Putin, Modi and Trump: Ukraine and Racist Right-Wing Populism

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

The invasion of Ukraine is appalling. The resistance is heroic. The situation is moving fast, and each step is politically revealing. There remains a great deal of confusion about Putin and Ukraine in the United States and Britain. This long read aims to unpack some of that confusion and to explain Putin’s rise, how he fits into the global racist right, and his reasons for invading Ukraine.

Americans are often puzzled by Donald Trump’s admiration for Putin. The reason is that Putin is one of the two leading figures in new global movement of right-wing populists. Modi, the Prime Minister of India is the other. Trump too is part of that movement.

We start with an explanation of the politics of that movement, by looking at the masculinity of these three populist leaders: Putin, Modi and Trump. We explore the ways that each leader has mixed racism, sexual aggression, violent bullying and Islamophobia with working class pain and anger to support a right-wing project and a murderous fossil fuel future.

And though we do not take our discussion further here, these three are not alone. Their populism characterizes the governments of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte of the Philippines and Netanyahu in Israel, among others – all men with ugly biographies of their own.

Along the way we aim to answer questions that may be of interest to you. For example, why do some American commentators say they supported Putin’s invasion because he has done so much to stop the onward march of LGBT agenda? Why does a CBS reporter make a deal about the whiteness of people in Ukraine? Why did so much of the Republican party support the invasion, as have others on the notional ‘left’? What is it with Modi’s 52-inch chest?

An exploration of masculine styles may seem an unusual way to unpack the new racist right. But this is what we do on Anne Bonny Pirate. In Part One, we look particularly at gender and sexuality, and we ask how this lens can illuminate politics, class and empire.

In Part Two of this long read, we outline our understanding of Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine. We look at the threats he sees in the global wave of uprisings for democracy. We look at how the threat of climate activism and the changing energy market have made his hold on power increasingly shaky. And we describe the changes in superpower politics after the American defeat in Afghanistan which led Putin to believe he could invade Ukraine with impunity.

We should make clear at the start that we are against Putin’s invasion. We support the Russian protesters for peace. We believe the armed resistance of the Ukrainian army and civilians is the right and proper response to the invasion.

But we do not side with the governments of the United States or the NATO countries of Europe. They have invaded too many other countries and installed too many other dictatorships. They too are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Because there is a lot to unpack, we’ve also packaged this post as a pdf which you can download here.

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Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: A lot of nonsense about Afghanistan is being written in Britain and the United States. Most of this nonsense hides a number of important truths.

First, the Taliban have defeated the United States.

Second, the Taliban have won because they have more popular support.

Third, this is not because most Afghans love the Taliban. It is because the American occupation has been unbearably cruel and corrupt.

Fourth, the War on Terror has also been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.

Fifth, this is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.

Sixth, the rhetoric of saving Afghan women has been widely used to justify the occupation, and many feminists in Afghanistan have chosen the side of the occupation. The result is a tragedy for feminism.

This article explains these points. Because this a short piece, we assert more than we prove. But we have written a great deal about gender, politics and war in Afghanistan since we did fieldwork there as anthropologists almost fifty years ago. We give links to much of this work at the end of this article, so you can explore our arguments in more detail.[1]

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Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia 5: Bombs and Drones

American bomber being prepared for flight

American bomber being prepared for flight

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale writeMany people now argue that feminists should support the American and Iranian alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Or they argue that we should support the American and Pakistani armed forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Many other feminists, and many on the left, are confused and unsure. But they also talk as if it was a straight choice between IS and the US, or between the Taliban and the US. ‘Both sides are morally repugnant,’ these people say, ‘but if I have to choose…’

This way of thinking ignores the fact that you are not just choosing between two sides, you are choosing between two ways of waging war. How you kill people is important, and has emotional and political consequences. It matters that American bombing from the air is more cruel, more unequal, kills more women, and kills more children than fighting that on the ground with guns. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia (3) The new grand alliance in the Middle East

Women defendants at a mass trial of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, Egypt, November 2013

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale explain the changing international alliances in Middle Eastern politics, and how this is connected to rising Islamophobia in Europe.

In most of Europe and North America now there is only one acceptable form of racism: prejudice against Muslims. This is recent. Until 1978 in most of Europe and North America Muslims were often discriminated against because they were Asian, or Arabs, or people of colour. But in the US, Britain and many other countries they were not singled out for their religion. Continue reading

Iranian Street Aesthetics

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Netanyahu speaking to the US Congress: ‘Do a deal with Iran and nuclear war is inevitable’

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: One of the reasons Middle East politics is so confusing is that the alliances between the major players keep shifting. Changes in the balance of power are often extremely complicated, and leave plenty of gaps in our understanding of what is going on. In these gaps Islamophobia thrives. This post is meant as an antidote to the Western racism that targets Iran.

The shenanigans we’ve been watching this past week in anticipation of the Israeli election on Tuesday, the 17th March are a measure of the scale of the changes that have been taking place over this past year. We shall write about the new political alignments at length in a later post. Here I want to mark what hasn’t changed nearly as much.

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New building, Isfahan

In 2005 I travelled in Iran for a month. I had recently left academic teaching to do art. Luckily, I had remnants of Persian left over from anthropological fieldwork in Iran in the 1960s, and fieldwork in Afghanistan in the 1970s. In 2005 Western propaganda against Iran was relentless and visually dominated by ugly images of dust, terrorists and women smothered in black veils. In Iran, however, people were kind, endlessly helpful, and above all, they lived their lives in colour! Continue reading

Gang abuse in Oxford

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last year seven men from Oxford were convicted in court on multiple counts of rape and abuse of young women and girls. They were part of a criminal gang that prostituted the girls for money. They concentrated on needy and vulnerable girls. The rapes usually began when the girls were between eleven and fifteen. The recent official report estimates, conservatively, that a total of 370 girls in Oxfordshire have been abused by gangs since 2005.

All seven of the men convicted were Asian. Six of the survivors testified. The fascist English Defence League has called a national demonstration in Oxford on April 4. They say that the council and the police did nothing because they were protecting Asians.

Unite Against Fascism and the local trades council have called for a mobilisation against the EDL on the same day, to prevent them from using the suffering of Oxfordshire children for their own ends. They are right to do so.

However, we need more than that. The local Labour MP, Andrew Smith, has called for an official inquiry to investigate how abuse on this scale was allowed to happen. He too is right.

But we also have to face the question of who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue. In this blog we confront the racist arguments about abuse head on. In doing so, we have to say who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue: the senior managers in the schools, the social services and the police.

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Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia (2): ‘Traditional’ and ‘Modern’ in Turkey

By Nancy Lindisfarne

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Kemal Atatűrk -Founding Father of the Turkish Republic

There is a lot to be learned when a society is changing rapidly and radically. This blog is an excerpt from Thank God, We’re Secular: Gender, Islam and Turkish Republicanism, published in Turkish in 2001.  This is a piece about Turkish Islamophobia, and about the class divide between Turkish elites and the working class. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia (1)

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In a park in Isfahan, Iran, 2005.

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: Using labels which fasten on skin colour, ethnicity or religious identity to treat whole groups of people as Blacks, Chinese, Jews or Muslims, is racist. And there is plenty of it around. If we think of Islamophobia – which literally means a fear of Islam – as another form of racism, we get a better measure of what is going on.

Racisms, in whatever version they appear, always serve the people in power. Far too often one hears comments about Muslims which would be immediately recognised as racist if they were said about black or Jewish people. And often these days such comments go unchallenged.

And as the Charlie Hebdo outcry has made clear, many feminists, Marxists and liberals find any accommodation between feminism and Islam well-nigh impossible. This leaves a space easily filled by cultural racism.

In a series of posts we shall aim to disentangle some of the ideas which make Islamophobia seem acceptable to many people who otherwise loath and deplore global inequality and imperialist wars. Our aim is make it easier to speak out against this hatred of Muslims and Islam.

To do this, we use gender as our lens. It is a powerful device for seeing through racisms that can otherwise seem self-evidently correct. Sexist ideas and practices are often places where a dominant ideology does not quite cohere, where slippages, and contradictions, allow us to glimpse of what is actually going on.

We begin this series of posts on Feminism and Islamophobia with a brief note on cultural racism and ‘the veil’. Continue reading