Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Graham-Dixon’

RoarMag on the Resistible Rise of the Islamophobic Right in the Netherlands

February 14, 2015

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders: the face of Islamophobia

George Berger in his comment to my post about a Swedish Christian church that was sent threats for holding a service of solidarity with Muslims after a Pegida demonstration sent me this link to an article in RoarMag detailing the rise of the anti-Islam Far Right in the Netherlands: http://roarmag.org/2015/02/wilders-fortuyn-nationalism-netherlands/. George is Dutch but lives in Sweden. In his comment he said

I live in Sweden and am a Dutch citizen. It was a pleasure to read about the first Swedish Pegida demonstration, in Malmö last week. Eight Pegidistas versus more than one thousand anti. Contrast that with the current rise of neo-fascism in the Netherlands. Here is the best short article on that reactionary trend that I have seen. It should dispel a few myths.

It’s great to see that Sweden is still living up to its reputation as a place for sanity and tolerance, despite the attempts of Pegida to wreck it.

What is much more surprising to many foreigners is the rise of a large, anti-Islamic extreme Right in the Netherlands. The Netherlands after all has a reputation for being one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. In the 17th century it was one of the very few countries that did not have an established church. This was not because the Dutch were any less religious than the surrounding nations. Indeed, Alexander Graham-Dixon in one of his programmes on the Art of the Baroque, when covering the Dutch art of the period gave a contemporary saying as an example of the deeply religious divisions in the Netherlands in that period. The saying said that if there were three Dutchmen, two of them would immediately form their own churches, and accuse the third of being a heretic. They did not set up an official, established church, because they did not feel that force should be use to enforce religious belief. If a particular religious denomination or sect was to survive, it should do so through peacefully winning over and retaining believers.

Moreover, the Netherlands itself suffered brutally from the Nazi occupation. During the War, the Nazis attempted to break the Dutch people through withholding food supplies to create a terrible famine. When I was at school in the 1980s our school had an exchange scheme with another school in the Netherlands. Despite the intervening decades, memories of the Nazi atrocities were still strong with some of the older generation, and there were people, who bitterly hated the Germans. With this history of persecution by Fascism, it’s amazing how anything like an organised Fascist movement could ever be popular in the Netherlands.

RoarMag’s article explains just how this has arisen. It’s entitled Pro-gay and anti-Islam: rise of the Dutch far-Right. It begins

In the Netherlands, the right-wing PVV (Freedom Party) has steadily garnered power using a hate-filled discourse directed at Muslims and elites alike.

The Dutch far-right has evolved into one of the most successful national movements in Europe. Its leader Geert Wilders is a major political figure with international support. In many ways Wilders is the heir of Pim Fortuyn, a politician who played a crucial role in shaping a new right-wing current, ‘national-populism’, in Dutch politics, and who was murdered in 2002.

Populism here means the idea that society is separated in two camps; the ‘good people’ versus a ‘corrupt elite’. The ‘people’ are not the whole of society, but the part of the society that is considered pure and whose political will is considered legitimate: it is a partial object that stands in for the whole. Who is part of the ‘people’ is not given, the borders of this category are contested. The selection of those considered part of it and who are not is a political act.

Different kinds of populism use different criteria to select and shape ‘the people’ into political actors. In national-populism, the ‘people’ and the nation tend to overlap: the nation is not equal to the citizenry but to the ‘people’, a term with an historical, ethnic connotation. The national-populism of Fortuyn and Wilders calls for the disappearance of an ‘alien’ minority culture to preserve a mythical, homogeneous ‘Dutchness’.

The article traces the rise of extreme-rightwing, ‘gay-friendly’, anti-Islamic populist movements from Frits Bolkestein of the right-wing Liberal party, the VVD, through Pim Fortuyn and to the Partij Voor Vrijheid (Party For Freedom) of the notorious Islamophobe, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bolkestein set the pattern for the development of Islamophobic right in the Netherlands in a speech he made in 1991. In a speech to the Liberal International, Bolkestein contrasted European and Christian civilisation with that of the Islamic world, arguing that democracy and human rights were a product of a single, European culture, rather than emerging from a clash within different cultures.

Pim Fortuyn

Not a Bond Villain: Pim Fortuyn, Pro-Gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Welfare

This was taken up by Pim Fortuyn. A right-wing cultural pessimist lamenting the decline of community cohesion, traditional values and patriarchal authority figures, Fortuyn combined nationalism with neo-Liberal programme of severe cuts to the welfare services. In his 1997 book, Tegen de Islamisering van Onze Cultuur, ‘Against the Islamisation of the Our Culture’, Fortuyn presented Dutch culture as under threat from a homogenous, a-historical Islam. In his view, Islam was not just a religion, but also a worldview and political system. By constructing his attack on Islam as one of culture, not race, he avoided being linked to the racist, neo-Nazi far right. Nevertheless, the article makes clear that Fortuyn also made deeply racist comments, such as his statement to the Dutch paper De Volkskraant that Moroccans never stole from each other.

Fortuyn’s party, the List Pim Fortuyn, disintegrated amidst internal feuding after his assassination in 2002 by the environmental activist Volkert van de Graaf. Fortuyn’s anti-Islam stance was then taken up by Geert Wilders, then a member of the right-liberal VVD. Along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wilders promoted the idea that the conduct of Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands were determined by their religion, and that it was the cause of the sexism and racism in Dutch Muslim culture. The religion was also the root cause of socio-economic poverty and dictatorships and absolute monarchies in the Islamic world. Wilders left the VVD to form his own party in 2004.

The new party received a massive boost with the murder of the bitterly anti-Islamic Theo van Gogh. In the aftermath, dozens of mosques and hundreds of Muslim immigrants were attacked. In 2010 Wilder’s party attempted to capitalise on fears generated by the recession by throwing out their previous, Neo-Liberal policies. The party had previously stood for a flat tax rate, attacks on trade unions, abolition of the minimum wage and making it easier for firms to dismiss workers. Wilders’ party then pledged to defend the welfare state and workers’ rights, while claiming that they were under attack through immigration. The party then attempted to prevent these same civil rights from being applied to immigrants through linking social security to length of citizenship, language skills, and the adoption of secular dress. Those wearing burqas or niqabs were to be ineligible for benefits.

Wilders’ party entered government as the coalition partner of Mark Rutte’s VVD government. In doing so it gave up many of its left-wing demands and committed itself to Rutte’s austerity programme. The Coalition collapsed in 2012 when the PVV withdrew from negotiations about the implementation of further austerity. The following year Wilders’ began to establish links with other, European Far Right parties, like the French Front National, the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the Freiheitliche Partei Osterreichs in Austria. Wilders also went on tour of Holland collecting anti-austerity signatures, and set up a website offering legal advice for blocking the construction of mosques.

The article points out that Wilders’ success is remarkable, considering that his party doesn’t have members or much of an organisation beyond a website. This has given him absolute freedom to choose which candidate to support. It also points out that the success of Fortuyn and Wilders is partly due to appearances on TV and the net. Fortuyn in particular benefited from the support of the mainstream Conservative media. Wilders so far has eschewed appearing on TV and being interviewed by the papers because he distrusts their supposed ‘left-wing’ bias.

The Dutch anti-Islamic far right has also benefited from selectively including parts of the radicalism of 1968. They have taken on board verbal support for feminism, gay liberation and opposition to anti-Semitism, while rejecting the Green movement and anti-racism. Women’s and gay rights, and acceptance of Jews, are seen as intrinsically Dutch characteristics and their origins in the left-wing and progressive movements is ignored.

The article also considers that Bolkestein, Fortuyn and Wilders have also gained through the Netherlands’ self-image as an open and tolerant society, and the taboo on looking too closely at the endemic racism within it. This is particularly acute because the Dutch Left has largely abandoned anti-racism, and even taken over some aspects of the nationalistic Islamophobia of Wilders et al.

It’s a fascinating, provocative article that needs to be read, not just for the light it shines on this ominous aspect of Dutch politics, but also on the links and similarities to the growth in other anti-Islam groups and organisations throughout Europe, such as Pegida in Germany, and the EDL over here.

Despite the PVV’s massive growth, I’ve met many Dutch people, who were bitterly and outspokenly against Wilders and his bigotry. One young woman I knew at Uni said that she intended to leave the Netherlands if he won an election. I hope she didn’t, as no-one should feel forced out of their homeland by bigots.

ayaan-hirsi-ali-005

Ayaan Hirsi Ali considering the size of her next speaking fee.

As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she is a highly controversial figure. Her family have denied that any of the maltreatment she describes as being inflicted on her by her family has ever actually occurred. A non-Muslim friend of mine, who has taught university classes in Islam, is spectacularly unimpressed with her. He sees her less as a principled politician, than as a venal opportunist, who has exploited her supposed escape from Islamic oppression to gain money, influence and political power. She’s made money very cynically from telling the Islamophobic Right exactly what they want to hear. All the while using and discarding former allies than when they are of no use to her.

What has come across from this article is the similarity of approach of the anti-Islam activists across the West, from America to this side of the Atlantic. There is the same denial of racism. They don’t object to Muslims because of their ethnic origin, but because of the social, economic and political aspects of their religion. There is the same view that Islam is uniformly anti-feminist and bitterly hostile to gays. The anti-Islam sites over here and in America carried stories about Muslims beating up gays in Amsterdam, for example.

There is also the same claim that, in order to protect the welfare state, measures must be put in place to limit immigration. In the interview I put up this morning between Nigel Farage, the Fuhrer of UKIP, and Evan Davies, Farage stated that in a decade or so’s time, we may have to introduce an insurance system to fund the NHS due to the expansion of the country’s population to 80, 90. or 100 million. Farage was very careful not to single out any particular religion or ethnic group, but his party does contain any number of swivel-eyed loons with a venomous hatred of Muslims and non-Whites. The message, and that of the anti-immigrant Conservatives, is the same: the welfare state is under threat from immigrants, who are placing far too much strain on the available services. This conveniently ignores the fact that the welfare state has been decimated by decades of Conservative rule, and is likely to be destroyed completely if Cameron’s horde of robber barons are returned to power.

And Wilders has more than his fair share of supporters in this country. About ten years ago there was controversy in Britain, when Wilders was invited to speak at the House of Lords. He, and groups like him, aren’t a problem confined to the Netherlands. They’re all over Europe, and threaten all of our societies.

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Poverty, Class Conflict and the Satanism Scare

November 2, 2014

It was Halloween on Friday, and the Beeb has been marking the season with a series of spooky programmes. For the past few weeks BBC 4 has been running a programme Gothic: Britain’s Midnight Hour, on the rise of Victorian Gothic architecture, art and literature, presented by the excellent Andrew Graham-Dixon. On Friday night itself, BBC 4 also screened a programme on Goth pop music, covering ’80s and ’90s stars of the genre such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the other musical limners of the miserable, the uncanny and the undead. Yesterday, Strictly Come Dancing also presented a suitably Halloween-themed edition, with the celebs and their professional partners tripping the light fantastic dressed as ghosts, ghouls, zombies and witches. And tonight on BBC 4 again, the science broadcaster, Dr Alice Roberts, will be presenting a programme on the origins of the classic Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Roberts is professor for the public engagement with science at Birmingham University. A medical doctor, she was a regular member of Channel 4’s Time Team, examining the human remains excavated by the Team. She is, however, credited in the programme as ‘anatomist’. This is indeed what she was, a professor of anatomy at Bristol Uni before taking up her post in Birmingham’s great institution. It’s a suitable career description, considering the origins of the book’s monster in the charnel houses, and the book’s scientific basis in the dissecting rooms of the early 19th century. And so in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d write a suitably spooky piece for this blog.

The 1990s Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

Some years ago I wrote a piece, ‘Satanism and Class Conflict’, for the sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia. Not only did Magonia critically examine the ‘modern myth of things seen in the sky’, to use C.G. Jung’s description, it also examined other forms of contemporary paranormal experience, vision and belief. This included the Satanism scare, which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to disrupt and ruin the lives of many innocent children and adults. This was the belief that there are multigenerational sects of Satanists, responsible for sexually abusing and killing children in occult rituals. The F.B.I. investigated such claims and found that there was little evidence for such cults in America. In Britain the scare finally collapsed with the publication of the government’s Fontaine report, which also concluded that such a vast, occult organisation did not, in fact, exist. This was not before tens, perhaps hundreds of children had been taken into care, and parents, teachers, nursery teachers and religious ministers had been accused and sometimes jailed, often on the flimsiest evidence. Some of the testimony which provided the basis for prosecution was the product of false memories. These were confabulated memories created either through regression hypnosis or when the person remembering them was in a state of psychological shock and under considerable pressure. The F.B.I. had briefly experimented with hypnosis in the 1950s as a tool for recovering consciously forgotten memories, which they believed nevertheless existed subconsciously, from crime witnesses. They abandoned it because the process led to the creation of false memories. These could be produced from the unconscious promptings of the hypnotist and interrogator, who may not have been consciously trying to direct the witnesses’ testimony. In the case of the Satanism Scare, some of the questioning of the witnesses and victims was frankly farcical, consisting of leading questions from investigators who already believed they knew the answer. These included evangelical Christians and radical feminists, though much of the investigation that finally discredited the Scare was also done by Christian evangelicals. Many professional law enforcement officials were furious at the way these investigations were conducted. I remember reading that the Yorkshire police force were extremely angry after the case against one notorious paedophile collapsed. The man had been responsible for abusing something like twenty or thirty children. There was no religious or cultic dimension to the crimes. The abuser was a simple paedophile, and the evil he did was entirely human, not supernatural. Unfortunately, the Satanism hunters became involved in the questioning of a seven-year old victim, who then changed his testimony to state that he was abused as part of Satanic worship. As a result the trial collapsed, and the paedo escaped justice.

Religious and Ideological Reasons for the Scare

The immediate causes of the Satanic Child Abuse panic, and the related fears of terrible Satanic cults abusing and sacrificing children and animals were the fears of some Christian groups to the rise in secularism and atheism in the contemporary West, and the emergence of New Religious Movements, including modern pagan revivals like Wicca. Some feminists came to believe in these Satanic conspiracies through the work of social workers and child support agencies, which discovered that sexual abuse was far more prevalent than previously believed. This has led to some grossly inflated and frankly unbelievable claims of the scale of sexual abuse, such as that 1/3 of all girls have been sexually assaulted by their fathers.

Poverty and Economic Origins

Fuelling the anxiety were more secular, economic fears. The communities which experienced such panics were often poor, with a poorly-educated population, threatened with economic decline, joblessness and the failure of their businesses. Faced with these stresses, some in these communities began to look for scapegoats in illusory Satanic conspiracies. There was a paper in the academic modern folklore journal, Contemporary Legend, tracing the origins of one such Satanism scare in Louisiana in the 1990s. The paper described the state’s folk as ‘conservative and hard-working’. Louisiana was an oil-producing state, and it used the income from the oil industry to subsidise its citizens’ housing. Sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s the state’s oil economy collapsed. As a result, house prices and mortgages shot up far beyond what many Louisianans could afford. Many were forced to pack up and leave, and it was not unusual for the banks to receive the keys to certain properties they had mortgaged posted to them and the homes themselves left vacant by their former occupants. In this atmosphere of real economic fear and anxiety, some of the state’s people were left vulnerable to fears of a Satanic threat to their communities. Thus, when dismembered animal carcasses appeared, they were blamed on the activities of Satanists, and the scare escalated from there.

The Satanism Scare and Conspiracy Theory

The sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor, in his book on the Satanism Scare, Satanic Panic, also notes that society’s need to find a scapegoat to persecute, whether Satanists in the 1990s or Jews in Nazi Germany, occurs during economic depressions when there is a widening gulf between rich and poor. This was certainly the case in post-Thatcher Britain and America. In many of the rumours, the Satanists abusing and killing the unfortunate children and animals were wealthy businessmen. These in turn were connected to fears of the occult orientation of particular companies. Proctor and Gamble, for example, were rumoured to be Satanists, based on no more than the design of their company’s logo, which shows a moon and thirteen stars. They attempted to counteract this by redesigning their symbol, and through a very aggressive legal campaign against those repeating the accusation. The Satanism scare was also part of a wider set of fears about the malign nature of the American government itself. George Bush snr notoriously referred to the world after Gulf War I: Desert Storm, as a ‘new world order’, echoing the words of Adolf Hitler, who also referred to Nazism as his ‘new order’. It also connected to conspiracist fears and theories about the origins of the American Revolution. The back of the dollar bill shows an eye in the pyramid, the symbol of the Freemasons, along with the slogan ‘Novo Ordo Saeculorum’ – New World Order. This has been seen as evidence that not only were the American Revolutionaries Freemasons, but that the Masons have been secretly manipulating the country and its leaders ever since for their own malign purposes. When Bush launched the First Gulf War, this was seen by some as part of the global ambitions and schemes of the ruling Masonic elite. I can remember reading a piece in the small press magazine, Enigma, claiming that the Gulf War was caused by a malign secret alliance of Freemasons and Satanists.

Fears of the Underclass in the Blairite ‘Jago’

At the other social extreme, the Magonians themselves noted several times in their articles that the Satanism Scare represented a return of Victorian social fears about the working classes and the emergence of the contemporary underclass. Just as the Victorian upper and middle classes viewed the lower orders with suspicion as ignorant, superstitious, vice-ridden and potentially seditious, so the underclass have been cast as malign, feckless, immoral and a threat to good social order but the guardians of contemporary respectable morality, like the Daily Mail. You can recognise a kinship between the Edwardian novel, In the Jago, written by a radical journalist about the Peaky Blinder street gangs terrorising the slums of London about the time of the First World War, and modern journalists describing the horrors of contemporary sink estates. Unfortunately, there is a difference between In the Jago and modern treatments of the underclass. In the Jago viewed the street gangs and their members as the products of the human misery created through the poverty and desperation of the slums and contemporary Edwardian society. With the notable exception of Owen Davies’ Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, most contemporary journalists seem content simply to declare that the poverty and despair faced by today’s poor is simply their fault. At its very worst, this attitude has produced the garish freak show of Jeremy Kyle, in which a succession of the extremely dysfunctional poor and maleducated appear to accuse each other of stealing each others partners.

Real ‘Pseudo-Satanic’ Crime

The type of occult crime described by the Satan hunters doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, there are occult-tinged crimes that sociologists like Victor have described as ‘pseudo-Satanic’. These are perpetrated by sick and twisted individuals, either from their view of the world or simply to add an extra thrill to their abuse of children or animals. Some of these are maladjusted teens, sometimes from repressively religious families, who have come to believe that they themselves are evil and that evil is stronger than good. You can add to this category the extreme elements of the vampire subculture. At one level, it’s simply a subculture of otherwise well-balanced young people, who like dressing up as vampires and enjoy horror literature, like the kids who go to the Goth weekend at Whitby. Others have become convinced that they really are vampires, and have created an entire parallel society like that in Anne Rice’s novels. And a minority have committed murder, based on their conviction that they are indeed members of the undead.

Satanism Scare as 1990s Phenomenon

Looking back, it seems such fears of Satanic conspiracies, whether global or local, are a distinctly 1990’s phenomenon. Valerie Sinason and some of the others responsible for the Scare in Britain are continuing their work, unrepentant about the immense harm they have done, and occasionally drawing the attention of Private Eye. Yet despite the renewed war in the Middle East and the massive escalation of poverty and the gap between rich and poor under Blair/Brown and then – and especially – Cameron, there hasn’t been renewed panic about Satanists. Some of this may be due to the decline in organised religion in Britain and America. It may also be due to the increased acceptance of alternative religions, at least amongst young people. The Mind, Body and Spirit sections of bookshops include books on Wicca and Western witchcraft, and the religion has been presented sympathetically in a series of fantasy film and TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also in the 1990s. There was some hysteria amongst some, mostly American Fundamentalist Christians, about the supposed occult content of Harry Potter, but this mostly seems to have died down. The Pope even thanked J.K. Rowling for her books’ role in stimulating children’s imaginations.

9/11 and Modern Conspiracy Fears

Some of the reasons why the Satanism Scare has not emerged again may be due to the real fears created by 9/11 and George W. Bush’s Neo-Con global campaign. Right-wing American fears that their government is still engaged in a malign programme of oppression, manipulation and exploitation of its own people, and expanding this to subjugate the other peoples of the world, is still very much present. It is the origin and raison d’etre of the ‘Truther’ campaign in America, and Alex Cox’s Infowars broadcasts. This is mostly secular, but it does take in some of the earlier fears about America’s supposedly Satanic elite. Part of this is based on the footage of the ‘sacrifice of dull care’, performed by America’s super-rich as part of their weekend of networking during the summer at Bohemian Grove. And rather than looking for the subversive activities of Satanists, much of the religious and cultural politics over the last decade has been taken up with the emergence of the New Atheism and its extremely aggressive attack on religious faith.

Threat of Radical Islamism, Immigration and UKIP

There has been the all too real threat of attack by radicalised Western Muslims, such as those responsible for the Boston bombing in America and the 7/7 bombing in the UK. This has served partly to direct Western fears of a terrible and subversive ‘other’ outwards, towards a global threat from militant, radical Islamism, and within to Britain’s Muslim minority. Finally, fear of a subversive threat from outside British society has also been concentrated on the continuing debate and controversy about immigration, and the rise of UKIP. Farage has regularly declared his party to be secular, non-sectarian and non-racist, but its major donors are all former Tories, and UKIP politicians have made a series of racist statements and comments while standing on an anti-immigration platform.

Real Need Now to Attack Poverty Caused by Cameron and Tories

Even if the Satanism Scare has largely vanished, there is always the possibility that it may revive, or the place of imaginary Satanists in causing abuse and destruction may be taken by another minority group. The material poverty and economic insecurity that created the pre-conditions of fear and anxiety that fuelled these fears is still very much present, and under Cameron getting worse. This needs to be tackled, and tackled now. Not by looking for Satanic conspiracies that don’t exist, and fearing your neighbour, but by fearing what the government will inflict next on the very poorest and most desperate in British society. It’s time to stop it.