Source: Infernal Machine
We now have a country where an act of mass murder ‘inspires’ people to openly threaten Muslims with similar actions.It’s something of a cliché to look back on a society like Nazi Germany say, and shake our heads and ask how the country of Goethe and Beethoven could have descended into barbarism. There are obviously very specific historical reasons why Germany took the path it did, but there is also a more universal lesson that can be applied to other historical contexts.
To put it simply, societies tumble off the abyss and become what the medieval historian RI Moore once called ‘persecuting societies’ because the forces that might have prevented this outcome either don’t recognise the warning signs in time or they don’t act on these signs when they have the chance to do something about them.
Here in the UK it is becoming increasingly clear that a transformation has taken place that goes beyond the shenanigans and political convulsions in Westminster, and will not be resolved by ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexits or arguments about the kind of deal on offer. Consider the events of the last week.
Last Saturday a Romanian woman in Doncaster was savagely beaten by a group of teenagers who called her a ‘Polish cunt’ and told her to ‘fuck off to your country.’ The following Monday the yellow jacket thug James Goddard and his followers virtually took over a court hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, and forced the judge to flee the court. Goddard’s followers went on to storm the Attorney General’s office.
Last Thursday the Labour MP for Brighton Kempton Lloyd Russell-Moyle was attacked on the street and called a traitor because he called for a delay to Brexit. In the same week MPs were advised to take taxis to and from Westminster in case they were attacked, and Independent Group MP Anna Soubry announced that she no longer goes home because she is afraid of attacks.
Yesterday the monitoring group Tell Mama reported a staggering 593% rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes across the UK since the Christchurch massacre. These incidents included attacks on five Birmingham mosques with sledgehammers, another attack on a mosque Scotland, and the stabbing of a teenager in Surrey. In Oxford, Southampton and north London, Muslim men and women reported gun gestures or firearms noises being directed at them, and verbal abuse that included shouts of ‘you need to be shot’, ‘you deserve it’ and ‘Muslims must die.’
There was a time when you might have expected people who feel like this to keep their mouths shut—in public at least—in the aftermath of a white supremacist atrocity in which 49 Muslims were savagely murdered. Instead being chastened by the massacre in Christchurch, however, it’s clear that the perpetrators of these hate crimes were inspired by it, and felt confident enough to actually threaten British Muslim men and women with something similar.
Contemptuous disregard for the rule of law; threats against MPs; violent attacks on foreigners; the exultant celebration of mass murder—if these are not warning signs then I don’t know what is.
None of this fell out of the sky. It’s been clear ever since 2016 that the referendum has actively emboldened and empowered the older far-right and its newer variants, and that Brexit has given these forces a cause celebre and a new constituency that is willing to listen to an ethnonationalist agenda that is profoundly hostile to Muslims, foreigners and immigrants, and also to the Westminster ‘traitors’ and ‘liberal’ elites who supposedly facilitated the foreign (and Muslim) ‘invasion.’
This is why Jo Cox was killed. Yet even when an MP was murdered by a white supremacist shouting ‘Britain first’, this horrific crime was dismissed as the act of an isolated ‘loner’ with mental health issues.
Three and a half years later, we now have a country where an act of mass murder ‘inspires’ people to openly threaten Muslims with similar actions. We would be very foolish indeed to dismiss the possibility of these threats being realised, and if we are to have any possibility of preventing the country sinking any deeper into the toxic political sewer, we need to recognise that this transformation is partly due to Brexit.
Neither the Brexit right nor the Lexit left likes to admit that Brexit has contributed to this emboldenment and empowerment. To do so would undermine the image of Brexit as a popular rebellion against the ‘elite’ which both the right and some sectors of the left still adhere to.
Suggest that Brexit is, in part, an ethnonationalist project with racism and xenophobia at its core, and you’re likely to hear the same banal arguments that ‘not all Leavers are racists’ or ‘ it’s not racist to be concerned about immigration’ or ‘a few bad apples don’t define a country’ etc, etc
But we need to join the dots, even if they produce a picture that we would prefer not to see. We need wide and deep mobilisations across the country to defend our communities and uphold the diverse, open society that an emboldened and empowered extreme right is now looking to ‘take back’.
We need to take the country back – from them. And unless we can do this, these forces will get stronger and more vicious, till it is no longer possible to ignore or escape from them.
How can we stop a ‘second wave’ of fascism returning us to the darkest times? How do we prevent the history of the 1930s repeating itself?