>From today's London Times Newspaper:

April 30 1999  OPINION 

James Heartfield explains why Britain needs neo-Nazis 

United by a common hatred

Could another race war be looming? Bombs are going off in Britain's
immigrant communities. Stephen Lawrence's killers still walk the
streets. In America teenagers celebrate the birthday of Hitler by
slaughtering their classmates. And when Oona King, MP for Tower Hamlets,
received hate mail from the extremist group, the White Wolves,
threatening a millennial bloodbath of all non-whites, it only added to
widespread suspicions that a Fascist movement might be growing again. 

With the threat of more nail bombs hanging over the country no one can
afford to be complacent. But the background to these events is not the
resurgence of the far Right. It is its collapse. In 1980 the British
National Party and the National Front regularly occupied Brick Lane,
lining up on either side of the market end on a Sunday. Their message
then was that Brick Lane belonged to them and that they were not going
to give it up to the Bengalis. Yet they did give it up, and you can be
sure nobody will be selling Fascist newspapers there this weekend. 

The police do not yet know who planted the nail bombs, but let us assume
that it was one of the many far-Right groups that have claimed they were
behind the attack. A descent into random bombings is a sign of these
extremists' frustration at their declining influence. One Combat 18
document candidly admits: "The race war is not about to happen, so we
must start it ourselves." 

But instead of marking a resurgence of the far Right, the bombings are
uniting the country in opposition to it. Ironically, Britain's fractious
political culture is dependent on the threat of extremism to bind it
together. The significance of the far Right in British politics is not
the support that it gets from the public. This is minimal. Rather the
role which the far Right plays is that of all-purpose bogeyman against
which decent people unite. Newspapers and politicians tend to exaggerate
the influence of neo-Nazi groups. Lurid tales of European networks of
Fascist groups poised to seize power glamorise what is in the end a tiny
group of cranks. 

The poet Cavafy wrote of a city that was galvanised into action "because
the barbarians are coming today". Statesmen and emperors are given a
powerful sense of purpose. But the day ends in confusion when the
barbarians fail to show. "And now, what's going to happen to us without
barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution." 

London's authorities have also been galvanised into action by the threat
of barbarians. The bombings have cast the police in a new light. They
have become defenders of the black communities of Brixton and Brick
Lane. Where once they would have been criticised for having too high a
profile in these areas, now the harshest censure they face is that the
police station in Brick Lane is not fully manned. 

Undercover police officers are suddenly finding something more plausible
to do than infiltrate animal rights groups. Since the IRA retired from
the field, the Special Branch has been looking around for an enemy
worthy of its attentions. When you want to tap phones and spy on people,
you need a just cause. The White Wolves fit the model of extremist
danger perfectly. 

Oona King has also risen to meet the challenge. At the time of the last
general election, she was parachuted into the Tower Hamlets constituency
and ousted the local Bengali favourite, Jalal Uddin. The demand for a
black MP to replace the retiring Peter Shore had become unavoidable. But
the new Labour team did not want to become hostage to Asian activists in
the constituency, so they chose Ms King as an acceptably loyal
candidate. Now she has become a target for the White Wolves, any
criticism of her status will be silenced. 

Jack Straw, on walkabout in Brick Lane, can also pose as the friend of
Britain's immigrant communities, leading the search for terrorists of
the far Right. But at the same time Mr Straw is steering a new Asylum
Bill through Parliament that aims to limit even further the rights of
foreigners to enter Britain. 

The Home Secretary wants to threaten the employers of asylum-seekers
with prosecution, and to get registrars to check the passports and
papers of couples before they marry. His Bill - which was backed by Ms
King - has a special proposal to prevent asylum-seekers from receiving
welfare benefits. Instead, in measures that stigmatise those seeking
asylum in this country, they will get special Home Office vouchers. By
targeting asylum-seekers the Government reinforces public resentment of
such foreigners. When an influx of Slovak Gypsies arrived in Kent last
year they were greeted with hostility. 

Yet you only have to say "Nazi bombers" to stir up deep sentiments of
national unity in Britain. The blitz spirit is an enduring part of our
island story. The neo-Nazis may thrive on myths of invading hordes from
Asia, but the official culture, too, has its myth of foreign invasion.
Except this time it is the far Right that is cast in the role of foreign
invaders, always called by a German name, "Nazis", as if racism was
something terribly un-British. Doubtless that is a flattering picture to
the powers-that-be, but it is not necessarily true. 

Today the far Right is merely a handful of embittered cranks, many of
whom are in prison. Their ability to launch a race war single-handed is
non-existent. But British political culture still needs them. They are
the enemy that binds the country together under the safe protection of
the Home Secretary and his police officers. They are the barbarians we
are waiting for. 


Jim heartfield

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