The Enemy Within

by Henry on February 26, 2004

Like Chris and Daniel, I’ve been nonplussed at the nastiness of much rightwing US commentary on Europeans. If we’re not a clatter of cowardly Saddam fancying invertebrates, we’re a sinister cabal of jackbooted anti-Semites. While France’s behaviour over Iraq was unimpressive, and there are quite real problems of anti-Semitism, many of Europe’s critics have a rather transparent agenda. They seek to imply that any European criticism of the war or of Israel is automatically suspect, by virtue of its source. It’s the mirror image of Adbusters’ insinuations about rightwing Jews’ support for Israel, and not very much more intellectually respectable.

Mirabile dictu a right wing pundit devotes a column today in the Washington Post to praising Europe. You might expect that I’d be pleased. Not on your life.

Jim Hoagland, one of the slimier members of the commentariat, suggests that the French and British governments have started to tackle the internal threat of Islam head on. He calls for greater US understanding of the way in which the Europeans are responding to the terrorist threat – through internal security and policing measures rather than invading other countries. Indeed, he suggests that the US has a lot to learn from Europe, just as Europe can learn from the US.

What exactly can the US learn? Hoagland doesn’t quite come out and say it, but it seems that he’s keen on surveillance, police harassment and discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere.
The piece is entitled “Europe: The Enemy Within” – I don’t know whether Hoagland chose the title, but it captures the flavor of his argument. If the Americans are going after the enemy abroad, European governments are going after the enemy at home; their unassimilated Muslim minorities. In this context, all sorts of nasty domestic policies can be justified. The French law banning headscarfs is an understandable measure intended “to reassure the French that their government was not afraid of confronting Muslim fundamentalists at home.” Pervasive identity checks are supposed to make members of the bourgeoisie happier, by telling them that “if we are treating you like this in an upscale quarter of Paris, think about what we are doing in the Arab ghettos that you fear.” David Blunkett, Otto Schily, and above all Nicolas Sarkozy, are heroes in this war on the home front.

This is creepy stuff, creepier by far than pervasive anti-Europeanism. It also reflects a belated recognition of political realities. For all their differences over Iraq, the French and US governments have a lot in common. Both are right wing governments with the same whiff of corruption and dirty dealings hanging over them. Both have penchants for autocracy, statism and quasi-authoritarian justice and home affairs policy, although Sarkozy and Chirac have been able to get away with a lot more than Ashcroft and Bush. Now that their disagreements over Iraq have been rendered moot, their common interests and predilections will become more visible and apparent. Soon, we may be positively nostalgic for the days of right-wing France-bashing; it’s infinitely preferable to slackjawed admiration for the more repugnant aspects of French domestic policy.

{ 12 comments }

1

John Isbell 02.26.04 at 5:58 pm

There is a word for someone who spreads hatred and fear, based in falsehood, and yes, there’s a fair bit of it on the right now where Europe is concerned. You are looking in the face of something nasty. And old. Few things bug me more.

2

Matthew 02.26.04 at 6:06 pm

Which country in the world’s behaviour over Iraq was ‘impressive’?!

3

James R MacLean 02.26.04 at 6:39 pm

Dear Henry-
Excellent points, all of them. You’re absolutely spot on about the motives for the anti-European blather afoot right now. This was a case of the not-invented-here mentality boiling over; our elites have screwed up so badly on domestic issues they have to vilify you guys. (I think they’ve screwed up worse on domestic issues, but I’m still in a minority on this).

As an American I find this humiliating and revolting. Please accept my apologies.

4

Matt 02.26.04 at 6:40 pm

FWIW, my understanding is that Hoagland plays the role in the commentariat of ‘the voice of the CIA’.

5

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.26.04 at 7:01 pm

I suspect that much Anti-Europeanism gets overplayed since in general (whether it is good or bad is debatable) Americans don’t care much about Europe one way or another beyond nostalgia.

I suspect much of what you do see is rooted in something that you wouldn’t really expect–US idealism. There was a certain number of Americans (many conservatives) who held romantic views of ‘friendships’ and alliances. Many of them have come to the realization which shoud have been obvious–that countries act in what they perceive to be their own best interests and don’t typically worry about acting like ‘friends’. Very few non-American government functionaries ever had that view. Much of the reason why French actions vis-a-vis Iraq caused a huge reaction while similar Russian actions did not, is that some in the US insisted on working from a friendship outlook in which the French actions seemed like a betrayal while non-friend Russian actions seemed merely annoying.

For years, if not decades, France has wanted to be a decisive counter-weight to world powers. Back when there were two, it wanted to be weight that could tip the balance back and forth. Now that there is one, it wants to organize a counter-weight. In view of that history, French actions should have been unsurprising. But to those who held a romantic ‘friendship’ outlook I’m sure it looked very different.

As for what we can learn from France, I think Hoagland points at the right lessons but draws the wrong conclusion. The French treatment of their Islamic minorities has led to increased strife. Copying their methods on that issue doesn’t seem wise.

6

Conrad barwa 02.26.04 at 7:22 pm

Like Chris and Daniel, I’ve been nonplussed at the nastiness of much rightwing US commentary on Europeans.

Well, should you really be surprised? I mean given the quality and the nature of the rhetoric coming out here, I wouldn’t expect anything less. We have long ago crossed the boundaries of restrained or balanced commentary here.

If we’re not a clatter of cowardly Saddam fancying invertebrates, we’re a sinister cabal of jackbooted anti-Semites.

Part of the problem might be down to the response and the lax analysis here that this kind of smear arouses. I think it should be an ex ante expectation that you are going to be daubed with this kind of allegation given the controversial nature of the issue; regrettable but an unpleasant reality that one must live with nonetheless. I am afraid that there is little one can do to moderate it. Having said this some of the reactions to this kind propagandeering have been a little off; list-making of people’s ethnic affiliation or the idea that one needs to visit or live in place before one has the right to have an opinion about it can lead to some rather distasteful paths and I can’t see it being of much help. The statements of some leading figures on the political Left also, have an almost surreal quality to them when it comes to discussing the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While France’s behaviour over Iraq was unimpressive, and there are quite real problems of anti-Semitism, many of Europe’s critics have a rather transparent agenda

Yes, though to be fair not all of those with transparent agendas are anti-European, rightwing Americans. Overt philo-Semitism has been inverted as a kind of political camouflage by various Fascist and crypto-Fascist groups across Europe from the VB dabbling in a bit of this in Belgium to Le Pen popping up in an interview in Ha’aretz to sympathise with Israel over the problem of ‘Arab’ terrorism. Generally, speaking support for Israel and Zionism here is a convenient way for many rightwingers who would otherwise be charged of chauvinism to play the “See we aren’t racist, we like minorities that have a history of persecution” card. Given the context, I can’t blame them for doing this as they don’t really have all that much else to fall back on in this area.

More to the point, I think it is a mistake by trying to demonstrate that there isn’t a level of anti-Semitism present for two basic reasons. Firstly, because one will instantly be accused of trying to downplay racism or prejudice and the whole discussion will get diverted onto a red herring area about who isn’t this or that etc. without really making any progress. It is not as this is not known either; two specific references I can remember is hearing a talk by a representative of the IJA who was responsible for compiling a global report on anti-Semitism and who was quite explicit of the refusal to amalgamate their operations with other official bodies since their use of data was in his view heavily ideological and geared towards encouraging emigration to Israel rather than a serious look at the prevailing levels of anti-Semitism. Secondly, I don’t think anybody interested in combating racism is all that reassured by arguments saying that anti-Semitism is on the decline mainly because it has been manifested in different forms and directed towards new targets. An extreme example can be seen in the recent BBC documentary on racism within the Metropolitan Police where one charming young police officer was enthusing in his recounting of the Nazi genocide and comparing it to the ‘race problem’ in the UK, Asked by the undercover journalist about whether he would endorse any such potential policy today his response was “not to the Jews obviously, they haven’t done anything to me, the Pakis now that is a different matter….”. The discourse is the same, all that has changed are the recipients singled out. Today if you go into a bar in parts of Germany or Wales frex, and hear muttering about how ‘minorities are overrunning the country’ it isn’t Jews that are being referred to. Of course this isn’t a problem confined to Europe alone, Emmanuel Todd recounts how on visiting one part of his family who had migrated to the US as refugees, recounts an occasion where his grandfather mentions his nervousness about the pervasive racialism in American society and how it reminds him unpleasantly about his native interwar Vienna. Todd finds a relative lack of this kind of insecurity within the French side of his family.

They seek to imply that any European criticism of the war or of Israel is automatically suspect, by virtue of its source. It’s the mirror image of Adbusters’ insinuations about rightwing Jews’ support for Israel, and not very much more intellectually respectable.

Perhaps, but there is a lot of this silliness going around. In the thread about Clermont-Tonnere’s speech to the French Assembly, I seem to recall that there was an attempt to show this as being part of some sort of deep-seated animus towards Jewish Nationalism on the part of the French – never mind the fact that key figures like Balfour and Churchill who were instrumental in various periods in assuring the success of Zionist nationalism were either self-confessed ‘cultural anti-Semites’ or entertained frankly anti-Semitic ideas about the role and power of Jews in the field of international finance. Instead of having a sensible conversation about the role of the Enlightenment and how part of the thrust of this movement was anti-Jewish or hostile to what it saw as religious obscurantism and exceptionalism; the tack chosen was to try and find some stick to beat the current French state policy with.

Re the Hoagland column: I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised, given the US treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII and its deportation of various groups of Hispanic Mexicans who had US citizenship during the Depression. Ironically much of the most restrictive policies and surveillance apparatuses for this within Europe have been developed with illegal immigration in mind; right from the activation of penalising Vichy-era laws to the curtailing of other guaranteed freedoms in the name of dealing with ‘asylum-seekers’ and the Law and Order issue as sops to the Far Right and respectable middle-class opinion.

7

dsquared 02.26.04 at 7:44 pm

Today if you go into a bar in parts of Germany or Wales frex, and hear muttering about how ‘minorities are overrunning the country’

Conrad, mate, this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. When was the last time you went into a bar in Germany? The last time in a bar in Wales? Did you overhear conversations of this sort?

This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. Opinions are free, but facts are sacred. Anyone who likes can have an opinion about events, but people overstep the line when they make specific factual claims about things that they don’t have firsthand knowledge of, and then act like their opinions on these subjects should be put on an equal footing with everything else.

8

Conrad barwa 02.26.04 at 8:48 pm

Daniel,

Conrad, mate, this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.

Mate, calm down, I am not trying to imply that Wales is being overrun by racists or a deluge of Celtic Far Right activists.

When was the last time you went into a bar in Germany? The last time in a bar in Wales? Did you overhear conversations of this sort?

Last time in Wales was last Summer when I was kindly invited by a Welsh colleague to do some trekking in the northern part of the country (Snowdonia) and catch some of the coastal scenery and old castles (up to Anglesey – beautiful place btw). Alas, things being what they were we got little trekking or sight-seeing done, spending most of the time in various pubs and bars. Most of this was very pleasant, barring a few incidents, one of which was an argument about Asylum-Seekers and Asian immigration in a pub in Holywell, which turned rather unpleasant very quickly, especially after I joined in and which thankfully was cut short. So I am not doing another Welshpool allegorical tale of Deutschland uber alles if that is what you are worried about. The reason why I mentioned Germany – where I have not been in any bars, not been to at all recently; is that I have been reminded of some aspects of this hitherto forgotten conversation by someone who has and read about another. So I will stick my hand up and say, yes I don’t have any personal knowledge of this kind of thing happening in Germany; mainly because I have spent very little time there and apologies to any Germans whom I may have offended by this. Obviously, I am not trying to say that innocent German pub-goers sipping excellent German lager are not all making ominous noises about immigration and/or minorities.

Even the incident in Wales was hardly representative, but then I didn’t exactly go looking for this kind of thing. The main reason I mentioned Wales here is that I was just somewhat surprised to come across it there; as I had always (unwisely) assumed that this kind of rhetoric was more common in England, particularly in some of the worse affected urban areas. Silly really, no reason why one should not find this sentiment everywhere, as it doesn’t respect any national/cultural boundaries (unfortunately).

Anyone who likes can have an opinion about events, but people overstep the line when they make specific factual claims about things that they don’t have firsthand knowledge of, and then act like their opinions on these subjects should be put on an equal footing with everything else.

That is fine, but not all of us have the opportunity to be everywhere and present all the time. I am all for avoiding talking about things, without knowing something about it and in this light I agree about what is said when discussing European or American attitudes. On the other hand, I don’t think one has to positively have firsthand direct experience of all phenomena to be able to talk about them in an intelligent or serious fashion; I am quite willing to rely and use secondary accounts by people I trust and know to fill in at least some gaps. It seems to be subscribing to a rather naïve form of rigid empiricism to insist otherwise. Lastly, you are banking an awful lot on people being influenced by what they see and hear outweighing any other biases they might have. Another direct example I remember is when having a meal with some friends all on the same graduate course or college; afterwards when we were just relaxing and discussing what we would do over the next year; one was invited by another who was Polish and very enthusiastic as well as eloquent on the subject to visit him in Poland and the various beauties and allures of Poland were extolled in great length. To which another friend who was herself Russian but had spent quite a bit of time in Poland, immediately remarked “I can’t see how you would ever want to go to Poland, it is an extremely anti-Semitic and racist country”. A heated argument kicked off, with the riposte “I am not Jewish, I don’t care” which ended quite bitterly and in tears (on one side at least). Now I am quite sure that there are elements of truth in both sides here, but not having been to Poland I can’t say which is more representative, and I am sorry but a few trips to Poland for a couple of weeks at a time is not going to be enough to turn anyone into some sort of arbitrator of how things really stand either way. It is very difficult to see certain prejudices and quite easy to take others too seriously – another friend who is a French diplomat of Jewish background was actually attached to the Embassy in Vienna when Haider came to power. He went along to one of the FP meetings to hear Haider speak and on one of their marches to carry out some observation and when I asked him what he thought about them his response was “they are a joke”. Now I find this difficult to accept given the media portrayals of Haider etc. but I am willing to take it into account; have I been to an FP meeting, no, have I listened to Haider in person no, do I spend long evening hours in downtown Vienna studying race relations and political views. Er, no but I am willing to listen and give some credence to someone who has, someone whose judgement I have good reason trust and someone who is not prone to make errors in the wrong direction. I am sorry if this in your book makes it seem that I am just expressing un-informed opinions; but the plain truth is that it is not possible to have in-depth personal first-hand experience of everything all the time and some latitude I think is not only legitimate, but downright necessary.

9

dsquared 02.26.04 at 9:00 pm

I am quite willing to rely and use secondary accounts by people I trust

Fair do’s then, although I guess most people trust a lot more people than I do, and many people (not yourself) appear to choose who they’re going to trust on the basis of what conclusion they want to reach.

10

Jim Miller 02.26.04 at 10:19 pm

For those interested in numbers, I suggest a look at a recent Gallup poll of American attitudes toward foreign countries. Britain, which is in Europe, though not all NPR commentators realize that, is viewed favorably by nearly 9 in 10 Americans — which must include a fair number of conservatives. (Australia does slightly better and Canada slightly worse.)

The Germans don’t do that badly and the favorable attitudes toward the French is bouncing back.

Least favorable? North Korea, and then the Palestian Authority, which shows, I think, a nice realism in the often uninformed American public.

As for the harsh criticism of Europe, that has a very old history in the United States. Sometimes, as in this case, it is at least partly a response to harsh criticism of this country or its leaders.

Of course this site has never gone over the line in criticisms of Bush or the United States, not even in the comments.

11

jamie 02.26.04 at 11:20 pm

“While France’s behaviour over Iraq was unimpressive…”

Well I didn’t have many problems with it on a moral/political level, but there’s another point worth bearing in mind.

At some stage the US is going to have to work with a big European government over a major international issue, and I’m sure it’s occured to persons within the administration that it might be an idea to work with competent diplomatists in preference to a traditional ally that led them into a major fiasco at the UN and which has a security apparat that leaks like a sieve.

Whatever you think of French behaviour in the run up to the second UN resolution from a moral point of view, they played an absolute blinder in terms of winning their point.

12

Wolf O'Witz 02.28.04 at 5:03 pm

Henry: “For all their differences over Iraq, the French and US governments have a lot in common.”

The parallels between America in 2000 and France in 2002 are striking :
– A hotly disputed election, in which the left splits.
– The result installs the conservative candidate in power, but the flawed election gives him a questionable mandate.
– The new president seeks to strengthen his hold on the reins by pushing hard (and successfully) for a pro-presidency majority in the subsequent 2002 legislative elections.
– A distinctive and high-profile foreign policy – over which constitutional divisions of power give him relatively more influence – becomes a key tool in shoring up domestic support.

For good measure, commentators like Kevin Phillips claim convincingly that the moral climate of the Bush circle is every bit a sleazy as Chirac and the RPR.

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