Interview with Izzy Kamikaze: Protesting Right Wing Radicals in Ireland, an LGBTQ+ Activist Perspective

 The Gender Blog Series is a space where the intersectionality of gender and radicalisation is explored. Topics such as toxic masculinity, radical women, counter-radicalisation activism, socialised gender stereotypes, and others are researched and presented here.

Hate speech against LGBTQ+ people and other marginalised communities is a characteristic of the radical right. In this interview, the PERICLES team in Ireland spoke with one activist who is mobilizing against this radical violence.

 

Interview with Izzy Kamikaze: Protesting Right Wing Radicals in Ireland, an LGBTQ+ Activist Perspective.

The politics of Ireland has always been a politics of the oppressed and consequently a politics of uprising. Since 1916, news of Ireland’s refutation of and eventual emancipation from colonialism spread across the globe as a symbol of freedom and anti-imperialism, emblematic of the power of activism. As a direct consequence of Ireland’s post-colonial status, its population has, for the most part, steered clear of staunch right-wing candidates and ideology. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in populism and some fringe, fascist organisations have gained a small but worrying amount of traction. Their rhetoric constitutes hate speech against immigrants and LGBTQ+ people and is especially Islamophobic and white supremacist in character. Many of the phrases they use are copy and pasted from larger, dangerous factions of fascist organisations in North America and Europe, permitting the same racial supremacist ideology that was once used against our ancestors, back into Irish political and civil discourse.[i] To gain a deeper understanding of Ireland’s Right-Wing Radicalism and the LGBTQ+ Activist response to it, I interviewed human rights activist Izzy Kamikaze (https://gcn.ie/prime-time-solidarit-time/), one of the founders of Dublin Pride.

It is not surprising nor insignificant that populations most directly affected by social and political issues are the ones on the frontline of protests. LGBTQ+ populations have historically been more socially conscious, politically aware and active because they had to be, their very right to exist depended on meaningful debate against the status quo, protest, and judicial petitioning. Whilst you might expect queer activists to be out on the street for their own civil rights, Stonewall style, as for Ireland’s Marriage Referendum of 2015, it is important to highlight that they have been at the forefront of historic social justice movements from workers’ rights in 1980s Wales, to the women’s movement, right through to last year’s Abortion Referendum and this year’s Housing Crisis rallies.

Izzy comments on the strength of LGBTQ+ heritage as a resource against fascism:

 

[ii]I mean, in Ireland, for example, decriminalisation was only 25 years ago (1993); the HIV epidemic was very shamefully neglected for years and the impetus came from activists on the ground. So, there is a pool of people who have many years of activism experience. And of course, the marriage referendum got a lot of the younger activists up and running and into contact with those older activists and working with them. So, they saw that the LGBT activist community is relatively well networked, and the local details would vary in other countries. But there is an activist core in the LGBT community with people who are experienced in activism, which isn’t necessarily the case in some of the other communities that are targeted by fascists. So that helps and there’s an advantage there. And there’s probably a different type of activism as well that comes from the LGBT community that is more creative and light-hearted. You know, there’s cultural stuff about how the LGBT community has adapted to its invariably challenging circumstances throughout history. That means that people try to do things in an entertaining way and a relatively light kind of way.

A current example of the creative and light-hearted expression of LGBTQ+ activism is the Speakers Unicorner, which Izzy, Ireland’s Queer rights ActiQueen, Panti Bliss, and politicians like Hazel Chu (all regularly subjected to online racist, misogynist or homophobic abuse by Ireland’s radicals), are all a part of. The name Speakers Unicorner is a response to one Irish radical’s self-labelled Speaker’s Corner – taken from an area in London which promotes debate and discussion. This stemmed from a ‘free speech’ protest arranged by a small number of right wingers outside Google’s office on Barrow Street after their radical content was removed by Google’s subsidiary YouTube for violating community rules. The Speakers Unicorner was founded as a counter-protest by Fiona Pettit. The original statement from Speakers Unicorner states, “We… call on our government to take effective action and immediately address the wilful fuelling of racism and hate by groups like ACI, The National Party and IREXIT. Their rhetoric is already having a dangerous impact in communities around the country…The time to stop the far-right from gaining any more traction in our society and communities is NOW.”

Throughout my conversation with Izzy, online radicalisation and the funding of right-wing groups by larger, more powerful international entities came up:

There’s a hell of a lot of money. We don’t know all the mechanisms, but there’s a hell of a lot of money and resources being put behind what appears to be the almost spontaneous rise of fascism that a lot of different places have recently experienced. It’s not accidental. Those people are highly networked and highly organized and well-funded. And, you know, for anybody who’s been involved in struggling, underfunded activism for years, it’s very clear when you look at them that they are in a different position than us.

In a recent investigation by Open-Democracy, it was found that so-called ‘dark money’ totalling $50m had been spent by ultra-conservative groups trying to sway European politics to the far right.[iii] Madrid-based campaign group CitizenGo, which is supported by American and Russian ultra-conservatives, has worked across Europe to drive voters towards far-right parties in the recent European Parliament elections. CitizenGo petitions against same-sex marriage and supports ‘conversion therapy’, funding a faction in Ireland. It was also involved in campaigning against the repeal of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment in Ireland last year, amassing 55,561 signatures in an attempt to influence Irish voters’ decision in this abortion referendum. They also ran a social media campaign with three-minute long videos calling for a No vote. The active funding from these groups is worrying, especially when their aim is to dictate what it is to be European, namely, white, straight and Christian. These traits are not problematic in themselves but when they are used as supremacist metrics, we are in trouble. Projects like PERICLES aim to detect vulnerable groups that may be susceptible to radicalisation like fascism and intervene with counter-narratives in the hope that we can learn from a dark history of ethno-centrism and white supremacy and move towards embracing a diverse, stronger Europe.

Izzy has worked in social care for decades and is knowledgeable about the vulnerabilities of certain sectors of Irish society and how these perceived weaknesses are being manipulated by the far right.

The appeal of fascism is relatively small. I think there’s about 10 percent of the population who are quite attracted to fascist ideology globally or nationally. If you read the anthropology from different cultures, there is probably a similar number of people who are there, basically often people who are vulnerable themselves and kind of scared. There are people whose own position in the society is a little bit tenuous and they see it as a way to thrash new immigrants, trans people or gay people, the people that they’ve traditionally been able to look down on to get validated. They need to feel somebody below themselves. And I think when the wind is in the right direction, they can get another 10 or 15 percent. As soon as those [fascist] ideas become a bit more respectable, there are people who will adopt them. It’s lack of critical thinking. And if you have a generally alienated population, young men, rural communities, people struggling economically or feel their flavour of masculinity is at threat, they are susceptible to certain rhetoric.

Our PERICLES project can confirm that alienation and lack of cohesion in European society makes vulnerable individuals more susceptible to civil apathy and consequently radicalisation. Our tools, such as the Family Information Portal and the Vulnerability Assessment tool are being created in the hope that they can be a resource for those close to someone who may be susceptible to radicalisation or perhaps has been fully radicalised already. Izzy also warned of the dangers of political apathy, low voter turnouts etc. as an early warning sign for a population that are possibly open to stronger ideologies and bigger, often empty promises of nationalist grandeur. She points out that:

Lack of engagement with politics can be for very, very good reasons. You know, labour has been casualised. People are forced to live further and further away from where they work. People are more and more exhausted. They spend more of their time on the road just getting to and from where they have to go. A lot of the social safety net has disappeared. The health services are ready for collapse and the education services are under a lot of stress. Social safety generally just isn’t there. So, there’s all those kind of pressures on people. And consequently, you have widespread alienation. This is one half of the recipe. And the other half of the recipe is that the people who are insecure and susceptible to the kind of thinking that demonises minorities. The fascists talk about corruption and they talk about the global elites. And that’s often the other bottom in their actions. They only ever target minorities here. And it is classic, classic kind of fascist discourse. It is exactly the same stuff that was said in the 1930s that the minorities, the LGBT people, the immigrants from other countries, etc., are supposed to be somehow more favoured by the elites than the populist notion of the common man. The defining theme about fascism is that the only thing that matters is ‘ordinariness’. The worth of people is measured by how close to the average they are, by how close to the medium they are. So, if you’re different, it is something to be threatened by, something to resist.

 

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has called on the government to do more to stop the disturbing trend of racial prejudice in Ireland, evidenced by their recent report which investigated legislation, Direct Provision for refugees, hate speech, violence and efforts at integrating minorities in Ireland.[iv]  In June 2019, one of the report’s authors, Volodymyr Kulyk, criticised the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act (1989) as particularly ineffectual in combating online hate speech. The Act was again called for reform after an interracial Irish family featured in a Lidl advertisement became targets of death threats and online racist abuse by far-right radicals. There are no provisions in Irish law, the ECRI authors point out, that define common offences of a racist, homophobic or transphobic nature, nor recognise hatred as an aggravating circumstance. Minister of State for Justice and Equality, David Stanton, said the Department of Justice and Equality was reviewing the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act to ensure it is “fit for purpose in a modern democracy”. He also announced that a new anti-racism committee would be established shortly. Additionally, An Garda Síochána launched a new diversity strategy[v] aimed at tackling rising incidences of hate crime across the State. The three-year programme will see enhanced reporting, recording, investigating and prosecuting mechanisms being put in place in respect of hate crime.[vi]

Whilst legal reform to improve our judicial ‘safety nets’ is an important and pressing concern, a cultural and educational shift must simultaneously occur. A multi-faceted, committed effort to provide alternative narratives to ideological propaganda and action plans for social integration and civic responsibility is urgently needed, from schools to parliament. Throughout our discussion, Izzy emphasises the power of teaching critical thinking, a key skill in the age of fake news:

You have to be taught critical thinking and we all have to be put in situations where we exercise it throughout our lives, because just learning something in school and then forgetting about it isn’t the way. Put it into practice. So, we need those kinds of processes much more. Our whole political system needs an overhaul and we need to get people much more engaged and engaged in that kind of positive way, in a sort of critical way. A lot of different inputs and fact checking is needed.

If diversity acceptance, self-awareness and resilience are taught, supported and invested in, citizens will have the skills they need to defend themselves against indoctrination into discriminatory, hateful groups. Law Enforcement Agencies are trained and are continuously upskilling on detection, prevention and treatment of radicalisation. Our project, PERICLES will deliver a suite of tools which will better enable public authorities and public actors across the world to fight against all types of radicalisation, which will support the ECRI recommendations right through to grass-roots activism such as Speaker’s Unicorner. To find out more about the PERICLES tools, click here: https://project-pericles.eu/

We are grateful to activists like Izzy Kamikaze and all the LGBTQ+ activists that contest hate speech in Europe. Here’s to a future Ireland and a future Europe where citizen dissatisfaction is taken to action via healthy political and social engagement and not used as a vehicle to target our minority communities. We must learn from Irish history and resist importing imperialist rhetoric of current and former colonisers. We have unique strength, resources and wisdom on this island, let’s not get caught up in global amnesia and instead seek to build a more diverse, resilient Ireland and Europe. We are stronger together.

 

Endnotes

[i] See Ignatiev, Noel, 1995, How the Irish Became White, New York and London: Routledge; Judith Judd ‘Irish butt of English racism for more than eight centuries’ in the Independent (March 20 1996), available here:  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/irish-butt-of-english-racism-for-more-than-eight-centuries-1342976.html; Seameas O’Reilly, ‘Apes, psychos, alcos: How British cartoonists depict the Irish’ in The Irish Times (July 17 2017), available here: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/apes-psychos-alcos-how-british-cartoonists-depict-the-irish-1.3149409; and Klein, Christopher ‘When America Despised the Irish: 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis’ (March 14 2019), available here: https://www.history.com/news/when-america-despised-the-irish-the-19th-centurys-refugee-crisis

[ii] Portrait created by GCN for Izzy Kamikaze’s accolade as a Queer Icon:

[iii] June 10 2019: Special Report – Far right in Ireland: ‘Dark money’ and the price of democracy in the Irish Examiner: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/specialreports/special-report–far-right-in-ireland-dark-money-and-the-price-of-democracy-929727.html (accessed October 2019).

[iv] European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, June 2019, ECRI REPORT ON IRELAND (fifth monitoring cycle). Available here: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-ireland/168094c575 (accessed October 2019).

[v] Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019-2021 https://www.garda.ie/en/about-us/our-departments/office-of-corporate-communications/news-media/an-garda-siochana-diversity-and-integration-strategy-2019-2021.html accessed October 2019.

[vi] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/garda%C3%AD-identifying-individuals-behind-abuse-of-lidl-advert-couple-1.4045369 accessed October 2019

 

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