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Why we say: no platform for fascists

John Bell

August 1, 2017

The climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism that
we see being stoked in Europe and in the US since the election of Trump is on the rise here in Canada. Reports of verbal and physical attacks on Muslims—individuals as well as homes and places of worship—are on the rise. There has also been a spike in anti-Semitism.

The worst, the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque by Alexandre Bisonette, resulted in 6 murdered and 19 wounded while attending Friday prayers.

Canadian fascists

Emboldened by explicit and implicit racism in the media and mainstream political parties, the far right is openly organizing and taking to the streets. White supremacist groups in Toronto, Calgary, Hamilton, Ottawa, and elsewhere have seen racist rallies outside mosques. Muslim women have been assaulted and bullied in broad daylight in stores and on public transit.

The far right is organizing under many banners: the Proud Boys, PEGIDA, Soldiers of Odin, Rise Canada, La Meute, and others. In the mix are strange bedfellows like the Jewish Defence League and Canadian Hindu Advocacy (Ron Banerjee); they make strategic alliances with white supremacist organizations on the basis of shared extreme hatred of Muslims.

Then there are the mouthpieces of the fascist right. Best known is Ezra Levant’s Rebel website, which has been instrumental in far-right organizing. It has launched racist “celebrities” like Lauren Southern and introduced fascists like Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys and author of a vile video rant: “10 Things I hate About Jews”. And there are bottom feeders like Kevin J Johnson who try to use social media to spread hate and then holler about their rights and freedoms when they are blocked and shut down. 

No freedom for violence

When we argue that there should be no platform for such racists and fascists—that their meetings should be shut down, their attempts to rally and march must be counter-picketed and blocked—it is not just because what they say is offensive. It is not a question of whether we like or agree with what they have to say. Hate speech does not end as speech. It is a call to violence, a tool to organize attacks on vulnerable communities.

When fascists get a platform, violence against Muslims goes up. Attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries increase.

Fascism aims to destroy democracy and concentrate power in the hands of a “racially superior” minority. It requires the destruction of freedom of speech. It requires destroying mass organizations of working people, unions and free press. It uses the blinkered limitations of liberalism to destroy it. Today’s fascists try to re-brand themselves as something less threatening than their past incarnations. They are “alt-right” and pretend to be champions of free speech. They pretend they aren’t racists, just champions of white people and European culture and “values”. They try to keep their real ideas and aims in the dark.

Free speech

We must be clear about freedom of speech: it is not an abstraction, an absolute. When racist thugs disrupt a school board meeting shouting hatred for all Muslims and ripping up the Qur’an, that is not “free speech”. When fascists picket outside a mosque it is not just “free speech”, it is intimidation and an attempt to incite violence. We have a right and a duty to prevent it, through superior numbers and organization.

Fascism cannot be defeated by logical argument. By every logical argument there was no question that Omar Khadr deserved an apology and compensation. By every logical argument Donald Trump should not occupy the White House. Fascism grows by an appeal to the irrational, fear and hatred. It has to be smashed.

Some worry that denying a platform to the racist and fascist right would somehow justify similar treatment of the far left. This ignores what is being argued from those platforms: they argue for division, scapegoating, hatred and squadist violence; we argue for greater solidarity, more democracy and mass action.

The fascist movement has a lot going for it today. Tory politician cynically use racism to build their base—as with the Omar Khadr backlash. Tories are not necessarily fascists, but they create an atmosphere that emboldens the far right and helps them recruit. We cannot under-estimate the threat it poses in our communities, schools and workplaces. Socialists must make it a top priority to expose it and organize to stomp it out wherever we find it. That means: no platform for fascists.

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