Didrik Søderlind, whom I’ve seen speak many times before, and always enjoyed - not least for his impressive array of bow-ties - finished the first day of the humanistconfirmation leader course with a discomfiting, if occasionally ally humorous, talk on right-wing extremism in Norway.
The horrific murder of 15-year-old Norwegian-Ghanaian Benjamin Hermansen in Oslo in 2001 by two members of the Neo-Nazi BootBoys brought racism to the fore in Norway, sparking huge protests and deep soul-searching amongst Norwegians as they tried to come to terms with the presence of a small, but significant, core of the population who hated immigrants enough to kill.
I hadn’t heard of the murder of Hermansen before, but it immediately brought to mind the unprovoked killing of StephenLawrence in England in 1993. It took 19 years for Lawrence’s killers to be convicted, during which time the police force itself came under scrutiny for institutional racism.
In the decade following the Hermansen murder, the population of immigrants in Norway grew larger and tough questions were asked around integration, rights, and economy, but there were thankfully no more racially motivated murders. Then on 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a meticulously planned mass murder motivated by right-wing ideology and islamophobia. The soul-searching began again.
Fascism is easier to spot than the ill-defined ‘right-wing extremism’, which also includes ‘radicalism’ in its many forms, because fascism includes what British political theorist Roger Griffin termed ‘Palingenetic ultranationalism’, which is the myth that the nation is in ruins and is ready to burn and be reborn again, pure and cleansed. Apocalyptic, end-times rhetoric is one of the ways that fascism takes root, as it offers a brighter future, or a return to a (typically non-existent) golden age.
Shades of palingenetic ultranationalism can be seen in the rhetoric of Britain’s British National Party, and Swedish Democratic Party, both of which have seen a growth in membership in recent years. It seems that for some, however, the BNP doesn’t go far enough with their bigoted idiocy. Andrew Brons, a former Chair of the National Front and member of the European Parliament for the British National Party, has just this weekend launched the British Democratic Party (named without, I imagine, a hint of irony), which hopes to galvanise former BNP members who have become disillusioned with the ‘watered-down’ fascism of the BNP. People who feel the need to ‘secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children’ are very excited about this.
Sorry folks back in Britain: looks like it’s going to get even worse before it gets better.
Whilst talking about the BNP and Swedish Democratic Party, Søderlind also touched on the CasaPound of Rome. These self-declared fascists with a ‘socialistic’ streak run a housing complex offering subsidised homes to hard-up families, helping us realise that hating foreigners shouldn’t always be conflated with individualistic, conservative values.
Søderlind made the point that when debating fascists and extremists it’s important to have concrete answers for the arguments you might meet, and to be careful not to be caught speechless by their often flabbergasting thinking, but there were more than a couple of times he slipped to using the word ‘cuckooo’ when discussing the depth and strength of the idiocy of holocaust deniers like David Irving and Mark Weber of the Institute for Historical Review.
Classic Nazism has always been directed at Jews, but now there are some who can’t decide whether Jews or Muslims are the bigger problem and this is leading to unlikely alliances that would have even the most seasoned researcher of cognitive dissonance scratching their heads. The English Defence League now has a Pakistani-Christian Division and is an official supporter of Israel.
It seems the enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if I hate them and they are also my enemy.
Søderlind’s pacey, irreverently delivered talk had a message that was as complicated as the groups and ideologies he was discussing: right-wing extremists might be cuckoo, but they're certainly not simple.