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Externalising Our Hatreds.
It's Ukraine and Gaza. Again.
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And now ….
I’ve written before about the deeper symbolism of the western elite’s attitude to the war in Ukraine. “Support” is a poor word to describe their hysterical, xenophobic gung-ho posture, less in favour of Ukraine, if the truth be told, than against Russia. And then, as I’ve argued, “Russia” in this sense is not a actual country, but a symbolic enemy to be destroyed, because it contravenes the dearest universalist ideological notions of our Professional and Managerial Caste and, by nonetheless continuing to exist, suggests that they may not be absolutely universal after all.
Clearly, this intolerance of difference is an important part of the blind hatred that the West brings to its actions in the Ukraine/Russia conflict. And clearly also, it partly explains the western attitude to the conflict in Gaza. Israel has always presented itself socially and ideologically as a western, rather European state, thus distinct from its Arab neighbours, with a political system resembling some in Europe, and based around high technology and high levels of education. (How accurate a description of Israel this is I can’t say, because I’ve never been there.) In addition, whilst the dimension of a European settler state has been played down in recent years, there is also still a strong unspoken appeal to the kind of people who supported Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa back in the day. And then western publics are always likely to look favourably on countries that make a fetish of advanced military technology. So there’s always been an instinctive identification of Israel with US, rather than Them.
And yet. There is something in the robotic inanity of the western political response to Gaza, with its mechanical repetition of empty slogans and its attitude of mild, non-judgemental interest as buildings are blown to pieces from the air, that leads one to suggest that deeper, unconscious forces may be at work also. In this essay, I want to suggest what some, at least, of them might be. I’m not going to get into the detail of what’s going on in Gaza, even more the rights and wrongs: I leave that to the better informed. But by contrast, very little has been said about the dynamics and deeper origins of western attitudes, and that’s what I want to focus on here. I will also suggest that a variant of the same logic is at work over Ukraine, in addition to the factors I discussed in my earlier essay. I’ll talk mostly about Europe, and focus especially on France, but I suspect that many of the same arguments apply to the US. But let’s start with Gaza, via a little excursion into western sociology, because I fear that Gaza is the first example of new stresses on some European political systems, which they might well not survive.
One striking aspect of the Gaza story is the disconnect between elite and popular attitudes to it in the West. This is a relatively new development. In most western countries until fairly recently, the Israelis were seen as basically westerners who were giving those bloody Arabs a kicking, like we should have. But for perhaps the last twenty years, popular attitudes have started to diverge from those of the elites, and this can be tracked to some degree in opinion polls. In itself this might not be too surprising: it reflects in part the passing away of generation that took colonialism and the use of force against black and brown men as a given, and its replacement by generations who have been brought up hearing people talking about human rights all the time. But then again, this disconnect between popular and elite views is very typical of our western political systems now, almost irrespective of subject, which prompts the thought that there might be wider forces at work here as well.
We can start from the judgement that in all of modern history, seldom has there been a greater distance between the opinions and interests of elites, reflected in the media and in political discourse, and those of ordinary people. Comparisons are sometimes made with the eighteenth century, but in fact there was far more homogeneity of thought in, say, pre-revolutionary France than there is in our society today. There were powerful Liberal currents, certainly, but these were more than counterbalanced by traditionalists at every level of society: it was the ordinary people of the Vendée, after all, who went out to fight the revolutionary armies under the slogan “for God and the King:” which two elements were for them, just as much as for the aristocracy, the whole basis of society. Indeed, I think it is now accepted that the doctrine of extreme social and economic liberalism espoused by the PMC has the genuinely enthusiastic support of only a very small part of the western population: perhaps ten per cent at most. The effective capture of major western political parties by the PMC ideology disguises this to some extent, but opinion polls and referenda show with great clarity that western electorates want something else. They may register a protest vote or they may not vote at all, and at a maximum they may vote for whichever of the major parties seems least repulsive that week.
And the PMC knows this, why is why their speeches and writings are often just tirades against those who, they claim, threaten democracy, civilisation, freedom, human rights and other worthy things. Since they have no concrete policies which offer specific advantages for ordinary people, they invite us to mobilise against threats from chimerical enemies, notably “fascism,” the “extreme right” “hard-line nationalists” and other, largely interchangeable, targets. Which is odd, when you consider where the violence against western societies actually has come from, for the most part, in recent years. But some things are better not said. Put simply, the PMC hates and despises the rest of us, who still cling to outdated ideas like justice and fairness, society and families, equality and solidarity, irrespective of conventional left-right differences. But it’s actually a bit more complicated even than that.
I’ve often argued that it makes sense to treat the PMC as something like the old Soviet Communist Party, with tendencies and factions and internal policy disputes, but with a firm collective grip on power nonetheless. It occurs to me that another useful image may be the Party in 1984, with its distinction between the Inner and Outer levels. In reality, a large part of the PMC that howls and bellows at Putin, that signs petitions for transexual toilets and now watches with calm indifference the destruction of Gaza, is really the equivalent of the Outer Party, enjoying few of the perks and advantages that their Inner Party equivalents enjoy, but desperately hoping to join them one day. After all, if you take some of the most fervent parts of the PMC (university lecturers, journalists, NGOists, managers in finance, mid-ranking lawyers for example), then it’s difficult to argue that the current economic and social system gives them many real advantages. Indeed, whilst they may get to wear the grey uniform and retain fantasies of joining the Inner Party one day, most of them work under conditions of stress and insecurity they could never have imagined even twenty years ago. And even their persecutors (human resources androids, for example, todays’s Thought Police) have their own problems and stresses. No-one is happy.
So there’s actually a deep and irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the PMC as a whole (mostly the Outer Party) and the real elites; often described as the “one per cent,” or, in this way of analysing things, the Inner Party. The Outer Party is subject to discipline, loyalty checks and compulsory ideological conformity, yet seems to enjoy little extra status or concrete advantages over ordinary people. The Outer Party is the historical descendant of the intellectual servant class: the tutors and secretaries, the functionaries in great houses, the lawyers and intellectuals. It is significant, perhaps, that this is the class which hijacked the French Revolution from ordinary people and took it to its conclusion. Like the intellectuals of the eighteenth century, today’s Outer Party prize (or affect to) logic, science and rationality. And like those intellectuals they are, I suspect, boiling with frustrated ambition and anger, hating the aristocracy on one hand, and the common people on the other.
Let’s assume you are a member of the Outer Party: a Senior Researcher at a human rights NGO in a major western country. You spent three or four years at university to get a law degree, then another couple specialising in human rights law, followed by a prestigious internship at the European Court of Human Rights, and another at the UN. Not bad, eh? Well, in some countries you may be in debt for the rest of your life, and even in countries where education is free you probably spent a decade living hand-to-mouth. This is your second short-term contract with no pension rights. Your NGO is mostly dependent for its existence on funding from a Foundation which is “reassessing its strategic priorities” and its own senior management is spending most of its time dealing with internal disputes about discrimination and under-representation of minorities. Your sister, a few years older, who read business studies and has a somewhat insecure middle-management job at a bank, has just split up from her partner and is trying to find a way of looking after their child, given the insane hours she is asked to work. She’s not sure she can afford to stay in the house the couple bought. Your journalist cousin works twelve hours a day seven days a week to file enough click-bait articles to make a living. Your uncle has taken early retirement from the health service because he can’t stand it any longer, and your aunt has given up a good job in a privatised energy utility for the same reason. You can’t help thinking how much simpler and easier was the life of your parents (a teacher and a local government officer, who never went to university, but owned their own house).
But it’s not just insecurity and the need to placate funders. The pressure of work is relentless, and you are endlessly asked to join campaigns, sign petitions, support causes and, most of all, always express yourself in the right way using the right words. This is getting to be more than you can take, and it can only become worse. You are very angry, but you dare not express your anger, even privately, against the people you hold responsible. You join in public hate sessions against officially designated enemies, ists and isms, but the real targets of your hatred are elsewhere. And Ukraine is, of course, a wonderful, liberating opportunity to let some of that hatred go, and join others screaming for death and destruction, with no risk to yourself. And well above you in the Party hierarchy, people who are in essence no happier with their lives than you are, feel the same, about those above them and those below.
But with Gaza, there is an extra element. It doesn’t have a fully reliable name, and tends to be called whatever the politics of the day require. Perhaps “mass movement of peoples” is the best term. But however you describe it—immigration, asylum seeking, refugee movements— it’s actually quite a new phenomenon, which has specific origins, and which is now beginning to generate specific and intractable problems that even the senior members of the Inner Party are finding it hard to ignore. For generations, individuals, families and small groups have been moving to Europe to escape persecution and find a better life (I don’t know enough about the detail of the US experience to comment at any length, but I believe it’s the same) In general, these people identified with their new country, changed their names if necessary, and often became fervent patriots. (The two outstanding French Prime Ministers of the period between the First World War and the coming to power of De Gaulle, Léon Blum and Pierre Mendes-France, were both from immigrant Jewish families.)
Over the last thirty years, however, and without any real discussion or formal decision, western elites have opted for a new model of mass immigration from poor countries, mostly but not exclusively Islamic, largely to provide a more compliant working class, and without any serious consideration of the things that needed to be done to make such massive social changes acceptable and successful. In France, for example, certain parts of the political system just wanted cheap labour, and any social problems could be sorted out by others. In practice, this amounted to mostly young, unskilled, single males, who could be worked until their utility was exhausted and then exchanged for a new batch. It was only later, and again without serious debate, that it became common to allow migrant workers to bring their families over, and children born in France to claim French citizenship under certain circumstances. Nobody thought it was a big issue at the time.
The reasons for these developments are complex and would require a long essay to explain, but, as well as the greed of employers, they have to do with the coming to power and influence of the post-1968 Left (or “Left” if you prefer) which abandoned traditional economic priorities for new social ones., When this new policy was beginning in France in the 1980s, Georges Marchais, the long-serving leader of the Communist Party, opposed it strongly, arguing that it would just drive down wages and worsen working conditions. He was right of course, but his opposition foundered on the enthusiasm of the post-1968 generation for the “free movement of peoples” and other abstract ideas of brotherhood and unity, as well as their complete lack of interest in the welfare of ordinary people. If you are of that generation, you will recall the facile optimism of the period about the mixing of peoples and cultures. We are all brothers and sisters, really. Skin colour is meaningless. Any differences can be settled by friendly discussion and anti-discrimination campaigns Let’s join hands and bring peace to the world, singing Kumbaya.
Above all, religion was not an issue. This was a time of galloping secularisation, not just in the general separation of Church and State in the West, but in the precipitate decline in attendance at Church and in the equally abrupt decline in the social and political importance of organised religion. Christianity itself largely abandoned any claims to moral authority or supernatural justification, and devoted its efforts to making God “relevant” to the modern world, which is odd, when you think about it, since if you were actually a believing Christian, then the question would surely be the other way round.
This attitude extended to other religions, and to moves towards ecumenical worship and good relationships between different faiths. It was assumed that the other faiths and religious leaders around the world would reciprocate. Religion, as such, was seen as a purely social phenomenon, a question of cultural identity which would disappear over time as the world became increasingly homogeneous. It was for this reason that the Ayatollah Khomeini was sent back to Iran in 1979 without very much reflection: as a religious leader he was expected to be a force for peace and moderation, a mixture, if you like, of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Well, we all make mistakes, but some are really serious mistakes.
The PMC of the day had little knowledge of, or interest in, the life of ordinary people in the countries from which the new style immigration would come. Those nationals they did know had been educated in Europe or the United States, and thought and spoke like us. But here was a great opportunity to feel good about themselves, to atone, as they saw it, for earlier colonial misdeeds and, most of all, to find a new community to patronise. In France, for example, the Left had progressively lost interest in the boorish French working classes: they had successively taken up the cause of the FLN in Algeria, the Cuban revolution, the Vietnamese, the Chinese Maoists during the Cultural Revolution, even the Iranian protesters who brought Khomeini to power. But the anti-colonialist struggles were now over (there was never much interest in the South Africa ) and advocacy for minority sexual preferences could only take you so far. With the end of the Cold War, came the end of the class-based mass parties of the old Left, and their transformation into lifestyle consultancies.
The parties of the “Left” were never much interested in Islam, any more than they had read, as opposed to waving, Mao’s Little Red Book, or had actually attempted the daunting task of trying to make sense of Althusser. Rather, religion was incidental to being able to encode the new mass immigrant communities not only as victims whose cause the “Left” could champion, victims of racism, violence, discrimination, repression or whatever, but also as victims who could be relied on to vote the right way, and so keep the “Left” in power, especially at local level. Other than treating them as raw material for their political ambitions and performative spectacles, the “Left” had no interest in these immigrant communities and did little if anything for them. Now of course immigrants in France had historically voted for the old Left, not least because a disproportionate number of them were from the working class. The traditional appeal to the immigrant vote was based largely on class solidarity, not on awarding them victim status. Among older immigrant voters, this folk memory remained powerful, and has not yet entirely disappeared.
But, leaping rapidly over a long and complex story, the “Left” completely failed to understand that these communities had their own social customs, their own religious faith, and their own political organisations. They slept through the arrival of radical Imams financed by the Gulf States and Turkey, and the mosques constructed by money from their governments. Because they did not take religion seriously, and could not imagine why anyone else would, they dismissed all concerns about Islamic radicalism, the progressive takeover of parts of cities by religious gangs, and increasing verbal and actual violence against schools and teachers, because it did not fit into their utilitarian, paternalistic attitude to these communities. Instead, anyone who complained about such problems, or even acknowledged that they existed, could be dismissed as an “islamophobe. ”
It’s worth dwelling on that last point for France especially, because the French Constitution, in a reflection of the terrible battles against the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century, has always been secular: ie complete separation of Church and State is made explicit. For radical Islamists, the very idea is heresy, because they see the very existence of the State itself as dependent on religious direction. As the recurrent Islamist slogan has it: “if laws repeat what is in the Koran they are of no importance. If they differ from what is in the Koran they are sinful and should not be obeyed. The “Left” in France has been able to ignore this problem by qualifying riots, murders and terrorist attacks as reactions to “institutional racism” or whatever: the idea that people might actually be motivated to kill by religious belief is beyond their comprehension.
Several things have happened to disturb this comfortable state of affairs. The Party lives largely apart from the immigrant communities it patronises, and attacks on schools and teachers, for example, are briefly covered if they are covered at all. The latest murder of a teacher, in Arras last month was significant, though, because the assailant (the son of a refugee family from Chechnya) was looking for a history teacher to kill. He was tackled by several teachers (one of whom was killed) and several members of the support staff, who eventually overpowered him. The story made a brief splash, although the Inner Party educates its children elsewhere, so interest faded rapidly. But why a history teacher? This is where it gets interesting, and potentially significant.
France has the largest Jewish community in Europe, and it is politically powerful, even if it is much smaller than the Muslim community. It has been successful in promoting the sufferings of the Jewish community in France in the Second World War, and indeed the official school history syllabus for that period lays great stress on what the French call the shoah, adopting the Hebrew word for the persecution and murder of Jews under the Third Reich. In recent years, however, Muslim parents have begun to object, sometimes violently, to this teaching. Some have adopted conspiracy theories propagated by radical preachers, according to which the persecutions never happened, or have at least been massively exaggerated. Many others simply regard them as propaganda, obscuring and justifying the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. So it’s becoming dangerous to be a history teacher these days, and never more so than since the start of the fighting in Gaza.
The “Left” is not concerned about a few dead teachers as such, and among its most fervent supporters are, indeed, young teachers who have completely accepted its new social agenda and who see their Muslim pupils as a persecuted minority. However, the sickening realisation is beginning to dawn that there is now a large immigrant population in France with mostly conservative social and religious ideas, many of whom do not accept the basic precepts of a democracy or a republic, heavily influenced by extremist preachers, and some parts of which have already shown a propensity for violence. This community votes and, like the rural population of France a century ago, often does so according to the instructions of religious leaders. For a long time, members of the PMC “from immigration” as the French say (and there are a large number of them) thought and behaved much as the rest of the PMC did. But now you are starting to get rappers and sports stars from the immigrant working class taking up the vocabulary of Political Islam. Gaza has complicated this situation massively. If the official media and the political class is almost hysterically pro-Israel, there is a real fissure opening up in French society, and not just between “Muslims” in the banal sense and “non-Muslims” either. For example, a sizeable part of the “Arab” population of France consists of Christian Lebanese, Syrians and Egyptians, who nonetheless feel a degree of solidarity with the population of Gaza.
Thus, the uncontrolled entry into France (and other countries) of large numbers of often poorly-educated but religiously and socially conservative immigrants, who are now starting to organise and vote according to their beliefs, has had consequences which were easily foreseeable, but of course not foreseen. Already, scarcely-disguised Political Islamist parties have started to appear in elections in Europe. Who could ever have imagined it? What are we going to do about it? It will surprise you to learn that neither the Inner Party nor the Outer Party have the remotest idea, which is why earnest and worried articles about the possibility of a mass exodus of French Jews after the latest round of slogans daubed on synagogues co-exist with photographs and testimonies about the assault on Gaza, often next to each other on the page, or sequentially in a news bulletin. The two exist in different worlds, and cannot be reconciled. The dirty secret is that to the extent that active anti-semitism is really a problem in France these days, it comes less from the traditional extreme Right, than from young radicalised Muslims. It was they who defaced synagogues earlier this year, during the riots which M. Mélenchon characterised as a “popular uprising.” The PMC has no idea how to deal with all this, and is just hoping it will go away.
In the name of the PMC agenda of open borders, free movement of peoples, cheap workforces, someone to patronise and feel superior to, forcing down wages and letting someone else do the dirty work, immigration has created a mostly poor and insecure, frequently radicalised, population which now represents a formidable voting force for any political party to capture, but which has, on the other hand, views well outside and behind the mainstream of the politics of Western European countries, especially in France. Ironically, this electoral force is starting to make its voice heard on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and even education of boys and girls in the same school, which the established parties are going to have to take notice of if they want their votes. You can hear M. Mélenchon choking from here. But the problem is wider than that: it’s clear that the whole policy has been a a catastrophic mess and failure. On the one hand, it has not really delivered the flexible pliant workforce dreamt of by employers. Educational standards are low and falling, because there has been little investment, for example, in French language teaching, whilst different social customs are producing continuing headaches for employers on such questions as unmarried males and females working next to each other. And on the other side of the political divide, the “Left” can no longer rely on the immigrant vote (more immigrants=more votes!) as in the past. Indeed, the “immigrant” vote is generally moving slowly to the Right, mainly for social reasons.
Things have got so bad that even the Party is having to take noice. Some. of the Outer Party have to send their children to state schools, and see the results of the Islamist war on education at first hand, and the open sale of drugs outside schools. They can’t protest, because racism, but this only makes them more angry and despairing. Even the Inner Party is starting to notice that its favourite restaurants in town centres close earlier these days because of fear of violent clashes between immigrant gangs over their shares of organised crime. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
If the crisis in Gaza continues much longer, then in a number of European countries we will see a political fissure open, for which there is no precedent, and no obvious remedy. It’s not just the Jewish lobby versus an important and radicalised electoral bloc: indeed, that’s only a small part of the problem. The Party, throughout Europe, is already massively alienated from the economic and social concerns of ordinary people, and now, through the pressure of Gaza, an electorally significant community whose concerns are wildly removed from those of the PMC is finding a voice, and parties who want to be elected will have to court them. It’s one thing to dismiss white voters with socially conservative attitudes as fascists and morons, but quite another to dismiss non-white voters saying the same thing, because racism again.
But what can the Party do? By definition, it is never wrong: it can only be wronged by reality. Many things can be dropped into the memory-hole of history, but the Party cannot control everything, and it cannot control how ordinary people experience life. Which brings us round to Ukraine again. The Party (and especially the Outer Party) has found over the last couple of years an outlet for its suppressed rage and hatred of ordinary people, and their backward and reactionary ideas, as well, of course, as its own masters. If it cannot destroy them literally, then it can destroy them symbolically, by destroying Russia, a country they have arbitrarily decided is going to represent all the worst un-PMC features of their own countries. It won’t work, of course, because symbolic solutions never really work, but for a while it will give the rage and hatred an outlet, and that is why they think the war has to go on.
Comparisons are always tricky, but it’s at least possible that Gaza occupies an adjacent part of the mental space inside the heads of the disaffected members of the Outer Party to that occupied by Russia. (You want logic? The unconscious mind sniggers at logic.) Just like the original dreams of some of the more moderate Zionists, the Party’s fantasies of communities from radically different cultures living side by side in the West in peace have been shown to be hopelessly wrong and misguided. Maybe if it had all been done differently? Who knows. But the fact is that neither the Right’s dream of an educable, desperate, flexible, replaceable workforce, nor the “Left”’s dream of a docile electoral base to patronise, and to use to make them feel good about themselves, was ever likely to come about. In both cases, the motives were selfish and egoistic, and the only function of the immigrants was to play their allotted roles. I’m not an expert on the United States, but I have the feeling something similar may be happening there.
So the mass of immigrants, many in their second generation, some in their third, have failed the originators of the scheme. Now if only we could do something with these disappointing people… if only we could transfer them, send them out, send them home. Of course, because of the knots of ThoughtCrime that the “Left” has tied itself in, such ideas can never be expressed. Indeed, they must not be consciously thought. So instead, we have the indecent enthusiasm of the western “Left” for the expulsion of the Palestinians from Gaza, as a sublimated and unacknowledged substitute.
You can’t push comparisons between Gaza and immigrant-heavy areas of western cities too far, of course, but I was very struck by the similarity between the dour shabby apartment buildings of Gaza and the sordid high-rise apartment blocks on the fringes of the major population centres in France where the immigrant communities have been parked, to be forgotten about except when they can be useful for something. And as with Gaza, the problem of immigrant communities in Europe has been eternally left unsolved, and in many ways left unaddressed. And now it’s too late.
I am beginning to wonder whether, having externalised everything else, all we have left to externalise now is our hatred for other members of our society. .