Until Boris Kelly popped up on the weekend with his usual lucid description of things, I was starting to wonder if Utoya would pass uncommented by the Overland blog. The Overland blog is often punctuated by some odd silences (nothing to date on SlutWalks or the implosion of the Murdoch empire), and any conversation in any circumstance is always notable for what is not said as much as what is. Of course the silences are no doubt partly a result of Ol bloggers being a disparate and unpaid group with only occasional time and random motivation. But still there’s never a lack of room for ad nauseam discussion about the end of the book and so on and so forth. It’s always seemed to me that Overland can be the place where things can be said that can’t be said anywhere else, and that’s the whole point of both journal and blog.
Anyway following on from Boris’ post I’d like to try and say something about the fascist background to the Utoya killings. I’m not sure I’m really qualified to do so and these days often feel I’m barely qualified to write my own name, but I want to at least make an attempt to pull an argument together about the fascist context of Breivik’s murders.
Most of the media commentary I’ve seen on the Otoya and Oslo atrocities falls broadly into two camps. In the first Breivik is an inhuman monster. This argument seeks to decontextualise Breivik’s actions, to shear them of political content and locate the causes of the massacre in the psychopathology of an individual. London’s mayor Boris Johnson has gone as far as arguing that Breivik should be completely ignored on the basis that he is narcissistic and egotistical. This seems rather flimsy criteria, as it would also rule out paying any attention to Boris Johnson as well.
The second argument about Breivik is a bit muddier. There’s a political context around Breivik and massive dissension about what it is. This is the field where Boris Kelly’s post situates itself and he gives a better summary than I could, so I won’t recapitulate it here.
But there is a kind of suburb of both camps, where most of the subjects of this post tend to hang out. It’s occupied by people like Glenn Beck and so on, and replete with opinions and arguments that have been commonly expressed in the Australian parliament over the past decade or two. Beck once claimed that the Holocaust was a result of the Nazis excess of empathy, so it was no surprise when he managed to out-Beck himself by likening the Utoya gathering to a meeting of the Hitler Youth. The Australian flag in Beck-urbia was proudly flown last week by a hitherto obscure academic Mervin Bendle who ‘theorised’ at ABC’s Drum that Breivik was actually a dupe of unspecified left-wing forces.
I haven’t read Breivik’s 1500-page ‘manifesto’ or seen his YouTube snippets and have no intention of doing so. It’s not as if we could find an ‘explanation’ there. That would be ludicrous. I’m guessing that both are sprinkled with what I think of as ‘Mein Kampf’ arguments; that is, a series of superficially cogent statements that culminate with a psychotic break. An example of ‘mein kampf’ logic is: Allied reparations are unjust. They are crippling the German economy. Therefore we must eliminate all the Jews as soon as possible.
I’d guess too from what I’ve heard about Breivik’s ideas that his screed also contains huge amounts of paranoid fantasy, through which he strides resplendent emerging purified from an apocalyptic landscape. Still, neither paranoid fantasy nor even a racist attitude entirely defines the fascist mind, though they are often reliable indicators. My late father spent 20 years working tirelessly every day without pay, with Somali and Latin American refugees. Those he had helped came to his funeral, gave moving eulogies and wept. But to the end of his life he retained what can only be described as a strong prejudice against the Vietnamese. He didn’t broadcast this, and only his immediate family were aware of it. Perhaps we could say that there was a fascist part of his mind that was hard to subdue and, to some extent, it troubled him. In an irony that allowed me to imagine that the God he believed in had a sense of humour, he was buried next to a Vietnamese who he presumably will have plenty of time to get to know until Judgment Day rolls round.
But the most intriguing thing I’ve heard about the Breivik manifesto to date is that Breivik apparently speaks approvingly of John Howard, Peter Costello, Keith Windschuttle and George Pell. They’re a curious and somewhat sinister bunch, but not without a certain symmetry; a group you might invite to your party if it started at midnight and your family name was Addams.
What Breivik’s endorsement of the Howard gang brings home, as forcefully as anything can be brought home, is that for the past decade and a half Australia has been the source of widely broadcast and government-sanctioned fascist attitudes, some of it enshrined in law and as domestic and foreign policy. I am not – should it need to be said – suggesting that Australia is a fascist state or that Howard or Costello and their cheer squad endorse the killings at Utoya. What I am saying is that when we support and breed fascist opinions; when we broadcast them across the world and attempt to concretise them into permanent Government policy, we should not be surprised when those attitudes are endorsed by homicidal sociopaths and give succour to the far-right. In his opinions, if not his actions, Breivik would have been a model citizen of Howard’s Australia.
So what, at bedrock, is the fascist mind? A fascist mind is one that is primarily (if not entirely) ideological in its structure, appearance and operation. It is ideological through and through, in a way that is hard to imagine from the non-fascist point of view – unless you’ve experienced a bit of the fascist in yourself. Everyone has a fragment of it tucked away somewhere. If you think you don’t then you probably are a fascist.
The fascist mind, the ideological mind is a state of mind that permanently adopts an unchanging rigid argument that cannot and must not be altered, and this argument defines it. An example would be: ‘In the War On Terror you are either with us or against us.’ It logically follows that if you object to the War on Terror, you are potentially a terrorist and should be subject to certain kinds of punishment. Any reading of Australia’s right-wing columnists will discover dozens of these kinds of statements. They’re very common.
An ideological argument, a fascist argument, brooks no contradiction, and most importantly can’t be changed, by any evidence so matter how overwhelming or irrefutable that evidence is. Sound familiar your lordship Mr Monckton? So the Utoya attacks can be first the work of Islamic terrorists, then secretly the work of a left-wing cabal, then actually the responsibility of ‘liberals’ who seek to make political traction out of the murder of innocents and to demonise Christianity, then evidence that said ‘liberals’ relish the Utoya atrocities, then evidence that anyone who seeks to put a political context around Utoya is just like Breivik. In other words the liberals are the real threat. Therefore, any future terrorist attack will be the work of Islamic fanatics or left-wing sympathisers. So lets round them all up now, before it’s too late.
Along with this logic of omission always comes a whole raft of characteristics as the arguments unfold: ridicule, caricature, and various kinds of denigration, decontextualisation and misrepresentation. This can be couched in racist terms or misogynist terms and so on. Drowning asylum seekers might be accused of throwing their children into the sea, for example.
Anything that is a threat to the ideological argument has to be annihilated or expelled. You cannot argue with fascists. There is no argument to be had. The meaning of terms is not negotiable. An argument is a threat and the source of a threat must be destroyed. The fascist, being terrified of appearing weak, will always target the weak to prove his or her strength. Where fascist policies are enacted, we will always find the marginalised, the helpless, the powerless and the silenced. Very often, more often than not as I’ve written before at Overland, they will be children, as they were at Utoya.
One of the most effective responses we can make in the face of fascist hostility is to work to build social and political structures that make it harder and harder for fascist attitudes to thrive. Which of course begs the question as to what political parties, or schools, or offices, or marriages, or police forces, or newspapers or religions would look like to make it almost impossible for fascism to function within them.
A fascist ideological attitude is always pure. The fascist argument has no flaws, because the fascist has no flaws. This is where the paranoid fantasy kicks in. The fascist is in fact an ideal human being, a hero. ‘To have remained decent,’ said Himmler to his SS, ‘when 100 corpses lie there, or when 500 corpses lie there, or when a 1,000 corpses lie there … that is what makes us great.’