Proudly in the middle
Slovakia’s elections on the weekend ushered into parliament for the first time a far-right neo-Nazi party of the sort that have made inroads in various parts of Europe over recent years. About the same time this was making news, Donald Trump urged supporters at a rally in Florida to raise their right hands in a pledge to vote. The ensuing scene was – as any sensible person would have foreseen – eerily redolent of a Nazi rally.
Since the collapse of the bipolar Cold War-era status quo, global politics has been unstable. Common enemies make for strange bedfellows and temporary alliances have been the pragmatic responses to regional brushfires, such as the alignment of Shia and Sunni Muslim factions with, respectively, Russian and Western powers. Some Sunni Muslim powers have even been making pleasant noises toward Israel, seeing it as an ally, however unlikely, against the Iranian menace.
These tactical alliances are taking place at a molecular level, too, if we can put it that way. Not only are strange alliances forming between nation-states (and, in some cases, non-state players like Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army), but ideologies are merging at the edges. The far-right and the far-left, in some instances, are almost indistinguishable.
In their historical forms, communism and fascism in the form of Stalinism and Hitlerism, were the most adamant of enemies. Until they weren’t, thanks to a non-aggression pact, and then they were again, thanks to Hitler’s abrogation of the pact. For the great majority of people in the West who are democrats (whether liberal, conservative, libertarian, social democratic or whatever) the two ends of the political spectrum can look very similar. Both have been responsible for genocides causing millions of deaths and neither respects the human being’s right to individual freedoms.
From a Canadian perspective, we have been blessedly free of anything more than weak startup movements of the far-left and the far-right. The communist party, under different names, had minimal electoral success in the 1930s and 1940s. When the antisemitic far-right permeated the Social Credit movement and later the Reform party, they were fairly successfully shut down. Canada is a place of moderation, a trait we bear smugly (and, therefore, without our alleged national humility) while watching the machinations of American politics today.
Today’s far-left and far-right, which are more recognizable in their traditional forms in Europe, nevertheless have traded off some characteristics. In some instances, European far-right parties, who are almost unanimously anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, have adopted a convenient philosemitism and pro-Zionism, seeing Israel as a bulwark against radical Islam. At the same time, we are witnessing a growth of not only anti-Zionism but overt antisemitism among components of the left. Notably, the Labor Club at Oxford University, the campus arm of Britain’s second-largest political party, has been recently criticized. According to reports, Oxford Laborites mocked Jewish victims of the Paris terror attacks, made light of Auschwitz, expressed solidarity with Hamas and defended the killing of Israeli civilians, routinely employ the term “Zio,” a slang for Zionist that is usually found only on the most extreme websites, and a former co-chair of the club has said that “most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf.” It is little solace that the antisemitism seems to have emanated from the Momentum movement, a hard-left stream within the Labor party headed by Jeremy Corbyn, the party leader.
The Oxford debacle is among the most public of countless incidents of Jew-baiting and Jew-hating on the left, but there is much cross-pollination between groups like those who hold Israel Apartheid Weeks and other groups that proudly march under the “progressive” standard.
Antisemitism, it is so often said, is an early symptom of a societal sickness, the first sign of crazy. This is a bit simplistic, though, because antisemitism is so unique, so capable of metastasizing into whatever form of scapegoat a society requires, so ubiquitous and yet still so fundamentally not understood, that blanket statements about it are a fool’s game.
Perhaps it is safe to say this: antisemitism exists in many places, but it is now and has perhaps always been most prevalent at the fringes of the political spectrum. No one should be surprised that it is a dominant characteristic of the far-right as well as the far-left, particularly when those terms themselves seem to have more overlap, or at least more fluidity, than perhaps ever before.
Extremists exist in Canada, as they do elsewhere in the world, and so, too, do inequality and other social issues that have the ability to polarize us, if we let them. But, extremism does not seem to be intrinsic to our land. This good fortune is something we must not take for granted. While people may joke – an example, Why did the Canadian cross the road? To get in the middle! – we have a lot of which to be proud, and something valuable worth protecting. We also, perhaps, have something to teach the world about tolerance and moderation.