by Peter Staudenmaier
In September 2018, a perceptive article in the left-leaning British magazine New Statesman offered a rare glimpse of the obscure milieu of explicitly racist environmentalism: an anonymous “online community” of “nature-obsessed, antisemitic white supremacists who argue that racial purity is the only way to save the planet.” Made up largely of younger enthusiasts of the far right, this new generation of self-described “eco-fascists” identifies strongly with deep ecology, animal rights, and veganism, opposes industrialisation and urbanisation, and denounces immigration, “overpopulation” and “multiculturalism” as dire threats to the natural world. They celebrate “blood and soil” and look back on Nazi Germany as a paragon of environmental responsibility, casting the Third Reich’s obsession with “Lebensraum” in ecological terms.
Within months, this incongruous ideology burst the boundaries of internet anonymity and made headlines around the world. Two horrific anti-immigrant attacks in 2019, in Christchurch and El Paso, showed that such ideas could have lethal consequences. Both atrocities, which claimed a total of 74 victims, were motivated by environmental concerns. The Christchurch perpetrator declared himself an “eco-fascist.” In the wake of these massacres it became harder to dismiss right-wing ecology as a marginal set of far-fetched beliefs confined to online forums; the combination of environmentalism, nationalism, and anti-immigrant violence proved too virulent to ignore. It nonetheless remains difficult to understand. More thorough consideration of the historical background to right-wing ecology and its contemporary resonance can help make better sense of an enigmatic phenomenon, one that disrupts standard expectations about both environmentalism and right-wing politics.
Though environmental issues have been conventionally associated with the left since the 1960s, the longer history of ecological politics is far more ambivalent. From the emergence of modern environmentalism in the nineteenth century, ecological questions have taken either emancipatory or reactionary form depending on their political context. Early conservationists in the United States often held authoritarian, nationalist, and xenophobic views linked with the predominant racial theories of the era. As a standard study observes, “The conservation movement arose against a backdrop of racism, sexism, class conflicts, and nativism that shaped the nation in profound ways.” Already in the 1870s, American environmental writers blamed “the influx of immigrants” for the decline of natural rural life. For eminent figures like George Perkins Marsh and John Muir, racial biases and hostility toward immigration went hand in hand with protecting the natural world.
Such stances hardened by the early twentieth century. In his 1913 classic Our Vanishing Wild Life, William Temple Hornaday portrayed immigrants as “a dangerous menace to our wild life.” Hornaday, who has been called the “father of the American conservation movement,” was a friend and colleague of Madison Grant, an equally influential conservationist, race theorist, and zealous proponent of eugenics. Racial anxieties were a constituent element in the development of environmentalism in the US. “Perceiving a direct link between the decline of America’s wildlife and the degeneration of the white American race, prominent nature advocates often pushed as hard for the passage of immigration restriction and eugenics legislation as they did for wildlife preservation. For these reformers the three movements became inextricably linked.” This legacy continued throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, impacting everything from wilderness campaigns to pollution regulation to global population programs. Today, “racial narratives are deeply embedded in American environmentalist approaches to international population policy advocacy.”
In Germany, where the term “ecology” was first introduced, early environmental movements shared a similar history. Sometimes considered the homeland of green politics, Germany experienced rapid industrialisation and urbanisation in the decades around 1900, with attendant forms of environmental dissent. Many of these proto-green tendencies incorporated authoritarian social views along with powerful national and racial myths. From vegetarianism to organic agriculture to nature protection organisations, race was an essential part of the search for more natural ways of life. Proponents of the “life reform” movement mixed appeals for animal rights, natural health, and alternative nutrition with racist and antisemitic themes. This is the tradition that latter-day “ecofascists” hope to reclaim.
For some contemporary advocates of right-wing ecology, Nazi Germany represents the epitome of environmental ideals in fascist form. In light of the Nazi regime’s appalling record of human and ecological destruction, this adulation strikes many observers as grotesque. As paradoxical as it may seem, however, Nazism included several significant environmental strands. Historians of the Third Reich have increasingly come to recognise “the links between antisemitism, eugenics, and environmentalism that became integral to National Socialism.” To admirers, Nazism’s “green” achievements were embodied above all in the figure of Richard Walther Darré, who served as Hitler’s minister of agriculture and “Reich Peasant Leader” from 1933 to 1942. Far right author Troy Southgate characterises Darré as Nazi Germany’s “finest ecological pioneer,” a committed environmentalist who was “truly the patriarch of the modern Greens.” Southgate writes:
"At Goslar, an ancient medieval town in the Harz mountains, Darré established a peasants’ capital and launched a series of measures designed to regenerate German agriculture by encouraging organic farming and replanting techniques. […] But Darré’s overall strategy was even more radical, and he intended to abolish industrial society altogether and replace it with a series of purely peasant-based communities."
Though thoroughly distorted, this tale contains a kernel of truth. Darré did promote organic agriculture during the final years of his tenure; after initial opposition, he became one of the major Nazi patrons of the biodynamic movement, the most successful variant of organic farming in the Third Reich. But he was hardly the only Nazi leader to do so. Rudolf Hess supported biodynamics more consistently, and even Heinrich Himmler and the SS sponsored biodynamic projects. By the time he adopted the biodynamic cause, moreover, Darré had effectively lost power to rival factions within the party.
Organic farming initiatives nevertheless found many backers in various parts of the Nazi apparatus, at local, regional, and national levels, from interior minister Wilhelm Frick to antisemitic propagandist Julius Streicher. Sustainable agriculture offered fertile ground for ideological crossover and practical cooperation. As a Nazi “life reform” official explained in 1936: “Artificial fertilisers interrupt the natural metabolism between man and his environment, between blood and soil.”
Despite his stature among devotees of right-wing ecology today, Darré was not the most effective example of ecofascism in action in the Nazi era. That dubious honor belongs not to the Reich Peasant Leader but to his sometime ally Alwin Seifert, who bore the equally grandiose title of Reich Advocate for the Landscape. Seifert oversaw a corps of “landscape advocates” with responsibility for environmental planning on Nazi public works projects, most famously the construction of the Autobahn system. As with Darré, Seifert’s position has often been misunderstood. A recent account claims that “the barest minima of ecological politics” were “completely missing” from Nazism, offering this description of Seifert’s team:
"A group of designers with Heimat ideals, called ‘landscape advocates’, imagined that they were embedding the motorways in the landscape, drawing the curves gently, adorning the concrete and asphalt with local stone and freshly planted native flora: perhaps the original greenwashers. Their advice was neglected nearly all the time, and Hitler would not hear of valuable forest groves slowing down his roads. If any peacetime project rode roughshod over conservation, it was the autobahn."
This one-sided image simplifies a complex history and misconstrues the political context. Unlike traditional conservationists, Seifert and his colleagues used their work to advance modern principles of ecological restoration, rehabilitating degraded environments and applying organic techniques across a wide range of landscapes.
Their remit extended far beyond the Autobahn, encompassing rivers and wetlands, reforestation projects, urban green space and rural reclamation, military installations, and “settlement” activities in the occupied East. From France to Ukraine, from Norway to Greece, the environmental efforts of the landscape advocates were woven into the fabric of Nazi occupation policy, which aimed to remake Eastern European lands racially as well as ecologically. Under the auspices of the Third Reich, Seifert and his cohort fused environmental ideals with Nazi tenets and put them into practice in hundreds of concrete instances. They were not alone. Endorsing Seifert’s work, German naturalists proclaimed that ecology was “a true science of blood and soil.” The experience of both the biodynamic movement and the landscape advocates between 1933 and 1945, in the shadow of Germany’s war of annihilation, shows that Nazi ecology was not an oxymoron but a historical reality.
In spite of a growing body of research examining the details of this history, many misconceptions persist about the environmental aspects of Nazism and about the political evolution of green endeavors worldwide. The problem is not new. A quarter of a century ago, ecological philosopher Michael Zimmerman pointed out that “most Americans do not realise that the Nazis combined eugenics with mystical ecology into the perverted ‘green’ ideology of Blut und Boden.” It was not merely a historical question, he explained, but crucial for our future: “in periods of ecological stress and social breakdown, preachers of a ‘green’ fascism might once again find a sympathetic audience.” The attacks in Christchurch and El Paso have tragically confirmed his point, demonstrating that some of those inspired by such ideas are willing to turn words into deeds.
But the breadth of right-wing environmental politics is not reducible to the single category of fascism. Many elements on the established right, particularly in the English-speaking world, maintain a stance of climate change denial and denounce green concerns as frivolous, even as younger and more dynamic forces on the far right push for growing appropriation of environmental themes. In this context, ecofascism is best seen as an especially aggressive tendency within the broader continuum of right-wing ecology. Since most of the right is not fascist, there are relatively few outright ecofascists in most times and places. This does not mean we can safely ignore them. When historical conditions change, currents that were previously marginal can quickly become powerful. For societies like the contemporary US, that is a sobering lesson to keep in mind.
How can scholars respond to this challenge? Resisting the revival of blood and soil politics and countering the appeal of anti-immigrant arguments in green garb calls for informed and reflective participation in public debates. This will involve critically re-examining inherited assumptions about ecology and its social significance. The protean nature of environmental politics, viewed in historical perspective, presents a remarkable spectrum of possibilities, and those concerned about the climate crisis and our broader ecological plight will eventually need to decide where to stand. Alongside the legacy of right-wing environmentalism, there has always been a lively counter-current, an anti-authoritarian, inclusive, and radically democratic strand within ecological thought and practice.
That alternative tradition of environmental politics has many proponents within today’s climate movement, and it points toward a promising future in spite of the bleak present. An ecological approach that affirms social diversity across borders and actively welcomes all communities can withstand the resentments and anxieties of the current moment. Against the callous retreat into exclusion, scarcity, and fear, it advances a profoundly different vision of sustainability and renewal, one that offers hope for people and for the planet we share.
 Sarah Manavis, “Eco-fascism: The ideology marrying environmentalism and white supremacy thriving online” New Statesman 21 September 2018. The article signaled renewed media attention to a previously neglected subject. Another thorough analysis was published a month later: Matthew Phelan, “The Menace of Eco-Fascism” New York Review of Books Daily 22 October 2018.
 Natasha Lennard, “The El Paso Shooter Embraced Eco-Fascism: We Can’t Let the Far Right Co-Opt the Environmental Struggle” The Intercept 5 August 2019; Bernhard Forchtner, “Eco-fascism: Justifications of terrorist violence in the Christchurch mosque shooting and the El Paso shooting” Open Democracy 13 August 2019; Susie Cagle, “The environmentalist roots of anti-immigrant bigotry” The Guardian 16 August 2019; Joel Achenbach, “Two mass murders a world apart share a common theme: ‘Ecofascism’” Washington Post 18 August 2019; Sam Adler-Bell, “Eco-fascism is fashionable again on the far right” New Republic 24 September 2019.
 For recent international coverage see Neil Mackay, “Eco-fascism: how the environment could be a green light for the far right” The Herald 18 April 2020; Daniel Trilling, “How the far right is exploiting climate change for its own ends: Eco-fascists have donned green garb in pursuit of their sinister cause” Prospect Magazine 28 August 2020; Emma Horan, “Eco-Fascism: A Smouldering, Dark Presence in Environmentalism” University Times 23 October 2020; Louise Boyle, “The rising threat of eco-fascism: Far right co-opting environmentalism to justify anti-immigration and anti-Semitic views” The Independent 20 March 2021; Francisca Rockey, “The dangers of eco-fascism” Euronews 21 March 2021; Andy Fleming, “The meanings of eco-fascism” Overland 9 June 2021.
 Adrian Parr, Birth of a New Earth: The Radical Politics of Environmentalism (Columbia University Press 2018), 84; see the full chapter “Fascist Earth” (65-90) for her larger argument.
 Dorceta Taylor, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection (Duke University Press 2016), 9.
 Ibid., 89; see also 213-19 on anti-immigrant resentment as a core feature of the US conservation movement in the early twentieth century. For an influential instance from the latter half of the century see John Tanton, “International Migration as an Obstacle to Achieving World Stability” Ecologist July 1976, 221-27.
 See the fine overview by Carolyn Merchant, “Shades of Darkness: Race and Environmental History” Environmental History 8 (2003), 380-94.
 William Temple Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wild Life (Scribner’s 1913), 100. Similar anti-immigrant passages can be found in Hornaday’s 1914 Wild Life Conservation in Theory and Practice. Scholars from a variety of fields have noted the role of racial beliefs within his environmental worldview: “Hornaday’s conservation was closely linked to his racism and sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority. He viewed Native Americans, Mexicans, blacks, and immigrants as major threats to wildlife, and he began showing disdain for nonwhites early in his career.” Robert Wilson, American Association of Geographers Review of Books 2 (2014), 48-50.
 Miles Powell, Vanishing America: Species Extinction, Racial Peril, and the Origins of Conservation (Harvard University Press 2016), 83. Powell shows that turn of the century conservation leaders “developed racially charged preservationist arguments that influenced the historical development of scientific racism, eugenics, immigration restriction, and population control, and helped lay the groundwork for the modern environmental movement.” (5) Compare Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow, The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden (New York University Press 2011); John Hultgren, Border Walls Gone Green: Nature and Anti-Immigrant Politics in America (University of Minnesota Press 2015); Carl Zimring, Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (New York University Press 2016)
 Jade Sasser, “From Darkness into Light: Race, Population, and Environmental Advocacy” Antipode 46 (2014), 1240-57, quote on 1242. Cf. Jael Silliman and Ynestra King, eds., Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development (South End Press 1999); Rajani Bhatia, “Green or Brown? White Nativist Environmental Movements” in Abby Ferber, ed., Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism (Routledge 2004), 194-213; Jade Sasser, On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change (New York University Press 2018); Jordan Dyett and Cassidy Thomas, “Overpopulation Discourse: Patriarchy, Racism, and the Specter of Ecofascism” Perspectives on Global Development & Technology 18 (2019), 205-24; Diana Ojeda, Jade Sasser, and Elizabeth Lunstrum, “Malthus’s Specter and the Anthropocene: Towards a Feminist Political Ecology of Climate Change” Gender, Place & Culture 27 (2020), 316-32.
 Examples include Gustav Simons, “Rasse und Ernährung” Kraft und Schönheit 4 (1904), 156-59; Hermann Löns, “Naturschutz und Rasseschutz” in Löns, Nachgelassene Schriften vol. 1 (Leipzig 1928), 486-91; Paul Krannhals, Das organische Weltbild (Munich 1928); Werner Altpeter, “Erneuerung oder Rassetod?” Neuform-Rundschau January 1934, 8-10.
 Compare Joseph Huber, “Fortschritt und Entfremdung: Ein Entwicklungsmodell des ökologischen Diskurses” in Dieter Hassenpflug, ed., Industrialismus und Ökoromantik: Geschichte und Perspektiven der Ökologisierung (Wiesbaden 1991), 19-42; Ulrich Linse, “Das ‘natürliche’ Leben: Die Lebensreform” in Richard van Dülmen, ed., Erfindung des Menschen (Vienna 1998), 435-56; Bernd Wedemeyer, “‘Zurück zur deutschen Natur’: Theorie und Praxis der völkischen Lebensreformbewegung” in Rolf Brednich, ed., Natur – Kultur: Volkskundliche Perspektiven auf Mensch und Umwelt (Münster 2001), 385-94; Jost Hermand, “Die Lebensreformbewegung um 1900 - Wegbereiter einer naturgemäßeren Daseinsform oder Vorboten Hitlers?” in Marc Cluet and Catherine Repussard, eds., “Lebensreform”: Die soziale Dynamik der politischen Ohnmacht (Tübingen 2013), 51-62.
 See the extended argument in Peter Staudenmaier, “Right-wing Ecology in Germany: Assessing the Historical Legacy” in Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism Revisited (New Compass 2011), 89-132.
 Robert Gellately, Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (Oxford University Press 2020), 22; cf. Simo Laakkonen, “Environmental Policies of the Third Reich” in Laakkonen, ed., The Long Shadows: A Global Environmental History of the Second World War (Oregon State University Press 2017), 55-74; Charles Closmann, “Environment” in Shelley Baranowski, ed., A Companion to Nazi Germany (Wiley 2018), 413-28.
 Troy Southgate, “Blood & Soil: Revolutionary Nationalism as the Vanguard of Ecological Sanity” in Southgate, Tradition & Revolution (Arktos 2010), 74-84, quotes on 78-79. Southgate’s account draws heavily on the work of Anna Bramwell, whose 1985 book Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darré and Hitler’s ‘Green Party’ is the source of a number of legends about Darré. Among other fundamental problems, Bramwell’s book downplays Darré’s fervent antisemitism and denies his role in promoting expansionist aims in Eastern Europe.
 Peter Staudenmaier, “Organic Farming in Nazi Germany: The Politics of Biodynamic Agriculture, 1933-1945” Environmental History 18 (2013), 383-411.
 Franz Wirz quoted in Corinna Treitel, Eating Nature in Modern Germany: Food, Agriculture and Environment, c. 1870-2000 (Cambridge University Press 2017), 212. Nazi enthusiasm for organic practices was not as surprising as it may appear. “In early twentieth century Germany,” Treitel notes, “ecological agriculture and its biological approach to farming belonged decisively to the right.” (188) The same pattern can be traced in France, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere, with significant overlap between the early organic milieu and the far right.
 Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective, White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Danger of Fossil Fascism (Verso 2021), 462 and 466. They insist that “no ecological Nazism could possibly have existed” (470).
 For a detailed view of the current state of research see Peter Staudenmaier, “Advocates for the Landscape: Alwin Seifert and Nazi Environmentalism” German Studies Review 43 (2020), 271-90. Some of the existing scholarship on Seifert and his associates displays a curious tendency to portray these figures as either not really environmentalists or not really Nazis, reluctant to acknowledge that they were both at once.
 Karl Friederichs, Ökologie als Wissenschaft von der Natur (Leipzig 1937), 79.
 Michael Zimmerman, “The Threat of Ecofascism” Social Theory and Practice 21 (1995), 207-38, quotes on 222 and 231. “Blut und Boden” is the original German phrase meaning “blood and soil.”
 As Bernhard Forchtner and Balša Lubarda aptly observe, “eco-fascism should not dominate our understanding of the wider radical right’s relationship with nature.” (Forchtner and Lubarda, “Eco-fascism ‘proper’” Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right 25 June 2020) For a range of perspectives on these complex questions compare Efadul Huq and Henry Mochida, “The Rise of Environmental Fascism and the Securitization of Climate Change” Projections 30 March 2018; Betsy Hartmann, “The Ecofascists” Columbia Journalism Review Spring 2020, 18-19; Hilary Moore, Burning Earth, Changing Europe: How the Racist Right Exploits the Climate Crisis and What We Can Do about It (Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung 2020); Sam Knights, “The Climate Movement Must Be Ready To Challenge Rising Right-Wing Environmentalism” Jacobin 16 November 2020; Balša Lubarda, “Beyond Ecofascism? Far-Right Ecologism as a Framework for Future Inquiries” Environmental Values 29 (2020), 713-32.
 On the US see Blair Taylor, “Alt-right ecology: Ecofascism and far-right environmentalism in the United States” in Bernhard Forchtner, ed., The Far Right and the Environment: Politics, Discourse and Communication (Routledge 2019), 275-92; Kevan Feshami, “A Mighty Forest Is Our Race: Race, Nature, and Environmentalism in White Nationalist Thought” Drain Magazine February 2020; Beth Gardiner, “White Supremacy Goes Green” New York Times 1 March 2020; Daniel Rueda, “Neoecofascism: The Example of the United States” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 14 (2020), 95-125; Alex Amend, “Blood and Vanishing Topsoil: American Ecofascism Past, Present, and in the Coming Climate Crisis” Political Research Associates 9 July 2020; April Anson, “No One Is A Virus: On American Ecofascism” Environmental History Now 21 October 2020.
by Elizabeth Jordie Davies
“I can’t say too emphatically that we stand at a terminal point in history, at a moment of supreme world crisis. Destruction lies ahead unless things are changed. And things must be changed. And changed by the people.”
-- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I approach Afropessimism with a question: what here can move us forward? I understand Afropessimism as an intellectual project, a description of the state of the world as anti-Black. Afropessimism asserts that Black people exist outside of the category Human and are fundamentally excluded from social and civil life. I also understand Afropessimism as having potential as a political project, one that presents both opportunities and challenges. In this way, I depart from Michael Dawson, who, in his essay “Against Afropessimism,” warns against Afropessimism’s anti-political stance.
Afropessimism makes an important political intervention by accounting for the slings and arrows of anti-Blackness, the indignities suffered by Black people and the right-ness of Black anger and despair. As such, slavery and anti-Blackness provide foundational understandings of the past and present by validating the Black experience and by explicating the relationship of Black people to the rest of the world. Even though Afropessimism itself locates Black people outside of politics, it prompts those of us who are interested in a politics after Afropessimism to consider what we might or can do in the face of a world that again and again refuses Blackness.
While I stress the political potential of Afropessimism, I also agree with and extend a few of Dawson’s criticisms of Afropessimism. I am particularly interested in the political stakes of centering Black death as the lens through which to view the world. Afropessimism’s singular lens is useful when naming the enduring problems of white supremacy and anti-Blackness; however, I worry that it limits the scope of political possibilities that can be pursued by linking anti-Blackness with the struggles of other marginalised people and by embracing the fights of multiply-marginalised Black people.
Thus, I conclude that a Black politics and Black life must be pursued beyond Afropessimism. Black culture and Black recognition provide the foundation that links Black people together beyond conditions of oppression, forms the basis of solidarity politics, and prompts us to imagine otherwise.
I. A Black Experience
Afropessimism offers a paradigm through which Black anger and despair can be fully recognised given the terrain of anti-Blackness, which is a result of the position of Black as “slave.” Wilderson’s Afropessimism follows and extends Hartman who locates Black people in the “after-life of slavery—skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. Yet for Wilderson, the Black condition is not solely an “after-life” but a static condition of slavery and Black exploitation in relation to the rest of the world. Blackness is the “other” upon which the world turns and operates.
In reading Wilderson’s descriptions of his life experiences of racism, both micro and macro aggressions, it seemed clear to me something was being articulated that was familiar to all Black people, something worth acknowledging for the truth it reveals and the foundational understanding it provides: the Black experience of being unacceptable to white people, being outside of social life, and unworthy of recognition.
Wilderson recounts conversations with his childhood friend’s white mother, wherein she asks the “unasked question,” first through his friend, then directly “How do you feel, being a Negro?” This exchange echoes Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk, wherein he ponders, “How does it feel to be a problem?” Wilderson’s personal experiences, though in some ways limiting the scope of his argument due to his positionality as a middle-class man, provide entry into the experience of Blackness as Black autobiographical writing has done throughout history. The barrage of attacks on Wilderson from white neighbors and colleagues echo a common theme throughout Black biography: an outsider looking in, an invisible man, or a woman hiding in the attic.
Wilderson asserts that the senselessness and inhumanity of racism and anti-Blackness can only make sense if to be Black is to not be human but to be in the category of slave. He emphasises that the history and presence of anti-Black violence is insurmountable in the political arena. He expounds on this in conversation with Linette Park for The Black Scholar, wherein he declares that there is no need for some “telos” or “destination” for Black rage. Instead, Wilderson suggests we should “pick the scab and let Black people do the work of combustion” without the “mandate of uplift” or the “mandate of civil rights.” In this way, Wilderson says, we have a “mandate of true acknowledgement of what snaps in the mind from the death of Black desire, and we’re saying that’s okay. Because, nothing can happen in this world without Black people being at the core!”
I am open to the political implications of what it means to be neither in nor of the world, positioned outside of social and civic life, and inhabiting an outsider status from where one could let go of the present and strive for a different future. Following Jasmine Syedullah, I recognise that pessimism, in particular, can serve as a “prophetic defense against the future white supremacy makes all but inescapable...despair works to expose the limits of political agency, incorporation, representation, and progress.” Afropessimism, then, suggests that to reach for some common ground with a white supremacist system is and always has been futile, given the relentless and ongoing reality of Black death since slavery. This axiom allows Black people to step away and slip through an open door to something else.
Furthermore, I agree with Sexton when he writes “Slavery must be theorised maximally if its abolition is to reach the proper level.” Sexton goes on, “The singularity of slavery is the prerequisite of its universality.” I therefore agree that the emphasis on anti-Black slavery is a useful anchor, pulling the conversation to the crux of the matter. Only in a system defined by anti-Black slavery can the logics of racism, the carceral state, colorism, capitalism, persistent inequalities in wealth and status, and diasporic divisions of Black people across space and time make sense.
There is power in naming the reality of the present in the realm of a post-slavery continuum that demonstrates how what is remains linked to what was. If Black people remain in an undignified state of being, that helps explain ongoing dissatisfaction, anger, and uprisings. Black activists’ extension of the “abolitionist” fight from slavery to mass incarceration, for example, demonstrates the discursive power and mobilising potential of placing modern struggles within the long trajectory of anti-Blackness.
II. The Limits of Afropessimism
Despite the discursive power of slavery and anti-Blackness as the defining backdrop of the modern world, this framing has important limits. Dawson asserts that Afropessimism, in its singular focus on new world slavery, obscures the genocide of Indigenous people and flattens the experience of Black people. I argue that we must be able to reasonably acknowledge and centre the experiences of Black people vis-à-vis slavery, while also linking this struggle with other experiences of colonisation and marginality. Two things can happen at once. Attention to the struggles of others does not weaken or shrink the gravity of Black struggle.
Without acknowledging the struggle of other marginalised groups, Afropessimism, as Dawson writes, is theoretically limited by not acknowledging the context in which slavery occurs. Afropessimism loses the fuller story of white supremacy and ignores that the anti-Black capitalist world was made possible through centuries of genocide and displacement of Indigenous people. Without this story, we cannot comprehend Black peoples’ stakes in fights against capitalism, colonisation, and the fight for environmental justice. The lack of acknowledgement of the colonisation of Indigenous people at the outset of modernity withdraws Black struggle into itself and refuses to see the areas upon which collaboration, mutual interests, and common enemies can build a pathway forward.
In addition, Afropessimism needlessly limits the scope of its argument focusing solely on the trials of anti-Blackness. However, anti-Blackness, and sexism, and classism, and homophobia, and (etc)... are all defining and intersecting struggles in Black life. I do not think that the answer is mere recognition of these struggles, wherein simple acknowledgement or “representation” is the reliable answer. Rather, we should name these systems of domination as part and parcel of anti-Black practices because Black people bear the brunt of all of these “-isms” in distinct ways. The Black experience is expansive and we cannot ignore the variations in conditions that make for better or worse life chances.
I am concerned that Afropessimism forecloses questions of solidarity, refusing the possibility that Black people can ever benefit from true cross-racial solidarity, as well as refusing the power of Black led social movements.
Wilderson writes that “left-wing counter-hegemonic alliances” are “an essential terror” and that “coalitions and social movements—even radical social movements like the Prison Abolition Movement—bound up in the solicitation of hegemony, so as to fortify and extend the interlocutory life of civil society...ultimately accommodate only the satiable demands and legible conflicts of civil society’s junior partners (such as immigrants, White women, the working class), but foreclose upon the insatiable demands and illegible antagonisms of Blacks” (emphasis Wilderson’s).
There is something to be learned and understood from the assertion that everyone is anti-Black, and that there (perhaps) can be no pure solidarity. I accept that. When Wilderson recounts his Palestinian friend’s anti-Blackness, or when his father was called a n*gger by a Native American man, I do not excuse these as one-off experiences but as examples of the embeddedness of anti-Blackness. There is no good reason to ignore this fact and I am not here to suggest that we pursue cross-racial solidarity at the expense of Black safety and well-being, or that we should prioritise coalitional politics only, or before first building up Black political bonds.
But avoiding opportunities for solidarity leaves a lot on the table. Acting in solidarity connects multiple struggles against white supremacy and builds power, rendering solidarity a useful tool that can be used to accomplish political goals and better the terrain, even in an anti-Black world. And better is not perfect, but it is better.
It is better for Black people to be out of prison than inside of it, it is better for Black people to be able to vote than to not be able to vote, even as anti-Blackness says those voting rights are and will always be under attack. It is better for Black people to enter class struggle in solidarity with other workers. The fight for a free Palestine has always been and always will be intertwined with the Black freedom struggle. We cannot slide into a realm of futility that diminishes the value of waging political fights for subjugated people the world over.
This is not to say that progress is a given, or that there are no fights that Black people should refuse. It is not evident to me that the oft quoted Martin Luther King Jr. aphorism “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” is accurate. I do not think that Black people should be in coalitions with people who deny their humanity. Black people will have to fight for every modicum of progress and will have to use discernment about who fights alongside. Guidance for these fights, though, can be found in a rich Black radical tradition. Furthermore, Black culture and Black community can serve as grounding and mobilising forces beyond the realities of anti-Blackness.
IV. Black Life Matters
“The archival of black life is more than counting the dead, the maimed, and the dispossessed. Rather, it holds a possibility of deep remembrance of the freedom dreams of our ancestors, those who walked before us, and walk beside us, and those yet to come. Freedom dreams don’t live in real time. They live in epiphenomenal time—that black (w)hole of our existence in which the past, present and future are coiled around each other like that tiny black curl at the nape of your neck your grandmama used to call a “kitchen.”
-- Zenzele Isoke, “Black Ethnography, Black (Female)Aesthetics: Thinking/ Writing/ Saying/ Sounding Black Political Life”
While Afropessimism offers an intellectual path away from this world, it does not fully revel in the pleasurable cultural experiences of being Black. This includes the continuum of common experiences, language, and culture through which Black people are able to recognise, know and acknowledge each other. Thus, the pathway forward after Afropessimism must be sought elsewhere.
Sexton argues that “Nothing in afro-pessimism suggests that there is no black (social) life, only that black life is not social life in the universe formed by the codes of state and civil society, of citizen and subject, of nation and culture, of people and place, of history and heritage, of all the things that colonial society has in common with the colonised, of all that capital has in common with labour—the modern world system. Black life is not lived in the world that the world lives in, but it is lived underground, in outer space.”
It may be the case that Black social life is lived outside of civil society. But even so, Black social life and culture deserves a central place in the condition of Blackness as it has always been there, moving Black people through and forward. New and old Black feminisms and Black queer politics provide rich, grounding traditions of expansive togetherness, inclusion and safety for all Black people, even as these were and are located outside of mainstream feminist and queer movements. Though the world is predicated on Black death, Black people can be revived through Black collectivity. As Kevin Quashie writes, “Antiblackness is part of blackness but not all of how or what blackness is. Antiblackness is total in the world but not total in the black world.”
Black art and literature, Black music, call and response traditions, the Black church: there is so much we give for and to us that gives cause and reason to carry on, to not despair, and to fight at least for the space where we can be us, even if that space is outside of the social world. Traditions seen as errant and often unrecognised for their artistic contributions mean something to Black people and demonstrate that Black existence is more than just a condition of slavery. We should revel in who Black people are in spite of anti-Blackness, not to ignore its persistence but to honour those who came before.
While we must take care not to, as Hartman warns, “fill in the void” with political projects that are ultimately integrationist, nor reclaim struggles against anti-Black violence as some demonstration of otherworldly strength or endurance. I think, however, there are ways to revel in Blackness that exists outside of what are typically seen as justice-bent goals or characteristics, like integration or endurance. Black people can, in fact, revel in their outsider status, as Hartman demonstrates in her book Wayward Lives, and build a “transformational politics from below,” as Cohen discusses in her essay, “Deviance as Resistance.”
In this essay, I find important political potential in grounding anti-Blackness as the defining condition of the world, as it validates and speaks to the Black experience. However, I also agree with Dawson’s critique that Afropessimism does not adequately recognise the struggles of other marginalised groups and homogenises the Black experience.
I find important limitations in the theory of Afropessimism as it forecloses possibilities for linked solidarity struggles by minimising the struggles of other marginalised groups outside of Blackness. Even as the outsider status of Blackness provides a generative space to pursue a different world and even revel in Black life, Afropessimism alone does not fully appreciate Black cultural traditions.
We may hold Afropessimism as a truism describing the state of the world; but I see Black radicalism and Black feminism as the imaginative, world-building politics that provide a path forward. Author and womanist Alice Walker, speaking at an Anti-Nuke Rally at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1982, offers food for thought in this regard:
“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it. In any case, Earth is my home—though for centuries white people have tried to convince me I have no right to exist, except in the dirtiest, darkest corners of the globe.
So let me tell you: I intend to protect my home. Praying—not a curse—only the hope that my courage will not fail my love. But if by some miracle, and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing (and everything is alive) will save humankind.
And we are not saved yet.
Only justice can stop a curse.”
 Ellison, R. 1995. Invisible man. New York: Vintage International.
 Hartman, Saidiya. 2007. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux: 6.
 Wilderson, Frank. 2020. Afropessimism. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation: 24-27.
 Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903, 1994). The Souls of Black Folk. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. 1.
 Park, Linette. 2020. “Afropessimism and Futures of …: A Conversation with Frank Wilderson.” The Black Scholar 50(3): 40.
 Gordon, Lewis R., Annie Menzel, George Shulman, and Jasmine Syedullah. 2018. “Afro Pessimism.” Contemporary Political Theory 17(1): 128.
 Sexton, Jared. 2011. “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afropessimism and Black Optimism.” InTensions Journal. Issue 5: Fall/Winter. Toronto: York University: 33.
 Ibid, 33.
 Or, perhaps Afropessimists would say, slower or faster deaths.
 Wilderson, Frank. 2020. 222-223.
 Ibid,12-13 & 44.
 Isoke, Zenzele. 2018. “Black Ethnography, Black (Female) Aesthetics: Thinking/ Writing/ Saying/ Sounding Black Political Life. Theory and Event, Vol 21(1): 149.
 Sexton, Jared, 2011. 28.
 Quashie, Kevin. 2021. Black Aliveness, Or a Poetics of Being. Durham; London: Duke University Press: 5.
 Hartman, Saidiya V. and Frank B. Wilderson. 2003. “The Position of the Unthought.” Qui Parle 13(2): 186.
 Cohen, Cathy J. 2004. “Deviance As Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 1(1): 42.
 Walker, Alice. 1983. “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse,” in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. Barbara Smith, ed. New York: Kitchen Table—Women of Color Press.
by Marcus Lee
Michael Dawson’s critique of Afropessimism centers primarily on the striking inattention to historical detail in the writings of Frank Wilderson and Jared Sexton. Both writers pose slavery and the present as so deeply interwoven that claims of historical continuity require neither explanation nor qualification. Wilderson writes, “The changes that begin to occur after the Civil War and up through the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American election of a Black president are merely changes in the weather. Despite the fact that the sadism [i.e. spectacular, gratuitous violence] is no longer played out in the open as it was in 1840, nothing essential has changed.” Sexton likewise suggests that the structural relations constitutive of slavery remain pervasive and are unyielding, “regardless of variance or permutation in [their] operation across the better part of a millennium.” According to Dawson, these sweeping claims, as well as many of the other theoretical maneuvers in Wilderson and Sexton’s writings, work to obscure rather than clarify the terms of antiblackness and result in a general loss of analytic purchase on the current moment.
I appreciate Dawson’s historically informed critique. Wilderson and Sexton often substitute rhetorical flourish for the opportunity to parse historical detail or substantiate claims. In reading Wilderson’s memoir, Afropessimism, however, I am struck by his unique mode of narrative theorising. Whereas Dawson bases his critique in empirical precision and historical specificity, Wilderson revels in the personal and the polemical. Wilderson’s sweeping claims, on my reading of them, do not just constitute historical slippages or inaccuracies, but also imply that history itself is somehow beside the point or irrelevant to his theoretical propositions. In other words, there seems to be a certain methodological incongruence between Dawson’s critique and Wilderson’s writing: while the former is concerned with material histories, the latter is theorising on different grounds entirely. This is not to diminish the significance of Dawson’s response; critical readings need not occupy the same analytic register as the objects to which they are responding in order to be generative. And—regardless of the utility of historical observations in Wilderson and Sexton’s writings—Dawson is correct to warn against the real-world implications of glossing over records of struggle and political economic change in order to craft theory. As he notes: “What is at stake is far more critical than an academic debate between abstract theorists.”
Still, the methodological incongruence between Dawson’s critique and Wilderson’s Afropessimism begs a set of questions: To what extent can historical data serve as counterevidence to a text whose animating assumption appears to be that history matters little? How might a more immanent critique of Afropessimism be constructed? What grounds Wilderson’s theoretical propositions, if not history? In other words, how does Wilderson arrive at Afropessimism and what might be said about the case material that gets him there?
The starting-point for this brief essay is Wilderson’s implicit invitation to read Afropessimism differently: not just as a field of critical theory or school of thought, but as a historical mood, a sensibility, or—what Jafari Allen would call—a “habit of mind.” What interests me are not Wilderson’s empirical or historical observations, of which he offers few in Afropessimism, but his narrative strategy. Following the literary styles of writers like Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, and Saidiya Hartman, Wilderson fills his text with accounts of ordinary, yet personally formative encounters: a conversation with his grandmother, a fight at a boys’ club, an embarrassing moment with a romantic partner, drama with the landlord, a cab ride, office hours with a student, etc. The details of his narration—including its organisation, whom he does and does not give voice, and which encounters warrant reflection—provide the basis of his case for Afropessimism. I submit that readers might gain additional traction on the theoretical innerworkings of the text by examining the implications of Wilderson’s genre choice and writerly tendencies.
One of the noticeable features of Afropessimism, on my reading, is how little narrative significance Wilderson assigns to dialogue among Black people. Although he describes Afropessimism as “Black people at their best,” Wilderson narrates very few scenes of Black people at all. Instead, he provides many accounts of one Black person—himself—being alienated by his non-Black counterparts—e.g. a conversation between he and a Palestinian friend; a game of “secret agent” between he and three White childhood neighbors; a reception with non-Black attendees of a workshop in Berlin. It is through these encounters and others like them that Wilderson comes to recognise his standing in the world as a Black person. However, he gives short shrift to moments of intra-racial witnessing. To the extent that Wilderson does narrate encounters between and among Black people, he nearly always presents them as scenes of resentment, anxiety, or failed intimacy. In this way, Black people appear to have no moments of recognition between them—certainly no intra-racial sociality—but only what he calls “intra-Black imbroglio”: enduring confusion, painful embarrassment, or bitter misunderstanding.
Perhaps, then, it is not just a stubborn inattention to history that leads Wilderson to elide the development of intra-racial communication networks, art and literary circles, political institutions, churches, and mutual aid societies across the late-19th and 20th centuries (or what Dawson calls “the formation of modern black civil society”), but rather a more fundamental failure to imagine generative relationships between and among black people. Or, perhaps his tendency to discount patriarchy is not just the result of empirical imprecision, but is linked to how he narrates relationships and encounters with Black women—for instance, how might we understand Wilderson’s infatuation with Bernadette, onto whom he projects fantasies of an unnamed, slain Black woman? Or his general tendency not to reflect on relationships with Black women at all, except when their lives indicate forms of violence that prove rhetorically useful in his narrative? Maybe Wilderson’s insistence that “Blackness is coterminous with Slaveness” is not only a misreading of the historical record, but also the product of a habit of mind attuned to seeing “intra-Black imbroglio” first. What I am suggesting here is that Wilderson’s sweeping claims are not just inaccurate observations, but are indicative of a practice of reading, a sensibility—one more invested in the rhetorical uses of anti-black violence and death than the historical fact or political implications of intra-racial sociality.
The current uptake of Afropessimism within and outside of the academy indicates that many find its habits of mind appealing. This is likely attributable, at least in part, to the countless episodes of violence and democratic failure that shape our present: the mediatised killings of Black people, the election of Donald Trump (despite the popular vote), the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (despite—or maybe because of—their major political contributions to the expansion of prisons and police), inequitable access to COVID-19 related health care, etc. Black people have good reason to feel pessimistic. However, it seems that Afropessimism does not only model pessimistic feeling, but also a set of practices or a sensibility that discounts intra-racial sociality. We lose more than we gain, politically speaking, when our rage toward the world is undercut by a failure to witness each other. Countering the perils of Afropessimism requires historical correction as well as the development of an alternate habit of mind.
 Frank B. Wilderson, Afropessimism (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 2020), 96.
 Jared Sexton, “People-of-Color-Blindness: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery,” Social Text 28 (2(103)) (2010), 37.
 Jafari Allen, “One View from a Deterritorialized Realm: How Black/Queer Renarrativizes Anthropological Analysis,” Cultural Anthropology 32(4) (2016), 620.
 Wilderson, Afropessimism, 40.
 Ibid., 100.
 Ibid., 152–5.
by Emily Katzenstein
Afropessimism issues a radical challenge to contemporary theories of the role and nature of anti-Blackness and its relation to other forms of oppression and domination. As the very term makes clear, it is characterised by a deeply pessimistic attitude towards the possibility of Black liberation. For Afropessimists, modernity inaugurates a “new ontology” of anti-Blackness that defines Blackness, as a constructed category, as inextricably tied to the condition of enslavement and thus as a structural position of “social death.” Afropessimists here draw on the work of Orlando Patterson, who understands enslavement as a form of “social death” defined as “natal alienation, generalised dishonor and violent domination”. As Frank Wilderson III, one of the leading theorists of Afropessimism, puts it: “Blackness and Slaveness are inextricably bound in such a way that whereas Slaveness can be separated from Blackness, Blackness cannot exist as other than Slaveness.” Wilderson thus rejects, in the most radical way possible, a narrative of progressive Black emancipation. Blackness as a structural position remains essentially fixed despite historical changes, no matter how transformative they may seem. “The changes that begin to occur after the Civil War and up through the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American election of a Black president,” Wilderson argues “are merely changes in the weather.”
But Afropessimism not only issues a radical challenge to theories and histories of anti-Blackness. It also challenges the idea that anti-Blackness functions analogously to other forms of oppression and domination that are based on distinctions of gender, race, ethnicity, or class. Anti-Blackness, in Afropessimist thought, isn’t one form of subjugation amongst many forms of oppression (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) but a condition of radical alterity and abjection that must be recognised as the limit of the human condition—the other of the category of “human.” Laying claim to humanity in the face of pervasive dehumanisation, Afropessimism insists, is doomed to failure because Blackness denotes a position from which laying claim to “humanity” is a political and, indeed, ontological impossibility. This implies a radical reconceptualisation of the relationship between struggles for Black freedom and struggles against other forms of oppression. In his most recent book, Afropessimism, for example, Wilderson argues that non-Black struggles against domination ultimately only become legible through the comparative illegibility of Black political claims and thus perpetuate the exclusion of Blackness from the category of “human” in order to make themselves legible as “human.”
In this series of essays on Afropessimism, which will be published in installments, Michael Dawson, Jordie Davies and Marcus Lee reflect on and grapple with the theoretical and political challenges that Afropessimism poses. In the first essay of the series, Michael Dawson reflects on the question of whether an ontological account of Blackness can theorise anti-Blackness in its complexity and in its changing historical articulations and asks if Afropessimism allows us to recognise the ways in which different forms of domination are articulated. Dawson evaluates Afropessimism’s relationship to other ideological traditions in Black political thought, such as Black nationalism and Black radical thought. In this context, he critically examines Afropessimism’s foregrounding of the libidinal (rather than political) economy and assesses its potential for generating a critique of the entanglements of white supremacy and capitalism.
In “Afropessimism and Narrative Theorising”, Marcus Lee offers a rejoinder to Michael Dawson’s critique of Afropessimism. Lee provides a close reading of Frank Wilderson’s authorial and narrative strategies and reflects on how Afropessimism imagines Black sociality and practices of recognition.
In the final essay in the series, “After Afropessimism,” which will be published on 31 May, Jordie Davies asks what political opportunities Afropessimism presents by re-centering anti-Blackness in struggles against racism and white supremacy and tackles the implications that Afropessimism has for coalition-building in movement politics.
 Wilderson, Frank B. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2010: 18ff.
 Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. ACLS Humanities E-book. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982: 38.
 George Shulman. "Theorizing Life Against Death." Contemporary Political Theory 17:1 (February 2018), pp. 118-127: 119.
 Wilderson, Frank B. Afropessimism. Liveright: Kindle Edition, 2020: 42.
 Ibid., 96.
 Wilderson, Frank B. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2010: 20
 Wilderson, Frank B. Afropessimism Liveright: Kindle Edition, 2020: 243ff.
by Katrine Fangen
Over the past two decades, negative images of Muslims and Islam have become widespread throughout Europe and North America. Many of the images represent Islam (and particularly male Muslims) as a threat, as can be seen in the portrayal of Muslims as potential terrorists, as rapefugees (rapist refugees), or as patriarchal and misogynistic. In addition, worries are expressed about Muslims becoming ‘too many’ in number, leading to the gradual decline of the national population (defined as non-Muslim). Although some of these images have a long history in Europe, and can be traced back to colonialism and Orientalism, research has identified a sharp increase in representations of Islam as a threat after 9/11, when ‘virtually all parties and formations on the radical right made the confrontation with Islam a central political issue’. Within more mainstream political parties, too, there have been calls for the acculturation of Muslims to ‘our way of life’. The ‘war on terror’ itself has been said to have contributed to the derogatory portrayal of Muslims. Other critical events during the past two decades have also contributed to the threat-image of Islam, including Turkey’s EU application, which led to a ‘Europe versus Islam’ discourse, and the civil war in Syria, which triggered discussion on the securitisation of borders both in the aftermath of the war and during the preceding ‘refugee crisis’.
Terms like ‘Islamisation’ and ‘Eurabia’ point to concerns that Islam is slowly but significantly taking hold in European societies and replacing the Christian-Occidental values on which those societies were built. Related fears include demographic visions of a white population slowly dying out and the idea that Muslims with large families will take over through what those concerned see as a form of demographic warfare. Belief in such a scenario, which was popularised by the author Bat Ye’or, is shared by many different anti-Islamic actors.
Defining the concept
There is little agreement on what might be the best term for capturing generalising and negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam. Many academics prefer the notion of ‘Islamophobia’. First used by two Muslim authors at the end of World War I, this term was introduced into the social sciences by Edward Said in 1985, and grew significantly in popularity after it was used in a 1997 report from the Runnymede Trust. According to that report, what characterises Islamophobia are its closed views on Islam as static and monolithic, as an inferior ‘other’ and separate from the West, and as a manipulative enemy. Erik Bleich’s definition of Islamophobia as ‘indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims’ is also very useful, as it captures the importance of strong negative emotions in anti-Islamic discourse. The term ‘anti-Islamic’, however, also highlights the role of strong negative emotions, and furthermore avoids any association with a psychological diagnosis that might be involved in use of the suffix ‘-phobia’. In this term, the prefix ‘anti-’ points to a sort of antagonism, or even aversion, which is important, since what is being designated here is more than mere criticism of religion. For the purpose of this article, then, I will use the term ‘anti-Islamic’, which is defined here as referring to groups or actors who advocate policies to restrict Islamic immigration or the practice of the Muslim faith, and to ‘the framing of Islam as a homogeneous, totalitarian ideology that threatens Western civilisation’.
What characterises anti-Islamic actors?
Anti-Islamic actors are opposed to Islam in itself and often hold that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim, as they think so-called moderate Muslims are only hiding their true intentions. They have in common the adoption of a strong stance against Muslim immigration and all forms of Islamic influence. What they identify as unwanted Islamic influence includes everything from the building of mosques to the use of Islamic clothing such as hijabs and, last but not least, all forms of special treatment. Anti-Islamic groups argue that Muslims do not fit into Western society, and stress that Islam as a religion preaches a fundamental hatred towards Western values and ways of life. Further, some of them hold that Muslim men are inherently dangerous and cannot ‘be taught how to behave’. The dislike of Islam and Muslims is so strong that it encompasses a whole range of negative emotions such as anger, fear, and aversion.
In political terms, strong anti-Muslim attitudes are often located on the far-right end of the political spectrum, although there are certainly instances of anti-Islam attitudes at the left or centre of politics too. One of the most prominent features of the far right is nativism, or the view that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the relevant native group and that non-native persons and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the nation-state’s homogeneity. Members of the far right see fighting against those who ‘threaten’ a change in the beliefs and values of the nation as one of their main tasks. Typical for anti-Islamic actors is that it is first and foremost Muslims who are not defined as members of the native group (even when they are born in the country).
Different actors in the anti-Islamic movement
The many anti-Islamic groups that have arisen in different countries throughout Europe and North America since 2000 can be seen as constituting an anti-Islamic movement because of their shared anti-Islamic identity and rhetoric. There are many different types of actors in this movement—ranging from politicians or political parties, social movement organisations, and social media groups to individual actors (e.g. individuals writing in the comments sections of newspaper articles). There are connections between some of these actors, and even influence and collaboration across national borders, but there are also many actors who operate more or less on their own. Influence occurs, for example, through the reading of news on alternative media sites, some of which (e.g. Breitbart) are widely read across national borders, and such alternative news is spread widely on social media. An important feature of these alternative news sites is that they build a community of like-minded individuals, although these individuals are not members of a defined group. Further, anti-Islamic ideas and negative sentiments are also spread by the posting of internet memes in social media. Such memes contribute to a nasty form of humour and often dehumanisation of Muslims.
Influence is further seen in the fact that similar social movement organisations have emerged in many different countries, such as Stop Islamisation of America, Stop Islamisation of Europe, Stop Islamisation of Denmark, and Stop Islamisation of Norway. Similarly, the organisation Pegida, originally established in Germany, subsequently emerged in many other European countries. Even though many of the groups operate mostly in a national context, they obviously get inspiration from similar groups in other countries. This also holds for right-wing populist parties that have a strong anti-Islamic platform, whose intensive collaboration in recent years has led to the coining of the term ‘nationalist international’ to refer to them.
In addition, different actors espouse different degrees of extremeness, and the degree of extremeness may vary over time depending on the particular context in which it is expressed: In interviews with anti-Islamic actors, many reveal that they are far more extreme when writing posts on social media or in the comments sections of news outlets than they would be when speaking face-to-face with another person. It is from the internet sphere that far-right terrorists have gained inspiration and support for acts of terror they subsequently carried out. Therefore, the spread of anti-Islamic ideas through social media groups or more extreme internet platforms is far from just a possibly harmless online phenomenon. In Norway, a country that had previously seen very little terrorism, the last decade has witnessed both the worst violent attack on Norwegian soil since World War II and a later unsuccessful act of terror. On 22 July 2011, concern about the Islamisation of Europe motivated Anders Behring Breivik to detonate a bomb at the Norwegian government’s headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people, and to thereafter engage in a shooting rampage directed against adolescents attending a Labour Party youth camp, in which 69 people were killed. Philip Manshaus, who attempted to shoot Muslims at the Al-Noor Islamic Centre on 10 August 2019, was similarly inspired by anti-Islamist ideas. In other parts of the world, too, terror attacks have been motivated by anti-Muslim ideas (e.g. the Christchurch terror attack that Manshaus cited as a direct inspiration for his own failed terror attack). It is therefore vital that we keep track of the worldviews and mobilising potential of anti-Islamic groups, online and offline.
Leaders of anti-Islamic organisations
One important way of accessing what goes on in the mind of anti-Islamists is to interview them. Interviews with leaders of various anti-Islamic movement organisations have revealed that one of their main goals is to ‘reverse the Islamisation of society’. Social movements emerge as a reaction to something in society that certain actors think is intrinsically wrong and therefore needs to be changed. Even though the leaders of anti-Islamic groups share a nativist conception of what needs to be changed—that is, they believe that there are too many Muslims within their societies and that these Muslims threaten ‘national culture’ or ‘national values’—they differ in the degrees of extremism they espouse in relation to what needs to be done to address that issue.
The position of individuals and groups along the spectrum of extremism, however, can shift over time, and we have seen several examples of proponents of more moderate forms of anti-Islamism later moving on to more extreme standpoints—for example, Geert Wilders, who in the late 1990s was warning against the threat of Islamic terrorism and had a more national-liberal standpoint, but from 2005 onwards viewed Islam as the cause of ‘all sorts of problems’, demanded the full assimilation of Muslims and advocated a much more national-conservative form of anti-Islamism.
In addition to portraying Muslims as criminal and dangerous, those that suggest that Muslims are the cause of all sorts of problems often argue that Muslims do not contribute to society and instead represent a significant economic cost for the nation-state. According to this view, most Muslim immigrants are not refugees, but rather welfare tourists. Such attitudes form part of a broader discourse about immigrants as a burden on the welfare system, which, in Kymlicka’s terms, can be labelled ‘welfare chauvinism’.
The ‘solution’ put forward for the ‘problems’ identified above is often greater integration, or even assimilation, of Muslims. Another proposed ‘solution’ is a concern about national values, as well as human rights in general, along with an argument in favour of the voluntary return of Muslim immigrants. However, a more extreme variant is the view that Muslims should be forced to distance themselves from Islam or be deported, which implies a clear break with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights (which specifies the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion). The most extreme variant is the call for extermination, as exemplified in the terror attack on the Christ Church mosque in New Zealand, when 51 people were killed.
Tracking anti-Islamic discussions on the Internet
Another way of studying anti-Islamic actors is to scrutinise the discussions taking place on various online platforms, which range from the more extreme sites in which actual violence has been planned and celebrated, such as 4chan, 8chan, and Telegram, to more moderate anti-Islamic social media groups. Even on mainstream social media such as Facebook, however, the discussion threads tend to be rather extreme—combining the use of anger, fear, and vomit emoticons with dehumanising words and metaphors, and even calls for violence.
The study of social media groups provides access to the ideas of individuals who have not necessarily taken the step of joining a defined anti-Islamist group. The memberships of anti-Islamist groups on social media may be much larger than those of social movement organisations. In Norway, for example, the number of anti-Islamists that meet up at demonstrations organised by groups such as Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) is much smaller than the number of people taking part in social media groups supporting the same organisation. Indeed, it is a general trend that participation on the internet is stronger than actual participation in demonstrations: It is a much bigger step to actually attend a demonstration that might be met with a counter-demonstration than it is to participate in online groups. The Monday demonstrations in Dresden organised by the anti-Islamist organisation Pegida represent something of an atypical case in this context. At the height of their support, they succeeded in drawing large numbers of people, with 25,000 in January 2015 being the highest recorded attendance. Support for the organisation has since declined, however, and an interesting finding has been that although Pegida triggered more reactions in the form of likes and comments online the more radicalised content they published, public support for the group (in the form of people present at demonstrations) declined as the organisation became more radicalised. Accordingly, it seems that people are more willing to engage in extreme content in online settings than in public.
In my analysis of two anti-Islamic Facebook groups, it became evident that references to Muslims often involved the use of dehumanising, derogatory, and sexist words, expressions, images, and statements. In general, it was striking how central gendered arguments were in these anti-Islamic groups. In descriptions of the particular traits and characteristics of Muslim women, the terms used focused not just on their suppression, but also on their alleged stupidity (e.g. ‘ghost’, ‘Halloween costume’, etc.). In other words, these women were seen as passively accepting oppression and thus divested of agency. Similar de-agentification has been seen historically towards, among others, the uneducated working class. However, in contrast to a de-agentification found in the latter example through the use of passive language which obscure’s people’s agency, Muslim women in these Facebook groups were also dehumanised through the use of derogatory words. Alongside the images of oppressed Muslim women, however, there was also an image of Muslim women holding positions of power in politics, who were therefore targeted for hatred because they were thought to represent proof of ‘Islamisation by stealth’. We see here opposition both to the top and to the bottom—in other words, what Brubaker describes as vertical and horizontal opposition—both to the elite and to outside groups. Typically, outside groups are construed at the bottom by representing them as parasites or dangerous, and in any case unworthy of respect.
Muslim men, on the other hand, were characterised through the use of words that focused on how dangerous and discriminating they are to women. They were in general described as violent savages and as unable to learn how to behave. Such dehumanising forms of discourse can have very serious consequences for those concerned, since, in the words of Bandura, ‘once dehumanised, they are no longer viewed as persons with feelings, hopes, and concerns but as sub-human objects’. Group members used arguments about the dangers that Muslim men represented for women to justify the total exclusion of Muslims from access to Norway.
The way in which Muslim men and women are described in these Facebook groups is racist in the sense that Muslims are scorned both when they are seen as backwards because of their religious clothing or practice and when they are more secular and integrated and hold positions of power in society. In other words, no matter how Muslims behave, they will be scorned. Secular Muslims in positions of power are viewed only as evidence of Islamisation by stealth—that is, the gradual Islamisation of society. We can therefore say that discussants either implicitly or explicitly rely on the so-called Eurabia discourse, where even moderate Muslims are considered suspicious, as they are seen to be trying to incorporate Islam into Norwegian society in a disguised way.
The discussion threads analysed in my article on anti-Islamic Facebook groups are in line with the now-familiar and dominating narrative of Islam as the ‘other’, in which the main reason for being opposed to Islam is that it is associated with the oppression of women. Nevertheless, I found a paradoxical twist in that this representation of Islam as detrimental to gender equality was accompanied by highly sexist language, a feature not usually associated with being in favour of gender equality. Interestingly, the women in the two Facebook groups studied were as sexist in their vocabulary as the men. Such sexist rhetoric has obviously become jargon within these types of groups, where the intention is both to offend Muslims and to demarcate the gender-equal Norwegian in-group. As Brubaker has pointed out, provocative statements of such a nature represent a conscious opposition to political correctness. The approach is similar to what Gabriella Coleman has described as Trump’s style of ‘conspicuous rudeness, crude sexual references, and a general “bad boy” demeanour’ aimed at projecting ‘an image of authenticity’.
The seemingly humorous jargon used in the degrading of Muslims takes the form of what Sara Ahmed calls ‘the social production of disgust’ and reveals the centrality of emotions such as fear, anger, and contempt in anti-Islamic discourse. In the group members’ discussions, we see how humour is ‘used’ as a means of transgression, and how through such transgression the members create an online community culture in which they support and applaud each other’s anti-Islamic sentiments. Further research is needed into the importance of emotions, jargon, and humour in such anti-Islamic social media platforms, as this will provide an important window into the collective atmosphere of hatred and disdain that is created in such groups.
Anti-Islam in political parties
Within the political sphere, it is first and foremost right-wing populist parties that have propagated anti-Islamic sentiments. A characteristic shared by many right-wing populist parties in Europe is that they make use of cultural arguments against Muslim immigration, saying that Islam is alien to a given national culture or identity. The various right-wing populist parties differ, however, in terms of how extreme their standpoints are regarding their views on Muslims. Norway’s Progress Party is one of the more moderate of these parties, although some of its members have been associated with more discriminatory comments. In general, the Progress Party used culturalist arguments far more openly while in opposition than during the period in which it was part of the country’s coalition government. The same holds true for Siv Jensen, the leader of the party, who in 2009, some years before the party joined a government coalition, initially introduced the term ‘Islamisation by stealth’. At that point in time, she sounded a warning against what was perceived as the threat of Muslims becoming ‘too numerous’ and gaining too much power within Norway. The term ‘Islamisation by stealth’ refers to the idea that, unbeknownst to the population, society is slowly but surely becoming ‘Islamised’, while the Muslims involved in this process are hiding their true intentions. This line of thought is very much a replication of the main thesis of the Eurabia theory. It seems noteworthy that such a line of thought is shared both by members of the far right and by some (though not all) politicians of the right-wing populist Progress Party, which, as noted above, formed part of a coalition government in Norway just a few years ago. In its party programme, however, the Progress Party does not argue against Muslim immigration as such, but it does argue strongly in favour of providing help to refugees in the countries close to where they fled from, and that Norway should only accept quota refugees, not refugees in general.
There are some interesting differences between right-wing populist parties in Germany and Norway in terms of the types of argumentation against Islam they use. The German national-populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) argues that Islam itself is in conflict with the free democratic order. An analysis of the anti-Islamic argumentation in German radical right parties and organisations revealed the importance of gendered arguments against Muslim migration, as members of these groups see women’s rights as being threatened by the influx of Islam. These organisations legitimise their political aim of restricting immigration by referring to security measures held to be necessary because of the alleged threat emanating from male Muslims. Inherent in this argumentation is an ethno-nationalist view: German culture is presented as superior when it comes to women’s rights, while Islam and non-Western cultures are portrayed as primitive, misogynistic, patriarchal, and inferior. Here we see an important difference between liberal anti-Islamists and their more national-conservative counterparts: while the former may feel the need to maintain at least the appearance of neutrality on questions regarding ethnic identity, this is not the case for the latter.
References to Christianity here form part of a civilisationist argument about the backwardness of Islam, where the underlying argument is that Christian-Occidental culture is threatened by Islamisation. Evidently, what is at stake here is not belonging to Christianity in itself; rather, as Brubaker aptly puts it, the Christian identity is used as ‘a way of defining “us” in relation to “them”.... Crudely put, if they are Muslim, then we must in some sense be Christian.’ As argued by Brubaker, the rhetorical use these parties make of Christianity is cultural rather than religious; likewise, their support for women’s rights could similarly be seen as a cultural understanding rather than a feminist one. By presenting Muslims from non-Western cultures as a threat to non-Muslim women and values, anti-Islamic groups aim to prevent them from settling.
This blog is based on a summary of some of the findings from earlier articles in which I and various colleagues have looked at different kinds of anti-Islamic actors, ranging from social media groups and social movement organisations to political parties and individual politicians. Of course, there is a difference between political parties and anti-Islamic movement organisations, yet some ideas—such as the notion of ‘Islamisation’—have seen considerable diffusion among both types of groups. Indeed, as many researchers have pointed out, anti-Islamic ideas in general have spread quite widely since the turn of the millennium. One important distinction between anti-Islamic ideas and more moderate views that should be borne in mind is that, in the latter, distinct practices are for example criticised because they are considered patriarchal, whereas in the anti-Islamic viewpoint, no matter what they do, Muslims represent a dangerous Islamisation of society. In addition, distinctions can be made between various anti-Islamic actors in terms of what measures they regard as legitimate and what kinds of rhetoric and activism they promote. In general, we might say that what anti-Islamic ideas have in common is that that they do not take into account the huge variations in the ways in which Muslims live their lives and practise their faith. As a result, Muslims are targeted even when moderate.
The mainstreaming of anti-Islamic ideas takes place first and foremost on the internet, where scornful comments against Muslims and Islam have become so common that moderators have a hard time dealing with the problem. But this mainstreaming of anti-Islamist discourse is a problem not just because Muslims face hate speech on the internet: even though many anti-Islamist groups do not advocate or condone violence, their rhetoric potentially functions as a mobilising force for more extreme and violent actors.
 Edward Said (1978) Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.
 Hans-Georg Betz (2007) Against the ‘green totalitarianism’: Anti-Islamic nativism in contemporary radical right-wing populism in Western Europe. In: Christiana Schori Liang (ed.) Europe for the Europeans: The Foreign and Security Policy of the Populist Radical Right. New York: Ashgate, pp. 33–54.
 Arun Kundnani (2007) Integrationism: The politics of anti-Muslim racism. Race & Class 48(4): 24–44.
 John Sides and Kimberley Gross (2013) Stereotypes of Muslims and support for the War on Terror. The Journal of Politics 75(3): 583–598. doi: 10.1017/s0022381613000388.
 Thomas Diez (2004) Europe’s others and the return of geopolitics. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17(2): 319–335. doi: 10.1080/0955757042000245924.
 Stephen Zunes (2017) Europe’s refugee crisis, terrorism, and Islamophobia. Peace Review 29(1): 1–6. doi: 10.1080/10402659.2017.1272275.
 Bat Ye’or (2005) Eurabia: The Euro–Arab Axis. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
 See AbdoolKarim Vakil (2009) Is the Islam in Islamophobia the same as the Islam in anti-Islam: Or, when is it Islamophobia time? e-cadernos CES 03. doi: 10.4000/eces.178.
 According to its website, Runnymede is the UK’s leading independent race-equality think-tank; see https://www.runnymedetrust.org/about.html.
 Chris Allen (2008) KISS Islamophobia (keeping it simple and stupid). In: Salman Sayyid and Abdool Karim Vakil (eds) Thinking Through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives. Symposium paper for the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, University of Leeds, pp. 30–33.
 Erik Bleich (2011) What is Islamophobia and how much is there? Theorizing and measuring an emerging comparative concept. American Behavioral Scientist 55(12): 1581–1600.
 Charles Miller (2017) Australia’s anti-Islam right in their own words: Text as data analysis of social media content. Australian Journal of Political Science 52(3): 383–401. doi: 10.1080/10361146.2017.1324561.
 Lars Erik Berntzen (2020) Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. London: Routledge, on p. 11.
 Katrine Fangen (2020) Gendered images of us and them in anti-Islamic Facebook groups. Politics, Religion & Ideology 21(4): 451–468.
 Sara Farris (2017) In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism. Durham. NC: Duke University Press.
 Cas Mudde (2016) On Extremism and Democracy in Europe. New York: Routledge, on p. 145.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Sveinung Sandberg (2014) The collective nature of lone wolf terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the anti-Islamic social movement. Terrorism and Political Violence 26(5): 759–779.
 Manès Weisskircher and Lars-Erik Berntzen (2019) Remaining on the streets. Anti-Islamic PEGIDA mobilization and its relationship to far-right party politics. In: Manuela Caiani and Ondřej Císař (eds) Radical Right ‘Movement Parties’ in Europe. Abingdon, Routledge.
 Kemal Dervis and Caroline Conroy (2018) Nationalists of the world, unite? Brookings, 26 November; available at: https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/nationalists-of-the-world-unite/.
 Katrine Fangen and Carina Riborg Holter (2020) The battle for truth: How online newspaper commenters defend their censored expressions. Poetics 80. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2019.101423.
 The need to engage with anti-Islamic actors is potentially important also for deradicalising purposes. However, the path to deradicalisation is not ambiguous. For example, there have been examples of dialogue meetings between anti-Islamists and Muslims, where the anti-Islamists afterwards expressed that they were interested in building bridges to the extent that this could serve to diminish the Islamization of society. See Helle Svanevik (2020) Dialogmøte mellom SIAN og Muslimsk dialogforum. Dagsavisen, 31 October; available at: https://www.dagsavisen.no/fremtiden/dialogmotet-mellom-sian-og-muslimsk-dialogforum-terrorister-bygger-ikke-broer-de-sprenger-dem-1.1795089.
 My recent article with Maria Reite Nilsen was based on interviews with leaders of Stop Islamisation of Norway, the Norwegian branch of Pegida and Vigrid (the latter in reality now more a one-man entity than a group); see Katrine Fangen and Maria Reite Nilsen (2020) Variations within the Norwegian far right: From neo-Nazism to anti-Islamism. Journal of Political Ideologies. doi: 10.1080/13569317.2020.1796347. In addition, in the project on which I am currently working – ‘Reaching Out to Close the Border: The Transnationalisation of Anti-Immigration Movements in Europe (MAM)’, based at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) – we are a group of researchers interviewing different actors in what could loosely be seen as the anti-immigrant movement in Europe (or rather, we interview different anti-immigrant actors and see what forms of national and transnational collaboration and inspiration are involved in their activities). By talking with the actors themselves, we get closer to understanding the inner dynamics of their ideas.
 Koen Vossen (2011) Classifying Wilders: The ideological development of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Politics 31(3): 179–189.
 Will Kymlicka (2015) Solidarity in diverse societies: Beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism. Comparative Migration Studies 3(17): 1–19.
 Fangen and Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Manés Weisskircher (2015) Anti-Islamic Pegida groups have spread beyond their German heartlands. LSE blogs, 17 June. Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/06/17/the-anti-islamic-pegida-movement-is-making-progress-outside-of-its-german-heartlands/.
 Sebastian Stier, Lisa Posch, Arnim Bleier and Markus Strohmaier (2017) When populists become popular: Comparing Facebook use by the right-wing movement Pegida and German political parties. Information, Communication & Society, 20(9): 1365–88.
 Carsten Schwemmer (2019) Social media strategies of right-wing movements: The radicalization of Pegida. SocArXiv papers, 21 February. doi: 10.31235/osf.io/js73z.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Gabriella Modan and Katie Wells (2015) Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington. New York: Routledge.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Why populism?, Theory and Society, 46(5): 357–385, at p. 363. doi: 10.1007/s11186-017-9301-7.
 Albert Bandura (2002) Selective moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Moral Education 31(2): 101–119.
 Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Cited in Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Michelle Hale Williams (2010) Can leopards change their spots? Between xenophobia and trans-ethnic populism among West European far right parties. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 16(1): 111–134. doi: 10.1080/13537110903583385.
 Katrine Fangen and Mari Vaage (2018) ‘The immigration problem’ and Norwegian right-wing politicians. New Political Science 40(3): 459–476. doi: 10.1080/07393148.2018.1487145.
 The Progress Party was part of a coalition government from September 2013 to January 2020.
 Possibly inspired by Robert Spencer’s (2008) book Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs (Washington, DC: Regnery). Spencer is a leading member of the alt-right in the USA and was an organizer of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, in August 2017.
 Wahlprogramm der Alternative für Deutschland für die Wahl zum Deutschen Bundestag am 24. September 2017 (Alternative for Germany, election program for the German bundestag election on Seotember 24th 2017), Available at: https://www.afd.de/wahlprogramm/.
 Katrine Fangen and Lisanne Lichtenberg (forthcoming) Gender and family rhetoric on the German far right. Patterns of Prejudice.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Between nationalism and civilizationism: The European populist moment in comparative perspective. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(8): 1191–1226, on p. 1199.
 See Fangen, Gendered images of us and them; Fangen and Reite Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right; Fangen and Vaage, The immigration problem; Fangen and Riborg Holter, The battle for truth; and Fangen and Lichtenberg, Gender and family rhetoric.
 Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter (2017) Articulations of Islamophobia: From the extreme to the mainstream? Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(13): 2151–2179. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1312008.
 Kundnani, Integrationism.