Haters against hate

Most Overland readers will not have followed the post-Orlando debates taking place on the Facebook page of the United Patriots Front, Australia’s nastiest little fascist outfit (no, there’s no link).

In the wake of the massacre, the UPF’s tinpot fuhrers did their best to transform horror into bigotry, with a rash of posts blaming an entire religion for the killings. More specifically, the page filled with denunciations of Islam as homophobic, with, for instance, Malcolm Turnbull attacked as a ‘turncoat traitor [sic]’ for dining with ‘a hate preacher that vilifies gay’s[sic]’.

The irony of a hate group railing against hatred escaped the UPF’s supporters, who, for a while at least, employed the comments section to call for bloody reprisals against Muslims, leftists, journalists, politicians and pretty much everyone else.

The first sign of trouble in the ranks appeared underneath a repost of an Australian article entitled ‘Imams condemn homosexuality’. In amongst the ensuing calls for war against Islam, a dissident voice made itself heard. ‘Homosexuality being encouraged has made us as weak a culture as we are now …’ protested one disgruntled Aryan. ‘It destroys the foundations of our civilization.’

The representatives of the master race scratched their heads. Maybe the objector had a point. Didn’t Blair Cottrell, the UPF’s leader, model himself on Adolf Hitler? The imams might have spoken approvingly about the death penalty for homosexuality but Cottrell’s hero actually sent gays and lesbians to their deaths. Why, then, was the UPF denouncing Muslims for condemning a homosexuality that the fascists also loathed?

‘It’s quite well known,’ explained another commenter, ‘that Greece and Rome both fell after moral standards dropped, such as swinger parties, homosexuality etc became the norm.’

Before the revolt could get out of hand, partisans of the leadership denounced the original dissenter as gay himself – and then declared all adherents of Islam to be homosexuals, thus redirecting the thread back to less controversial demands for an anti-Muslim genocide.

It’s easy to laugh at Nazis (and fun, too). But the debate in the UPF’s ranks highlights a real issue: the extent to which the right (and even the far right) now feels confident to denounce the left in the name of the oppressed.

Max Blumenthal recently published a fascinating (albeit depressing) account of the rise of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, a man who held a press conference on the site of the massacre to denounce Muslims and the left. Blumenthal explains:

In Orlando, Yiannopolous painted the presence of Muslims in the West as the greatest threat to gay people like him and held immigrant friendly progressives directly responsible for the bloodbath. “The social justice warrior left is the single biggest enemy to gay people, to gay security,” he declared, “and to the wellbeing of homosexuals and every other minority they claim to represent that exists in America today.”

Blumenthal, who writes frequently on Palestine, linked Yiannopoulos to Israeli ‘pinkwashing’ – a tactic which, as he says, is ‘exported into the Western political atmosphere through an aggressive public relations operation’ and used to ‘undermine solidarity between Muslims and LGBTQ communities, disrupting the progressive coalition building that Israel’s government views as a strategic threat.’

But it’s also instructive to examine Yiannopoulos’ relationship with the so-called ‘Gamergate’ movement. Though its origin-story is insanely complicated, Gamergate began as a reactionary response to the increased visibility of women and minorities in computer games, with anonymous trolls targeting prominent feminists with death and rape threats. But from very early on, the core Gamergaters discomfited their enemies with #notyourshield, a hashtag that rallied conservative women and people of colour to their movement. Many of the #notyourshield accounts were undoubtedly 4chan sock puppets. Nevertheless, there were sufficient real posts to discomfit progressives and to legitimate the claim that anti-gamergaters were ‘Social Justice Warriors’ speaking on behalf of people who wanted nothing to do with them.

Yiannopoulos, a long-standing conservative grifter, had previously written about his contempt for gamers. But that didn’t stop him latching himself to Gamergate and quickly becoming one of its most prominent spokespeople, alongside the adult star Mercedes Carrera. Yes, that’s right – at its height, Gamergate – a campaign deeply implicated in sexist and homophobic abuse – was represented by a gay man and a female sex worker.

It’s a good example of an increasingly-evident tendency for the right to use identity politics against the Left. ‘Let’s all be tough on homophobes,’ says Andrew Bolt, next to a picture of a Muslim cleric, while Miranda Devine blasts ‘politically correct Leftists’ for refusing to share her analysis of ‘another Islamist attack from the Stone Age on western civilisation’.

These pieces might be opportunistic. But they’re effective because they exploit an obvious weakness in progressive politics.

Most people on the radical left now pay at least lip service to the notion of ‘intersectionality’ – the idea that various kinds of oppressions interact with each other in complicated ways. But the impetus to totalisation implicit in that gets undercut by an equally ubiquitous emphasis on subjectivity in an identity politics centred on the individualised experience of oppression. Privilege theory, call-out culture, the ’splaining trope; the valorisation of personal experience over, say, structural explanations, provides Yiannopoulos with a moral authority to denounce Islam ‘as a gay man’ even as it disarms those who would respond to him.

It’s another instance of a point I’ve been making for some time – namely, that the politics of what we might call the cultural left work more effectively for the right than they do for progressives.

For there was a time, of course, when the far right emphasised hating on homosexuals over hating on Muslims. In her original incarnation, Pauline Hanson said absolutely nothing about Islam. Prior to September 11, insofar as Muslims feature on the right’s radar, it was in the guise of heroic warriors battling the godless communists in Kabul. These days, Angry Anderson fulminates against creeping sharia and the menace of the burqa. But, back in 1984, he sang about freedom in the stirring words below.

I wish I was a hero
Fighting for the rights of man
I wish I was a tribesman
In the hills of Afghanistan

As I’ve argued elsewhere, cultural conservatives have long been tempted by an alliance with conservative Islamists along the lines of that proposed in the UPF’s comment thread: a joint opposition to decadent modernity with its swinging couples and same-sex marriage. As late as 2004, Pat Buchanan, Reagan’s former communication adviser, explained that on questions of sexual morality ‘conservative Americans have more in common with devout Muslims than with liberal Democrats’.

But there’s a reason why the realignment Buchanan proposed – the Christian and Islamic right united against the left – hasn’t come to fruition: the strategic importance of the Middle East gives Islamophobia a centrality in Western countries that makes it an obvious focus for groups like the UPF. The fascist grouplets realise that they can reach an audience with anti-Islamic ranting that they’d never access elsewhere. In other words, there are objective factors that push anti-Semitic and homophobic groups to denounce Muslims for Jew-baiting and gay-bashing.

The resulting incoherence isn’t really a problem for the right. Irrationalism is embedded deeply in the DNA of fascism. Think, for instance, of the neo-Nazi attitude to the Final Solution, which typically combines Holocaust denial (the gas chambers didn’t exist) with Holocaust exultation (the gas chambers were good). Next to that, a little cognitive dissonance on the question of Islamic homophobia is small beer.

The left, however, faces more of a difficulty. Too often, progressives get caught up in an instinctive opposition to the right’s talking points. But right now, that’s increasingly problematic. Some things are true, quipped George Orwell, even if Lord Halifax says so. Homophobia remains abhorrent, even when Andrew Bolt and the UPF denounce it.

At the same time, Yiannopoulos’ sexuality doesn’t provide him with any special insight into the nature of Islam – and nor should it shield him from criticism. A bigot remains a bigot, no matter their colour, gender or sexual orientation.

To put it another way, it’s more important than ever to articulate a systemic critique – an objective account of our political friends and political enemies – so that we can unite with the former against the latter.

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Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. Yes, I can buy into this political stance, but not the splintering of left / right political factions (particularly the left: witnessed here in the comment threads of late) which has become so endemic it is difficult to get individual takes which further blur critical issues. The upshot: far too much energy is being consumed fighting blind fields alone.

  2. Jeff, can you direct me to where you’ve written about ‘the politics of the cultural left working for the right’? I’m keen to understand what you mean. Are you counterposing cultural and systemic perspectives or is the criticism directed at a particular strand of cultural theory that over-privileges the individual?

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