Monday, 27 October 2008

National affront

How exactly are you supposed to react when a bunch of far-right, flag brandishing, anti-social types gather in a public place in your city? Do you confront their racist hate with equally militant anger? Do you stage a quiet but dignified protest in response? Should you simply ignore them, as you would a small child's tantrum, until they go away?

I take my hat off to my fellow Wellingtonians who showed their commitment to the anti-racism movement by protesting Saturday morning's National Front rally. It's so reassuring to see that people give a shit. I must be getting old: ten years ago I would have been right there with them, not sifting around in my PJs in the burbs. But leaving aside the fact that my advancing years are making me go a bit crusty, I've got some worries about combating the National Front with angry protest, no matter how justified the anger.

Of course, I've got no problem at all with protests per se. One important achievement of today's demonstration was showing solidarity with those Kiwis of non-European descent that the National Front sets out to intimidate. But it looks to me as though the National Front and others of their ilk thrive on conflict. It seems to reinforce their sense of being persecuted outsiders, marginalised, pushed out of 'kiwi jobs' by 'those people', their cultural heritage disrespected. My guess is that their self-importance gets a testosterone-fueled boost when the Police are called on to keep the peace at their rallies. It's easy to see how this sort of thinking can lead to the crazy, violent fantasies that the far right seem to indulge. They may be ludicrous, but they're not harmless, as the sadistic murder of tourist Jae Hyeon Kim by skinheads showed only too clearly.

It's hard to know how counter people as solidly committed to being nutty as the National Front. To me, the existence of these extreme racist views underscores the importance of standing against day-to-day racism - New Zealand First's immigration policies, Lockwood Smith's recent comments about foreign workers, the racial disparaties of wealth and wellbeing seemingly entrenched in our society, the guy behind the wine shop counter who made a dumb joke with me about his dislike of Maori culture. Maybe, if there was less tolerance for racism in everyday life, life on the lunatic fringe would be less tenable?


Brett Dale said...

There is always going to be extreme racists on this earth, you cant change their minds, let them march and be thankful that in a country of four million people, they only could find about 20 people who had their views.

Julie said...

I did find it bizarre that the National Front did their flag day thingy to build themselves as a legitimate political party. (words to that effect anyway). I mean really they have failed to get 500 people to register them for how many elections now?

I take your point Anna about whether such protests are counter-productive. I tend to think not, although I'm not sure that the violence is a good idea (and having had a few difficult moments with police on protests I'd be interested in the views of those arrested about how the violence started). Anyway, I was really struck by the police having to escort the NF people to their train. There was something so right about that camera shot. Oh, and the brown-skinned police officer who got into the NF train carriage.

Julie said...

Luddite Journo attended the counter-protest and gives her thoughts.

Hugh said...

Fascism plays a similar role in modern democracy to Satan in the medieval church - a largely abstract evil that nobody will ever confront in any meaningful way but which people can gain legitimacy from fulminating against.

I have little time for the sort of anti-fascism that defines itself as opposition to explicitly Hitlerite-nostalgic groups like the National Front. These groups are entirely marginal, have no influence on policy on any level and are of worthwhile interest only to social anthropologists studying marginal subcultures.

If there is an actual danger of fascism in our society it comes from patriots, politicians, corporations, bureaucrats, the police and armed forces, and their approach to issues such as nationalism, crime and poverty. Unfortunately, when one campaigns against the National Front, one is making oneself a temporary ally of these groups - in other words, legitimising the more subtle but more potent forces of potential fascism in order to fight against its obvious but utterly impotent incarnation. In other words, siding with the greater evil rather than the lesser evil.

Anna said...

Very well put, Hugh. And Brett, I think you're right - it's important to keep in perspective just how small and absurd the NF actually are.