Edward Said’s discourse of Orientalism is a productive lens through which to view the far right’s use of a racial ‘other’ in order to identify and consolidate the nation. For Said, the ‘Orient’ was a floating signifier, over-determined and malleable, that could be whatever the West needed it to be (Orientalism, 21). He also identified Orientalist discourse as drawing upon the tropes and vocabulary of the older European discourse of antisemitism. This similarity is made explicit in Hanebrink’s chapter on Judeo-Bolshevism, in which Jews are identified as the leaders of both international capitalist and Communist conspiracies (6), and the human manifestations of revolution (13). As the Jews killed Christ, therefore prefiguring the anti-Christ, so they defy borders, therefore becoming the anti-nation (8). Like Said’s ‘Orientals’, Jews in the twentieth century were a conveniently floating signifier. Bolshevism was a new threat. Jews were an old threat. Therefore, Bolshevism was Jewish (27). Motadel’s article makes clear the centrality of convenience in the application of racial policy, and the conceptual malleability of ‘the Jew’ was convenient because of its use in nation building. Hanebrink states that “Jews and Judaism gave coherence to a variety of cultural visions by suggesting what their inversion might look like” (28). What is the West? Not the Orient. What is any given ethnic national? Not a (cosmopolitan, Bolshevik) Jew. Jews also allowed a nation’s problems to be blamed on non-national actors. For example, Ben-Ghiat describes how Italy was able to use the Jew to replace the southern Italian as a scapegoat for Italian underachievement, a definite improvement from the perspective of nation building (154). A constructed racial ‘other’, it would seem, can be a nation’s best friend.
2 Replies to “There’s No ‘Us’ Without ‘Them’ by Aimee Brown”
I like what you’ve put out here! I like how you mentioned here that the Jews killed Christ, which resulted in them becoming the anti-nation. I’ve studied the Bible in a humanities class before, and have gone further to read parts of the New Testament which mention this in Romans 11. But it also says that Israel will be saved… so it will be interesting to see how history changes itself with the persecution of these people.
Hey Aimee! I really loved your comment about the convenience of relying on antisemitism in constructing European national identities. I think a vital part of this “convenience” is the deeply embedded nature of these ideas in European discourses. When making antisemitic references, these fascists aren’t re-inventing the wheel or creating new racist ideologies – they are relying on long-standing stereotypes that already have legitimacy within Europe. The legwork of getting approval for these racist ideologies is already done – fascists are just redirecting these thoughts to support their own nationalist project.