6.2.4.6 Reaffirmation of Cultural Identity

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6246.htm)

When people are seeking security, and seeking to reverse recent changes in society such as those referred to in the previous sub-section (6.2.4.5), they sometimes retreat to the perceived safety and familiarity of their own cultural groups: racial and/or religious.

Minority groups might merely try to shut themselves off from the rest of society, but a dominant cultural group might try to suppress other groups – perhaps seizing upon immigration as the cause of all its problems.  In what has been termed the ‘alt-right’ movement, which has deep roots in America,[1] racial supremacists including the Ku Klux Klan exploit people’s feelings of insecurity and demonise other racial groups; they helped to elect Donald Trump, who tacitly accepted their support.[2]  They are adept at using social media, using an abbreviated language to convey their ideas.[3]  Stigmatising alt-right supporters, as in Hillary Clinton’s depiction of them as a “basket of deplorables”,[4] merely strengthened their sense of group identity and opposition to everyone else: a familiar pattern in group behaviour (4.4.5.1).

As discussed later (6.7.4.2), political exploitation of cultural differences – otherwise known as ‘identity politics’ – is a dangerous path to tread.  Racial supremacism is even more dangerous if it is combined with fascism – where an authoritarian government violently suppresses minorities, as happened in Germany in the 1930s.[5]  There are some similarities between the modern alt-right movement and Nazism, which are explicit in the ‘Atomwaffen Division’ for example,[6] but there are also important differences.[7]

Religion is another aspect of cultural identity that can help people to feel grounded, but which can also be exploited to emphasise differences.  An unscrupulous leader can offer what must appear as the ultimate certainty to a religious believer: to follow a sacred text exactly to the letter.  ‘Islamic fundamentalists’, such as ISIS, conform to a form of Shariah law which was considered appropriate to nomadic Islamic societies in the 9th century.[8]  This can be seen as a resentful reaction to Western power – colonialism, followed by military intervention and commercial dominance – and the Sunni Muslims’ loss of status; an Al-Jazeera report was entitled “Iraq Sunnis rally against Shia-led government”, for example, following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.  Although religious fundamentalism appears to be an ideal solution – to be obeying God – all religious texts have to be interpreted and the leader can select whatever passages suit his or her purpose, as noted earlier (4.4.4.1).

Children of Muslim immigrants who live in Western countries may feel left behind, as they experience discrimination against them in applying for jobs and find themselves uneasily bridging two cultures.  This makes some of them vulnerable to being recruited into jihadi organisations; for example, the International Business Times reported on ISIS Recruiting Westerners.  Jihadism offers recruits a sense of direction, excitement, and belonging to a group in what it presents as a noble cause: serving God.[9]

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[1] Rick Perlstein acknowledged that he had underestimated the extent of the far right in America, in an article entitled I Thought I Understood the American Right.  Trump Proved Me Wrong.  which was published on 11 April 2017 and was available in April 2018 at https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/magazine/i-thought-i-understood-the-american-right-trump-proved-me-wrong.html.

The Ku Klux Klan continues to be active in encouraging white supremacists, as in an example reported by The Independent on 16 August 2017, in an article entitled KKK leader threatens to ‘burn’ black Latina journalist and calls her a ‘n*****’ during interview; the article was available in April 2018 at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kkk-leader-interview-latina-journalist-death-threat-black-woman-video-a7899306.html.

[2] Sasha Abramsky’s article in The New Statesman on 29 October 2016, entitled Make America hate again, described Donald Trump’s appeal to the ‘alt-right’; the article was available in April 2018 at http://www.newstatesman.com/world/2016/10/make-america-hate-again.

Whilst some of Trump’s rhetoric was undeniably racist in tone, referring to Mexicans as rapists and criminals for example, he didn’t explicitly accept the support of the ‘alt-right’ movement.  Nor did he condemn it.  When elected, he appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist: a leader of the ‘alt-right’ who has been reported as using Trump as “a blunt instrument for us”, as described in an article entitled The alt-right Leninist that was published in the New Statesman on 27 March 2017 and was available in April 2018 at http://www.newstatesman.com/world/2017/03/alt-right-leninist.

A similar article, entitled What Steve Bannon really wants, was also available in April 2018 at https://qz.com/898134/what-steve-bannon-really-wants/.

[3] The Washington Post published an article by Steven Petrow on 10 April 2017, entitled The coded language of the alt-right is helping to power its rise, which was available in April 2018 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-coded-language-of-the-alt-right-is-helping-to-power-its-rise/2017/04/07/5f269a82-1ba4-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html.  This useful article explains such terms as ‘snowflake’ (a weakling), ‘cuck’ (a traitor to the movement), and ‘SJW’ (Social Justice Warrior).

[4] This website published a critique of Hillary Clinton’s attitude, entitled Hillary isn’t reaching people, on 16 September 2016 at http://www.patternsofpower.org/hillary-not-reaching-people/.

[5] On 8 November 2016 the Washington Post published an article by Ishaan Tharoor, entitled On Election Day, the history of fascism matters, which neatly summarised the risk of fascism; the article was available in April 2018 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/08/on-election-day-the-history-of-fascism-matters/.

[6] HuffPost published an article on 31 January 2018, entitled 1 Neo-Nazi Group. 5 Murders In 8 Months, which was available then at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/atomwaffen-nazi-murder-bomb-plot_us_5a70825ae4b00d0de2240328; it noted that “The Atomwaffen Division has emerged as one of the most disturbing and volatile hate groups in America” and that it uses “Third Reich imagery”.

[7] Isaac Chotiner interviewed Robert Paxton, a leading authority on the history of fascism.  The interview transcript was published on 10 February 2016, entitled Is Donald Trump a Fascist?, and was available in April 2018 at http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2016/02/is_donald_trump_a_fascist_an_expert_on_fascism_weighs_in.html.  It concluded that Trump’s style was reminiscent to that of Mussolini, and his call to restore national pride was also similar, but his agenda was to promote individualism and not to take the fascist line of completely suppressing it.

[8] Reza Aslan, in his book No god but God, described the Sunna, which provide the source material for much of the Shariah, as “thousands upon thousands of stories, or hadith, that claim to recount Muhammad’s words and deeds as well as those of the earliest Companions” (p.163).  The Sunna were written in the ninth century (two centuries after the death of the prophet Muhammad), and Aslan characterised them in these terms:

“the Sunna is a far better reflection of the opinions of the ninth-century Ulama [religious scholars] than of the seventh-century Ummah [Muslim community]” (p.  164).

Irrespective of the accuracy of this historical account of the development of the Shariah, it is self-evident that rules designed for people living in the desert in the ninth century cannot be applied to people living in pluralist societies in the 21st century without a considerable and serious effort to interpret them – particularly to distinguish between religious principles and a description of a culture prevalent at that time.

Material on the philosophical foundations of Islamic fundamentalism, in an article of that name,  was available in April 2018 at http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H007.htm.

[9] On 22 October 2016, The Economist published a review of the book Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea by Shiraz Maher.  This review gave a succinct summary of what jihadists believe; it was available in April 2018 at http://www.economist.com/node/21708990.