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Troping bigotry

Some of the recent HP posts have tied in with some thoughts (and questions) I have about different types of bigotry and extremism.  Leah K. represents a particular type of bigotry – a dislike of Israel and Zionism which is so single-minded that it greets the spectacle of a ‘Zionist’ shop burning down with relish.  The young protestors discussed in Joseph’s recent post also exemplify this kind of extreme, zealous opposition to Israel which, to put it no more forcefully, prompted a long discussion as to whether their poster is antisemitic.  Another type of extremism much discussed on HP is that associated with the EDL, who target Islam with the same zeal as Kiernan and co. target Zionism.

Both anti-Muslim and anti-Zionist bigotry may be associated with, even driven by, some good impulses.  Although Maryam Namazie explains very effectively here what differentiates her opposition to Islamism from the tactics of the EDL, you will find EDL members articulating concerns which seem, at least on the surface, much more acceptable – support for women’s rights, and opposition to antisemitism and homophobia.  I’ve posted extensively here on the reasons to object to the EDL as a movement, so won’t repeat myself. By contrast this post by Flesh is Grass testifies to the sincerity of the fears of some because it demonstrates that they were willing to listen to another perspective and modify their views.

This concern for justice and universal human rights also lies behind the rhetoric of pro-Palestinian activists – and I don’t mean to imply that it is only rhetoric.   I’ve met or otherwise engaged with several such campaigners who seem totally sincere and genuinely keen to distance themselves from charges of antisemitism.  But one does wonder why so many people’s love of justice makes them gravitate towards this cause, and why Israel is the target of such virulent hatred.

It is perhaps the case that extreme anti-zionism and anti-muslim bigotry both tap into existing currents, and thus become more tempting, more easy, to latch onto.  Antisemitic tropes, or memes, are there to be inhabited, or to stick to your ‘good’ impulses like burrs, and anti-muslim bigotry intersects with simple old-fashioned racism.  A Muslim I know said she felt that the Paki-bashing she remembers from years back has mutated into Islamophobia – it feels the same to her, however differently it’s presented and rationalised.

I think I’ve tended to see the two types of bigotry working in different ways.  I’ve assumed that unpleasantly over-zealous anti-zionists are often driven by a good impulse and then get sucked into antisemitic patterns of thought without realizing it.  I’ve tended to assume, by contrast, that for EDL supporters the bigotry, the fear of others, comes first, and the rhetoric of ‘justice’ is a way of rationalising that, sometimes innocently and unconsciously, sometimes as a dishonest excuse.

But that assumption might itself be bigoted. The demographics of these two types of extremism are quite different.  The former is associated with the middle class left, the latter with the working class – I originally typed ‘right’ but even that is probably incorrect.  Although I want to look at these issues dispassionately, I’m aware that somehow I don’t, or don’t instinctively, react to the hateful things said by the student who works in Peter Jones in quite the same way I would to different hateful things said by a typical EDL supporter.  Also – some (maybe me as well) are probably more inclined to be protective of women than of men.  That’s unfair on men – and on women too, as their views should be taken just as seriously as men’s, whether they are bad or good.