This is the starting point: far right sentiments, ideology and rhetoric cannot be tolerated to take over the public spheres – the streets of our Capital in particular! – and must be opposed at all times. However, a counter demonstration cannot be the be-all and end-all in the consolidation of allyship and the confronting/dismantling of the far-right ideology. Because these matters are so incredibly complex, especially in a society that is frustrated by a pandemic, we need to disentangle the issues, rally support within broad constituencies, and insist on unequivocal leadership.
Name the problem. Far right groups have managed to thrive on societal frustrations. Corona has become an incredibly powerful vehicle. They use complicated tactics in order to move almost unperceived through our public spaces and the way they are steadily growing a following on platforms such as Telegram with a rhetoric that centers around the preserving of ‘our’ freedom – needs our full attention. However, Dutch media keep largely failing to mention the far right in relation to the anti-corona demonstrations; (local) government fails to do exactly the same. The thing is, the problem does not disappear by not naming it. Its linguistic non-existence only makes it harder to tackle. And easier for others to align with. Responses such as ‘it’s not that bad’, or ‘they might be fascists, but they are fighting for our freedom’, or alternatively the complete denial ‘what do you mean by fascists?’, show that there is still a lot of work to do.
Build broader constituencies. Once a significant slice of society can name the far right, collectively understand how they function and agree on the necessity to oppose this – no matter one’s take on the corona regulations – it becomes easier to push back. Hence, we all need to think of how best to mobilize our communities. In doing so we need to understand that solidarity and allyship between communities is crucial and at the same time analyze our own communities closely. What are the specific needs, worries and discourses that stand in the way of speaking out against the far-right? What conversations do we need to have in order to get on the same page? And how to avoid that opposition to the far right becomes a fringe issue in its own right?
Insist on leadership. It is about time that the Mayor of Amsterdam and the city council take responsibility in naming the far-right presence in the anti-corona demonstrations and proceed to act against their presence. If anything, it will also increase the credibility of these demonstrations. So far, the trojka that is mandated to take decisions regarding demonstrations and public safety in general – Mayor, Head of Police and Public Prosecutor – has systematically avoided naming the far-right elements involved in these demonstrations. As we have seen, they have used toned down, cloaked and de-politicized words like ‘persons and groups who are intent on rioting and who are prepared to use violence’. But Amsterdam of all places, having accepted historical responsibility for its role in both the Holocaust and slave trade, cannot provide the podium for the far right to embolden. Faulkner’s claim could not be more appropriate: The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
The work that lies ahead is clear. Name, mobilize, insist on leadership. It is really up to us.
** On January 2nd the extreme right marched the streets of Amsterdam under the guise of anti-corona sentiments, in a demonstration that was officially banned by the municipality. A group of Jews decided to lead a counter-demonstration at the Jewish resistance memorial. This blog is the third part of a trilogy bringing forward why this was so important, how it came about and how to take it from here **