Mein Kampf Discussion

This briefing is a follow up to our article about Dymocks selling 94 editions of Mein Kampf. The editions include the Nazi’s official translation and many of these editions lack any commentary and offer the text, which is genocidal propaganda, with no interpretation or historical context.

We’ve had some lively discussion on our Facebook post about our call from Dymocks to stop selling 94 different editions of Mein Kampf and to instead only sell those with sufficient commentary and / or annotations. While there is a lot of support for the position we outlined, there are also some arguments which we have addressed in the Facebook discussion and which are deserving of their own article. This article looks at the arguments that have been raised and our response.

The “other people are selling it so what’s the point” argument

This argument suggests it would be unfair to ask Dymocks to stop profiting from selling more harmful editions of Mein Kampf as the business would just go else where.

Earlier this month Amazon stopped selling most editions of Mein Kampf. They released a statement saying:

“As a bookseller, we provide customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including titles that serve an important educational role in understanding and preventing anti-Semitism. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer and we do not take selection decisions lightly.”

The Jewish Chronicle reports that UK Book Seller WHSmith had also been selling “unedited and uninterpreted editions” of Mein Kampf, including the “Official Nazi Translation”. Earlier this month they not only apologised but stated they were starting an investigation into how this happened:

WHSmith said it had “strict guidelines on the books it sells, and it is against our policy to stock books which incite hatred. These books have been immediately removed from sale, and we are investigating how this has occurred with our wholesaler. We apologise sincerely for any offence caused.” 

As we reported Dymocks is also selling the Nazi translation, without commentary, and other editions that lack commentary and whose descriptions on the Dymocks website (no doubt based on the back covers of the books themselves) appear to be targeted more at extremists seeking radicalisation material than those who wish to study the text as an academic activity.

The thin edge of the wedge argument

One person commented that this would provide the thin end of the edge allowing the governments to ban books resulting in a 1984 type scenario.

We are in this instance asking a company to take action, that is radically different to a government ban. It does not expand government powers. We are also not calling for the text to be unavailable – see the next question.

The harm to research and scholarship argument

Some have spoken against our proposal by arguing they would like to read the text to study it themselves, and that it is required reading in certain university courses.

This is a misconceived argument. We are not asking for the text of Mein Kampf to become unavailable. Instead we asked that those editions which are more suitable for studying, because they include commentary and / or annotations, should be the ones sold. These copies are far better for understanding and learning about the text.

The commentary is pointless argument

One person argued that commentary is pointless as neo-Nazis will ignore it, and those who are not neo-Nazis don’t need to read it.

Both the argument around neo-Nazi use and the argument around non-neo-Nazi use are flawed. On the Nazi front it is flawed because radicalisation is a path, not a binary state. The book is being used to further radicalise the far-right and prepare them for committing violence, while also being used as a means to indoctrinate new recruits. As Dr Samuel Koehne noted in 2015:

“Mein Kampf is still being openly used for its material on political action and propaganda, as well as for its racial ideology. It is currently being read by people in wildly different societal contexts. Certainly there is a direct reliance on the text in some far-right groups.”

Dr Koehne went on to explain one of the key themes in Mein Kampf, which is that “of taking action (including violent action) against another group for the supposed ‘survival’ of a race or nation”. He noted how Nazi ideology, as expressed in Mein Kampf, was being actively using in the Genocide in Myanmar (resulting in the mass killings of the Rohingya). Dr Koehne explained:

“This included an argument that ‘crimes against humanity,’ such as those committed by the Nazis ‘may be justifiably committed’ for the ‘survival of a race.’ This reflects the Nazis’ own perverse position on ‘victimhood’––in which they claimed that Germans were victims, and that this supposedly justified violence and murder to ‘protect’ the German race. This essential conception of being a ‘victim’ is common to many contemporary extremist groups, which characterize their own actions as defensive while they carry out violent attacks on others. This is regardless of whether they conceive of themselves as defending a nation, a race, or a religion.”

Ensuring copies of the Mein Kampf which are sold include explanatory material and / or annotations allows the poison of this propaganda to be addressed with counter arguments. That may help some recognise it for what it is and leave the path of radicalisation. It can also better equip those they seek to recruit to recognise the manipulations involved in this propaganda. Without commentary for the curious, the propaganda is left without a counter voice making it far more effective for indoctrinating people.

As for those who are not neo-Nazis and wish to study the text, just because someone is not a neo-Nazi and has some knowledge about the Holocaust, does not mean they know everything there is to know on the topic. Commentaries from experts provide additional insights, information and scholarly analysis. Someone who argues against having this addition material cannot be serious about studying the text, or indeed about scholarship in general. We supported all versions with sufficient commentary being sold, rather than suggesting a particular edition, because each set of commentary lends a different expert’s analysis. Even an expert in the topic has something to gain by reading another expert’s commentary.

The “banning books is what the Nazis did” argument

The argument is that there should be no bans because a ban on books is fascist.

This argument is flawed for many different reasons. First, as we explained above, what we are calling for is not a ban for two reasons. Firstly, as long as the text is available it is clearly not banned. The text of Mein Kampf would still be available under what we propose, just with ADDED material. That does not in any way restrict the ideas being read, so an argument calling this idea censorship is simply untrue.

Secondly, even if we had called for all copies not to be sold, a commercial decision not to sell a book is not the same as a government ban – as explained above.

Thirdly, Australia already has laws to ban books, films and video games. The Classification Board reviews such material and gives it a classification rating. As they explain:

“Refused Classification (RC) is a classification category referring to films, computer games and publications that cannot be sold, hired, advertised or legally imported in Australia. RC-classified material contains content that is very high in impact and falls outside generally-accepted community standards.”

The National Library of Australia maintains a copy of RC material in a secure room. There’s a great article at the library discussing banned books.

Dealing with this, even by way of a Government ban on certain editions, would not expand the laws we already have in anyway. We’re not calling for that in any case.

The argument about the thin end of the edge is simply not valid or relevant in this situation.

The “then we need to ban the Bible and Koran” argument

This argument, raised by a few people, suggested the Bible or Koran should then be banned. Some seem to be raising it because they want one or both of these books banned.

As discussed above, what we are proposing is not a ban. The comparison between Mein Kampf and the Bible or Koran is also very problematic.

Religion has historically been the source of many wars and what today would be seen as crimes against humanity. This would be connected back to religious text. To pick just one example (because no one would expect it), in the Spanish Inquisition around 2,000 burnings at the stake occurred, over 160,000 Jews were expelled from Spain, then Muslims were later expelled, and finally around 300,000 Spanish Moriscos (Muslims who had previously accepted baptism) were expelled. Estimates of the death toll from the Spanish Inquisition range from 30,000 to 300,000 people, though research by the Vatican suggests only about 12,500 people were killed by the Catholic Church itself.

As Dr Philip Jenkins from Penn State University explained to NPR:

“By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane. Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.”

He goes on to explain how this genocidal war occurred repeatedly in Christian history, from the Crusades in the Middle Ages against the Muslims, to warfare between Protestants and Catholics in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries.

Even though specific phrases in both the Bible nor the Koran can be interpreted and used to advocate hate and violence, neither are manuals that promote a spread of hate and genocide as a core part of their ideology. This puts them in a different category to Mein Kampf where the genocidal antisemitism, and incitement to take action on it, is indeed the core of the ideology.

The misuse of both the Bible and Koran continues today. The Bible is used by extremist groups like the KKK and passages have been cited in Christian terrorist attacks in recent years. The Koran is similarly misused by Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and Hamas. As Qasim Rashid explained in the Independent, there are three reasons why the Koran can’t be used to support terrorism, he goes on to say:

“Only two groups in our society promote the “Quran teaches terrorism” myth: anti-Muslim pundits and Isis extremists. Both are wrong.”

The closest we can find to religious text that meets the threshold of promoting an ideology of violence and extremism is Ben Klassen’s “White Man’s Bible”. Note that this is not the bible, but a religious book of the Creativity Movement (renamed the World Church of the Creator in 1996), an extremist religion Klassen formed in 1973. Klassen explained his ideology saying:

“We gird for total war against the Jews and the rest of the goddamned mud races of the world — politically, militantly, financially, morally and religiously. In fact, we regard it as the heart of our religious creed, and as the most sacred credo of all. We regard it as a holy war to the finish — a racial holy war. “

Mein Kampf is therefore in a significantly different category to the Bible or Koran. Those suggesting they should be treated the same either want to keep Mein Kampf (without commentary or annotations) available “as is” to indoctrinate people to far-right extremism, or they are militant atheists who really do want to see religion (and religious texts) banned.

The “then we need to ban Marxist Books” argument

Some suggested that if Hitler’s outline of his genocidal ideology in Mein Kampf should be banned, then books by Karl Marx outlining the ideology of Communism should be banned as well.

This suggestion seems to be designed to “trigger” a response on the assumption the Online Hate Prevention Institute is some sort of Marxist organisation. This follows an assumption, spread by the Alt-Right, that anyone working for the betterment of society is a Marxist. They incorrectly lump academics, NGOs, and any political party to their left into this group. In short, they define themselves as centrist and anything politically to their left as communist.

As one person wrote:

I read environmentalist theories, and feminist theories, and LGBTQI theories, and said to myself hang on, they all have the same theory as that Karl Marx dude.

This approach is a way of invalidating the views of others and experts in particular. It is a way of ignoring developments in society and of human rights in particular. It crosses fault lines over issues such as climate emergency, marriage equality and other issues of public debate. This argument, again coming from the Alt-Right, has found fertile ground in the Christian Right in the US, and from there is increasingly being imported into the emerging Christian Right in Australia.

On the question itself though, firstly we need to reiterate again that we are not calling for the book to be banned by the government. We are calling for Dymocks to be more responsible in which editions it chooses to sell. An edition with annotations and commentary is a better edition to sell for the reasons explained above.

In comparing Mein Kampf to the works of Marx, or indeed any other book, the question is not how many people the described ideology historically killed. The relevant question is whether there are people and groups using the book to promote a violent ideology today, whether the sale of the book increases the risk to the public, and whether a different decision is possible that can mitigate the risk. There is one other book we wish to comment on, which we believe falls into this category, but it isn’t a work of Marx and we will comment on it in the coming days.

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