Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Of Fascists and Islamofascists

In November 1923, Adolf Hitler tried to bring down the German state. In his famous 'Beer Hall Putsch', he and his followers marched through Munich in a re-run of Mussolini's 'March on Rome' of the previous year, which had brought the latter to power in Italy.

Hitler, however, failed. Faced down by the massed ranks of the Bavarian police, he and his men were mown down in a narrow Munich street. 16 of their number were killed and Hitler himself escaped with a dislocated shoulder. He was later arrested and charged with high treason.

He stood trial in February of the following year. Amidst a blaze of publicity, Hitler exploited the opportunity to promote his ideas from the dock. The authorities were lenient; sympathetic to Hitler's motives, if not his methods. Though found guilty, he was sentenced to 5 years 'fortress confinement' - a gentler form of imprisonment with no hard labour and comfortable cells. Moreover, of this 5 years, Hitler served less than 9 months, being pardoned and released in later December 1924.

This leniency towards the right was commonplace in Germany at this time. Anton Arco-Valley, for instance, had murdered the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner in Munich in broad daylight in 1919, yet was praised by the prosecutor at his trial, who stated that: "If the whole of German youth were imbued with such a glowing enthusiasm, we could face the future with confidence." Arco-Valley was initially condemned to death, before the judge reduced the sentence to 5 years, which again was served in 'fortress confinement'.

Another example was the Munich chief-of-police Ernst Pohner, who protected right-wing criminals and covered up right-wing crimes in the early 1920s. When asked if there were extremist death squads operating in and around the city, he famously relplied "Yes, but too few of them."

Germany's toleration of its extreme right in the 1920s may have been political grandstanding, but it would nonetheless have profound consequences. Within less than a decade of his trial, Hitler would be appointed Chancellor of Germany; The Third Reich, World War Two and the Holocaust followed.

Today - rather than fascists - we are assailed by a new enemy within - Islamofascists - who are just as bigoted, just as misguided, and just as contemptuous of our laws and traditions as Hitler and his cohorts were. Like the Nazis, theirs is a totalitarian ideology which will brook no compromise, views tolerance as weakness, and fetishises martyrdom.

But how do we respond to this challenge? Do we learn the lessons of history? Do we stand up for what we believe in? Face the threat robustly, confident in ourselves? Steadfast in defence of our traditions?

Sadly no. As the preposterously lenient sentence in the trial of Emdadur Choudhury demonstrates - this is a battle that the west seems to be hell-bent on losing. Having hamstrung ourselves with so much empty talk of 'rights', 'respect' and 'tolerance', we are clearly unable even to identify the threat posed to our civilisation, much less engage it.

After his failed putsch, Hitler vowed to use democratic means to destroy German democracy - to undermine it from within, using freedom of speech, pluralism and tolerance to weaken and finally destroy those same noble concepts. Our modern foes are utilising the same tactics, exploiting human rights, freedom of speech and tolerance, in an attempt to destroy our system and our way of life from within... The question is: How should we respond?

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