Much of my family was murdered by Nazis who were intent on wiping out every last Jew on the planet. Back then the Nazis faced very little opposition, and in some places, like Austria, they were greeted with enthusiastic cooperation. So it's wonderful to see a new generation of Europeans who want to rectify the past and who are willing to stand up to neo-Nazis.
It's important to note that Haider's party did not win electoral support from a majority of Austrians last week. (It got 27 percent of the vote--though that number was up from 5 percent in the last election.) And a significant number of Austrians have demonstrated against his anti-immigrant xenophobia and his explicit praise of past Nazis.
Coupled with recent statements by the Vatican seeking to take responsibility for Catholic failures during World War II, the steps by European countries against Haider could suggest a new ethos of moral criteria in politics and a rejection of the old "moral man/immoral society" dichotomy that was championed by Cold War ideologues intent on removing morality from foreign policy so that they could feel fine about American involvement with oppressive colonial and apartheid regimes.
I'm genuinely thankful that someone is saying no to the neo-Nazis. In fact, I wouldn't mind if the U.S. and other countries were to take even firmer stands against trade with Austria.
But that won't happen. In fact, the main thrust of American policy makers is to maximize the freedom of the international market and allow corporations to do whatever they want. This is true regardless of which branch--Democratic or Republican--of the pro-wealth single party that dominates public discourse in the U.S. happens to be in power.
It's hard to overstate the degree to which the nationalist reaction against immigrants is part of a deep fear that the forces of globalized capital are going to destroy local societies.
For some, the focus of this fear is economic: global capital seeks to find the cheapest possible way to produce its goods--which leads to the movement of production and manufacturing operations to countries where cheap labor is available; to the importing of immigrants willing to work for lower wages; or to the development of technology that can eliminate jobs altogether.
For others, the focus of this fear is that the cultural weight of the dominant market society obliterates all cultural differences and historical uniqueness, rebuilding the world in the form of a giant shopping mall filled with global corporations selling standardized products.
There's nothing irrational about these fears. The truth is that globalized capital seems almost unstoppable, and in its wake comes both economic and cultural destruction. Those hurt most are lower-middle-income working people who see that their own futures threatened by globalization.
The irrational part comes when, instead of mobilizing against globalization, people mobilize against immigrants, minorities, or other groups that are seen as momentarily benefiting from globalization. Haider and his reactionary companions in Europe and the U.S. tap legitimate fears and then misdirect those fears against those who are vulnerable and powerless or against imagined world conspiracies like those attributed to the Jewish people by anti-Semites for centuries.
The appropriate response must go beyond condemning the racist and anti-Semitic elements in this movement's appeal. We must speak in a compassionate and caring manner to those who have been attracted to this kind of movement not because of their racism but because of their fears.
That is the task of progressive religious and spiritual people. It will never be accomplished by European internationalists whose major interests lie in accelerating the very globalization that underlies these fears. No matter how much we can applaud these forces for their stand against fascism at the moment, we have to recognize that they are also part of the problem that underlies the return of reactionary forces worldwide.
For those of us committed to a spiritual politics, the challenge is daunting: to speak with compassion to those who are attracted to right-wing nationalist positions while simultaneously refusing to let their reactionary politics shape public policy or to allow their neo-fascist leaders to become accepted by the family of nations. If we really want to stop the return of neo-fascism in this century, it is this spiritual path that must be pursued. I only wish there had been such a spiritual movement in Germany in the 1920s.