Race And Racism


Varg KomanderOne factor that has helped to check the growth of the far right in Britain and America has to be the dreadfulness of its music. I was watching a documentary on “Nazi rock” and unpleasant though it was to hear these people talk it was unbearable to listen to their songs: tuneless, graceless, brainless punk that is so reliant on its self-conscious posturing that it is also devoid of spontaneity and vim. It is, fittingly, like someone forcing a screwdriver in and out of your ear. Most reasonable people, upon hearing such a din, would head for the exit long before the artists get around to discussing race.

Extremists and criminals are often reliant on music to intoxicate the youths that become their foot soldiers. Many of those who are forced to bear disapproval and marginalisation depend on fabulated internal narratives to romanticise their lifestyles. These, of course, are more effective with a fitting soundtrack. Whenever you march the streets or flee the police it must be good to have music stir in your head.

The Oi! knockoffs of the skinheads have aggression, which can be attractive, but also evoke philistinism, sexlessness and violence. It is not, in other words, all that inspiring stuff. Fascists elsewhere have more aesthetic potential. National Socialist black metal is too much of a fringe taste to inspire a mass movement but it has been influential. The bassist of Naer Mataron recently wiped off his face paint and joined the Greek Parliament as a member of Golden Dawn. I am no fan of the genre yet I can appreciate how the plodding riffs and mystical ambience of songs of groups like Burzum might capture imaginations. The haunting atmospherics evoke the Viking Age legends that are so appealing to radical nationalists, and the rhythms give rise to thoughts of bold militancy. You can tell why scrawny, black t-shirted boys would like this stuff.

Crime gangs both old and new also have musical accessories that one can tell people might find appealing. Gangsta rap, at its most aggressive outer reaches, features musicians who spend more time in jail than onstage. Their swaggering beats and boastful rhymes are tailored to appeal to kids whose physical and financial vulnerability makes the life that it portrays seem irresistible.

Less notorious but nonetheless intriguing are the narcocorridos who soundtrack the Mexican drug trade. A more traditional genre, narcocorrido music serves up chirpy tunes over which singers laud the behaviour of gangsters. The music carries a mischievous charm and the lyrics do not merely impute heroism to criminals but, exhuming memories old bandits like Jesús Malverde and Mexican heroes like Pancho Villa, place them within a cultural tradition. These bloodthirsty balladeers can be very popular. “El Komander”, for example, is not famous enough in mainstream America to earn a Wikipedia page but has notched up millions of views on YouTube.

Music allows us to develop and affirm our identities and this is as true of Nazis and narcos as you and me. The culture such people embrace offers fascinating glimpses into the self-concepts of ideologues and criminals. We are fortunate, I think, that our own thugs embraced a genre that was of such marginal appeal – and to people, come to that, of such limited potential for innovation.

There are 26 “I”s in Julie Burchill’s paean to her own philosemitism. This does not include those found within quotations. These are, according to my rough count, spread over 30 sentences. Almost every one of them, in other words, is partly or entirely devoted to herself. Much as she adores the Jews they will, it seems, remain secondary among her affections.

Ms Burchill claims she was moved to philosemitism because of the “centuries of genocidal cruelty on the part of non-Jews towards Jews”. A writer who describes Ireland, whose people have been devastated over hundreds of years by foreign aggressors, as apreposterous placedefined byHitler-licking, altarboy-molesting [and] abortion-banning” is not, I would say, well-placed for taking a stand against ethnic hatred. Even disregarding this hypocrisy, however, there is something unpleasant about Burchill’s rhapsodies. Here is a morsel for you to taste…

To put myself on the opposing side to a man who said, as Atzmon did, “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act” is yet another reason to throw in my lot with you lot…Like many a philosemite from Ruth the Moabitess to Liz Taylor, I chose my side long ago, and I will never change. You’re stuck with me now.

Who is the “you lot” of which she speaks? Burchill writes that her affection for the Jews is rooted in “their religion, their language and their ancient country”. Are English secular Jews spared her adoration, then? In an older column, though, one finds her claiming that “the Jews…are hated for their very modernity, mobility, lust for life and love of knowledge”. Which Jews are these? A lot of religious Jews are not very modern at all and would, in fact, be quite offended if you were to tell them otherwise. It seems that “the Jews” of Burchill’s affection are at least partly of her imagination.

I have no desire to join the commentators who appear allergic to the notion of ethnic commonalities. One can speak meaningfully of features associated with different peoples, and in both admiring or critical terms. This, however, is no excuse for making unreasonable value judgements and drawing bogus generalisations. This is obviously true when people take bigoted stances against men and woman on the basis of their ethnicities but it seems no less correct when people wildly celebrate them. Disparate individuals and communities are still being lumbered with expectations that many of them are not going to fulfil. Whether these prejudices cast them in a good or bad light it can’t be less than irritating.

Yet my concern is not merely for the objects of Burchill’s favour. It is for the truth. Unconditional love might be less dangerous than implacable hatred but it has the same potential for obscurantism. Both obscure one’s view of different aspects of reality. Burchill takes evident pride in her eccentric bias and it ensures that her analyses are destined to be partial. I would not, of course, expect scrupulous truthseeking from this source regardless of her biases but the fact that it’s uncontroversial for a commentator to proudly declare themself to be so sectarian is bleak.

Philosemitism is not the same thing as anti-semitism but they are often suggestive of the same unreasonable ethnophilic tendencies and, thus, produce ignorance towards different ends but in a similar manner. Jewish people may welcome this cheerleading if they like but I’m not sure anyone’s life needs such a tiresome distraction.

The question before the jury is whether the disproportionate representation of Asian men in Britain – and particularly, according to different sources, Muslims of Pakistani origins – among known offenders in cases of child grooming can be at least in part explained by their religious and otherwise cultural backgrounds. This, it seems to me, is quite stonkingly plausible. It fits the data; it’s consistent with the bigoted abuse they’re known to sling at victims (“white bitch” and so on); it’s consistent with the views of those victims and it’s the opinion of activists, commentators and investigators who’ve researched the issue. The sane thing to do, as far as I can tell, would be to establish a thorough investigation of the issue that would collate all the available data; investigate the men, their victims and their associates to find the extent and so on to judge the extent of the problem; analyse its form and give us a better idea of how to detect and assist real and potential victims and locate and deal with their tormentors.

Yet what’s been happening in the liberal press – typically so inspired by the abuse of women and the failings of social care? Denial and equivocation. Libby Brooks wrote an entire column that dismissed all claims that ethnicity was a possible factor as “simply not true”.  UCL researchers have given us nearly 1000 words of which literally 15 discuss the fact that, yes, it seems to be at least somewhat true and of which hundreds are devoted to throat clearing. Elsewhere, Sunny Hundal compares the phenomenon to Catholic priests – irrelevant as there’s no evidence that they’re more inclined to abuse kids that any other men – the sex trade in Asia – which I’d propose has a lot to do with Western sleazebags’ cultural outlook – and basically anything else that might – but doesn’t – mean the question is insignificant.

I understand the fear, of course. The notion of malevolent foreigners comin’ over ‘ere and takin’ our women is one of the most infamous propaganda tactics in history, and more this issue is discussed the more it’s likely that innocent bystanders will face collective punishment from homegrown bigots. These are reasons to be honest and assiduous in our considerations but not to skirt around the issue. It strikes me that another of the most notorious historical stereotypes is the cruel and greedy Jew, and this fact rarely stops people from criticising the actions of the state of Israel or the activism of its lobbyists. And I sometimes get the feeling that bigotry is predominant among some peoples’ fears; the threat above all others. This is simply untrue. If aspects of this problem are neglected, and prove to be significant, we risk failing to stop vulnerable children being subjected to appalling physical and mental torments of the sort that dozens of young girls in Rochdale endured. That would and should weigh heavier on our consciences than almost any other plausible result of our behaviour.

Besides – critical as I am of multiculturalism and elements of Islamic practices I don’t think this issue need pit communities against eachother. The conviction that the rape of children is abhorrent isn’t the loftiest of standards to hold people to but I feel it’s one that just about all who live on these isles, regardless of colour and creed, would be found to meet.

It’s odd – not unsurprising but still odd – how all the people who were clucking about racism in Europe when they thought the Toulouse gunman was a nutbag nativist have quietened now it’s said to be a Muslim fanatic. It’s the bigotry they feel the action might inspire, not the bigotry that’s thought to have inspired it, that’s being discussed. Why?

Outside of fractious debates on Israel and Palestine anti-semitism doesn’t receive the attention that bigotry against other minorities does. The reason, I think, is that it can’t be plausibly asserted that there’s an institutional bias against Jews. They tend to be as or more well-off than other Brits; they’re obviously not excluded from the higher rungs of the social ladder and our government enjoys friendly relations with the only Jewish majority state. While the boundaries of our discourse aren’t as fiercely policed as those of the States people who are thought to harbour ill-feeling against Jews are, by and large, unwelcome in the public sphere. (This isn’t always true, of course, but the point is that trying to make the case that society is geared towards keeping the Jews down would take an impressive feat of the imagination.)

I think people of a left wing and liberal persuasion tend to think that bigotry is a top-down phenomenon: emanating from the state into minds of plebeians. (Thus, when ethnic minorities are gunned down in France, the natural target for blame is the short man in the high places.) This is sometimes true – and European leaders have achieved it with daunting efficiency in years gone by – but it doesn’t hold as a rule. To a greater extent, I think, considering how few they are, than any other ethnic group the Jews face attacks in Europe, and by that I don’t mean voices of dim prejudices but the sort with bloodied bodies, smoking synagogues and desecrated gravestones. This, to some extent, can be explained by the fact that new arrivals have had virulent tribal hatreds among their baggage but that’s not enough to account for the trends. Assuming that the claims of a new ADL report are valid, a formidable proportion of the citizenries of Europe, especially Eastern Europe, hold today’s Jews responsible for the apparent death of a certain Jewish bloke two thousand years ago. (This has to be the most pathetic grievance ever. I’ve known rappers with more valid beefs.)

My point, in raising the spectre of one of civilisation’s oldest hatreds, is not to add my voice to the interminable if necessary debates around, say, when criticism of Israel becomes anti-semitic. It’s almost the opposite. It’s that the commentariat, if it wants to be relevant in any positive sense, should spend less time consumed by its internal habits and obsessions and reflect on what the great unwashed and ignored actually think and actually do.

Bigotry detection is, of course, a controversial science. I’d like to contribute to its sophistication. Arthur Goldwag is, as so many are, an opponent of “conspiracism”. An extract from his new book on this and related themes recounts his experiences with “9/11 Truthers”, and imputes to them a hefty racist element…

But what took me by surprise was the outsize role that Jews played in the anecdotes that so many of them related: warmongering Jewish neoconservatives in Washington, D.C.; the World Trade Center’s owner, Larry Silverstein, in New York City; even well-known Jewish leftists like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Amy Goodman, who had stubbornly and, to their accusers’ minds, unaccountably refused to endorse the agenda of 9/11 Truth. Binding them all together was the Zionist entity of Israel.

Now, don’t get me wrong: a lot of people who’ve been involved in “9/11 Truth” have been Jew haters and, yes, that goes for just about all fringe groups: they’re attracted to them like men to broken-down cars. Yet Goldwag’s point reminds me of when people used to claim that opposition to neoconservatives is liable to be anti-semitic because, er – lots of neoconservatives are Jewish. And, indeed, when people implied that criticism of Goldman Sachs was anti-semitic because, er – lots of its employees are Jewish.

Look – members of racial, gender and sexual demographics can, in fact, be represented in different parts of societies on a scale that’s incommensurate with their actual number. And in the States that’s true men and women of Jewish descent in economic, political and intellectual life. One’s interpretration of these facts can be extremely bigoted but the mere recognition of them can’t because, well – they’re facts. So, if you criticise businessmen, politicians or intellectuals you’re pretty much bound to be criticising lots of Jews. For example, this essay by Peter Collier of FrontPageMagazine denounces leftists such as Chomsky, Goodman, Klein, Howard Zinn and John Stewart. Hrm – all Jewish, aren’t they? Does this make the longtime collaborator of David Horowitz an anti-semite!? Well – no. No more than my list of favourite comedians makes me a Judeophile. If someone’s targeting members of a particular demographic that’s deplorable, of course, but there need to be good reasons to feel that they’re targeting them because they’re members of that demographic. Otherwise you’re just mindreading. And not very well.

Update: Arthur Goldwag clarifies his comments in the, er – comments.

Some Americans are getting hot and bothered over people using the term “Israel firster”. According to them it was invented and popularised by a load of Nazis. Fair enough. I’m cool with it being dumped into the trashcan of linguistic history.

Nonetheless, and while I have no desire to be involved in any arguments where accusations of mixed loyalties are being hurled about because they sound as edifying as iced spam, I feel compelled to note that they’re neither inherently disgraceful or, well – wrong. People are just as or more devoted to other nations or people than the nation and people they live in and with. I’ve no doubt that’s true of some Jewish Americans. I’ve no doubt that’s true of some Arabic Americans. Hell, I’ve no doubt that’s true of some American Americans. Is that arguable? The irony is that people seem most dubious about the mention of this fact at a time when the idea of holding no particular loyalty to the nation of one’s residence or birth is at its least controversial. Lots of people think nationalism is a dirty word. If we accept the notion that some of our fellow citizens aren’t too invested in the wellbeing of our country it’s absurd to say it’s inconceivable that they’d care as or more deeply for another.

I’m not dense. I know that there’s a grim history of citizens facing horrendous treatment for supposed or suspected disloyalty: the Japanese in the United States, for example, or, yes, a lot of Jews at the hands of neo-Nazis. Yet in a world where different people are commingling and different nations are butting into eachother’s interests the notion of mixed loyalties is actually relevant. (A small example: according to leaked cables the government took up the cause of the beleagured Tamils as a lot of refugees were living in marginals.) To assume that somebody is more invested in the wellbeing of the people of their fathers than the people they reside among is unpleasant; reducing them to no more than the bare fact of their ethnicity and cultural heritage. To argue that they’re more invested in that people, or some part of that people, and to support that argument with substantive reasoning, however, can illustrate the simple fact that one’s heritage can, in fact, hold a powerful sway over one’s emotions. Or, indeed, that one’s idiosyncratic prejudices lead one to favour the cause of a nation that’s not one’s own. I’m sure there are Americans and Brits, born and bred, who nonetheless have somehow come to invest their feeling in, say, Chad.

I’d like to attach a few provisos to this one. First, I wasn’t personally hurt by Diane Abbott’s strange comments so there’s no need to remove your tiny violins. Second, I’m under no illusions that in criticising her I’m boldly standing up against or for anything – the vast majority of an imposing body of opinion that her tweeting has provoked is hostile and the fact that I’ve seen people standing up for her is a measure of the eccentric circles I happen to move in. Third, I accept that the media’s response has been unpleasantly shrill. In fact, I’m not sure anybody saying anything – except, perhaps, the Queen musing the loveliness of Hitler – could deserve it.

With all that dispensed with, they were nasty comments, and not just because of her use of the term “white people”. (Now being said to be a comment on 19th Century colonialism. Goodness – if I hinted darkly at the nefariousness of Asians could I say it was a reference to Genghis Khan?) What’s more interestingly offensive about the tweet is that her claim that “white people love playing divide and rule” was in response to a black journalist’s questioning of the soundness of the notion of a “black community” and the value of the “community leaders” who purport to or are said to represent it. I don’t know a lot about race or racial politics but the claim that people who’ve been said to be the “voice” of black Britons have done little but humiliate themselves seems evidently true, and the point about the dangers of communalistic politics is, at the very least, a serious one. Abbott – one of those “leaders” herself – responded to these thoughtful points by essentially implying that the journalist should pipe down as she was doing the white man’s conspiratorial, pernicious work. That, to me, smacks of paternalistic fearmongering – the evasion of tough questions via the introduction of gratuitous and unhealthy suspicion. This goes some way towards affirming the original concern about the presumptuousness of “community leaders” – as well as ensuring that if people say her dissident perspective is being quashed I’m inclined to reach for a little violin.

By the way, there’s nothing – nothing – more painful than watching people on Facebook debate the meaning of racism. Alex DeLarge had it easy in comparison.

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