On the importance of not punching Nazis
WORDS BY JOSH WOOLLER
It seems that student media has been buzzing recently with the question of the ethics of punching Nazis. I must admit, I have some dog in this hunt given most of my maternal family was executed by Nazis, and my paternal family fought for Britain against them.
For the most part, the counter-protest of Nazis in Charlottesville was a triumph. Peaceful protestors valiantly opposed those with a genocidal ideology, highlighting that most Americans stood firmly for defending a multicultural society.
Donald Trump’s response to the ‘Unite the Right’ protest was to condemn ‘both’ protestors and counter-protestors for fostering hate. While the vast majority of the counter-protestors were undoubtedly peaceful, and doing what any decent human being should do in signalling the repudiation of Nazism, the group drew the ire of the President, ‘Antifa’, were openly committed to engaging in violence with the far-right wing protestors.
I do not hold much sympathy for Nazis that get punched. I don’t like Nazis. I do believe, however, that punching anyone that disagrees with you sets a terrible precedent for the rest of society.
Of course, the most famous example this year of a ‘Nazi being punched’ comes from the Women’s March following the inauguration of Trump. Richard Spencer, a self-proclaimed ‘white identitarian’ was assaulted by an Antifa activist.
The assault on Spencer did not defeat Spencer’s ideas - it legitimised them. The image of a man in a balaclava using force to silence dissent is the worst precedent that can be set by the coalition opposing Trump. We can defeat Spencer’s racist ideology through debate and we can do so easily. Ideas, are not defeated through intimidation and fear but through debate. Debasing ourselves to violence only plays into the narrative of Nazis.
Imagine if it had been the other way round. If a Nazi protestor had assaulted a liberal, swathed in a balaclava, we would be horrified and rightly so! Anyone that resorts to violence where they have the opportunity to speak and protest peacefully, no matter their political leaning should be universally condemned. If we resort to violence, then we are only safe so long as we are in the majority.
Purely from a practical level, non-violent protest tends to win over populations and become better vehicles of change. One only has to think of the examples of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jnr, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Images of Antifa activists burning property from Washington to Hamburg is unlikely to ‘win over’ anyone, instead, it is likely to muddy the waters and place Antifa on equal footing with Nazi protestors.
Across the United States this year we have seen individuals at university campuses attacked for being ‘Nazis’. In February, supporters of Conservative Ben Shapiro, following a professor labelling him a Neo Nazi, were attacked by protesters as they attempted to attend his lecture. . Shapiro, an American Jew, who has spoken vehemently against white-supremacy holds conservative views, which many on the left would disagree with. Is that enough for him to be labelled a Nazi?
And who gets to decide who the Nazis are? If Shapiro is a Nazi, and Trump is a Nazi, then Antifa and all those wantonly using the term ‘Nazi’ to describe any political opponent have diminished what a Nazi really is to the point of platitude.
Freedom of speech exists not to protect speech we find agreeable, but speech that we find disgusting. It was Rosa Luxembourg, a hero of the activist left, who said “freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently”. Opposing Nazis through violence will only breed violence, and that is the last thing a country so bitterly divided needs now.