The turn to the right: Opposition on what terms?

The present turn to the right is giving rise to a seemingly unceasing flow of disastrous policies and actions. Every few hours of so we receive another devastating piece of news, accompanied by an avalanche of online and print commentary. It is these responses that are almost as frightening as the shocks from the top. And I do not mean the comments from those who celebrate their own self-oppression, but by those who consider themselves in opposition. While it is understandable that people suffer from overload, this is not a good moment for clinging to straws offered by the very same people one is opposing. These false friends tend to manifest as follows:

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-14-30-23

1) ‘National values’. Whether it is appeals to ‘British values’ and ‘Americanness’, or concerns about embarrassing the Queen, emphasis on ‘national values’ as a counter-strategy is not only disturbing, but increasingly bordering on the bizarre. From reading the protest signs at the London march on Monday against the ‘Muslim ban’, one gets the impression that some people seriously think of the UK Government as being capable of decent actions. We are talking about the same government that ran racist Brexit and anti-immigration campaigns and is radically disenfranchising its own people. But, apparently, there is still hope that they’ll do super nice things, because of British values and all that truthful stuff that abject non-Brits have to learn about this country in the citizenship test.
But then you say: appealing to ‘national values’ helps me speak to the nationalist constituency and not just preach to the converted. Great move! But: while you have correctly identified that nationalists do not fully understand their own ‘values’, perhaps you as an Enlightened Being at least could be a bit more reflexive about what these might be. After all, such values have historically been used to devalue those of other people, specifically, as writers such as Hoda Katebi have pointed out, under colonialism and ‘development’. From this perspective, if there is something such as ‘British values’, it could be described as ‘killing with kindness’.

nationalism


2) Nationalism.
Some writers feel no need to bother with the lame illusion of ‘national values’ and go for straight, undiluted nationalism. This economic gesture is popular, because it neither requires much elaboration nor reflexivity: take back the nation, make it great again! Oh wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? In the past, nationalism has led to real revolutionary fervour that resulted in some brilliant dictatorships and mass deportations/executions, or, if you don’t want to go full drama, failed alliances (I’m not talking EU here) and some really sound delineations of who belongs. But for many people it means such beautiful things as re-nationalising the railways, keeping more of their money, preserving the fragile local ecology of non-standardised bathtub plugs, saving the health service from the likes of Richard Branson – or being saved by the almighty Nicola Sturgeon. Of course, nationalism is totally going to deliver on that, because there is going to be so much more accountability…

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-14-34-21

3) Who is this about? At the supposed anti-Muslim-ban march on Monday, most of the signs read something like ‘fuck this shit’, ‘fuck Trump’ and ‘grab him by the balls’, combined with some more polite British variations (see point 1). As some Muslim (and also non-Muslim) writers have pointed out, no white person actually gives a fuck about them. As a white non-Muslim, you might be hurt by bad man Trump, but, most likely, you are going to be able to carry on live as usual, even if you join the odd travel boycott. So, basically, you get to vent your frustrations at that whatsitorangefuckface, look great in front of your friends AND continue to enjoy your privileges – after all, even the most disenfranchised white person has greater freedom of movement – a brilliant win-win situation. Of course, it is totally okay to make this all about personal pain and not about your embeddedness in structural oppression (see points 4 & 5). After all, this is not making things worse for anyone else, is it?

whiteprivilege_cantfind

4) Self-victimisation. A familiar face from anti-racism debates, white self-victimisation is a totally great way of ensuring that we can all be happily oppressed together without having to make special concessions for anyone. As they say, we’re all in this together. In fact, all the hard-done by white people that have suffered from the clout of the English upper class, evil Germans and so on, are much worse off than, for example, those dirty refugees that don’t even have a concept of the struggles in the countries they are rushing to for salvation. You seek salvation from us wretched white people? Sorry about those unfortunate bombings, but haven’t you looked at how much we are suffering ourselves? Some of the brilliant logic from this camp has even resulted in calls to support Trump, because Angela Merkel, the apparent source of all of this suffering, rejects him. The enemy of my enemy is my…

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-14-29-52

5) Externalising white supremacy. Congratulations – you have correctly identified sources of modern day Nazism: Trump, the KKK, the Christian right, Theresa May, Nigel Farage, the Sun, Steve Bannon, the BBC, and sometimes even Jeremy Corbin when he dabbles in half-hearted attempts at immigration policy. Down with them all, and the world will be a better place. Of course, as a white middle-class political commentator, it is sheer talent and ambition that has given you a position at a major news outlet, and it is sheer coincidence that pretty much all of your colleagues have the same background, too. You probably all love Hannah Arendt and her poignant analysis of totalitarianism. But you are really not sure what to make of that ‘banality of evil’ talk. Evil that can’t just be conveniently isolated in scapegoat-type effigies? Evil as a process that we may all be part of? But I’m such a good guy!

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-14-44-54

6) Fantasies of violence. Along the same lines, a popular sport at the moment is virtual ‘Nazi bashing’. Devised as a critique of the wimpy left and its amnesia regarding bodies that could potentially be hurt, because it’s usually not theirs (and wasn’t there this Fanon guy, too?), some people haven’t quite got the irony and have discovered ‘Nazi bashing’ as an online spiritual relief that helps make the world a better place for others – a bit like Fight Club meets Live Aid. It’s so romantic to be a black clad street fighter, a hero fighting for… what was it again? And it’s unlike the less visible forms of violence that are so hard to make fashionable. Recommended watching: The Dreamers.

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-14-47-05

7) Bad shit from nowhere. OMG – where did all this suddenly come from?? We’ve never seen such racism, sexism, homophobia, etc before! What has gotten into people? I’m afraid, you are so right! This is a total anomaly, probably having to do with a bad constellation of planets or something. I’m sure I read some of this my horoscope: people will turn really fucking scary from 2016 onwards. Of course, this has nothing to do with present economic and political systems which reward a dismantling of public services or just the public in general. It also has nothing to do with any sort of racist, sanctimonious rhetoric from the top, used to cover up self-enrichment and nepotism. So what are we supposed to do?? We can’t really think of anything, because we really don’t understand why people act like this!!

Ongoing Reading List (recommendations welcome!)

Demir, Ipek (2017) “Brexit as Backlash Against Loss of Privilege and Multiculturalism” Discover Society

Goodfellow, Maya (2017) “Theresa, Trump and a Culture of Demonisation” Media Diversified

Katebi, Hoda (2017) “Please keep your American flags off my hijab” JooJoo Azad

Ko, Lisa (2017) “20 Lessons on How to be American” The Offing

Holloway, Lester (2016) “White tribalism was not made by Trump. It already existed in America as it does in Britain” Media Diversified

Weber, Cynthia (2016) “Sovereignty, Sexuality And The Will To Trump: A Queer IR Analysis And Response” The Disorder of Things

Wolfe, Ross (2017) ““Everyone’s a victim”: Relativizing Auschwitz with Adorno” The Charnel House

Yerbamala Collective (2017) “Our vendetta: Witches vs Fascists”

Big thank you to Gesa Helms and Anja Kanngieser for comments. All mistakes remain my own.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The turn to the right: Opposition on what terms?

  1. Excellent piece!
    Particularly at a local level I have also witnessed some hideous scaled down versions of some of the points you raise, which in fact not only harm the local campaigns, but also replicate politics of division which then plays out at every scale, it is like the oppressive logic of the right gets fed from all scales.
    I would be really interested in your opinions on what an account of useful action would look like IYO? A version of ‘how to protest without feeding the oppressor’, rather than ‘what not to do’.
    In particular point three seems to suggest that if you are not directly hurt by the actions of the right you should not protest, and I doubt this is what you mean. I would really be interested to know, as a way to encourage useful protest, what you think would be more positive and productive actions at the level of a ‘person going along to protest’ (I know at an organisational level there are of course more possibilities as was brought to light in the ‘million women march’ debates).
    There is only so much a white person attending a march can convey in their presence and it shouldn’t be assumed that by being present in protest white people are ignoring their privilege IMO. I am sure that is not what you mean but what is the opposite picture? What does it look like when white people stand up to global injustice without falling into the trappings of replicating and ignoring their privileges? The problem is, aside from placards, there is little a protest goer can really do visibly.
    I get it that there are some unhelpful perspectives and unhelpful slogans to bring to mass protest and without really realising people do exactly as your blog post argues, and turn to reductive actions and words that act within the same logic of the oppressor.
    Yet if we didn’t protest, there are very few alternative channels through which we can express horror at the various injustices of the increasing turn to the right. And even if I don’t directly suffer from them to not act because of that, and because I may indirectly cause someone to assume I have lost touch with various privileges I may have, is just inaction and complicity IMO. So what is the positive picture? What would you suggest protest without feeding the oppressor looks like?

  2. Hi! Thank you so much for your comments. I did not mean to say that white people shouldn’t protest, but look closer at what the problem is – and name the problem. For instance, there were white people at the protest who had placards against normalising violence against Muslims. There are also local and national ways to support different groups who are being harrassed. Whether it is critiquing the implementation of Prevent at universities & talking to Muslim students (e.g. through student societies), talking to people in your neighbourhood (depending on who is in your neighbourhood, either about what you can do to support or challenge people on racist opinions by voicing alternative opinions), or taking part in national campaigns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s