Saturday, May 17, 2008

Berlusconi, Civil Liberties and the Hypocrisy of the Right

One of the most 'interesting' developments in recent years had been the attempts by the right to wash their hands of their involvement with fascism during the 1930s. So embarrassed are they by their craven worship of the 'virtues' of fascism during this period, they have even branded Hitler's nationalist ideology as somehow socialist (the argument normally so simplistic as to point to the fact that they were the National Socialists - of course this ignores Hitler's purge of the 'left' in his party and his links with big business amongst others). This argument has now moved on to what they call 'Islamofascism'. A doctrine that suggests that an Islamic based dictatorship is on the horizon. In their urge to make up for the mistakes of the past, they are eager to claim that any group perceived as a threat is part of some wider 'fascist' movement.

So detached from reality these people have become, and so determined to present themselves as the defenders of a culture under attack, they even attempt to present themselves as defenders of civil liberties in the face of a new aggression. This is an extension of their belief that all dictators are 'left-wing' whereas all right-wing societies support liberal values and are, in essence, the opposite of the 'left-wing' dictatorships in every way. The argument maintains that intrusive governments are the preserve of the left, whilst the right is concerned with free societies that preserve the rights of the individual. Thus it becomes the case that civil liberties and libertarianism becomes the sole preserve of the right. This is, of course, entirely false.

Such a misguided belief is false on many grounds. Encounter any political commentator who claims the above as wholly accurate and their argument soon flounders when you introduce the concept of libertarian socialism. Of course, another term for libertarian socialism would be anarchism. Although there are many strands of anarchism, essentially most of it's adherents believe in the destruction of the state, private ownership and the means of production to be in the hands of the worker. This would then free the populace from their slavery to the capitalist economy and ensure true freedom and liberty. Clearly, all these elements can be closely identified with the left, after all, they underpin much of left-wing ideology (certainly the non-totalitarian elements of the left). Despite the obvious contradiction with right-wing ideology, there are still those on the right that insist this is compatible with right-wing thinking (even taking into account the abolition of private ownership - the very foundation of right-wing ideology). Take, for example, the following commentator over at the right-wing conspiracy site Biased BBC:

Nearly Oxfordian:

"Anarchism is not a right-wing ideology by any stretch" -
err, actually it is. Since it believes in (extreme) personal freedom, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called anything but. It is diametrically opposed to lef-wingism, which requires the state to intervene in order to right (real or imagined) inequalities.

Nearly Oxfordian 13.05.08 - 7:24 pm

Such comments come from (allegedly) educated individuals I hasten to add. The fact that the two ideologies are diametrically opposed hardly seems relevant.

In terms of the civil liberties argument, perhaps there are more obvious examples of the right's negation of basic civil liberties. Take, for example, Guantanamo Bay. Here is a prime example of the destruction of one of the most basic civil liberties. Not only is it a massive affront to civil liberties, it is also indicative of a large overbearing state that views the populace with suspicion. Despite this rather obvious fact, there are many of those on the right who continue to defend the practice, even when it contradicts their loudly stated 'beliefs'. How can anyone opposed to a large state and a supporter of civil liberties claim that Guantanamo is anything but a monstrosity? So bizarre is their argument in this case, that it seeks to defend the altruistic nature of the one arm of the state that is most likely to undermine civil liberties. Take, for example, the argument of one right-winger who claims to oppose the power of the state, yet supports civil liberties:

Do I belive that governments have the right to conduct surveillance on certain members of the populace that they have cause to belive are a threat to society and act in such a way that prevents those individuals from carrying out an act that endangers said society? Youbetcha. Indeed, protecting society and enforcing rule of law and security is one of the few roles that right wing thinkers approve of handing over to the state (with appropritate checks abnd balances). I draw the line at such left wing institutions as Stasi and gulags though.

As I said above, it is rather odd that, despite 'opposing' a large state apparatus and distrusting the state as a whole, the one area that they feel they can trust it (indeed, they approve of 'handing over to the state') is the one arm of the state that can do the most amount of damage to the civil liberties of society as a whole. Why is this such an exception? Is it only an exception when both the commentator and the state share a common enemy? If this were a right-wing commentator in a left-wing society, would the same still apply? I very much doubt it. The right have made a habit over the years of seeing things through a typical double standard. Which brings me to the picture at the top of the post ("At last!" I hear you cry!)

As I have mentioned above, much talk has been made of the 'link' between fascism and the left over the years. Despite the evidence of the Spanish Civil War, the left has been painted as appeasers and supporters of the rise of fascism in 1930's Europe. Given that this has been the case, recent events in Italy have provided a stark reminder of where fascism truly draws it's support. Berlusconi has been the darling of the right in Europe for many years, a man beyond reproach. However, his fascistic tendencies have been rising to the surface of late and, like the growth of fascism in the 1930s, the right has been noticeable by it's silence. Although it would be fair to say that Italy isn't a fascist state at this moment in time, it is displaying signs of a sudden lurch to the disturbing politics of the past. Take, for example, Berlusconi's words soon after retuning to power:

"We are the new Falange."

The Falange being the fascist party in Spain during the Civil War era. Then there was the election of the new mayor in Rome (a supporter of Berlusconi) who was greeted with cries of "Duce". Following these disturbing developments, a new echo from 1930's Europe has emerged.

According to reports during the week, the new government and it's supporters have turned their attention to immigration and the gypsy population. As part of efforts to 'get tough' on illegal immigration, the Italian government has rounded up 400 'illegal' immigrants in preparation for their removal. In tandem with this policy, there has also been a crack down on gypsy camps, particularly around Naples. However, this policy has been 'pre-empted' by the local population who have taken the law into their own hands. The following is taken from The Times:

But in Naples local people have anticipated the new policy, taking the law into their own hands.

This week’s assaults on Roma shanty towns by scores of youths on scooters and motorbikes wielding iron bars and throwing Molotov cocktails were sparked off by the capture of a 17-year-old Roma girl who last weekend entered a flat in Ponticelli and tried to steal a 6-year-old girl. Chased by the mother and neighbours, she had to be rescued by police from being lynched.

The city erupted in fury, with local women leading the marches on the Roma camps to the chant of “Fuori, fuori [Out, out]”. Night after night young men — allegedly acting on the orders of powerful local clans of the Camorra, the Naples Mafia — have set the sites ablaze, blocking attempts by the fire brigade to put out the fires, with exploding gas canisters completing the destruction. The women jeered at the firemen, shouting, "You put these fires out, we start them again”.

Plumes of smoke were still rising yesterday from the smouldering, blackened ruins of a Roma gypsy camp attacked and burnt to the ground by local vigilantes in Ponticelli, a rundown industrial suburb in the east of Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

The charred remains of the makeshift wooden shacks at the site on Via Malibran crunch underfoot. The only sign of life is dogs scavenging through the neighbouring mountain of uncollected, rotting rubbish.

There are similar scenes of devastation at camps nearby, including one in the incongruously named Via Virginia Woolf. At one squalid “nomad camp” beneath a motorway flyover, intact but deserted, a policeman guarding the site said that the inhabitants had fled during the night to avoid being attacked.

The signs of hasty panic were everywhere, with doors to the shacks left open and the ground strewn with clothing, shoes, bicycles, plastic bottles, pots and pans and children’s toys.

Hundreds of Roma families have fled for their lives with their belongings piled on to small pick-up trucks or handcarts. Some have been taken under police protection to a former school used to house illegal immigrants in a northern Naples suburb. Others have found refuge at Roma camps elsewhere in the Campania region, while a few have been taken in by Naples residents shocked at this outbreak of “xenophobia”.

Sound familiar? An ethnic group being blamed for society's ills? A community forced to flee for fear of their own lives? Property destroyed? Has an eerie ring to it does it not? According to some sources, over 500,000 gypsies were exterminated in Nazi Germany. Only the Jewish community suffered greater losses. So here we have a political leader echoing the sentiments of the fascist leaders of the past, an ethnic group persecuted for bringing 'urban degradation' upon the community, an ethnic community fleeing their dwellings for fear of being murdered and where are the voices of the right? Where are the voices of those who claim to support civil liberties? Where are the voices of those that claim fascism is a left-wing ideology? Why are they prepared to repeat the mistakes of the past? Surely if they believe what they espouse they would condemn Berlusconi at all costs. That they do not suggests that their concern for civil liberties is only skin deep. Scratch the surface, and they bleed the blood of fascists.