (“sea bridge”), demanding the decriminalization of NGOs who rescue refugees in the Mediterranean, also brought surprisingly high numbers of people to the streets.

Other progressive social movements have been growing as well: The climate movement is becoming bigger and more successful, mainly around the struggle to save Hambach forest which is being cut down to make place for an open cast lignite mine, but also with the school students’ “Fridays for Future” protests. There can also be seen a rise in feminist organizing, leading up to a women’s and queers’ strike on March 8 (international women’s day).

Also, within the Left, there are some interesting debates going on around “new class politics”2. Those who argue for “new class politics” want the Left to return their focus to class issues, to organize and push forward class struggles, but without just repeating “old” class politics. Instead, the Left should take into account today’s composition of the working class and see feminist and anti-racist issues connected to the class struggle.

These developments, in theory as well as in praxis, signal a shift from mere antifascist counter-activism towards more actively pushing forward an own agenda, an own narrative of solidarity. It will be crucial to develop class struggles and connect them with feminist and anti-racist issues, since the far right attempts to play out the white (and mostly male) working class against migrants and other minorities. Even though the AfD is a cross-class project and has indeed a quite neoliberal program, it seems to be attractive for white male low-income workers who over-proportionally vote for them. This has of course a lot to do with their attempt to save white and male privilege, but is also connected to their class position. Without a visible and believable left anti-capitalist narrative, a far right populist program gives people the opportunity to express their diffuse anger which is rooted in their miserable situation and exploitation, but is then being redirected against migrants and “corrupt elites”. Of course, determined AfD supporters will not be convinced by left wing ideas and the connection of class struggle with feminism and anti-racism. “New class politics” is rather a strategy that aims to make a left narrative visible on the long term, so that this anger can be rationalized and directed towards the proper goal, before it is even redirected by far right populism.

However, the debates about how to react to the rise of the far right does not lead everyone on the Left to take a stance of borderless solidarity with all oppressed and exploited people (which is basically what “new class politics” and the social movements briefly described above have in common). Just like in the Anglosphere and in other countries as well, some on the Left think that they can win back right-wing voters by compromising their stance on migration issues and focusing primarily on the “white working class” (to be more precise, they sometimes do not even focus on the “white working class”, but abandon class analysis all together for a mere populism of positioning “the people” against “the elites”). The most prominent figure of this development in Germany is Sahra Wagenknecht, parliamentary leader of the party Die Linke (“the Left”). Over the last couple of years, Wagenknecht repeatedly draw attention with anti-refugee remarks. In October 2016, she even took part in a double interview with AfD-leader Frauke Petry in which she agreed with her on some points. Her positions are heavily debated within Die Linke, however the party still doesn’t throw her off her chair, probably because they are afraid to lose votes, as Wagenknecht is currently the party’s most notable and charismatic politician.

Last year, Sahra Wagenknecht launched the self-acclaimed movement Aufstehen (“Stand Up”) together with other politicians mostly from Die Linke, but also from the Social Democrats and the Greens3. Aufstehen claims to be a collective movement of the Left, bringing together members of different parties and non-party members. It is inspired by La France Insoumise, a similar movement in France launched by left-wing nationalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the Momentum platform for Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Aufstehen has so far not been particularly active in any protests, but has already around 167,000 members (as of December 2018). It is a perfect example of conservative leftism, defined by Fightback’s Daphne Lawless as “a reactionary, undialectical opposition to various aspects of neoliberalism” which “essentially consists in trying to apply yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems”4. With Aufstehen this means trying to bring back the social welfare state of the post-war years, while ignoring that this kind of social welfare state could only exist in this certain historical moment, with a Fordist production model and the system competition with the Eastern block. It could also only exist in the framework of the nation state, was based on the exploitation of the Global South, and was also deeply connected with traditional gender and family norms. It is thus only consistent that Wagenknecht and Aufstehen are mostly ignoring gender, sexuality, race and migration issues if they are not openly opposing these emancipatory struggles. Aufstehen did not take part in the big Unteilbar-demonstration and Wagenknecht said this was due to Unteilbar’s position in favor of open borders. However, some local branches took part in the march nevertheless and criticized Wagenknecht for her announcement which they had no say in, since Aufstehen so far still does not have a democratic decisionmaking process. So it would be false to accuse all Aufstehen members of red-brown politics, as some on the antifascist Left do. Instead, it might be interesting to examine why it is so successful in gaining members.

Aufstehen does professional social media work that addresses issues of social inequality in a relatable and understandable way, often with personal examples of Aufstehen supporters and offers easy ways to get organized, online as well as in many local groups. This is a level of accessibility often lacking within the radical Left. It is also not a big surprise that in lack of a progressive anti-capitalist alternative, the answer of many people who are discontent with neo-liberalism is to return to some way of social welfare state, especially if they still grew up in such a welfare state.

So I would argue that even though it is necessary to critique conservative leftism, the best way to overcome it is to actually offer a progressive alternative to it.

What could such an alternative look like? As a Marxist, the answer is of course that I do not want some kind of more “social” capitalism, but that capitalism should be abolished. However, this cannot stay a mere slogan. Instead, we need to think about what capitalism is and what can replace it. The traditional Marxist models of state socialism has certainly failed and cannot be repeated (that attempt would be just another kind of conservative leftism). To develop new strategies of overcoming capitalism it is helpful to look at the critiques of “actually existing socialism” made by ultra-left currents such as the Communization or the Value-Critizism current5. According to them, traditional Marxists’ fault was and is to reduce Marx’s theory of capital to class struggle. The goal thus became for the proletariat to take over state power from the bourgeoisie leading to a nationalization of value production, to state capitalism, instead of the abolition of capital. Instead of reducing Marxism to a question of power relations between two classes, the ultra-leftists developed a fundamental critique of the basic categories of capitalism such as commodity, value, work, money, capital and state. In a capitalist society, these appear fetishized (a concept developed by Marx in the first chapter of Capital Vol. 1), which briefly means they seem to be natural, a-historical and thus unchangeable categories to the “common sense”, but are actually the product of specific social relations. Fetishism does not mean that the capitalist class somehow tricks the workers into thinking that these categories are unchangeable, but rather it is a process that happens “behind everyone’s back” and affects workers as well as capitalists. To abolish capitalism would then mean to abolish these basic categories, to establish a mode of production where things are not produced as commodities, where they are not exchanged and where therefore would be no money (or no equivalent such as “labour time vouchers” as in some traditional Marxist and anarchist models of economy). Instead, it would be the realization of Marx’ slogan “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.

In their recently published book “Kapitalismus aufheben”, Simon Sutterlütti and Stefan Meretz, both coming from a background of Value-Criticism as well as Critical Psychology, elaborate what such a society might look like6. They call it “commonism”, a play of words with “communism” and “commons”. Commons are resources that no-one owns, but that are available for everyone to use for free, often self-managed in a non-hierarchical way by those who are using it. They are a form of economy that exists beyond state or market. Commons exist already under capitalism, e.g. in form of open source software, and actually precede capitalism, as under feudalism, meadows and forests were often used as commons. The project of commonism would then be to extend these already existing commons and to replace private property with commons. The internet will probably play an important role here, not only because many forms of modern commons are being developed here, but also because it offers possibilities to manage the commons and to coordinate different commons-projects in a flat-hierarchical manner. This does however not replace the revolutionary expropriation of the resources that are now in private hands and need to be made common. In a commonist society, everyone would be able to feel safe since everyone’s needs would be fulfilled instead of the fulfillment of needs being dependent on market mechanisms, that always leave people behind, as in capitalism.

Capitalism produces misery and fear on a daily basis, especially since its fundamental crisis that’s been going on since 2008. It is no surprise that in a society based on competition and exclusion this leads to authoritarian reactions and people’s diffuse anger often being directed at scapegoats. So in order to tackle the rise of the far right, mere antifascist counter-activism, even though it is necessary, is not enough. Instead, the Left needs to push forward an own narrative of universal solidarity. The diverse social movements described above as well as the approach of “new class politics” are a starting point of that. However, they often lack a clear vision about how capitalism can be overcome and what can replace it. Without such a vision I think a discontent with the neoliberal status quo often tends to lead to conservative leftist reactions as it is much more satisfying to cling to a “better past” than to have no idea what we’re actually fighting for at all. I suggest that the concept of commons could be such a progressive vision, not only because they fulfill the communist promise “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, but also because they are prefigured already today and thus are not just some abstract idea, but something that people can already experience in some niches. In fact, social movements often tend to produce social dynamics of commoning, when people come together in solidarity, establish protest camps, share food and other resources according to people’s needs or squat buildings or squares and thus make them common.

To be able to win against the far right and against conservative leftism, we need social movements of universal solidarity and a progressive alternative to capitalism as offered by the concept of commons.

2Mostly within the undogmatic leftist monthly newspaper Analyse&Kritik, e.g. see here (unfortunately only in German): https://www.akweb.de/ak_s/ak627/18.htm

3https://aufstehen.de/ for those who understand German

5English texts by the German value-critizism journal Krisis are available here: http://www.krisis.org/navi/english/

6The book can be read online at commonism.us unfortunately again only in German

Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe (Book Review)

 

murdoch exhibition

Pataka gallery exhibition by Murdoch Stephens.

By Giovanni Tiso.

The successful campaign to double the New Zealand refugee quota began with an exhibition. It opened at the Pataka gallery in Porirua, in 2013, and consisted of a collection of photographs of Afghan nationals that Murdoch Stephens had recovered at an abandoned refugee detention centre in Iran. Placed within a larger exhibition on migration, the display of black and white photographs without names or any other identifying information attached was a powerful signifier of the loss of personal and collective history that the displacement of people almost always entails.

Having become the temporary custodian of this archive – which is now housed with the Afghan Centre at Kabul University – was one of the sparks that motivated Stephens to launch his campaign and articulate the demand (‘double the quota’) which became synonymous with it. It was by no means a radical demand: it didn’t ask of the country to fundamentally alter its existing approach to refugees, but merely to expand a commitment to resettlement that was very low by international standards and had not been increased in decades. However, at a time of hardening of the borders, even such apparently modest demands can be radical in outlook and force us to look critically at our place in the world.

I thought about the collage of nameless photographs I saw at Pataka as I read Lights in the Distance, Daniel Trilling’s new book on the European response to what most of us are liable to calling ‘the refugee crisis’. Trilling suggests it might better be described as a border crisis and proceeds to illustrate a system whose principal aim is to defend Europe’s borders as opposed to protecting people’s lives. Crucially, the book delves into the extraordinarily opaque and convoluted workings of this system not by means of policy analysis and journalistic reporting but rather through the first-person accounts of actual migrants.

This approach has two distinct virtues: firstly, it makes the subject matter knowable at all, since any attempt to forensically dissect the permanent and temporary measures enacted piecemeal by European nations over the last decade would defy any writer and deter all readers; secondly, and I think more importantly, it restores the personhood of the people targeted by those measures. This has an explicitly political intent. As Trilling writes, ‘the starting point should be the migrants themselves, [whose] experiences are often treated as secondary to the question of what to do with them.’

Jamal, who fled Sudan as a teenager; Zainab, who left Iraq with her three children; Ousmane, who was born in Guinea, studied in Senegal and tried to find work in Mauritania; Caesar, who hails from southern Mali; Fatima from Syria, the Ahmeds from Afghanistan and several others meet on the pages of this book because of a thing they all have in common: having attempted to make a new life in Europe. But there are just as many things that set them apart. They all have distinct motivations, aspirations, social resources and networks of support. They all speak in a different voice. Trilling met them over the course of the years he spent covering the issue and travelling to its hot spots: the port town of Calais, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine.

Often we encounter the same people in different countries and at different stages of their journey. Some of the stories end well. Others, not so well. Some others are still nowhere near a resolution of any kind. But it’s important to take note of the things they have in common.

The first one is the constant state of existential danger. People fleeing extreme poverty, war or persecution wishing to reach Europe are met first of all with the perils of the journey itself, be it as they attempt to cross the Sahara to get within sight of it, or as they sit in smugglers’ boats which are not worthy of the name – leading to thousands of drownings every year along the route from Libya to Southern Italy alone. Almost every path is potentially deadly. A visit to the migrants’ graveyard in Sidiro, Greece, bears testimony to the hundreds of people from Asia and Africa who failed to cross the Evro river to safety: some of them drowned, others froze to death during the winter months.

The danger doesn’t cease once the migrant sets foot in Europe. Trilling visits the Afghan community gravitating around Saint Panteleimon Square, in Athens, during the campaign of violence carried out by Golden Dawn. The attacks followed a chilling script:

At night, when crossing the square in small groups or alone, Afghans would be approached by a child. The child would ask them where they were from. If they said, ‘Afghanistan,’ a group of adults standing nearby would come over and assault them. Sometimes it would be kicks and punches, other times it would be a plank of wood or a broken bottle.

People without rights, without the protection of the law – often exposed, in fact, to the random brutality of the police – must constantly work to maintain a level of basic safety that the rest of us take for granted. And this is the second thing the migrants in the book have in common: save for the occasional period of confinement in a facility, camp or actual prison, they all have to spend an enormous amount of labour in order to continue to survive, to keep moving and to retain some control over their lives, whether it is by foraging for food inside of skips, re-selling state-supplied phone cards for loose change, begging, or trying to hitch a ride on the underside of a truck. This last form of work – requiring constant vigil and the ability to evade a number of protective measures – exemplifies the utter lack of both security (in a social sense) and safety (in a physical but also psychological sense) to which irregular migrants in Europe are subjected to. It takes Jamal four years to succeed in stowing himself under a truck and then onto a ferry from Patras to Venice. Having reached Calais, after months of failed attempts he finally gives up on his plan of ever reaching Britain. It takes the time of a ferry ride, if you are legally entitled.

This leads us to the third and most important shared experience of the characters in Lights in the Distance: the almost ritual erasure of identity.

The migrant who wishes to enter Europe must become undocumented in order to maximise his or her chances. If a false passport was secured, it will have to be jettisoned after use. If a temporary document was assigned, it will be destroyed before crossing into the next country, as will the SIM card in the migrant’s phone. For the policing of the borders is also a policing of identities.

The Eurodac police database allows European countries to enforce the Dublin Regulation dictating that asylum must be sought in the country where one first entered the EU. Often, however, these are also the border countries that take the longest to process applications and offer the least welfare in the interim. Thus, the migrant who plays by that particular rule and lets their point of entry be recorded on the database may be forced into homelessness while they wait indefinitely for their ‘turn’ to have their application heard. In one of the most dramatic episodes recounted in the book, one of Trilling’s interviewees tells him of how fellow Sudanese migrants camped outside Calais would attempt to burn off their prints by pressing their fingertips onto a red-hot iron – all to prevent detection by Eurodac.

Such literal acts of mutilation are the mirror of the demand placed on migrants to forget who they are, so we may forget that they exist. In what is perhaps the cruellest consequence of this demand, those who cross the border without documents expose themselves to the risk of having their death rendered anonymous and go unreported among their loved ones back home. As Trilling notes, the graves in the cemetery at Sidiro are all nameless, like the photographs in the archive found by Murdoch Stephens.

There is immense political value in allowing migrants to tell their own stories and restoring the full and often staggering complexity of their experience. Think of the prohibition for the media and NGOs to speak to the prisoners at Nauru or Manus Island, and how concealing their humanity contributes to erasing their rights. And think of the effect that a single photo had, when the lifeless body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi shook the collective conscience of Western nations more than the mass drownings that preceded it.

The historical comparisons have political value, too. Lights in the Distance ends in the past tense, with the story of the author’s grandmother – a Jewish refugee who had first her Russian, then her German citizenship revoked between the two wars, thus was made twice stateless, undocumented by two different acts of government before finding fortuitous asylum in London on the eve of global disaster. It is a grim but instructive parallel, and a fitting conclusion for this important book.