Personal · Think Pieces

The Ethics of Nazi-Punching

Last Friday saw Donald Trump officially sworn in as President of the United States, and, one assumes, the beginning of the end of the world as we know it. 

Saturday, conversely, saw one the most inspiring collection of demonstrations seen in recent times. The women’s marches across all seven continents, giving a beautiful middle finger to Donald trump and all the assorted bigotry and hatred he represents. I know a few people who took part and, were I not a disaster of a person who can barely summon the strength to get out of bed, I would have been with them. I think the next few years will be a good era for protests, thanks to Black Lives Matter paving the way. 

Another minor event that occurred over the weekend was a prominent Nazi, Richard Spencer,  being punched in the face. 

I won’t for a second express any sympathy for the man. If anyone deserves a good sock to the jaw it’s a man who advocates a “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, whatever the hell that is. The question I want to ask is whether violence is the most appropriate tool we have to combat this new rise of Nazism. By the way, before we get going, let me make clear that I shan’t do this vile movement the courtesy of calling it ‘alt-right’.   These people are white-nationalist, white-supremacist, Nazis. You can give them all the snazzy new names you like but a Nazi by any other name is still a Nazi. 

That cleared up, let’s get back to the meat of the issue. Is punching Nazis the best way to go about things? It’s a difficult question. At one time, not giving them the attention they craved and treating them as a joke was the best tactic for dealing with them. Since Trump won the election…well things are different now. The orange abomination’s victory is, for the next few years, going to give the new-Nazis a sickening sense of legitimacy that no amount of derision is going to shake. There is no question that dealing with the new-Nazis now requires direct action. But what form should that action take? Must it be physical?

I have long identified as a pacifist, and try to maintain a strict moral code of non-violence, whatever the situation. People like this make it difficult. I won’t condemn the ANTIFA activist who threw the punch. It was a pretty courageous move, and a part of me admittedly enjoyed seeing it. I can even justify it to my code in a roundabout way. Violence is acceptable in self-defence, and the very existence of these new-Nazis is in itself a threat of violence against minority groups. The punch is therefore preemptive self-defence. Still, seeing so many people take up this whole #PunchaNazi mantra has made me a little uncomfortable. It’s a slippery slope, and fighting fire with fire rarely works out. Of all the thousands of violent revolutions throughout history, you can probably count the ones that actually established something better than what came before it on one hand.  A few punches here and there, I can let slide, but I worry about where it might lead.

I’m aware that the last time Nazis needed taking care of, it required WWII, which was certainly a lot more violent than a punch, but I would rather avoid another world war this time if we can. There is still time to squash the new-Nazi movement. I wish I could say it were possible to talk them round but Nazis, by a large, are difficult people to reason with. Most will, sad as it is, only respond to violence because it goes hand-in-hand with their ideology. There are some who can be reasoned with, and brought round to basic human decency again, but most are a lost cause.

The focus, perhaps, should be on preventing the spread of the movement. How do we do this? Education. We educate ourselves and each other. We teach children from an early age why people like this are so dangerous, and why views like those the preach are so vile and unacceptable. We strengthen our communities, we reach out to one another. Those of us with privilege use it to stand with and protect those without. We will not let ourselves be divided and we will not sit idly by and let the Nazi disease spread. We immunise ourselves rather than burning the infected. A punch here and there can do some good, but nowhere near as much good as love and solidarity. 

 I’d like to make clear again that my opposition to punching Nazis comes not from sympathy for the punched but from fear of violence and blood-lust in the eyes of the puncher. I can just about allow punching Nazis, but I must draw the line at killing them. One of the main tenements of my pacifist code, inconvenient as it may sometimes be, is that human life is precious, and all humans have a right to life. Even Nazis. What they do not have, however, is the right to feel justified and safe in their nauseating ideology. They must be made to know that their ideals will not be tolerated by mainstream society, and feel afraid to express them publicly again. There are a lot of ways to make a person’s life hell without physical violence, and if anyone deserves more subtle, and elegant forms of punishment, its Nazis.

I may have little right to an opinion on these matters. Apart from a dash of Romani, I am astoundingly white, and as such have the privilege of being in little danger from the rise of the new-Nazis. I will try to do all I can to use that privilege to protect those who are in danger if it comes to it but I’d much rather avoid things ‘coming to it’. I firmly believie that peaceful, non-violent methods based on love and co-operation can do much more to stamp out these reprobates than violence but I’m willing to overlook a few punches here and there.

We must be better than what we oppose, we must not martyr them or fuel their fire. We must only make it clear to them that the world is not yet, not ever shall be, theirs. The future is multicoloured, not white. With luck, like the original Nazis before them, the new-Nazis will one day be remembered as just a regrettable mistake of history which we don’t gloss over but make a point of remembering.

They will always be on the wrong side of history, let’s not put too many toes over the line ourselves. 

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