Sunday 22 July 2012

Rise of the neo-crusaders

It's been exactly a year since Anders Behring Breivik shattered Norway's peace and carried out 77 political murders of mostly youths, for which he remains unrepentant. His actions were intended to send Norway's leaders into a state of panic, but the one good thing to come from the killings was that Norway instead kept calm and carried on.

With the trial nearing its end and deciding whether he's insane or not, attention has been turned to the company he kept, and most agree that he has a streak of narcissism not unlike that of convicted murderer Clayton Weatherston. Yet although Breivik is clearly an apostle of the extreme Right, he doesn't completely fit the familiar stereotypes.

Not too long ago, it was easy to identify the extreme Right - white hooded robes, burning crosses, shaven heads, Nazi swastikas and SS uniforms. In recent times however, the extreme Right has splintered and evolved, and there are now 3 distinct camps.

The first camp are the purists, who are made up of the traditional "Sieg Heil" extremists we're familiar with. It seems that when history repeats, the first time it's as tragedy, the second time as farce. In our grandparents' generation, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo threatened democracy within an inch of its life. Nowadays, the likes of the National Front in NZ are commonly regarded as clowns or sad sacks. However, holdout KKK activity can still be found in parts of America's backwaters. And there's nothing to joke about David Copeland's nail bombing spree in London or Timothy McVeigh's bombing of Oklahoma City. Many mass killings carried out by this camp in recent history, including those by Copeland and McVeigh, were directly inspired by the infamous hate-speech novel The Turner Diaries.

The second camp is made up of anti-Semitic pragmatists. Although not a large group, they've still made the news for all the wrong reasons. They are typically made up of neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists who collaborate out of a shared anti-Semitism. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who, despite having a Jewish mother, openly disowned that side of his heritage. He was also an avid reader of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and openly praised the actions of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. Other examples include Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammed and American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, who both met in the early 1960s on good terms. Later on, Muhammed's successor Louis Farrakhan and KKK wizard Tom Metzger had a similar meeting in the 1980s.

The third camp are also pragmatists, but with a counter-jihad focus, and easily have the most powerful public influence. This camp, which made its presence felt after the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, includes militarist neo-conservatives, religious fundamentalists and disaster capitalists. They employ the use of spin doctors and think tanks instead of raw violence and intimidatory fashion sense. The overriding theme with this group is that the West is an endangered species at the mercy of Muslim hordes and other anti-Western fifth-columnists, and must resort to lethal force for its very survival - even verging on a 'Protocols of the Elders of Mecca', just as the Elders of Zion was used to justify the Holocaust. There is also a strong sense of 'honorary Aryanism' - I refuse to use the euphemism 'model minority' - as the likes of Michelle Malkin go to show. Even the British National Party and the French National Front appear to have evolved from the first camp to the third in recent years, reputedly accepting into their ranks Jews and other minorities who share their anti-Communist and counter-jihad views.

Which brings us back to Anders Breivik. He has been known to hobnob with Christian fundamentalists, neo-Nazis and hyper-nationalists on Web forums and in person, yet he's never been a doctrinaire adherent of any of these groups. Breivik has also claimed to gather like-minded followers across Europe into a new Knights Templar movement. If anything, he represents a new strain of extremism that appears to be inspired by Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations - an extremism which could be best thought of as neo-crusaderism. Norwegian defence analyst Thomas Hegghammer has referred to it as macro-nationalism:
On closer inspection, however, Mr. Breivik’s worldview does not fit squarely into any of the established categories of right-wing ideology, like white supremacism, ultranationalism or Christian fundamentalism. Rather, it reveals a new doctrine of civilizational war that represents the closest thing yet to a Christian version of Al Qaeda.
For example, although Mr. Breivik says he fears “the extinction of the Nordic genotypes,” racial hygiene is not high on his agenda. He wants to expel, not kill, Muslims in Europe, and he does not mind Jews and non-Muslim Asians. Similarly, while Mr. Breivik says he is “extremely proud” of his “Odinistic/Norse heritage,” he is not a Norwegian nationalisthis “declaration of independence” applies to all of Europe. And while he is Christian, he admits that “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person.”
Instead, Mr. Breivik’s goal is to reverse what he views as the Islamization of Western Europe; indeed, he sees himself as a soldier in a defensive war against “Islamic imperialism.” In his view, Muslims are colonizing Europe, helped by high birth rates and a doctrine of multiculturalism advocated by the European elite. Islam, for him, represents an existential threat to European civilization, a threat that must be countered at all costs. The best way to do so, he argues, is to wage war against “cultural Marxists” — his label for the European political and intellectual elite — because they are the traitors who allow the colonization to take place.
To be fair, France and the Netherlands have recently grappled with the issue of Muslim integration, or lack of it. The burqa (headscarf) ban has proven controversial in France, and the Netherlands was rattled by the assassinations of outspoken anti-Muslim figures Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and the death threats against Muslim apostate and libertarian writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The moment you cite not just Breivik, but also McVeigh, Copeland, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski and other terrorists who look like us, a common response goes something like, "Stalin and Pol Pot killed millions more people!" While numerically and historically true, such responses fail on two counts.

The first count is Godwin's Law and its corollaries, whereby a debate starts devolving into comparisons with Hitler or Stalin, and often the associated use of 'fascist' and 'communist' as cheap-and-nasty epithets.
The second count is the No True Scotsman fallacy, which in this case gives the impression that the neo-crusaders are downplaying extreme-Right atrocities while at the same time overplaying Communist atrocities, in order to shoehorn their arguments into their world views.

The No True Scotsman fallacy also applies to the typical neo-crusader response to Breivik's trigger-happiness, where they basically went from saying "Westerners don't do terrorism", to "real Westerners don't do terrorism." When it emerged that Breivik was responsible for the Oslo bombing and Utoya Island shootings - and not a Muslim jihadist as columnists like Jennifer Rubin prematurely concluded - many of the neo-crusaders, including those who were favourably cited in his 1500-page manifesto, either kept silent, denied all knowledge, or attempted to justify his actions. At the extreme end of the scale, FOX News commentators Glenn Beck and Debbie Schlussel went as far as tacitly defending Breivik and comparing his victims to Hitler Youth, and Pamela Geller tellingly deleted a 2007 post on her blog from a "Norwegian admirer" who planned to stockpile weapons. Frank Gaffney thought out loud that Breivik's attacks were a false flag operation intended to discredit the counter-jihadists. More recently, Kevin Forts, a New England undergrad and penpal of Breivik, openly endorsed the attacks in a live TV interview.

Among the more measured responses were from neo-con stalwarts Daniel Pipes, Geert Wilders, and Robert Spencer, who openly condemned Breivik's actions and conceded it would set back the cause of the neo-conservative movement. Australian academic Keith Windschuttle - who spoke at a neo-conservative symposium in NZ in 2010 - was "still at a complete loss to find any connection between them and the disgusting and cowardly actions of Breivik." Windschuttle went on to say that "it would be a 'disturbing accusation' if people thought that he had ever used deliberately provocative language that might have caused Breivik to take up a rifle and shoot unarmed teenagers in cold blood."

Given the strong representation of hardline Zionists among the neo-crusaders, it's ironic that they would invoke the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that was used to drum up support for the Final Solution. It brings to mind Nietzsche's famous warning, "he who fights monsters should be careful not to become a monster himself." Jewish commentator Irving Greenberg wrote in 2003 of his close friendship with Jewish hyper-nationalist Meir Kahane, and their later falling-out when Kahane jumped off the slippery slope. In many ways, Kahane was the godfather of modern neo-crusaderism. Greenberg stated (my emphasis):
The alienation between us began to grow, however, as his policies became more extreme. In 1972, when I was teaching at City College of New York, one of my students was arrested by the FBI for placing a bomb in mega-entertainment agent Sol Hurok’s office, to punish Hurok for sponsoring a Soviet artist’s concert tour in America. The bomb killed a secretary. In my conversations with the student he made clear that he believed he had acted under the inspiration of Meir Kahane and even hinted that my old friend had encouraged the bombing, though the FBI never proved anything. When, during an encounter with Kahane, I accused him of possible responsibility for the secretary’s death, he argued that “never again” meant “never again at all costs” — including the use of force and violence
We met again years later, for yet another debate. Kahane had made inroads, particularly in the Yeshiva University student community, by cloaking his proposals for elimination of the Arabs with rabbinic sources. Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was a friend of both of ours, came to me and asked if I would debate Kahane. I felt that his ideology and incorrect use of rabbinic sources needed to be challenged — he was a bad influence on Y.U. students. So I agreed to debate him at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the synagogue headed by Weiss.
The week before the debate, an interview with Kahane appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times. The report was horrific. He called for the transfer of the Arab population of the West Bank. As I recall it, he spoke of bringing trucks and rounding up the population — men, women and children — and depositing them in Jordan. When asked by the reporter what would happen if they refused to go, Kahane replied: We will shoot them if they resist
In effect, neo-crusaders have an outlook that's not much different from the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads and Osama bin Ladens they purportedly despise. With the economic turbulence of the period following the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 - the biggest since the Great Depression - there has unfortunately never been a more fertile patch for political extremism of all stripes since the 1930s. Yet I'm hopeful that it's not too late to stop the hate.

The last word goes to Norway's Foreign Minister, who calls for more free speech as the best antidote to hate speech, and describes al-Qaeda and the extreme Right as both sides of the same coin.

The Batman Shootings

News of the so-called Batman Shooting at a cinema in Denver has shocked the world over. Spree shootings, especially in America, are nothing new, but somehow this one feels a lot less detached than what came before it. Partisan politics has thankfully been kept out of the issue, but a select few conspiracy nuts, like Alex Jones, have seen fit to invoke the theory that the shootings were a false flag operation by President Obama, in order to weaken the Second Amendment.

I first heard of the shootings on Twitter, before major news outlets had coverage. One of the confirmed victims was cadet sports reporter Jessica Ghawi, aka Jessica Redfield, whose last ever tweet was about waiting for The Dark Knight Rises to open. Just a month earlier, she had blogged about surviving the Toronto Eaton Centre mall shooting.

The alleged shooter has been identified as James Eagan Holmes, a post-grad neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver. Far from being a gang member from a broken home in the 'projects' - the stereotypical image of a gun criminal in America - Holmes' background was the opposite. He hails from a stable upper-middle class church-going family, with academic achievement and sporting prowess to his name, no criminal record, no history of mental illness, no ties to extremist groups, nor any inklings on popular Internet sites. Yet his motives remain a mystery. He was described as 'shy and intelligent' by those who know him, but unlike Jared Loughner and the Columbine High shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, it remains unclear as to whether Holmes had a history of bullying or being bullied. In any case, Holmes' shooting spree is made all the more scarier by the fact that no one saw it coming because he doesn't overtly look like an 'other'.

Holmes purchased and stockpiled large amounts of semi-automatic firearms, ammunition and tear gas in the lead-up to the shootings, and supposedly rigged his apartment with explosives. In the state of Colorado, with one of the most lax firearms regulations of any American state, no permits are required to purchase firearms, but Federal background checks are still required - which he passed. Holmes also made his purchases from different outlets each time, as well as over the Internet, which circumvented laws on repeat purchases. Still, we license and register cars and drivers, so surely it wouldn't be much to ask for the same with firearms - were it not for the power of the National Rifle Association. Holmes also dyed his hair red and claimed he was the Joker during the shootings, which at best implies some kind of Walter Mitty fantasy gone horribly wrong.

It brings to mind Brenda Ann Spencer, who, as a teenager in San Diego in 1979, fired a semi-auto rifle - given to her by her father on Christmas the previous year - killing two people and injuring 9 others. When asked why she pulled the trigger, Spencer said, "I don't like Mondays; this livens up the day." Spencer later claimed she was under the influence of drugs during the incident and endured sexual abuse at home, but that was not backed up by official evidence or members of the judiciary.

It also raises the question of the Second Amendment's relevance in the 21st century. It's nothing to do with the legit pastimes of hunting in the wilds or hobbyist gun collectors, as the National Rifle Association and its loyalists would have you believe. The Second Amendment was written in mind with a repeat of the British invading again, when rifles and cannons were the most powerful weapons available. Since then, jet fighters and aircraft carriers have made America the world's most powerful military nation - and the world's last remaining superpower - which effectively makes the Second Amendment a museum piece. And there's a disconnect between "deterring tyrannical government", and the plummeting voter turnout in US presidential elections.

After the Dunblane massacre, Prince Philip asked if cricket bats would be banned because they could be swung hard enough to kill people. The keywords here are, "when used as directed". You can indeed kill someone with a cricket bat if you swing it hard enough, but cricket bats weren't designed for that purpose. They were designed to help gentlemen in the British Commonwealth to socially bond and represent the pride of a nation. Whereas firearms, to state the obvious, are explicitly designed to kill people.

The NRA argues that guns don't kill, only people do. They're right to a large degree, but it's a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than with fists or knives. They also argue that criminals will hold fire if they know the citizenry carry pistols in their pockets. But what if the crims, instead of waving the white flag, swap their pistols for assault rifles? It would be little more than mutually assured destruction, downscaled to a domestic context.

"Arms race" by Mike Moreu

And they argue that Columbine High and Anders Breivik would never have happened in gun-friendly states like Texas. Oh yes, it has happened - it's called the Wackos from Waco. And the controversy over George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin - armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a cup of iced tea - has tested the "Stand Your Ground" laws to the limit.

As with cars and sex, fascination with them is perfectly normal, but obsession with them is not.

Monday 16 July 2012

Formula of the day: Power and corruption

Lord Acton once said that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Chairman Mao believed that "power comes from the barrel of a gun."

Put those two together, and "power and corruption come from the barrel of a gun." That speaks true of many a repressive dictatorship in recent history - Stalin's Russia, the Third Reich, Kim Il Sung, the Cultural Revolution, Idi Amin's Uganda, Pinochet's Chile, the Argentine Dirty War, Saddam's Iraq, Milosevic's Serbia, the Burmese military junta, Assad's Syria... you name it.

If power does indeed come from the barrel of a gun, then in this day and age, absolute power also comes from a barrel - the barrel of a financier's pen. A financier can, at the stroke of a pen, be more powerful than even the strongest military force.

Combine that with Lord Acton's most famous quote, and "absolute power and absolute corruption come from the barrel of a financier's pen." Given the recent Global Financial Crisis, and even more recent revelations of JP Morgan managing to "misplace" USD$2 bn, and Barclays' role in the LIBOR scandal, it's not far from the truth.