Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The case of the Nazi drinking game

Why do the rich and right-wing in Britain so love their Nazi uniforms?  Whether it is Tory students, royals, politicians, or upper class jocks, the naughty pleasures of pretending to be a fascist bomber or concentration camp guard are irresistible for some.  Lately, some LSE students, most likely fitting into the category of the aforementioned upper class jocks, were discovered engaging in a drinking game called the 'Nazi Ring of Fire'.  You can imagine the sorts of rituals involved - saluting the fuhrer, that sort of thing.  A Jewish student who objected to this display was assaulted.  Now, I'm sure the students involved don't quite get the furore that has resulted.  Most likely, they think the affair was maybe a bit off-side, but otherwise bloody good sport.  Too bad for them.  Let them suck it up.

I'm rather more concerned about the way the political reaction has panned out.  First of all, it's worth saying that there's a fairly sensible article by Jay Stoll, president of the LSESU's Jewish Society in the LSE newspaper, The Beaver.  (I don't know why they called it that.)  Stoll rejects the scapegoating of Muslims for antisemitism, and suggests that the usual culprit is actually the upper middle class boarding school type.  That's probably true in the UK.  Even here, though, there's already something odd going on.  The newspaper calls the affair an 'antisemitic' drinking game.  Now, I hope you understand what I mean when I say this is bordering on euphemistic.  I just mean that there's a lot more involved in Nazism than antisemitism, and the decision to inhabit a Nazi persona for kicks signifies something more than judeophobia.  

What more?  Well, what more is involved in 'national socialist' politics?  Nationalism, anticommunism, anti-liberalism, patriarchy, homophobia, strains of virulent biological racism other than antisemitism, social Darwinism, extreme political authoritarianism, class chauvinism, contempt for the poor and weak, etc.  It is absolutely correct to identify and attack the vicious antisemitism involved in such Nazi performance, particularly as it was a Jewish student who was assaulted.  But antisemitism won't stand in for every evil of Nazism.  I think what's really going on with such people is not just antisemitism, but more fundamentally a certain admiration for supermen, hatred for the weak and vulnerable, enjoyment in the imperial bunting, the festivities and aesthetics of domination and hierarchy.  It's not fascism, but the licensed pleasure of a class on the offensive, people who are intent on clinging on to everything they have and taking more, exhaling with gratification and relief as the opposition is violently policed, or bombed.

In this connection, a less sensible response to the affair came from Tanya Gold of The Guardian, who usually makes her wedge writing lighter fare.  (I click on the links, sometimes).  She proves the old adage that if antisemitism prompts you to defend Israel, you have already forfeited your probity on both subjects.  Actually, that isn't an old adage, I just made it up: but it is nonetheless true.  I suppose one could make the 'paradoxical' point that Israel is organised antisemitism, which is also true.  Or, in a more elaborate version of the same basic idea: Israel is an apartheid state that can only exist through the expropriation and murder of Palestinians, and to identify its interests with those of Jewish people as such is to defile the latter, to defame them, to blood libel them.  This, while correct, is utterly inadequate, because the perspective of Israel's victims is lost in this.  What I really mean is that defending the state of Israel by reference to instances of antisemitism in modern day Europe is, wittingly or otherwise, another way of identifying with a would-be master race - with no sense of irony.  Worse still when they rank instances of legitimate protest by pro-Palestinian groups as examples of mounting antisemitism, or worry about a "demand that Jews denounce Israel if they wish to be accepted in polite society", as if it wasn't the victims of Israeli oppression and their allies who are debarred from 'polite society'.  Of course, Zionism is not fascism, but nor is it the eternal other of fascism.  You can't have it both ways.  Either racist, nationalist, imperialist ideology is objectionable, in which case its organisation in a state is calamitous, or you must count the thuggish Nazi impersonators as bedfellows.  This is a choice that Israel's founders and planners have always faced, and they have always opted for the latter without embarrassment.