So David Cameron has been given Marine Le Pen’s blessing. As the new head of the racist French party, the Front national, she says,
It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life [in France] for 30 years… I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.
Marine Le Pen is right to point out that what used to be beyond the pale, is now acceptable speech. White Europeans everywhere are now ‘daring’ to say what they always thought about black people, migrants, and Muslims having been given the go ahead by their politicians. As Seumas Milne points out in the The Guardian, Cameron’s anti-Muslim racism is nothing new: “much of the ground for Cameron’s neocon turn was laid by Tony Blair and New Labour – and politicians such as Phil Woolas, who unsuccessfully tried to play the Islamophobic card to save his skin.”
In fact, this brave new world where, finally, Europeans can ‘call a spade a spade’ unites the right and the liberal (and many on the progressive) left. It comes at a very particular moment in the history of racism. Racism, ever chameleon-like, has always adapted itself to the political context in which it has been present. The status quo idea of our neoliberal age, with its stress on individualisation and personal responsibility, is that we are post-race. Past racisms have been accounted and even apologised for. If anyone continues to cry racism, it is because they have been unwilling to pull their socks up and avail of the opportunities that an overly tolerant, even guilt-ridden, society has thrown at them at every turn. Indeed, the real racism is that of illiberal minorities who refuse to assimilate – sorry ‘integrate’ – into our western way of life, and, so the story goes, benefit from the same freedoms as the rest of us. By making this ‘choice’, minorities – Muslims especially – dig their own graves. It is up to us to take the brave step and put an end to it.
So far, so familiar perhaps. However, what might put Cameron over the edge and unite him very much with the overt racism of a party like the Front national, is his explicit reference to white racism and his contrast of it to the practices (he didn’t quite say ‘racism’) of non-whites. To have overtly drawn the colour line, is indeed to place Cameron firmly in the camp of those who wish to score political points with those for whom crass racism still has significant political purchase. At least we know where he stands, which is more than can be said for the two-facedness of his Labour predecessor’s, has-been like my old University-mate Liam Byrne, whose racist policies during his stint as immigration minister I have blogged about before.
For what it’s worth, Unite Against Fascism have started a campaign against Cameron’s attack on multiculturalism. It is at the very least a start against a long and perhaps, in the short term at least, futile battle.