Sunday, August 12, 2012

White Power, Pagan Weakness: Why Pagans Should Be Concerned

Another week in America, another mass killing by a gun-toting killer. The slaying of six Sikhs worshippers at Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday, August 5th differs from some earlier tragedies of this sort in that the killer is not believed to have been mentally ill or insane. However misguided and morally repugnant his actions, the slayer of the Wisconsin Sikhs, Wade Michael Page, appears to have been entirely rational and purposeful in undertaking his cruel and vicious course of action. Therefore, this sickening event cannot be brushed off as the result of yet another madman having access to dangerous weapons and going on a psychotic rampage. The problem here is not a "sick brain," not mental illness, but a "sick ideology" that guided this man to his horrific destiny. In this, Page appears the transatlantic twin of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who took up arms almost exactly a year ago, 22 July 2011, to kill young political activists whom he blamed for what was, to Breivik, the unforgivable crime of allowing Norway to develop the ethnic and religious diversity that included accepting Muslim refugees from countries like Somalia.

In killing the Sikh worshippers, Page was acting on a violently racist ideology that has been circulating for decades in the USA, Europe and elsewhere and was also part of Breivik's frame of reference and world-view. Page was in fact an active propagandist for this movement as far back as the 1990s, playing guitar in a number of "hatecore" bands that used the appeal of heavy metal rock music to attract young people to the White Power cause.

This violent rampage by an active member of the racist White Power movement raises disturbing issues for modern-day Pagans practicing forms of spirituality derived from native Pagan traditions of pre-Christian Europe. There are problems of both appearance and substance that are equally important to address.

The core issue is a certain area of commonality or overlap between the White Power movement and ethnic-based Paganism that I do not believe we can ignore any longer. Both modern ethnic Paganism and the White Power movement are dedicated to preserving, honoring and extending European cultural heritage. They may have different additional goals and apply different perspectives to their pursuits, but on that basic platform, the two movements are in basic alignment. Both movements can also be traced back to nineteenth century folk romanticism, which found new significance in the folk songs, myths, dances, costumes and other traditions of European folk culture.

The Nazis' racist and imperialistic interpretation of German culture and identity also drew on this nineteenth century attention to European folk heritage. Because the Nazis did draw on Pagan symbolism and Norse-Germanic Pagan mythology in this way, modern-day Pagans, particularly those like the Asatru who also draw on Norse-Germanic myth and symbolism, are at constant risk of being perceived as Nazis or neo-Nazis. Disentangling modern Paganism from this set of pernicious associations is difficult enough to begin with. However, when you add into the mix that there really ARE modern-day neo-Nazis and White Power advocates who embrace the Nazis' racist interpretation of history and the need to preserve a "pure" European heritage and people from "pollution" by unwelcome Others such as Jews, Muslims, Africans and...for example...Sikhs... AND who like to make use of Pagan symbolism for their tattoos, for their music, and other aspects of their racist sub-culture, the task is even more difficult and convoluted. Nonetheless, the need to clearly distinguish non-Nazi, non-White Power-oriented, non-racist forms of Paganism from the White Power Movement, from neo-Nazis, and from any other permutation or concealment of racist hatred is of truly paramount importance.

This is a topic I have been passionate about for the last several years, and at great personal cost, I would add. Former friends of mine among the American Asatru community no longer wish to have anything to do with me because they think I have gone too far and been too extreme and alarmist in expressing my opposition to anything that remotely resembles neo-Nazism or White Power or provides any kind of aid, comfort or cover to such hateful and dangerous social movements. I called on Asatru groups as well as other Pagans to be more forthright in denouncing racism and Nazism and in clearly stating in their charters, web sites and other basic documents that they fully reject any such hateful ideologies, and do not welcome as members any people with any racism or sympathy for Nazism in their hearts or heads. Today, I renew that plea.

Beyond simply rejecting racism and Nazism, I would recommend that ethnic Pagans endeavor to prove that they are not merely non-Nazi, but truly un-Nazi and anti-Nazi, anti-racist and anti-White Power by making clear that they welcome people of all racial or ethnic backgrounds to participate in their religious activities and join their groups. The criterion for membership or affiliation should not be skin color or European ancestry, but sincere interest in Pagan forms of spirituality. Yes, these forms did develop in Europe, to form beautiful components of European cultural heritage, but their earliest roots are in very ancient Indo-European culture, which means that Pagan traditions possess Asian ancestry as well as European, and were never only European.

I know that many ethnic Pagans may well disagree with my proposal that modern ethnic Paganism, with an undoubted basis in particular cultural forms that developed among particular ethnic groups in the European past, now open its doors wide to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I just don't see any other way for Paganism to be a responsible and respectable member of the modern world community, at least not if it wants to be respected as a world religion of equal stature with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and the rest.

I also see too clearly that an ethnic Paganism that maintains an exclusive stance, turning away people from other ethnic backgrounds, can easily be interpreted by racists, neo-Nazis, and White Power advocates to support their promotion of intolerance and hatred, which as the case of Wade Michael Page shows, inevitably leads to violence by those who become most deeply involved in racist causes.

I also think ethnic Pagans need to do soul-searching about their own motivations and values. Are you really interested in Pagan religion as a spiritual path, and if so, where does that path lead? Is your Paganism just a cover for your own desire to be in a white-only community, celebrating European-only culture, and dreaming of a world without diversity? Do you only denounce the murderous actions of Anders Behring Breivik and Wade Michael Page, while quietly agreeing with their ideology? Do you fully understand that their ideology of racism led them to their murderous actions, or do you think it's OK to be a racist, as long as you are a "nice," "polite" racist who does not go around shooting people?

I really do think Pagans should think carefully about these matters. There are likely to be more explosions of racist violence in years ahead, and it is very possible that some of those involved may have some association with ethnic Paganism, which, as it now stands, can easily be interpreted to support racist militarism if a person is so inclined to begin with. It will be much easier to deal with these situations, should they arise, if Pagans can present a clear, undivided, anti-Nazi, anti-racist, anti-White Power, antifa (anti-Fascist) front. Based on my past experience in trying to raise these issues, I don't think this will be possible, at least not in the United States, as American society is going in a very right-wing direction in general that may make it more and more difficult to address such issues in coming years. Let me end then by urging those Pagans who DO see the need to disassociate from racism and Nazism to make every effort to do so, and do it today!

May our slogan be not White Power, but EARTH POWER!


Peregrin said...

This is a wonderful, very much needed post. Thank you, so very much.

When a Pagan Alliance representative in Australia in the early 90's I had the same struggle with some groups and leaders. I will admit it was one of the reasons for my cessation of active public Pagan work.

I hope these issues are addressed, as from what I see and anecdotally, there is actually more problems now that in the 90s.

Thanks again :)

Maelstrom said...

I think the larger problem is not this tendency in Asatru or other forms of Paganism per se, but the fact that right-wing tendencies are rising in many societies. Obviously, when such tendencies emerge, religious groups just like other parts of society will be affected. The question is how do we respond to this? Just sit back and watch it happen? I am trying to propose a constructive course of action, but I am not sure if many people are actually interested in what I am suggesting.

kilmrnock said...

I agree , The Celtic recon faith I belong to , Sinnsreachd , already does this . We have such antidescimanatory , antiracist language on our webpage now , have for a while . We saw racism and /or false claims of racism in other recon faiths , and wanted to make sure such things didnot happen in our faith Kilm

Amy Hale said...

Thank you for this post. This is a topic I am writing on right now, and it can be a challenging because a lot of people feel it that discussing it is alarmist. Not so, I'm afraid. I have recently written a piece for a collection about how the recent shifts in the Pagan cultural landscape are actually providing even more common frameworks with certain right wing groups who can, and are, exploiting several shared interests/value sets. They are aggressive, and we need to be aware of their impact and also the rhetoric they use to get us to look the other way. Keep fighting the good fight!

Pitch313 said...

When we create a "not based on ethnicity" "ethnic" Paganism, then we do not really end up with an "ethnic" Paganism. We end up with a postmodern Paganism that adapts to circumstances and goals appropriate to the world of today. Such Trads and organizations do exist and enjoy an actively practicing community of adherents and friends of those Trads.

Coming from the other direction, I just do not think it is possible to "de-ethnicize" a vigorous "ethnic" Paganism whose adherents uphold that ethnicity as a core value. To the extent that parentage and descent matter, then personhood and individual attainment probably will not.

Paganism, taken as a whole, appears to be more extensive and diverse than any practitioner or Trad or organization can define or limit. It leads a life of its own.

Occasional Right-Wing Reader said...

You can't accuse Folkish Heathens of being insincere about spirituality and using Asatru as a cover for political agenda, while at the same time trying to hijack Asatru for a different political agenda. You seem to think it's okay to mix Asatru with politics as long as its your left-wing politics. If someone mixes it with right-wing politics you think it's not okay. In order for Asatru to truly stand on its own as a spiritual path completely independent of politics, it can't be full of political disclaimers explicitly taking positions on political issues.

My organization has a disclaimer denouncing politics in general. We reject any political hijacking of Asatru, whether it be left-wing or right-wing. We are an apolitical religious organization and as such, take no stand against Nazism, no stand against Communism, no stand against Obama, no stand against Romney . . . we do not stand for or against any political movement.

I think you need to do some soul-searching. What's more important to you, religion or politics? Do you really care about Asatru as a spiritual path, or simply as a cover for your far-left political agenda where you can dream about ethnically diversity?

Heathens have no obligation to jump on your far-left bandwagon. I am not a Nazi, and I have no reason to start listing things that I'm not. Why should Heathen groups say they're not Nazis, why not say they're not Communists as well?

You talk about ethnic Paganism, but then you say ethnic Paganism should opening itself up to different ethnicities. That's a paradox, because then it wouldn't be ethnic Paganism anymore.

I know I've taken a hostile tone here, but I find your tone incendiary and condescending. You talk about people being hateful, but then pour all this hate on Conservative/Right-Wings Heathens and Conservatives in general. I don't understand why you find us so threatening. Yes, I do think it's okay to be "racist" as long as you're polite and don't shoot people.

I have a suggestion for a future article: An argument as to why Liberalism is better than Conservatism and why you think we should support racial diversity. Exactly how do we benefit from it? Why is a racially diverse country better?

I don't just want to be vitriolic, I think it's nice for two sides to have a civilized dialogue. But you're really not contributing to a dialogue, I think you're really just inflaming things. I thought this whole Folkish/Universalist argument finished about 10 years anyway.

Debra said...

I do agree with you Asatruar and heathens need to be concerned, however Right-Wing Reader does make some good points, mostly the beginning three paragraphs, then at the end. I am myself a liberal progressive and heathen (not Asatru) by the way, I just try to keep my faith seperate from my politics lol. At this point in my life I've become sick of politics period and the two sides constantly at war with each other, not coming to any agreements on anything and basically making everything worse. Politics suck. I found this blog linked on Tumblr yesterday by the way , there are liberal American heathens and Asatruar there by the way as well as on facebook if you are interested.

HamSandwich said...

I feel that there is a difference between being proud of your ancestry and racial identity and flat out hating on others. I do not mix my religion and politics because they don't belong together. My Libertarian ideas as well as my Asatru faith are good, but don't belong together. People need to learn that I can be proud of my ethnicity and that, that does not make me a hateful person. I agree that Pagans need to be concerned. Some pagans are white supremacists who hate all non-whites. This is wrong, but I am not exactly fond of things like Sharia law. Can anyone tell me how I defend western ideas and not come off as racist? I wanna know, because I don't mind middle easterners or northern/eastern Africans, I just don't want sharia law. If they were Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Shinto, Ba'hai, Christian or atheists etc I would not have a problem. I don't hate anyone else in the same way. Is it racist or "Islamophobic" to want Western ideas to stick around in the countries that created them?

Maelstrom said...

Dear Ham,

I think the threat of Sharia law is greatly exaggerated. There is about as much chance of you being forced to live under Sharia law as there is of fundamentalist Jews or Christians forcing you to live under the laws of the Old Testament as contained in such books of the Bible as Leviticus. Also, Sharia is open to interpretation and there are different schools and forms of interpretation. I imagine what you fear are the most extreme forms of Sharia as practiced in such places as Saudi Arabia and in ISIS-controlled areas. Good news: most Muslims also oppose such extreme forms of their religion. In a word, RELAX, and seek out more knowledge of Islam. Then you will see that it has positive and negative features,like any religion or philosophy, and also has many divisions and variations, such as the Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi forms of Islam. No religion should be judged by its most awful and fanatical practitioners, but that is what is often done to Islam. Be aware too that being anti-Muslim is a way of making money for some people; there is a whole "Islamophobia" industry.

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