Those ‘pockets’ of left-wing anti-semitism are being filled by the far-right

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Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for modesty might not survive revelations about his habit of joining pro-Jeremy Corbyn groups on Facebook. The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman calls such groups ‘anti-semitic’, which, although it is a blatant misrepresentation, does contain a possibly unwitting smidgen of truth.

I’ve long been a member of numerous pro-Corbyn groups and I have seen anti-semitic material posted there. The better-organised ones remove it once warned, but in some such groups memes and videos blaming cabals of prominent Jewish people for the world’s problems are rife and widely approved of. Such material mostly derives from the noxious swamp of Sputnik, Russia Today, and fake news websites which push what to a cursory scroller may look like nothing more than an anti-neoliberal elite agenda, but a closer inspection quickly identifies the same old tropes: Soros, the Rothschilds, the shady hook-nosed NWO, etc. The memes in question aren’t coming from the Left, in the sense that they didn’t originate there, but they do often meet with a depressingly positive reaction.

Nonetheless, there’s something both sly and unfair about (for example) Suzanne Moore’s comment that Corbyn himself is ‘not an anti-semite, but…‘. Similarly, Hadley Freeman’s List of evidence of Corbyn’s anti-semitist connections is a pretty empty one unless you consider all attempts to talk to groups representing Palestinians as beyond the Green Line. At least Freeman doesn’t mention Israel, unlike the spokesman for the British Board of Deputies the guy on Radio 4 two days ago, who just couldn’t stop himself. There are, to borrow a phrase, pockets within those groups which officially represent the Jewish community (often, as it were, the top pockets) which instinctively paint all criticism of Israel as anti-semitic. Their ongoing prominence in this debate muddies the waters just as much as those who are ready to shout down all talk of left-wing anti-semitism as a media plot.

I don’t doubt that many of the people on the protests outside Parliament were sincere in their concerns. The Brick Lane mural was absurdly anti-semitic, and Corbyn’s approval of it can’t be dismissed. (Unless, that is, we adopt a puerile definition of free speech, of which more later.) In downplaying the incident Aaron Bastani ignores the fact that if a prominent Tory or Ukip politician had ‘liked’ the same image, we would all be screaming from the rooftops, as we would if a Conservative candidate had shared the sort of Holocaust denial material posted by Alan Bull. Anyone who doesn’t recognise such blatant anti-semitism really shouldn’t be spouting off about the subject. As others have pointed out, there is something about Corbyn’s anti-elite populism which allows such tropes to fester, and the Left has a duty to address this.

The contemporary far-right is keen to exploit ambiguities and confusion among (nominally) progressive radicals in order to draw them towards its own ideas. As this article details, it sees satire as a tool for generating controversies and bringing non- and even anti-fascists into its orbit. As it happens, it wasn’t a deliberate ploy that brought me into its online sphere of influence, but it was a comedian who transported me there. On his (very) hit-and-miss podcast, Russell Brand recently interviewed the new daddy-waddy figure of the far-right, Jordan Peterson. I listened to the first two minutes, until it rapidly became clear that Brand’s deeply irritating habit of doing no research whatsoever meant that he was not going to be able to challenge or even to see through Peterson’s specious pseudo-intellectual rhetoric. Those two minutes were a rich seam for the far-right, because ever since then well over 50% of the videos Youtube has suggested to me feature Peterson ‘crushing’ his liberal debating opponents from Noam Chomsky to (I seem to recall) Mahatma Ghandi. If I hadn’t read certain articles alerting me to Peterson’s pernicious influence and detailing his intellectual fraudulence, I might be inclined to listen.

A related episode involved two more British comedians: Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel. Both tweeted in favour of the ‘free speech’ of a man called Mark Meechan (aka ‘Count Dankula’), seemingly unaware he is not a mere ‘comedian’, but a far-right activist. They were duped, pulled through a loophole created by widespread confusion about the difference between the right to privately express hateful ideas and using/abusing privately-owned public platforms to do so. A further example of ‘anti-establishment’ satire being used to promote deeply reactionary ideas is the character Jonathan Pie, whose material is co-written by a member of the far-right cult Spiked. Spiked’s ‘contrarian’ dogma involves total freedom for the far-right and active censure for anyone who opposes it.

If the Left is finding that some of its pockets contain noxious ideas, there’s no mystery as to who is placing them there, and how. Emptying those pockets out involves total intolerance of nazis and anti-semites and their ideas, and extreme vigilance for anyone seeking to use the Left’s own values to undermine it. Anyone posting in notionally left-wing forum about Soros and the Rothschilds, etc is either very naive or outright evil, and those who use a dishonest and self-serving notion of ‘free speech’ as a tool to smuggle in far-right ideas should be immediately exposed and, to borrow a phrase from the far-right, sent back to where they came from.

What to say to Italians to stop them voting fascist

italian-flagMy family and I recently became economic migrants, emigrants from a country (Italy) where there are fewer job prospects and where working conditions are generally atrocious. Brexit notwithstanding, at least in London there are jobs, even some with decent conditions, and the public transport and rubbish collection systems work, while the referendum has certainly revealed an extremely unpleasant undercurrent of hostility to foreigners and the status of many who’ve lived here for decades is still entirely and appallingly uncertain, the UK is not, unlike Italy, right on the verge of electing an electing an explicitly fascist government.

Immigration has been the main theme in the Italian election debate, and the direct involvement of the extremist Northern League in a terrorist attack on Africans has received the full approval of their political sponsor, the mummified, mafioso, pedophile, tax-skiving Bond villain Silvio Berlusconi, a creature whose political views and history of corruption on every conceivable level make Donald Trump seem like Joni Mitchell. There is a chance that not only will Berlusconi’s coalition win most seats, but that he, who, given his multiple criminal convictions is unable to serve in government, will choose Matteo Salvini, the genocidally racist leader of the Lega Nord, as Interior or even Prime Minister.

Who am I to tell Italian how to vote? Well, I lived and worked in Rome until two weeks ago, and my wife and baby daughter were both born in the country. (No one in Rome suggested that my daughter was using up resources destined for those who’d been there longer, or that she should go back where she came from. Che strano.) Many of my friends are Italian and/or still live in Italy, although none of them will have considered voting for the far-right. Or at least I should bloody well hope not. This post is offered in a spirit of solidarity – I know that millions of Italians are out on the streets and arguing with their colleagues, friends and neighbours, trying to provide an antidote to the racist poison broadcast nightly on the TV news. Cioè, spero bene.

Although I spent the first week after the Brexit vote listening to this, I’ve come to accept that, regardless of the catastrophic consequences of their actions, many who voted for it were not expressing affiliation with a far-right agenda. The utter contempt and profound cruelty with which the Cameron/Osborne government treated the bulk of the population generated a predictable response in which many thought they were taking part in a new peasant’s revolt rather than a faux-rebellion led by a former stockbroking fascist backed by billionaires. Thus there are reasons excuses for having voted for Brexit, and even (to a far lesser extent, and although I would happily spit on anyone who actually voted for him) Trump.  This is not to make excuses for my own country’s racism, but to stress that there are no excuses for voting for the euphemistically-referred to ‘centrodestra‘ (centre-right, which includes the fascists). As it happens, Farage’s best friend in Italy is not Salvini, but Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement. While Spain had the indignados, Italy had this group of ingenues, a movement based on a deeply naive opposition to not just corruption but politics per se. Grillo is a master manipulator, and egomaniac and a trickster, and the fact that his blog has been called Europe’s main source of fake news is largely responsible for a situation where even people who see themselves as progressive will tell you with a straight face that vaccines cause autism and that George Soros has a plan to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants. As for the movement’s stance on racism, its leaders declaration that ‘Anti-fascism is not my job’ and his welcoming of members of the even-more-nazi-than-the-nazis Casapound movement has been reflected in the party’s response to the attack in Macerata, which lies somewhere between pathetic and complicit.

The country wouldn’t be in this situation if the governing Partito Democratico had any courage or principles, instead of being unhappily married to a half-hearted and discredited form of neoliberalism, one which involves repeating the mantra of crescita (growth) like they’re invoking rainfall. The Left has at last tried to remake itself, but often seemingly on the basis of personal ambition rather than principle. (The smaller left parties have declared they won’t form a coalition with the PD, but hopefully that’s just electoral posturing.)  The widely-despised gurning former PM Matteo Renzi’s insistence that he should continue as leader of the ‘Left’ is suicidal – or rather homicidal, given that his political career will no doubt continue. And speaking of murder, there is also his cowardly response to the attempted massacre in Macerata. Few will vote PD with any enthusiasm, but let’s hope that as many as possible do. Anyone who argues that the parties are ‘all the same’ on this occasion could only be speaking out of profound ignorance of undiagnosed sociopathy.

In previous elections over the last year or so I’ve used this space to share translations of phrases which might persuade people with a vote not to vote for the right.  It worked well in the case of the French elections (ahem…) and I regret not doing so before the German ones. This time it’s not all that tongue-in-cheek. The possibility of a fascist victory is extremely terrifying and very real. One hopes that the Italian State, given that it has an explicitly anti-fascist constitution, will refuse to allow a government including Salvini and Giorgia Meloni (aka the blonde Traini) to take power; failing that, there will need to be a popular revolt involving extreme civil disobedience to resist such a prospect. In the meantime, anyone who has a vote, wherever they may be, needs to be warned of the consequences of voting for the right. The phrases that follow are not polite ones, but I find it impossible to think of those who might knowingly allow the return of fascism in the country that invented it with anything other than contempt.

  1. You do know that Italy is a country of emigrants, right? Sai che l’Italia è un paese di emigranti, vero?
  2. Do you think that countries such as the US and the UK should deport all their Italian immigrants? Credi che paesi come gli Stati Uniti e il Regno Unito dovreberro mandare via tutti i loro immigrati italiani?
  3. Will you be happy to see the Italian tourist industry collapse overnight? Saresti contento/a di vedere l’industria turistica crollare di un momento al altro?
  4. Do you think it’s necessary to shoot all foreigners, or just the black ones? Are you planning to go to the Colosseum and murder all the tourists? Pensi che bisogna sparare a tutti gli stranieri, o solo ai neri? Hai intenzione di andare sotto al Colosseo e uccidere tutti i turisti?
  5. Salvini is a terrorist, Berlusconi is a pedophile.  Salvini è un terrorista, Berlusconi è un pedofilo.
  6. What attracts you most about the Arancini coalition: the terrorism, the pedophilia, the fact that one of its leaders has blonde hair, or just the fanatical racism? Cosa ti piace di piu del cosidetto centrodestra: il terrorismo, la pedofilia, i capelli biondi di una dei leader, opurre solo il razzismo fanatico?
  7. Would you vote for Isis? Votaresti per Isis?
  8. Have you perhaps considered voting for a non-fascist party? Che tipo di stronzetto sei, cazzo?!

This moving speech by a 10-year-old girl should make liberals think again about ‘free speech’

Everyone’s in favour of the right to free speech. Until, that is, ordinary people open their mouths – then things quickly get much more complicated, with exceptions to the rule cropping up all over the place like cracks in a bursting dam. Liberals in particular will claim that their commitment to freedom of expression is total and boundless, but we’ve seen over the last couple of years, from college campuses to the Internet, that their dedication to the cause involves more reservations than the Wild West. Instead of a full-on no-holds-barred debate, they want their safe spaces, where only certain kinds of opinions can be voiced by certain kinds of people.

Well, proponents of the kinds of views that liberals find unacceptable are fighting back. Ordinary people are rejecting the whole specious discourse of political correctness, and refusing to conform to the standard narratives, to the attractively packaged and artificially sweetened versions of reality which they’ve been force-fed for far too long. Opinions rarely expressed in the lamestream media are finding outlets and appreciative audiences online, free of regulation and admonishment by the self-appointed guardians and gatekeepers of good taste.

But who am I to tell you what to think? The video I’m going to show you will make my case far more articulately than any number of #MAGA tweets, Breitbart editorials or impassioned rants by Alex Jones. You’ll certainly never hear these views on a Ted Talk! The video shows a young woman, an innocent yet passionate embodiment of the desire for total human liberty, expressing herself as loudly and as freely as her heart and lungs will allow. It’s a moving lesson – as The Bible says, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings – that teaches us where the full realisation of ‘free speech’ will lead us. Watch it and then tell me you would ever restrict the right of such human beings to share their views in public, regardless of how unpopular the opinion or how unwelcoming the context. 

(The point of this tongue-in-cheek post is to ridicule the new global far-right’s hypocritical and cynical pretence of being attached to ‘free speech’, and to make the point to fellow progressives that we must not let them get away with it. You may find it poorly executed – fair enough – but if you think my point is mistaken, please complete the following challenge: find me one social media fascist screeching about the inviolability of free speech (a liberal value in any case) who has also spoken up for the rights of those who don’t subscribe to the alt-right worldview. If you can find one such example, I will send you $10 by PayPal and edit the post accordingly. I’m off out for a pizza.)

Does Farage see Brexit as his Reichstag Fire?

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I’ve long had a hunch that Brexit is essentially impossible. It would take years to disentangle the British State from its interdependences on the European Union, indeed probably longer than it took to join in the first place. It would involve very detailed preparation by experts in all sorts of fields in order to predict and mitigate the effects, such are the numbers of known unknowns and unknown unknowns involved.

It was already clear before the vote that neither of the Leave campaigns had done that preparation. They were so careless about the consequences as to try to quash serious debate entirely, up to the point of ridiculing experts and rejecting evidence and doubts out of hand. Since then, and very obviously of late, it’s become blindingly obvious to anyone not willfully myopic that pro-Brexit politicians are completely unprepared for what lies in store.

Now one of those myriad impossibilities involved has become clear: the Irish border. Regardless of any amount of vacuous rhetoric about Taking Back Control Of Our Borders, the UK has a back door which it is, pace the Good Friday Agreement, 100% politically, legally and morally obliged to keep open. (Not to mention that a fact that it can’t have a ‘soft border’ (what?) for trade and a ‘hard border’ for people.) This is an intractable problem, and one which, given that the Republic has, like all EU states, a veto over the final deal, will scupper the whole project. Not that the Brexiteers are short of solutions, you understand: Kate Hooey reckons that Ireland will just have to leave the EU and various Andrew Lilico types in the Daily Telegraph are proclaiming that ‘Eire’ will have to forget about being a sovereign and independent entity. James Connolly wrote of a ‘carnival of reaction’ after Irish partition: the UK’s partition from the EU is provoking a carnival of outright trollery.

Nigel Farage presumably knew about such impossible aspects, but I increasingly suspect that he sees it as grist to the mill. Farage is a trickster: a Pied Piper type, an agent of chaos for its own sake. Any simple Occam’s Razor join the dots analysis also confirms that he is, from his days of marching round his boarding school singing Nazi marching songs to goosestepping onto the stage at the AFD conference a few weeks ago, a lifelong fascist. Unlike Trump, who presumably kept a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ by his bedside to show off what an edgelord he was, Farage will, like Steve Bannon, have read up on how the Nazis managed to get into power. It doesn’t take much insight to recognise the role of the Reichstag Fire in allowing Hitler to seize control.

This is a mere blog. I have no claims to be a journalist. Like most such sites, it is a collection of overgrown below-the-line comments. Unlike some, it doesn’t hold with or promote paranoid and simplistic conspiracy theories. My opinion of such theories is influenced by a book I read long ago: ‘In Dubious Battle’, J. Bowyer Bell’s analysis of the (probably) MI6-sponsored 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. In it he points out that anyone expecting to be able to track down signed and sealed confessions from the participants in such plots is probably deluded. Underhand collusion between nefarious interests does obviously exist, but it tends to be in the form of tacit suggestions, nods and winks, not formalised agreements. No one is likely to find a payment in roubles into Farage’s Nationwide Flexaccount, to choose a not-entirely-random example.

This piece was thus inspired not by a top-secret document handed to me by a stranger in a public park, but by a post I came across from a random person in the gossip mill of social media. The tweet includes no sources, referring vaguely to ‘rumours’. This is what it says:

Rumours circulating that the only thing making the govt determined to continue with this ludicrous Brexit charade is the threat of civil unrest from the loony right. Police and HO advise that they might not be able to cope.Govts abhor civil unrest, and right threatens violence.

There’s no reason to give credence to such a source, but without wanting to sound like Sarah Sanders, it does have a smack of truth to it. While Farage may be the only full-on fascist among the key Brexit zealots, it’s worth bearing in mind firstly that First World War-enthusiast Michael Gove has long been publicly hostile to the Good Friday Agreement itself, and secondly that the gunboat-style free trade imperialism propounded by Hannan, Rees-Mogg, Carswell, Patel, Johnson et al is so extreme and anathema to modern democracy as to necessitate a Year Zero approach. I suspect that to various degrees none of the above were particularly serious about Britain’s leaving the EU per se. They instead saw it as a means to an end, and thus regard the chaos that will inevitably ensue as akin to sweeping all the pieces off the board to create a tabula rasa. In the case of Farage, the referendum result is an opportunity to turn the UK into an authoritarian state, with scapegoating as its organising principle. The Conservative Party, out of conceit and complacency, fell into the trap that he had, with very great patience and guile, set for it. His ubiquitous media presence, from the Question Time panel to the LBC studio, from Andrew Marr’s sofa to Good Morning Britain’s, from the LBC studio to Loose Women and back to Question Time again, is part of his ongoing attempts to force the country into line with the Nazi ideology he professed as a schoolboy and has kept largely concealed ever since.

Britain First is a terrorist organisation

Although definitions of terrorism vary and often conflict, you’d be hard-pressed to find any that didn’t contain the notion of political violence combined with the threat of further political violence. Just before the Brexit referendum, a member of the British parliament, Jo Cox MP,  was shot and stabbed to death by a political activist. We know he was a political activist because he had been photographed campaigning with the group Britain First, and it was the name of that organisation that he shouted as he murdered her. In court he shouted slogans calling her a traitor.

Of course, there are no documents proving that Thomas Mair was a formal member of Britain First. In much the same way, there doesn’t seem to be such as thing as an Isis membership card. Both organisations seem to recruit principally via the Internet, where affiliations are notoriously fickle and rarely formalised. Mair’s proximity to the leadership of Britain First is much more remarkable than that of any number of European-grown Islamic terrorists is to the leading figures in Isis. No media outlet automatically absolves Abu-Bakr Al Baghdadi when one of his distant disciples ploughs a truck into pedestrians in Catalonia or shoots up a Parisean theatre. Much like both Isis and the EDL, Britain First is an online operation spilling onto the streets. Those who create its violently hateful propaganda are responsible when someone responds to their exhortations to murder ‘traitors’.

Yet somehow, in the furore about Trump’s retweeting of three fake videos posted by one of the group’s leaders, the terrorist angle hasn’t been mentioned. This is odd, given the irony that in supposedly making a statement against terrorism, Trump was promoting it. He won’t face any action by Twitter, as he is their number one star player. Given that Twitter more or less did the decent thing by removing and decredentialing other far-right hate preachers a couple of weeks ago, a concerted campaign to get Britain First removed from the platform might succeed, and would cause huge embarrassment to Trump – or, given that he seems immune to such emotions, his cause.

It’s also important to expose Nigel Farage’s links with BF. Although he has now denounced them as neofascists, Golding et al were very open in the past about their connections, even boasting in this video of attacking anti-UKIP protestors on his behalf. Anyone who was unfamiliar with Britain First but who still finds Farage’s shtick amusing also needs to be reminded that in the wake of the referendum he boasted that it had been won ‘without a shot being fired’. We don’t need to delve into his apparent family history in the National Front to see that his disassociation from the explicitly nazi movement is disingenuous at best. If Trump hadn’t come across Britain First before, it’s no thanks to Nigel Farage, who surely has Golding and Fransen among his email contacts, along with Robert Mercer and Julian Assange. In any game of Six Degrees of Separation starting from any figure in the international fascist movement, Farage’s name won’t take too long to crop up. His comment about the referendum was an implicit statement of allegiance with a terrorist organisation which murdered an elected MP in order to stop her campaigning to help people fleeing war. The name of that terrorist organisation is Britain First.

Rome: The far-right and the mafia

Fascist election candidate Luca Marsella (right) arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder with mafia clan boss Roberto Spada.

The singer Manu Chao once said of the connection between organised crime and politics:

‘The worst enemy of democracy in the 21st century is not military dictatorships, but mafia dictatorships, and military dictatorships will seem really light in comparison. It’s already happening in Russia and in Mexico, but it’s coming up everywhere, and it’s very very very very dangerous. More and more and places I go, and I have the chance to travel a lot, the mafia is in control.’

This theme feels close to home for two reasons. One is that just down the road in Ostia an apparent alliance between a mafia clan and a far-right organisation looks set to be the decisive element in a local election. The area was partly the setting for the film and subsequent Netflix series ‘Suburra‘, a slightly lurid take on the events which culminated in the Partito Democratico-controlled local council being dissolved for mafia infiltration in 2015 as part of a response to a scandal known as Mafia Capitale. Among many other eye-popping examples of corruption in and around Rome, there were revelations of mafia groups making huge amounts of money from the management of immigrant detention centres.

The far-right organisation known as Casapound is a gang of fascist street thugs. Although their name has erudite connotations (it’s a reference to the Mussolini-supporting poet Ezra Pound), their propaganda consists of the standard racist clichés dressed up in the pretentious but intellectually derisory rhetoric of all Italian fascists. They have a particular focus on ‘heroes’. A recent poster stuck up on a bridge near our flat called refugees, by contrast, cowards. As it happens, Casapound have contempt for actual heroes of Italian history, calling Second World War partisans ‘rapists‘. Nonetheless, their visibility and influence has been steadlily growing, partly because in some of the most deprived areas of the city,  such as Nuova Ostia, they have been running food banks and other essential social services, taking over from the State in the wake of the huge public spending cuts of the last decade. In run-down areas of Ostia they got 20% of the vote, and the 8% they got overall means they may well hold the balance of power after the second round of voting.

They’ve also been active around the issue of housing. Distribution of ‘case popolari’ (council houses) is a hugely sensitive issue and thus easy pickings for those whose aim is to divide the poor against each other. They have demonstrated against immigrants or Italians of foreign origin moving into apartments allocated to them. Perhaps sensing an affinity, in the elections this month one local mafia group known as Spada gave open support to Casapound; it was when the brother of the rumoured leader was asked by a journalist about these connections that things took a violent turn. Of course, Casapound spokespeople have since tried to distance themselves from organised criminals, but given that they also deny (among other things) l’Olocausto, such statements should be taken with un pizzico di sale.

The violent contempt which both the far-right and the mafia have for a free and independent media brings me to the second reason these events strike a chord with me. In 2015-2016 my wife and I lived in Mexico, where I had daily cause to marvel at the incredible bravery of reporters who, despite constant threats and regular assasinations of their colleagues, reported on atrocities and the links between the culprits and those in power. Although the far-right is not present in the same way in Mexican politics, it’s not really necessary given how extreme the mainstream parties are; nevertheless, it does have a presence in the army and may have influenced the impunity granted to members of the military in the wake of (one can safely presume) their massacre of left-wing students in Iguala.

The mafia relies upon silence, (omertà), which means that anyone investigating it is taking a huge risk. Mexico is not the only dangerous place to be a reporter. Donald Trumps’s new Best Dictator Friend in the Philippines once remarked that ‘Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination’; this week, in the company of and to the apparent amusement of Trump (who rumours have linked to the mafia for decades), Duterte openly referred to journalists as ‘spies’. There have been an increasing number of reminders over the last few months that the global infrastructure of human rights was a response to the horrors of uniformed fascism: General John Kelly’s recommendation to Trump that he use a sword he’d been presented with on journalists carried many chilling and probably deliberate echoes. Truimp’s attuitude to political power is very reminiscent of that of any number of notorious Mexican political figures. As I wrote in December last year:

‘We don’t have to stretch our powers of speculation to imagine what a world run by and for Trump would look like. Basta ver what has happened over the last few years in the State of Veracruz: massive corruption and abuse of power backed up by the murder of anyone who investigates or speaks out.’

Of course, the fact of the relationship between fascists and the mafia will be no revelation to anyone who is from Italy or who follows its politics. In the decades after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, the far-right Propaganda Due (P2) masonic lodge, which allegedly included Silvio Berlusconi, was involved in targetted assasinations, huge financial scandals and attempts to manipulate the political situation to the advantage of far-right elites. Journalists were very often targetted for intimidation and murder. We recently went to an exhibition in Rome of photographs by the phenomenally courageous Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who documented several decades of violence in Palermo against anyone who trod on the toes of the mafia or annoyed their political servants. There are echoes of this period in the writer Roberto Saviano’s reaction to events in Ostia. He puts them in the context of the long history of the relationship between fascists and the mafia from the 1920s onwards. Few are better placed to understand what goes on behind the headlines – he has lived in hiding for the last eleven years because of his work exposing the neapolitan Camorra.

In 2011, Saviano shared the Olof Palme Prize with the Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho ‘for their tireless, selfless and often lonely work in support of their ideals and for human rights’. Such bravery made me feel guilty that after a while in Mexico I stopped reading the newspapers every day. Although La Jornada was mostly in black and white, the accounts of mass killings around the country were just as shocking as the lurid front pages of the more sensationalist publications, with their blood and gore and the neverending telenovela of El Chapo. Of course, the bogeymen identified in the press or on TV may not tell you all that much about how power operates behind the scenes.

As it happens, the poet, theatre and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in Ostia, in an apparently mafia-style killing in November 1975. Although his last film, ‘Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom‘, with its almost unwatchable scenes of human brutality, was set during the final collapsing orgy of fascist rule, it wasn’t a historical document about the barbarities of the Second World War, but rather an analogy to something deep within the Italian State. It was, in a sense, a film in which Silvio Berlusconi was a central character; tales of his underage bunga bunga orgies recalled the scenes in which venally corrupt businessmen cavorted with uniformed sadists. Last week the newly politically-revitalised Berlusconi announced the cabinet he hopes to appoint after the general elections next year, with a prominent role for the openly anti-immigrant ‘centrodestra’ figure Giorgia Meloni and the position of Minister of the Interior reserved for the up-and-coming fascist demagogue Matteo Salvini. It’s starting to feel like there could well be a Salò Part 2.

*The term ‘centre-right’ is a ubiquitous euphemism in Italian politics, and speaking of ubiquity, anyone wanting to understand why Italian society sees regular outbursts of repugnant anti-immigrant sentiment needs to take into account the fact that Meloni and Salvini are never, ever, not even for a second, off the fucking TV.

Italy has a terrorism problem – but it’s not what you might expect

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I’ve been living in Italy now for a year, and on the whole I’ve been made to feel very welcome. No one has put pressure me to go back to my own country or suggested that I’m exploiting essential services that should be reserved for locals, even though during that time my wife and I have smuggled into the country a basically infirm member of our family, one who has no concept whatsoever of hard work, has made no apparent progress in learning the language and appears to have who does nothing but use up vital resources. If it wasn’t for the amount of panolini our baby daughter gets through, Rome’s garbage disposal crisis could be solved at a stroke.

The kind treatment afforded to my family might be considered odd, given that Italy is currently undergoing a wave of xenophobic fervour, one that (for me) recalls the deeply unpleasant events in late 1990s Ireland. Within a few months from around late 1997 onwards, as a result of tabloid campaigns aimed at the small numbers of refugee claimants then starting to arrive (sample headline from The Irish Independent: ‘Asylum scroungers fake ‘torture’!’), black people were getting screamed at in supermarkets and bus queues. Thankfully, nearly a generation later, Ireland appears to have comprehensively pushed back such attempts to turn it into a famously unwelcoming country.

In neither Ireland nor Italy have I, as an immigrant, faced similar treatment. Did I happen to mention that I’m white? Of course, most Italians would not knowingly discriminate against people on the basis of their skin colour. Like Ireland, Italy has a long history of emigration, a history of ethnic diversity going back to the Roman Empire and also a more recent one of massive internal migration. But brutal discrimination against people of apparently different backgrounds does exist, and it is coming from somewhere.

That discrimination partly manifests itself in relation to housing. In my time here there have been at least two front-page stories from my adopted city (Rome) in which locals have (apparently) refused to let people with black skin live in their midst. A few months ago an Italian-Moroccan family, one which has been based in Italy for several years, was prevented from taking up public housing assigned to them. Today, Repubblica reports on the plight of an Italian-Ethiopian family, similarly stopped from moving into their new home by a mob of angry ‘locals’ and a certain number of increasingly familiar faces egging them on.

There is a context for these events, specifically in terms of the numbers of recent arrivals. Italy and Greece are being used as corridors by the EU, much like the ones overcrowded hospitals will stick patients in when there’s no more space in the wards. As it happens, there’s lots of space in Europe for newcomers, but, with the odd noble exception, there has been a lack of political will to point that fact out. The human cost of recent waves of migration is not actually borne by Italians, but by the migrants themselves, prevented by the authorities from settling down and by other EU countries from moving on. (A very detailed and moving account of this is given in the 2015 film ‘Mediterranea’.) Many newcomers would like to reach the UK, where, owing partly to the history of the British Empire, they have personal connections and/or can speak the language, which would make it easier for them to continue their lives. The refusal of the British to accept our historical and moral responsibility is utterly shameful. However, the fact that my own country has a history of racism doesn’t mean that I can’t condemn it wherever I happen to be living now.

The conflicts increasingly taking place in Italy are not motivated by the newcomers themselves, but by political forces determined to misrepresent reality in order to provoke division so as to gain power. Racist politicians like Meloni and Salvini are never off the TV, spreading outright lies about the benefits paid to recent arrivals. The country’s leading opposition political figure, Beppe Grillo, makes common cause with the far-right, responding to criticism by claiming that ‘anti-fascism is not my concern‘. But its not those individuals who turn up wherever there’s an opportunity for aggro. Any visitor to Rome will notice the hateful posters of the openly nazi group Forza Nuova, whose thugs were behind yesterday’s racist protest in Rome. Another group which openly boasts of terrorising immigrants and their supporters occupies a substantial building in the centre of Rome. Above the entrance the name of the organisation is engraved in a pathetic pastiche of Mussolini-era iconography.  Just like their counterparts in the US, the UK and Germany, such groups hate their ‘own’ country. One of their piccolo fuhrers is even on record as calling the anti-fascist partisans of the Second World War ‘rapists’. Their objective is the same as that of Isis: to divide people using violence and the threat of violence in order to gain power. It behoves all immigrants, regardless of our status or the colour of our skin, to speak out against them just as we condemn other forms of terrorism. Italy is, in the words of Cesare Balbo, “a multiracial community composed of successive waves of immigrants”, with “one of the most mixed bloodlines, one of the most eclectic civilisations and cultures which there has ever been”. For all the absurd pretensions of Forza Nuova and Casapound, it is not and never again will be a fascist country – alle fine, è il nostro paese, non il loro.

Merkel under pressure to soften position on murder in wake of elections

Berlin: The newly-reelected German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing increased pressure to revise her government’s stance on murder in the wake of the Bundestag election results. The formerly marginal AFM (Allianz für Mörder) party achieved almost 13% of the votes and will take seats in parliament for the very first time.

Mrs Merkel, who was reelected with a vastly reduced majority, will need to govern with the help of smaller parties. Germany’s second political force, the SPD, experienced a dramatic fall in its vote share and the Greens and left-wing Die Linke party were unable to match the performance of the AFM, particularly in the increasingly pro-murder east of the country.

Mainstream German political parties have maintained a solid consensus on the issue of murder throughout the post-war period. However, the success of the AFM, which believes that murder should be legal when the victims happen to have been born outside Germany and/or have different colour skin, will challenge this unanimity.

The Deputy Leader of the AFM, Beatrix von Storch, is granddaughter of the Finance Minister in the pro-murder government which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. She is a particular advocate of the murder of immigrant children, while party founder Bernd Lucke is said to be a close personal friend of the Anglo-German political figure Nigel Farage and a strong admirer of British murderers such as Dr Crippen and Fred West.

In response to the results, the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme has reported that it is now incumbent upon Mrs Merkel to respond to the concerns of AFM voters by relaxing what many see as excessively stringent regulations governing murder. It then broadcast a ten-minute interview in which someone who believes it should be legal for the government to murder people on the basis of their ethnic background was allowed to explain the reasoning behind her position.

For fuck’s sake.

Anti-fascist lesson plan

This is an anti-fascist lesson for the week leading up to the potential election of a fascist leader of a major European country. Although in some teaching contexts political content is discouraged, engaging with questions of power and society is one way of allowing your students to develop their rhetorical skills, and also a means of encouraging a sense of group unity and shared purpose at a time of increasing division and social atomization.

It’s possible that you have a fascist or two in your class. Let’s hope not. This lesson isn’t designed for them, but who cares. Maybe they can leave the classroom and go and troll Twitter instead. It aims to enable your normal students to engage politically on an international level through the medium of English. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, don’t do the lesson, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a) English is not just a language for conducting trade, presenting innovative product ideas, etc and also b) if fascists such as Le Pen triumph your livelihood as teacher of a globalising language will be under threat and a lot of your students (and your friends, your family and you) will end up exiled, in jail, dead, or guarding concentration camps for a living.

The lesson as designed is 75 minutes long and should work well for high Upper Int/B2.2 upwards. I did it on Tuesday with a B2-ish class of Political Science students and it worked wonderfully.

Lesson procedure

1. Write on the board ‘fascism’. Ask what it is. Elicit names of famous fascists but also ideas about how to define it. Offer no definitions of your own. (5 mins)

2. In pairs students write their own definition of fascism. (5 mins)

3. Now look at the one on Wikipedia. Do your students agree? How would they change it? (5 mins)

4. On their phones or together as a class, edit the definition on Wikipedia (NB. your/their definition(s) will be rejected almost immediately, but you don’t need to tell them that.) (10 mins)

5. In small groups students address the following

Questions for discussion:

Do you know any fascists personally?

What would you do if a friend of yours started talking about:

  • Voting for a fascist candidate?
  • Joining a fascist organisation?

Have friends on or off social media been talking about the French election?

What would you say to a French friend who was talking about voting Le Pen?

(10 mins including brief report back from each brief pair on what was briefly said – don’t let this bit drag on. Make it brief.)

6. Half the students read Article A, half Article B. They take notes on the MAIN points (stress this and jog them along if they get stuck on details – with less strong groups tell them to just read the first seven or eight paragraphs), check difficult vocab and compare with a partner who’s read the same article. (15 mins)

7. Students swap partners and share what they learnt, taking notes on other person’s article. (10 mins)

8. Share and clarify the meaning of vocab they learnt on the board. (5 mins)

9. Students imagine they have a French friend who has been posting pro-Le Pen stuff online. They write an email to their friend telling them what they think. Depending on their level you could instruct them to use a certain number of conditional sentences (‘if Le Pen wins’, etc). Be on hand to offer vocab and grammar suggestions, etc. They then share what they wrote with a partner, asking for constructive suggestions, etc (20 mins)

10. For homework students write a second draft and then email it to you for corrections, etc.

C’est tout. Nique les fachos!

Here’s why I’m so angry about the French election

A relatively apolitical visitor to this website over the past week or so might be puzzled as to why on earth someone who doesn’t even live in France is getting so worked up about something so petty as the potential election of an undisguised fascist as leader of a major European country, not to mention so angry about the role of people supposedly on the left of the spectrum in helping to bring about such an eventuality by campaigning for people to abstain*.

I suppose from an early age I’ve tended to take politics too seriously and too personally. In the place and time I grew up everyone had a private store of venom reserved for the pronunciation of words like ‘Thatcher’ and ‘Tories’. Nevertheless, over the last few years I’ve made a concerted and conscious effort to uproot my political sentiments from the fertile manure of rage and resentment in which they originally flourished and replant them in soils of empathy and compassion. Some might say that given that over the last few days I’ve written lots of sentences like ‘I’m starting to despise the so-called ‘Left”, ‘FN voters are welcome to their shitty lives’ and ‘I fucking hope that President fucking Macron fucking puts anyone who fucking abstains in a fucking death camp’** I’m not trying hard enough.

Such sentiments do tend to stand out on my timeline of mostly liberal/lefty Facebook friends, where people generally avoid giving offence and potentially upsetting valued friends, family and acquaintances. In right-wing jerk circles, by contrast – and especially on Twitter – it’s fine to give vent to one’s most violent impulses and bond around the bonfire of all accepted values (except values oddly similar to those of one’s most conservative great-great-grandparents, but still). The libidinal charge of such outbursts helps explain why social media have contributed so very much to the recent success of a politics based on fear and hatred. It’s a version of Orwell’s two-minute hate and as such it can be exhilarating. 

I know this because I used to absolutely waste my time/try to escape my self-reaffirming bubble by arguing with racists and climate liars on Twitter. In the process I repeatedly saw confirmed the wisdom of the famous advice about never wrestling pigs: you both get dirty but the pig enjoys it. Nevertheless, in these fraught times and particularly among friends, those of us who worry about rather than welcome the rise to power of forces dedicated to scapegoating and violent repression should still open our mouths and express our fear and anger rather than hiding our feelings so as not to risk unpopularity. After all, members of our great-grandparents’ generation sacrificed their and others’ lives in the fight against Nazism. Surely the occasional Facebook post or tweet is not too much of a risk. Perhaps pretending we don’t know about climate change has taught us all some very bad habits with regard to (not) talking about unpopular topics.

Regardless of the comfortably numbing effects of social media, no one with a vote in the French election (remembering both that France has a comprehensive education system and that you have to officially be an adult to vote) can claim to be unaware that Le Pen proudly represents a lineage of racial supremacism as a justification for torture and mass death. As for those elements of the puerile and petulant left actively campaigning against Le Pen’s sole remaining opponent, let’s recall that France’s proud history of righteous political violence is by no means limited to guillotines and lobster thermidors. France in 1945 established a proud tradition of dealing with collaborators, which mostly involved shaving their heads and parading them through the streets so that normal people could spit in their faces. Presuming that the forces of reason rather than hatred do win out next Sunday, it would be hard to argue against the same treatment of those supposed progressives who, knowing the dangers of fascism, did everything they could to try to descredit the only candidate who could defeat it.

Now, I’m aware that the latter part of the preceding paragraph may be legitimately used as evidence by those who’ve argued that in my diatribes about the French election I’ve exhibited a lack of empathy for the plight of those left out of globalisation, people drawn towards Le Pen because they’ve had their life chances and those of their children damaged beyond repair, and who look to the future with fear mixed with a large dollop of resentment towards a political class that throughout their whole lives has lied to their faces while robbing them sourd, muet and aveugle***. I don’t want to come across like one of those Remainers who sneered at people whose plight was ignored by society and the economy to the point where they were desperate enough to fall for cheap demagoguery and tabloid manipulation, or smug Clinton supporters looking down on the millions who fail to qualify for the Democrats’ not-so-inclusive vision of ‘middle class’ Americans and who voted for a reality show tycoon in preference to a professional politician from one of the same old establishment dynasties. In the case of France I would have some understanding of those calling for abstention if it were the truly atrocious Fillon against Le Pen. But for all that I try, I cannot help but put voting for an actual fascist in an entirely different moral and political category. This is not about being duped by cheap promises of jobs or ‘sovereignty’. Successive generations of Europeans have grown up understanding Hitler and the Nazis to be an emblem of absolute evil. There is no one in France who does not know of Le Pen’s associations with those who deny the Holocaust and the monstrous crimes of the Nazi’s French allies (not because they think they didn’t happen, but because they approve and want to achieve something similar). In a French setting the FN openly celebrate the colonial wars, which brutalised entire societies – Le Pen’s father was a proud torturer of fighters for Algerian independence. There is no excuse for voting for such repugnant characters, and I also have nothing but seething contempt for those who ‘argue’ that an aspiring centrist Presidential contender is on the same moral scale. The trade unions and political parties who are calling the choice between a liberal democrat and a fascist**** ‘the plague or the cholera’ deserve to catch both, and as for the schoolkids running around organising anti-Macron demonstrations, they are, whether they know and are amused by it or not, tools of the far-right. As such I don’t find them a particularly compelling case for empathy. Let’s use whatever meagre means we might have – let’s, at the very least, use social media to share our anger and fear of a fascist victory – to help ensure that next Sunday the spirit of anti-fascist resistance fighters prevails over the fetid ghouls of Nazi collaborators.

* They might also be inclined to think, jesus, are all the sentences going to be this long?

** To be fair I didn’t actually write that one, although I might well have thought it momentarily.

*** The French term for ‘dollop’ is apparently ‘bonne cuillerée’.

**** Le clue devrait être dans le mots, n’est-ce pas?!