Thursday, November 08, 2007

The penultimate solution

When the Nazis wanted to send 30,000 Gypsies to their deaths, most of them at Auschwitz and the remainder at the Operation Reinhard camps, they appealled to their 'race science' quackery, precisely as they did with others they sought to exterminate. The trouble was that according to their own categories, the Gypsies were part of the Indo-Germanic Aryan race, having migrated from northern India. Nazi racial scientists tried to find a way around this - the Gypsies, it was decided, retained 'elements' from their 'Nordic home', but had 'absorbed the blood' of surrounding peoples, thus becoming an 'Oriental, West-Asiatic racial mixture'. Evidently, this meticulous construction was still inadequate. The Nazis had therefore to rely on manipulating the common stereotype of Gypsies as "asocial elements", maximising the fears and resentments of property-owners and petit-bourgeois elements. This stereotype supplies the deadly charge to the racial category. I am reminded of this when the latest story about Gypsies in The Sun or some such rag, denouncing them as criminals and scroungers and aggressive beggars who trash up respectable neighbourhoods and reduce property prices. Quite often, the story has nothing to do with actual Gypsies, referring to travellers of various kinds, but it seems to be at its most pungent when the term 'gypsy' is prefaced by 'Roma'. Every now and again, the hysteria emerges again, and the old barbarous language is resuscitated.

What does it mean when a murder, for which a Roma Gypsy was arrested, inspires the Italian opposition politician Gianfranco Fini to gyrate thus?:

Mr Fini said Gypsies considered "theft to be virtually legitimate and not immoral" and felt the same way about "not working because it has to be the women who do so, often by prostituting themselves".

In an interview with the daily Corriere della Sera, he claimed Roma "had no scruples about kidnapping children or having children [of their own] for the purposes of begging". Mr Fini, the leader of the ultra-conservative National Alliance and until last year his country's deputy prime minister, added: "To talk of integration with people with a "culture" of that sort is pointless."

Fini has in the past been praised by the ADL for his tough stance against anti-semitism when he was Italian Foreign Minister, and not only because he is a strong supporter of Israel. Abe Foxman has cuddled him in public. Pains were taken by Western media outlets to assure us that Fini's National Alliance had shaken off its fascists roots. He has publicly said that the right must ditch racism, if only in order to win elections. He even accused those who opposed war on Iraq of "totalitarian pacifism". Yet, it seems that as soon as the sewers open up, his rodentine nostrils quiver with excitement until he can no longer contain himself. Or is it simply that the instrumentalisation of Holocaust memory for geopolitical purposes has insidiously permitted the persistence of deadly ideologies. The shame and disgust one would feel, and should feel, at the utterance of antisemitic invective is somehow absent for many people when it comes to anti-Gypsy diatribes. On the contrary, I've seen apparently reasonable people reduced to frothing lunatics the second they're mentioned. And you know what they froth about? The gypsies allegedly being "asocial", threatening property prices, engaging in criminality, ruining the place etc etc.