Wednesday, October 17, 2007
However, there is a long tradition of propagandistic use of Hitler/Nazi comparisons and outright equations in circumstances that are certainly ridiculous and offensive, but nevertheless this is generally tolerated even where it is an attempt to legitimise mass murder. Everyone knows that Saddam Hussein was a new Hitler, and didn't cease being so until hanged, but at least he bore a few of the qualifications necessary. The Iranian President is routinely compared to Hitler with considerable stridency. Slobodan Milosevic was a Hitler until he died in ICTY custody. Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, insisted that it was not unfair to compare Hezbollah to the Nazis while Israel was pounding Lebanon in 2006. We know that Nasser was commonly referred to as a fascist in the British press, and compared by Anthony Eden to Hitler. We also know that the Chinese were compared to Nazis during the American war on Vietnam, on the grounds that they were a similarly aggressive power. None of these comparisons, whatever their respective merits, was made in good faith or with much precision: they were all designed to evoke a threat that could justify colossal international violence. The Enemy of the Month is always Hitler. In fact, this is the whole purpose of 'totalitarianism' theory as usually espoused in its Cold War version: every enemy is in some sense like the Nazis. Ask Nick Cohen or Paul Berman. It is perfectly normal conduct. It is mainstream and moderate. It is the way one constructs the friend/enemy distinction.
Here's an interesting example: Yasser Arafat in particular, and the Palestinians in general. Yasser Arafat has been cast as Hitler in so many columns and articles and opinions that Lexis Nexis doesn't know what to do with them all. Menachem Begin compared Arafat to Hitler at precisely the moment that he was sending Israeli tanks into Lebanon to murder people. In 2002, the Czech Prime Minister got into a minor controversy for having made that comparison, and for having said that the Palestinians should be expelled from their land (in a cowardly fashion, he denied saying what reporters heard him say, but didn't deny the bit about expulsions). In the same year, the large pro-Israel rally that occurred in Trafalgar Square saw Binyamin Netanyahu compare Arafat to Hitler. Routinely, Hamas are described as (equated with) Nazis, as are the PLO, Hezbollah, and any other group or state that Israel doesn't find amenable to its purposes. So, the people that Israel oppresses and murders are Nazis, and if anyone reverses the comparison as some are tempted to do given the obvious echoes, then they are also Nazis. Meanwhile, the claim that every Enemy of the Month is Hitler incarnate is moderate and mainstream political discourse, while to reverse the charge and say, for example, that "the American government is fascist", is extremist. The United States government, the world heavyweight champion of white supremacy, as the historian Gerald Horne once dubbed it, can only be understood as an opponent of Nazis in official discourse. Only it's victims are Nazis. Anything else is vulgar, calumnious, in poor taste, typical far left Chomskyite boiler-plate rhetoric etc etc.
Wouldn't it be simpler to officially and formally re-define Nazism to mean any designated foe of the United States and Israel, and that way we can avoid the confusion that leads people to take the comparisons/equations seriously?