Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Radical Right in the US and Europe

Today’s mandatory reading is a news report from the New York Times about a film shown in NYPD training sessions entitled “The Third Jihad”. You should read the whole thing, but here is the CliffNotes version:

1. The feature-length film portrays the entire Muslim world as engaged in a nefarious, secret plot to destroy non-Muslim institutions and achieve global domination.

2. It was shown to about fifteen hundred NYPD officers across all ranks as part of their routine training.

3. It was produced by an organization called the Clarion Fund, which has financial links to gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

4. Adelson is also the principal funder of the super PAC whose support of Newt Gingrich has propelled him to the front of the GOP presidential pack.

Put the pieces together, and what you see is a glimpse of the extreme, xenophobic right, American-style. It is our answer to groups like the National Democratic Party in Germany, Finland’s True Finns, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party, Hungary’s Jobbik, France's National Front and so on. They share an authoritarian traditionalism in culture, paranoia about immigration (especially from Muslim regions) and a profound hatred of secularism and the left.  The link between xenophobia and authoritarianism is the view, fundamental to fascism, that the “true” members of the nation have a common interest that can only be undermined by the give and take of democratic politics.

The European extremists are forced to organize their own factions, since the political mainstream, including the established conservative parties, see them as echoes of a fascism their societies had actually experienced and would like to see buried forever. This consensus does not exist in the US, and proto-fascist groups can operate freely within the Republic Party. There is a possibility that one of their anointed candidates will be elected president this fall.

Incidentally, this is not about Gringrich personally. Everything in his prior public career and private life tells us he is an opportunist, and he is simply seizing the opportunities that present themselves at the moment. Nor should we assume that his backers are the only financiers of xenophobic authoritarianism; Adelson is simply the one who shows up in this specific instance.

As an American who spends a lot of time in Europe, I am troubled by the laws against racist and fascist propaganda; I worry about the slippery slope that leads to criminalization of unpopular political expression. Maybe I should be worried about the opposite too—the view that all varieties of politics are equally legitimate, that there are no hard lines that respectable political figures cannot cross.

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