Hanau funeral

This essay, on how mainstream politics helps nurture far-right beliefs, was my Observer column this week. (The column included also a short piece on the costs of Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy) It was published on 23 February 2020, under the headline ‘Beware the politics of identity. They help legitimise the toxic far right’.

‘Hate is a poison that… is responsible for far too many crimes’, said the German chancellor Angela Merkel after the killing of nine people in a far-right terror attack on two shisha bars in the German town of Hanau last week. ‘This is neither rightwing nor leftwing terror, it’s the crazy act of a deranged man,’ responded Jörg Meuthen, a spokesman for the virulently anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

It’s an argument that’s becoming as depressingly familiar as the attacks themselves. The Hanau killings follow the murder last June of the Christian Democrat politician and champion of refugee rights Walter Lübcke and an attempt in October to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle. Days before the attack, German police made raids across the country to take down a terror cell allegedly planning to plunge Germany into a ‘state of civil war’ by attacking Muslims and asylum-seekers.

These incidents have raised again questions about the nature of German politics and culture. This is not, however, simply a German disease. From Anders Breivik whose murderous rampage in Oslo and Utøya took the lives of 77 people to Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people at a Charleston church, from Thomas Mair, who murdered the MP Jo Cox to Brenton Tarrant, currently awaiting trial for the Christchurch mosque shootings, far-right terror is a global problem. It’s not as endemic as Islamic jihadism but, especially in Europe and America, white nationalist violence is becoming a major issue.

Far-right terrorism does not exist in isolation, any more than jihadism does. As with jihadism, personal and political grievances become refracted through the politics of identity to create a worldview shaped by a noxious brew of visceral racism and conspiracy fantasies. The individuals involved may be delusional, but those delusions feed upon sentiments nurtured by our political culture. It’s not a general problem of ‘hatred’ but the specific vilification of migrants and Muslims and the encouragement of ideas of white victimhood.

‘Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide… by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive, Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home.’ Apart from in the elegance of expression, that thought, and that sentence, would not have been out of place in the manifesto of the Hanau gunman Tobias Rathjen. In fact, it appears on the opening page of Douglas Murray’s 2017 bestseller The Strange Death of Europe. The American writer Christopher Caldwell argued in his acclaimed Reflections on the Revolution in Europe that immigration to Europe has been akin to ‘colonisation’. Another prominent American writer, Sam Harris, has claimed that ‘the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists’.

Ideas that once were confined to the fringes are now routinely and unashamedly aired by mainstream commentators. We are constantly told that unless we normalise ‘white racial self-identity’ and address the ‘cultural anxiety’ that immigration creates by more tightly controlling immigration, then the far right will prosper. In reality, the opposite is true: the more we give credence to ideas that once belonged only to the fringe, the more that fringe will become legitimate.

Migrants are now held responsible not just for the ills of society but even for their own murder. Rachida Dati, the centre-right candidate to be mayor of Paris, suggested that the blame for the Hanau killings lay with Merkel’s too-liberal immigration policies.

If the right’s obsession with immigration has helped give new legitimacy to arguments of the far right, so has the left’s blindness to the consequences of the politics of identity. Many on the left now embrace the idea that one’s interests and values are defined primarily by one’s ethnic or cultural or gender identity.

The politics of identity is, however, at root the politics of the reactionary right. The original politics of identity was that of racial difference, the insistence that one’s racial identity determines one’s moral and social place in the world. Now, identitarians of the far right are seizing upon the opportunity provided by the left’s adoption of identity politics to legitimise their once-toxic brand. Racism became rebranded as white identity politics.

It’s an expression of the pernicious befuddlement of today’s politics that rightwing critics of identity politics are among the most vehement defenders of the idea of a European homeland to be protected against immigrant invaders, while leftwing critics of white identity are staunch defenders of every other form of identity politics.

No one is responsible for an act of terror but the terrorists themselves. What the rest of us should not do, however, is provide legitimacy to their arguments or nurture their toxic beliefs.


The photo is of a funeral in Hanau by Nicolas Armer/dpa


  1. “Far-right terrorism does not exist in isolation, any more than jihadism does”. The age of toxic grand narratives straddles the entire political spectrum of which yours is unfortunately an intrinsic part.

    Without nuance and reasoned arguments, your toxic grand narrative simply feeds the others. In other words, your toxic grand narrative is indelibly very much part of the problem.

  2. A trivial point; not everyone will know that Gift in German means poison.

    I opened your link on ‘white racial self-identity’ and was horrified to find a Professor of politics at Birkbeck scolding white liberals for failing to distinguish between “racial self-interest” and “racism”. But I have long been disturbed by politicians who simultaneously blame whites for voting, because they are white, in favour of one candidate, while expecting and urging non-whites, because they are non-whites, to vote for another.

    There is little here that is new even in the context of post-war Britain. I remember Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech, and I went to a secondary school which, like most elite secondary schools at that time, Imposed a numerical quota on the intake from my own ethnic group. This was the done explicitly to protect the religious andcultural tradition, as it was then described, of the majority. What is new and frightening is to see the resurgence and normalisation, from all directions, of such identity arguments.

    Criticism, especially moralistic criticism, merely evokes group solidarity among those being criticised (as with Clinton’s disastrous reference to a basket of undesirables, or Gordon Brown’s overheard description of the woman he had just spoken to as a bigot). What, then, is to be done

    • This by Thomas Sowell seems to apply to all identitarian groupings.

      “Black votes matter to many politicians — more so than black lives. That is why such politicians must try to keep black voters fearful, angry and resentful. Racial harmony would be a political disaster for such politicians”.

      This would also apply to journalists, acedemics and activists.

      In effect, we are witnessing the balkanisation of our societies which is being achieved through toxic grand narratives that continually reinforce self and other imposed group characteristics.

  3. damon

    The quote from Douglas Murray certainly sounds alarmist and isn’t liberal in the way that’s expected today.
    However, alongside that, I’d put this video about a suburb of Paris where the culture of North Africa seems to hold sway. A couple of women secretly filmed the reaction they got when they went into one of the all-male cafes.

    “Women made to keep low profile in some French suburbs”

    I like these kind of cafes when I’m travelling in the Mediterranean and south Eastern Europe, but they can feel like they are part of the segregation problem when they get transferred to Western Europe.
    Just shutting up and not talking about it, doesn’t make these issues go away.

    It would seem like people on the left think they are the only people who should talk about social issues, like how the French suburban housing estates have developed for example.

    But Douglas Murray can have an opinion too imo. Because the left only talk about part of the story.
    You need to hear a different perspective to get a fuller view (I think).

  4. damon

    “What the rest of us should not do, however, is provide legitimacy to their arguments or nurture their toxic beliefs.”

    I think we should name names.
    This was Nesrine Malik in the Guardian just yesterday.
    “Immigrants built Britain. Now their Conservative children are disowning them”

    My first reaction after reading that was: “that’s horrible”.
    Going through it again, even though she uses the word “toxic” to describe what Priti Patel and the Tories are up to with their immigration policy, it’s actually her and people on the left who are making the subject so toxic.
    She makes such a big issue of Patel’s and Sajid Javid’s parents and how they probably wouldn’t qualify to come to the U.K. under new immigration rules. So what?
    Just because we had tens of thousands of Pakistani Mirpuri’s come to Britain in the past, doesn’t mean we are obliged to take in the same number again.
    It’s a ridiculous argument and is what actually makes the whole subject toxic.
    She even calls what these two politicians have done “Brownwashing”.
    When people criticise the Guardian, you have to remember arguments and articles like this. It’s truly appalling.

    Let’s not forget Afua Hirsch also.
    Brendan O’Neill of Spiked has finally called her out. He says she’s an “identitarian”.
    I’m glad she’s finally been outed for what she is. She’s about to do a documentary on the “trouble with whiteness”.
    And see her on her Twitter here when she talks about growing up middle class and mixed race in Wimbledon.

    Is she so unaware as how she’s coming across? At one moment she’s describing how she came from an unusual background mix (for Wimbledon) and how that sometimes got negatively commented apon in the past …… and the next moment she seems like an enthusiast for highlighting every slight difference and input into people’s makeup and identity. It’s what she makes her living off after all.
    One minute she’d be getting upset because she has been asked “where are you from?” and the next, she wants to know where everyone else is from.

    • These left identitarians are for all intent and purposes neo-Segregationists. It is almost like racism has come a full circle with the roles reversed. However, rather than using scientific racism and imposed socially constructed characteristics, these PoC identitarians are using cultural racism with a different set of imposed socially constructed characteristics.

      Will this dehumanisation process end the cycle of prejudism, it is very doubtful. Since whiteness will be reinforced in the minds of people who identify with their whiteness and blackness will be reinforced in the minds of people who identify with their blackness. This balkanisation on the basis of skin colour (alternatively segregationism on the basis of skin colour) does not bode well in a world facing resource constraints and decreasing prosperity as fossil fuel depletion deepens.

      According to Realistic conflict theory, identitarianism (along with anti-identitarianism which simply reinforces identity politics through its negation) could well be explained by the deepening of resource constraints as the human population continually expands. In other words, it is a systemic issue that requires a systemic solution.

      The problem in accordance with the commons dilemma (game theory) is that as the scale of human societies grow, opportunism grows. Similarly for every argument there is a counter argument so whilst the Left campaigns for a more cosmopolitan ordering of society including open borders and the right to migrate and thereby cultivating a balkanisation of global society with diversity conceived at every level of geographical space, the alternative is a more communitarian ordering of society including restrictions on migration and thereby cultivating a balkanisation of global society at selected levels of geographical space.

      The question is who is right and who is wrong. Well from a systemic point of view, economic and ecological capacity will matter since prosperous regions will tend to attract more migration but if the level of prosperity has stabilised or is in relative decline, then population growth will reduce prosperity further and therefore lead to more poverty.

      Therefore the dilemma for cosmopolitan perspectives is how to sell prosperity decline especially when economies are largely organised at the national level. For all intent and purposes they can’t so the alternative is identity politics along with toxic grand narratives like the white privilege doctrine. In other words, guilt is used to persuade people to accept prosperity decline whether in the form of whiteness narratives, the evils of the British Empire or victimhood narratives.

      Within this context, the cosmopolitan perspective is on a much weaker footing with the communitarian perspective simply needing to defend its position. Thus, the Right, whether from more centrist positions or the more radical positions have some inexplicable factor on their side which I presume over time has been framed as the natural order, the divine order or being on the right side of facts and logic. Hence political parties on the Right tend to view themselves as the natural party.

      Curiously, through my own independent research that took me on a journey through the social sciences and part way through the humanities, during which time I tended to position myself on the Left, I actually discovered that in some inconceivable way, the Right does naturally occupy what I can only describe as a profound ecological position of preservation. So in a way the Right does naturally set the boundaries of a debate and all the Left can do is plead and persuade that the boundaries be changed. This I think is because the preservation position also adjudicates the balance between life and death and with no predators to keep the human population in check, this is solely left to human agency (baring disease, famines etc etc).

      As such the Left is continually at a disadvantage and explains why PoC join the Conservatives for example. Hence the insults ‘brown washing’ or ‘coconut’ are simply projections of resentment, envy and anger at the preservation position which curiously the Right naturally occupies.

      Overall, from this perspective, the actual solution for everyone is for everyone on the Left to completely renounce and abandon the Left and join the Right. Since if everyone is effectively on the same side then not only would there be a profound sense of integration but a complete reordering of how we conceive ourselves and others. No doubt this Hegelian moment will pass and internal divisions will reform but this will occur at a higher level than before.

      This type of enlightened radicalism is in my view the only way we will avoid the destructive effects of Realistic Conflict Theory which unfortunately the Left will lose.

      • My intuition is telling me that despite how counter intuitive imposing then denouncing a white racialised identity is, by using falsification these PoC identitarians/segregationists might be purposely trying to inspire a colour blind backlash that leads people to prioritise skin colour less.

        Conversely, the same strategy may well deepen some people’s convictions about their whiteness which then creates the justification for their strategy of falsifying whiteness. Within this context, PoC identitarians/segregationists are able to further exploit whiteness for personal and political gain but perhaps more importantly for them, be able to better ring-fence self identifying white people as the far right.

        In other words, their strategy may well be to segregate and categorise the white population along a continuum between colour blind whites and colour focused whites.

        This then enables their segregationist agenda as a form of cultural control. Of course, if the same strategy was utilised by white people, then they would be immediately denounced as racists.

        This is why, it is of the most importance to view these PoC identitarians/segregationists as racists and call them out as such because they are literally trying to culturally oppress liberty, equality, dignity and respect.

  5. damon

    “The individuals involved may be delusional, but those delusions feed upon sentiments nurtured by our political culture. It’s not a general problem of ‘hatred’ but the specific vilification of migrants and Muslims and the encouragement of ideas of white victimhood.”

    I should start off by saying how reprehensible and terrible those killings in Germany were. He had hatred, and was also obviously quite mad in the head too. But how true is it that things would be so much better if we just didn’t talk about them so much? And if we’d never had extremist groups like the NF, BNP and AfD etc?
    And our mainstream politics didn’t use the issues of immigration and diversity for their own divisive ends?

    There would still be the developments and change in society that people can see for themselves.
    Much of it is good and OK, but too often we also hide away and choose to ignore the difficult issues – like this aspect of modern German diversity:
    “Criminal clans of Arab and Kurdish origin fight violently in Berlin and broaden their sway in Germany”

    What are we going to say about all that? Most of the time, people on the left will just ignore it.
    When I was in Berlin just before Christmas, one of the things which most struck me about the area I was staying in was the amount of these Shisha bars and betting shop-cafes which were almost the sole preserve of immigrant looking young men. Many might have been German citizens but many more were clearly immigrants from Africa and Arab countries. They are often open late into the evening when most other places are closed, so there is this night time economy made up of these kinds of places and the ubiquitous kebab shops on every corner.
    It’s a very male world, and the culture is more that of Lebanon, Turkey and Africa than regular German (In my opinion).
    It’s very street oriented and is not to everyone’s taste I’d say. Even I felt slightly conspicuous when I stepped in to watch a bit of football on the big screens a couple of times. I’d be either the only white guy in there out of thirty, or one of two maybe. There’s a lot going on in these places that you won’t see or even know about if you’re an outsider.
    That kind of development will be going on in Germany regardless what any racist right wingers or parliamentary politicians say about it.

    Then a few points about left wingers and liberals and how those of them with media platforms engage in these debates. There’s two really good examples of them on LBC radio – James O’Brien and Shelagh Fogarty.

    You have to hear them a bit to appreciate how they operate. O’Brien is clever, but one of the smuggest people on radio. He’s very left wing when it comes to everything about diversity and immigration – but as he’s said himself, he lives in a house in Chiswick west London, which is worth so much, that he admits that he and his wife, who are both top bracket tax payers, couldn’t get a mortgage on what their house is worth today.
    So he talks open borders on his show in the day time, then goes home to an exclusive street where only rich immigrants could afford to live.

    And this was Shelagh Fogarty just the other day talking about “the racist woman on Question Time”.

    Shelagh Fogarty lives in leafy suburban West London and admits to travelling first class on trains when she goes back to Liverpool at the weekends.
    For all their talk on the radio, these kinds of liberals in the media, do like to insulate themselves from some of the everyday harshness of our society.

    I only mention these two people, because they are very much in the thick of things when it comes to discussing such issues. They operate pretty much like gate keepers to any debates had in public. There is value in some of the things they say. However, I like to compare and contrast them to people who are their opposites.
    There’s two YouTubers who come to mind.
    One called “Ex-Army Paz” who is a former soldier and former prison officer, and has a typical world view of that kind of working class person. In his latest video, he lamented how Laurence Fox feels he has to get off twitter because of all the leftie hate he’s been getting. Of course Ex-Army Paz is a bit thick and “low information”.
    But I just see him as Shelagh Fogerty’s equal but opposite.
    Who is better, the LBC radio woman, or the Welsh ex-squaddie?
    I seriously think it’s worth weighing up what both of them have to say and how they say it.
    This might not be high-brow analysis, but I do believe you get a better overall picture when you compare extremes and evaluate them. Then you can work out some kind of middle ground compromise between them.

  6. damon

    “Ideas that once were confined to the fringes are now routinely and unashamedly aired by mainstream commentators. We are constantly told that unless we normalise ‘white racial self-identity’ and address the ‘cultural anxiety’ that immigration creates by more tightly controlling immigration, then the far right will prosper. In reality, the opposite is true: the more we give credence to ideas that once belonged only to the fringe, the more that fringe will become legitimate.”

    OK, but what did Eric Kauffman actually say that was wrong?
    Lots of people get it wrong on this wider subject. Many of them write for the Guardian.
    Kihinde Andrews was just in that paper celebrating a “united black culture” amongst young black British people.
    And praising the rapper Dave who won the award at the Brits.
    Dave dedicated his award to his brother who is currently serving a life sentence for his part in a fatal stabbing at Victoria Station in 2010.
    Why is Kihinde Andrews supporting this urban street culture?

    When I hear about Douglas Murray being heavily criticised for some of the things he says, even if I also don’t agree with him, surely he’s not worse than the Owen Jones type leftists who will always take the complete opposite view, regardless of how things actually are.
    If you google the words “Saint Denis Paris Ghetto” you will get a whole load of articles about the suburb of Saint Denis in the north of Paris. I’ve been there a couple of times and saw quite a few of the things the Daily Mail website highlights about the place. There’s also this Guardian article about the area which celebrates its diversity and delves into it a little bit with some locals who have been taking photographs there.

    “Branded a no-go zone: a trip inside the 93, France’s most notorious banlieue”

    But to get a fuller picture you have to read some other pieces too. Is this the kind of thing that Douglas Murray was talking about? I’ve seen the Roma squatter camp there on the bank of the canal across from the Stade de France. And all the chaos of street hawkers and mobile food vendors.
    One Daily Mail piece on Saint Denis was so bad that they actually took it down off their website.
    But does that mean that everything said in Daily Mail articles can be ignored?

    You can’t just read one Guardian article on such a thing and then presume that’s the end of it.
    No one is completely honest it seems or has the complete view.
    Also, when taking about race and racism, whatever you say, you don’t want to end up sounding like Ta-Nehisi Coates:

    If you’ve ever written anything that sounds a bit like that, you’re probably looking at things the wrong way.
    So criticise Douglas Murray by all means, but I’d rather people question him more closely than just ignore him.
    Because not everything fits into the Guardian opinion writers view of the world.

    I already mentioned the Lebanese origin gangsters in German cities.
    You can’t ignore these photos from the mob bosses funeral:

    I think that situation is worthy of a little bit of Douglas Murray type alarmism.
    You have to get your hands a bit dirty and go looking for content. There is a lot of it available and it all can’t be dismissed by “woke whitewashing”.
    Another about Paris:

    And one more from Germany:

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