Day of the Demagogue

This is a cross-post from Jacobinism

This nugget of wisdom from ostensibly liberal, anti-fascist, anti-racist organisation HOPE Not Hate(HNH) was occasioned by the British government’s recent decision to deny American anti-Islam activists Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller entry into the UK to address an English Defence League (EDL) rally. HNH were understandably pleased with the Home Secretary’s ruling – it was an outcome they had vigorously lobbied and campaigned to achieve.

The words quoted in HNH’s tweet are lifted (clumsily) from a longer quotation within the linked Independent article, in which their own spokesperson Matthew Collins expresses his “delight” with the Home Office decision:

There is enough hatred in this country at the moment; it is tense. There is a line in the sand between freedom of speech and the right to use hate speech. Freedom of speech does not guarantee you that right. We live in a democracy and we believe in free speech. People will now quote Voltaire but he never had the benefit of going to the gates of Auschwitz and seeing where unfettered free speech ends up.

The objection Collins anticipates is the absolutist defence of free opinion often (mis)attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

So, apparently responsibility for the Shoah lies with this most noble defence of liberty and tolerance rather than a fascist regime not noticeably overburdened with a fondness for either. Anyone under the impression that pre-war Nazi Germany suffered from a surfeit of free expression – or a surfeit of freedom of any kind for that matter – would do well to revisit the topic and reacquaint themselves with the facts.

The broader parallel being drawn – that pre-war persecution of European Jewry is somehow analogous to what is called ‘Islamophobia’ in the West today – is no less stupid.

Under the 1935 Nuremburg Laws, Jews were systematically stripped of their citizenship, their vote and their political rights. Subsequent laws mandated their complete exclusion from the German economy and institutionalised policies of “Aryanisation’ aggressively enforced their segregation and stigmatisation. All of this was backed by an unrelenting flood of State-sanctioned pseudo-scientific anti-Semitic propaganda of the most dehumanising kind.

By contrast, in today’s Western democracies, not only are the equal rights of Muslim men and women rightly protected by binding human rights agreements and enshrined in law, but exemptions are not infrequently made to indulge demands for special treatment made on religious and cultural grounds.

In the wake of an Islamist atrocity such as the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, one would expect a genuinely racist and bigoted society to use the opportunity to pass swingeing, collectively punitive laws designed to marginalise Muslims as a group. Instead, as befits a society in which this kind of prejudice is seen as culturally unacceptable, mainstream politicians of all stripes immediately urged restraint and were at pains to reassure Muslims that their faith would remain untainted by those jihadists claiming to act in its name. This did nothing, however, to subdue hysterical accusations of Islamophobia and intolerance.

At a time when Britain ought to have been preoccupied by the question of how better to address, contain and counter Islamist terrorism, Fiyaz Mughal, tin-eared founder and chairperson of the organisation TellMAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) announced that there had been a “massive spike in anti-Muslim prejudice”. “The scale of the backlash is astounding!” he cried:

A sense of endemic fear has gripped Muslim communities . . . I do not see an end to this cycle of violence. There is an underlying Islamophobia in our society and the horrendous events in Woolwich have brought this to the fore.

But, as reported by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, this counsel of despair turned out to be fear-mongering without foundation. 57% of the 212 anti-Muslim ‘incidents’ recorded in the week following Rigby’s murder were revealed to have occurred online (some from abroad). Only 17 were said to have involved a physical encounter. No injuries were reported at all.

It would of course be far better if the number of physical encounters were zero, and if people did not call other people names on the internet. However, the idea that this reaction to Islamist terror justifies Mughal’s apocalyptic language or HNH’s warnings about the “gates of Auschwitz” is simply dishonest.  And yet it seems to meet with very little resistance. We are regularly reminded by liberal Cassandras (for example, here and here) that Britain is confronted by a “tide” or a “scourge” of Islamophobic bigotry and violence. And it doesn’t appear to have occurred to the Independent journalist interviewing HNH’s Matthew Collins to point out that his Voltaire-to-Auschwitz theory is very silly indeed.

Islamists, needless to say, find all this doomsaying to be highly satisfactory. Islamism is a supremacist ideology which seeks to overthrow democratic governments, either by force or by stealth, and to establish a totalitarian theocratic caliphate under Sharia law. This hasn’t prevented Islamists from exploiting Europe’s post-war guilt about the Holocaust and post-colonial guilt about the subordination of people of colour to further their own spurious claims to victimhood.

You can read Jacobinism’s piece in full here