- Asia as a Topos of Fear and Desire for Nazis and Extreme Rightists:The Case of Asian Studies in Sweden
Introducing a Delicate Issue
The origin of this article comes from having spent a couple of years in the Asian studies community in Sweden as a PhD candidate in Korean studies, affiliated to the Department of Oriental Languages at Stockholm University, the principal institute for the field in Scandinavia, while at the same time being an anti-Fascist activist, an investigative journalist, and something of an expert on Swedish National Socialism. To get straight to the point, what has amazed or even shocked me is that so many names turn up simultaneously in the two worlds, namely as both Asianists and as extreme rightists. By Asianists, I broadly refer to scholars and writers dealing with what are generally deemed and defined as "Asian" things and subjects in a Western, usually academic, setting; and by extreme rightists, I refer, in this [End Page 403] context, to all those people who position themselves politically to the right of mainstream conservatism, and who almost always are racists and anti-Semites, anti-Communists, homophobes, and antifeminists, besides usually being antimodernists and antidemocrats.
This paper is an attempt to map out this peculiar liaison between Asian studies and right-wing extremism. The purpose is to try to understand why Nazis and extreme rightists are drawn to and attracted by Asia academically, using Asian studies in Sweden as an empirical case study. The paper introduces a number of prominent Swedish Asianists chronologically, starting at the beginning of the twentieth century when the field of Asian studies was established in the country, continuing with the 1930s when Nazism was fashionable in elite academic circles in Europe, on to the postwar era with its virulently anti-Communist, Cold War atmosphere, and ending with today's anti-immigrant populists and militant neo-Nazis. I am not claiming that all these scholars and writers I am taking up are the most typical representatives of Swedish Asian studies from a quantitative point of view, though many of them arguably are quite famous, even internationally. But I am also well aware that many European academics, particularly in the humanities, have held and still hold extremely right-wing views. Furthermore, I am neither claiming that their academic essays, monographs, and studies are "unscientific" in any way, nor that their work is wholly determined by their political standpoints. The only evidence I am presenting here is based on archival material, such as membership listings, articles in party-affiliated journals, and secondary sources, such as biographies and newspaper reports.
I am, of course, well aware of the controversial nature of this issue and how easy it is to hurt, humiliate, and dishonor prominent individuals when disclosing this previously subjugated knowledge, which up until now has remained unknown to most people in the academic world. However, it is my firm conviction that a consideration of the personal feelings of the people involved in this case would just serve to continue to cover up this hitherto largely hidden phenomenon, thereby only benefiting the extremists and their political agendas. Moreover, although references are made to Asianists in other countries like Germany, Italy, the United States, France, and Denmark, the focus on Sweden is hopefully excusable considering the extreme difficulties I have been subjected to when uncovering these "forbidden" connections. [End Page 404] One might also argue that the situation under analysis here is not limited to Sweden, but is most likely much broader in scale and may apply to the field of Asian studies in any Western country. Finally, a similar investigation into the political leanings of Western scholars in Latin American and African studies would probably reveal the reverse situation, namely a high proportion of left-liberals and leftists, meaning that Asia in particular serves as a pole of attraction for right-wing "intellectuals."
This article takes a closer look at the various reasons behind this bizarre situation by conceptualizing Asia as a topos of fear and desire, and as an imaginary site for the fantasies and projections of these Nazis and extreme rightists. My main argument is that there has always been...