I was thinking again this morning just how ironic it is that some people in Finland are buying into this ever-growing Islamaphobia and who imagine in decades to come, a nightmare Taliban-style government in Finland, complete with fully veiled women and public executions of homosexuals.
I am aware of this because it’s a recurring theme in the comments sections of this site, and a staple ingredient of the public, private and political discourses of Europe’s counter-Jihad, Far Right movements. It’s ironic because, out of fear of this imagined ‘Finnish Taliban’, we are in danger of letting into power the neo-Nazis.
I know the Far Right hate the Nazi jibe, but it is and always will be a fair point of comparison. Europe suffered far too much under national socialism to ever forget its history or legacy. In fairness to their pouting over the jibe, modern-day comparisons must go further than merely equating one ‘Far Right’ group with another, i.e. modern-day Far Right populists/nationalists vs. the Nazis. Indeed, we really should pay more attention to the detail behind this comparison.
Nazism is most often associated with totalitarian brutality, which deteriorated into its full cruelty under the arch of a world war, even though the Gestapo and concentration camps were set up as early as 1933 and political assassination and totalitarianism had become the norm in German politics long before the invasion of Poland. But Nazism is still best remembered for its excesses in World War II, which can act to hide its originally slow (pre-1933) and then very rapid (1933-1934) rise to totalitarian power and, significantly, its fundamental appeal as a political ideology. Comparing the modern Far Right movements therefore should not merely be seen as a direct comparison of anti-immigrationists vs. the Nazi death camps.
The key starting point in the comparison is that the national socialism of the Nazis put national identity at the heart of German politics, building on the romanticism and radical ethnocentricity of the völkisch movements and, in so doing, escalating and generating a swathe of ‘them and us’ tensions that became the justification for increasing segregation and isolation of minority groups and the entire psychological and sociological basis for the building of the Aryan project.
This led inevitably to scapegoating (see Erich Fromm for an excellent analysis of the fascist mentality in ‘the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness’) of minority groups, who were blamed for all of Germany’s social and political problems, from the so-called economic and cultural stranglehold of the ‘rich’ Jews, to the threat to the ‘pure Aryan bloodline’ from blacks and Gypsies. Nazism created a hierarchy of social groups, with Aryans at the top, as the Herrenvolk, and Jews, gypsies, blacks, gays, the mentally disabled, the physically disabled, prostitutes, beggars, and pacifists at the bottom. They justified this with Social Darwinism, implying that Aryans were ‘fitter’, that genetic and cultural traits in other ethnic groups showed these other groups to be degenerate and in some cases ‘savage’.
Nazism built on fear from outside threats (of its neighbours the Poles, Czechoslovak etc.), and sought to unite with neighbouring fascists (beginning with the ‘Anschluss’, the annexing of Austria). They used exaggeration, fear and propaganda to promulgate the values and tenets of Nazi ideology into German society. They targeted the corporate, political and intellectual elites with the aim of neutralising all opposition, bringing the corporates onside by threatening them with annihilation if they didn’t and promising a demolition of the Trade Union movement if they did. Nazism systematically sought to undermine the influence of anyone genuinely able to challenge them, in terms of power, ideas or influence.
We are still a long way from seeing the Far Right wield that kind of power or tactic in Finland or Europe, but some of the ideological rhetoric of old has already re-established itself, both within the political spectrum and in the public discourses.
Nazism grew out of a fundamental ideological schism going back to the French Revolution, the so-called ‘ideas of 1789’, which put the rights of man, democracy, liberalism, and individualism at the heart of national politics on the one hand, and on the other hand, a German alternative of the ‘ideas of 1914’, made popular by the intellectual Johann Plenge, which invoked the values of duty, discipline, organisation, military prowess, authority, law and order, and especially ethnic unity. This is one of the key parallels between Nazism and the modern day Far Right in their call to prepare for a war against Islam, Muslims and multiculturalism. It is exactly this schism that fed into the radical ideology of Anders Breivik, influenced as it was by the ideas of prominent PS members.
In a healthy political climate, ideas compete and the winners succeed at the ballot box and on the whole, politics and politicians ALL gain some respectability from the process. But under Nazism, those that opposed the political doctrine of national socialism were presented as betrayers of the national identity, dishonourable, and fundamental enemies of the State. They were presented as a threat to the security of the nation state. That all starts to sound familiar once again, in European (and US) politics, where the Right lurches further and further to the Far Right, bringing ever more highly polarised politics and debates.
And so back to the ‘Finnish’ Taliban.
Imagine for a moment that Finland had evolved in decades to come in such a way that a new ‘Finnish’ Taliban had arisen in Finland (ignoring for a moment that a staggeringly vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not support a Taliban-style society), and that Muslims had by then formed a small majority of the population, though the Taliban had not yet convinced all Muslims to follow their path. This demographic majority hadn’t yet achieved a political majority, but were at about 20% national support.
Its ideology was plain to see, including ‘encouraging’ women to stay at home to look after the kids, homosexuals to depart for the penal colonies on the Islands of Åland, the spheres of art, culture and language to be ‘rescued’ for the purposes of serving ‘religious identity’, people of other religious or ethnic persuasions to be ‘persuaded’ to leave, or to not to enter Finland, or to have reduced rights, on the basis that they have ‘criminal’ and ‘immoral’ traits etc. Moreover, any attack on this ideology of separation and division would be dismissed as an attack on the freedom of ‘religious expression’.
Imagine this Taliban to be gaining popularity and support in every election. Imagine that they were led by a ‘benign’ yet charismatic leader who was relaxed and looked nothing like a religious extremist, who had a way of jovial and disarming way of dealing with the ‘common people’ and yet still led a movement that framed the whole political debate in terms of a war, in terms of the survival of our religious identity, in terms of the moral superiority of religious identity over the inequity and moral laziness of the ‘infidels’.
We would be worried.
And yet this is exactly the situation that I see with Perussuomalaiset in the present day, except that it isn’t religious extremism that threatens to overtake the whole political landscape, but political and ideological extremism.
Many members of PS are strongly influenced in their ideology by the Nuiva Vaalimanifesti (some PS MPs actually helped to write it), and by Suomen Sisu and other extreme groups, which set out exactly those points mentioned above, including controling art, language, the family-bound role of women, the reduced position of homosexuals, an intense antipathy towards Muslims, Gypsies, Swedish speakers and anything remotely ‘multicultural’, and a defence against any criticism or even criminality on their part on the basis that their free speech is being violated. If you don’t believe me, have a look.
Today, members of this party and its supporters like to point to the fantasy-like threat of a ‘Finnish’ Taliban, with the express aim of diverting attention away from their own brand of extremism. Slowly but surely the pivot of Finnish and European politics is shifting. Little by little, the political discourse once again becomes one of collective identity politics that creates fear, stigmatisation, and an abuse and scapegoating of vulnerable or social minorities. Once again, a growing proportion of people are buying into the ‘Herrenvolk’ narrative, this time based on cultural superiority.
It really is time to wake up and smell the coffee.