True to the central core of its doctrine, which framed race as determinant of ethnonational identity, the racist Nazi party openly declared in February 1920 that it aimed to separate Jews from Germans. More accurately, they wanted to separate ‘the Jewish race’ from the so-called ‘Aryan race’ and deny the former any citizenship, legal or political rights. In the fourth point of the 25-point program Hitler presented to this end, it was stated that German citizenship belonged only to those with ‘Aryan’ blood, irrespective of their beliefs. The same article insisted that Jews were not German.
In explaining where this belief – that Jewish people should be kicked out of German society – came from, we should remember that for the Nazis, Jews were seen to be at once biologically subordinate and dangerous. For Nazis, there was only one way of dealing with this ‘threat’: physical elimination. This was what happened during the Second World War. Jews were not the only group deemed to be ‘enemies’ in the fascist worldview. The same was true of the Roma people, gays and the disabled, who were said to be threatening societal ‘health’.
The Nazis used a blend of political and ‘medical’ terminology to categorize and decry their ‘enemies’. This involved the repeated use of words such as ‘contamination’, ‘sickness’, ‘infection’, ‘the vector’ and ‘health’. The language was predicated on social Darwinism, pseudoscience and a faux-biological approach that claimed races were divided into ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ based on blood. Fascist literature and policies also ascribed to ‘inferior’ groups a list of imagined psychological and physical shortcomings that condemned them to elimination. Nazis called this a ‘good death’: the removal of those not ‘suitable’ for a ‘healthy’ society. All ‘enemies’ were posited as metaphorical dirt and disease; while blood and race were the determinants for a ‘healthy’ society.
Another popular term in fascist literature was ‘purity.’ This defined the enemy as contaminant of the uniformity, heterogeneity and cleanliness of the circle of belonging. Jews, the Roma, gays and the disabled disrupted the supposed ‘purity’ of Nazi German society. The term is still used by totalitarian governments in much the same way: the enemy is often ‘foreign,’ and if they do actually belong to the community in question, they are doubtless being fed from outside. In the language used by Iran’s Supreme Leader and Iranian politicians, we can see the same thing: the enemy is always ‘external’ and belongs to the earthly sphere, always contaminating the Holy, and in need of ‘purge’. Like a contaminant or disease, they must be destroyed.
In the ‘Defining the Enemy’ webinar, I asked the speakers about the same thing. I said the medical literature of Nazis reminded me of the political literature of the Iranian regime. I said it appeared to me that totalitarian governments were often obsessed with purity and, whether religious or secular, believed in a sphere, and a world, that was clean, holy and uncontaminated.
The speaker concurred but also reminded me that the Nazis considered themselves a race that had begun in our land, Iran, and had remained superior, ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ during the long journey. They believed deeply in ‘purity’ and didn’t want to mix with other races. As I asked the question, I was also thinking about the discourse of the extreme right in Europe. It is there that migrants and refugees are often described as diseases to be cleansed.
Maybe ‘purity’ ought to be seen as a signifier and buzzword of the ‘othering’ literature. Perhaps when we hear medical analogies, such as ‘germs’ or ‘infection’, being used to describe human beings, we should pause for a moment. When we know of the terrible fate that befell ‘others’ in Nazi Germany, and we know the history could go down any uncertain path, we must recognize this ominous terminology.