Monday, July 25, 2011

Tim Stanley and the Curiousness and Curiousnerousness of History...

Ah history and historians. After reading Dr. Tim Stanley's attempt to defend American Tea Partiers from the slings and arrows of liberal and leftist critical desire in the Telegraph I can't help but think about the curiosities of the historical profession and discipline.

It is hard to know where to begin criticising Dr. Stanley's polemical and apologetic blog piece,a blog post which argues that the right shouldn't be blamed for the sins of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Brevik despite the fact that he mouthed similar right wing platitudes similar to those that come out of the mouths of American Tea Party not so babes. Well let's begin with the comparative. Ethnocentrism and xenophobia, of course, are related and, historically speaking, have been found in different times in different places all across the globe including in the United States and in Norway. In the early nineteenth century, for instance, many Americans expressed in verbal form and occasionally through physical violence (tar and feathering, the massacre of Mormons at Haun's Mill in Missouri, the assassination of the Mormon prophet by a mob of vigilantes: vigilantism was quite prominent in 19th and 20th century America, by the way) a fear and hatred of Mormons and Freemasons. In the late nineteenth century many "real" Americans expressed through verbal abuse and physical attacks a fear and hatred of labour and the left. In the twentieth century many who believed themselves real Americans verbally and physically attacked Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Blacks, and leftists and fought, successfully, to limit immigration into the US from Japan, China, and Southern and Eastern Europe.

The same anti-immigrant and anti-leftist ethnocentrism and xenophobia is present in contemporary Norway as the recent actions of Mr. Breivik have made clear. Norway, like other parts of the Western world, was impacted, if not perhaps to the same degree as the US, by European anti-leftism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by the anti-immigrant xenophobia of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries particularly as Norway became more multicultural in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and by nineteenth and twentieth century notions of national racial "purity".

It is here, in this nexus of ethnocentrism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and national "purity", that the American Tea Party and the Norway for "real" Norwegians (or whatever you want to call this intellectual movement, the Norwegian Knights Templars perhaps?) meet. Both groups exhibit fears about national purity (America for real Americans, Norway for real Norwegians). Many Norwegians, not to mention many Europeans, harp about the dangers of the Muslimisation of Western Europe. Many tea partiers and other populist conservatives exhibit a fear about the increasing diversity of the US. This fear of diversity has manifested itself in a number of ways. Some American right wingers promote building a wall between the US and Mexico. Others raise questions about the increasing growth and influence of Muslims in America. Some even want to ban any attempt to make Muslim shari'a law, law in the US though the chances of this ever occurring are nill. Still others promote making English the national language of the US. Xenophobias all. Similar anti-immigrant and racial and cultural purity movements exist all across Europe as well. You can find them in Norway, in Sweden, in Denmark, in Finland, in the Netherlands, in France, in Austria, in England (the EDL), and in Austria. And you can find them outside of Europe. There is, for instance, a religious purity movement prominent among Hindus in India.

Now to a few of the more specific claims of Dr. Stanley:
Breivik was a madman. Wow, now that is a tried and true and very cliched and I might add very ahistorical way to deflect attention away from Breivik's historical, political, and cultural contexts. Gee let's see, let's just make everyone from Grinevitsky to Czolgosz to Ataturk to Hitler to Pol Pot to McViegh to Adkisson to Loughner to Breivik mad men so we can dehistoricise them and, in the process, avoid coming to grips with political violence in our midst.

Breivik was a loner. Breivik was hardly a "loner". He trawled the internet interacting with others of similar or like minds and was influenced by others of similar or like minds, as he notes in his manifesto, including American "counter jihadist" Robert Spencer, American "counter jihadist" Pamela Gellar, American "counter jihadist" Frank Gaffney, "counterjihadist" Andrew Bostom, Investigative Project on Terrorism’s Director Steven Emerson, Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes, America's Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and a host of other European and American Christian neo-crusaders. Historians really need to get with the modern world of the world wide web which has expanded access to right wing ideologies and created cybercommunities among like minded individuals just as it has expanded access to used books stores. One has to wonder whether far too many historians have a literal and geographical notion of community (historians as fundamentalists?) and a rather literal perception of space which inhibits them from adapting to the realities of modern (or postmodern) geographies of cyberspace and modern interactions in these geographies of cyberspace.

Christian fundamentalists in the US are different from Islamic fundamentalists. There are similarities between Christian fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, Baha'i fundamentalists, well fundamentalists of all stripes and all meaning systems, religious, political, cultural. These similarities include nationalism, literalism, a tendency to believe in their own moral superiority, a fear of women, and a tendency to use the mechanisms of the state to enforce their own sense of moral rightness. Are there some differences? Yes, there are differences of culture and geography. But, as I said, there are also similarities and these similarities are important.

The Tea Party is not violent. Social movements, whatever their political stripe, can be non-violent and they can be violent. Many of the latter use the idea of a just revolution to justify their violent actions a perspective that mirrors and reflects Western just war theory (examples: the use of US Revolutionary discourse about fighting government tyranny among the US right, Breivik's assertion that his actions, while awful, were necessary given the Islamic threat to Norway and Norwegians). There have been several instances of right violence in the US including attacks on "abortionists", the killing of "liberals" in a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, and violent verbal attacks on legislators and others during town hall meetings during the health care debate. By the way, violence is not, historically speaking, something peculiar to the Norwegian or European right. Organised violence seems to be a very human trait.

And now for something not so completely different:
Breivik, the Scandinavian Right, Henning Mankell, and Stig Larsson. It is hard not to think about the darkness portrayed in the writings of Henning Mankell, creator of the Ystad detective Kurt Wallander, and Stig Larsson, author of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy of books and journalist who investigated Scandinavia's right, and Anders Behring Breivik. Why? Because anti-immigrant ideologies, anti-women ideologies, and the populist right often thread their way through the fictional writings of both Mankell and Larsson.

Bibliography on Breivik and His Influences:
Andrew Brown, "Andrew Breivik's Spider Web of Hate: An analysis of the Norwegian killer's manifesto reveals the online network that features in his paranoid universe"
James Ridgeway, "Oslo Shooting: Read Anders Behring Breivik's Internet Comments Here"
Mark Townsend and Ian Traynor, "Norway Attacks: How Far Right Views Created Anders Behring Breivik"
Connor Friedersdorf, "Anders Behring Breivik and the 'Anti-Jihadist' Blogosphere"
Eugene Robinson, "Anders Behring Brevik and the Influence Industry of Rage"
William Saletin, "Christian Terrorism: If Muslims are responsible for Islamic terrorism, are Muslim-bashers Responsible For the Massacre in Norway?"
James Ridgeway, "Anders Breivik, Stieg Larsson, and the Men with the Nazi Tatoos"
Brian Oliver, "When Writers are Confronted by a National Trauma…"
This World, "Norway's Massacre", BBC, 17 April 2012

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