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Jalees Rehman: From Frankfurt to Utøya (Part 2): The Witch-Hunt for “Cultural Marxists”

August 9, 2011

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Part two of the author’s report on how Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto is a valuable guide to understanding contemporary far right ideology and its potential impact.

Read Part I, “The Quest for Monoculturalism,” here.

By **Jalees Rehman**


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The witch-hunt for liberal traitors

One of the central themes in the texts of contemporary far right American and European writers that are compiled in Anders Breivik’s compendium 2083: A European Declaration of Independenceis the idea that cultural Marxists and multiculturalists are conspiring to destroy Western culture by promoting the immigration of Muslims. The persistent use of the expression “cultural Marxism” is a very effective tool employed by far right authors, because it evokes the deep-rooted historical fear of Marxism that still exists in the United States and in many parts of Europe. Following the collapse of communist states in Europe, far right thinkers may have found “cultural Marxism” to be a handy substitute adversary to mobilize popular support. The vagueness of the term “cultural Marxism” and by linking it to multiculturalism or feminism allows far right leaders to cast a wide net, potentially implying that all fellow citizens who support progressive-liberal values are somehow linked to a “Marxist” conspiracy. By further connecting such “cultural Marxists” to the idea of a Muslim enemy, far right thinkers tap into the historical European fear of Muslim or Ottoman invasions, and also accuse liberals of betraying their countries by colluding with the enemy.

These contemporary approaches of far right leaders in Europe and the United States remind us of two myths used by the Nazis to justify some of their horrific crimes. The Dolchstoßlegende (dagger thrust or stab-in-the-back myth) was propagated by German right wing extremists, nationalists, and the military during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich to blame the World War I defeat on left-of-center political parties in Germany, such as the social democrats or communists, who had metaphorically stabbed their country in the back. The myth of a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy was also used by the Nazis to tap into the deep-rooted European anti-semitism and accused Jews of working with Russian Bolsheviks.

The historical examples of Nazi Germany illustrate that portraying liberals as traitors that work with an enemy can have disastrous consequences. It markedly lowers the moral threshold for a right wing extremist to commit acts of violence against these supposed “traitors.” This accusation of treachery is especially haunting in light of the fact that Breivik chose a social democratic party youth camp as a place to conduct his massacre. The final part of Breivik’s compendium suggests that he may have considered the young social democrats on the island of Utøya as traitors. Book 3 begins with a disclaimer stating that it only describes a hypothetical pre-emptive war, but it clearly introduces the cultural Marxists/multiculturalists as targets and accuses them of treason because they are aiding and abetting Muslim enemies. It groups the traitors into categories and lists specific charges of treason that will be brought against them. Category A traitors are political leaders, media leaders, cultural leaders, and industry leaders while Category B traitors could include “journalists, editors, teachers, lecturers, university professors, various school/university board members, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists/celebrities etc. They can also be individuals from other professional groups such as: technicians, scientists, doctors and even Church leaders.According to Breivik,both types of traitors would deserve the death penalty.

As much as one would like to dismiss Breivik’s ideas as the thoughts of a lone psychopath, it is quite possible that there may be many other fellow-minded people out there, who are willing to commit acts of violence against progressives and liberals because these are perceived as traitors. This is especially concerning since contemporary liberal or social democratic politicians, writers, academics, or artists are often accused of being traitors and lacking patriotism, both in the United States and Europe.

The monolithic images of the Muslim enemy and the liberal traitor foster an atmosphere of fear

The terrorist attacks in Norway and the ideas contained in Breivik’s compendium are a wake-up call. Whether or not Breivik acted alone, he was still influenced by the contemporary far right political rhetoric in Europe and the United States that has already permeated main-stream conservative thought. It seems that one central motif used by the far right is to conveniently portray progressive or liberal thinkers as a united group with an ideological agenda. Anyone who has studied critical theory, feminism, humanism, and the other major philosophical and cultural movements that are attacked by the far right will be puzzled by the bizarre notion that they can all be grouped together under the terms “cultural Marxists” or “multiculturalists”. However, creating the image of a unified, conniving traitor is an effective way to promote fear and anger among conservatives and right wing extremists, and thus gain popular support. The gross misrepresentation and hostile portrayals of recent philosophical and cultural movements in the writings of Pat Buchanan, William Lind, and other far right thinkers should not be ignored, because they may feed a culture of hatred and violence against progressives or liberals.

Recognizing diversity

The monolithic images of the Muslim enemy and the liberal traitor foster an atmosphere of fear. However, the use of convenient monolithic images is not unique to conservatives or far right leaders. Following the massacre in Norway, many liberals may also be tempted to lump together Christians, nationalists, conservatives, far right movements, and anti-Muslim polemicists in the United States and Europe as partners in crime, as Breivik’s compendium reflects many of their ideas. It is critical that liberals avoid falling into this trap, since it results in the same type of oversimplification seen in the conservative far right mentality.

A careful analysis of Breivik’s compendium actually points to some key differences that might exist between American and European far right movements, as well as between far right and conservative thought. Breivik writes “ As for the Church and science, it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings. Europe has always been the cradle of science and it must always continue to be that way.” This echoes a sentiment that is more commonly found in the secular far right movement in Europe than far right American fundamentalist Christians, who advocate the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design in the classroom. On the other hand, there are many conservatives who oppose the idea of “forced” multiculturalism as an ideology, but still support ethnic, intellectual, and religious diversity and would likely resist Breivik’s mandate to deport all Muslims or forcibly convert Muslims to Christianity.

After reading the diverse collection of essays, blog entries, and Breivik’s own thoughts in his compendium, one is struck by the fact that the hostility towards Islam may be one of the few factors that unites conservatives and far right movements, both in Europe and the United States. The obsession with Islam observed in right wing discourse may actually be a tool to whitewash the deep divide that exists among conservatives and far right activists in regards to the role of religion, science, and diversity in society. If liberals want to effectively respond to the rising threat of right wing extremism, it is critical that they recognize the diversity that resides in the right wing movement and identify appropriate dialogue partners to avoid a further radicalization of conservatives.

Read Part I, “The Quest for Monoculturalism,” here.

________________________________________________________________________

Jalees Rehman, MD is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is also a German Muslim with an interest in the philosophy of science and religion. Furthermore, he is studying the role of postmodern and existentialist thought in interfaith dialogue. Some of his articles on science, culture and religion can be found on his Huffington Post blog or his public Facebook page, and he can be followed on Twitter @jalees_rehman.

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