The recent tragic murder of Jo Cox MP has brought to the surface major concerns in relation to far-right extremism in Britain today. Although much within media and political discourses focuses on Islamic political extremism, there is little attention given to far-right violence. Moreover, these acts are no aberration either. Rather, various reporting necessarily suggests that far-right extremism has become a considerable worry, and in recent periods there are often more examples of violence and terrorism at the behest of these groups than that of Muslims in Western Europe. Why is it that we hear so little about it? In addition, why do we regard it very differently from that of Islamic political radicalism?
First, when far-right extremism does occur, it is invariably underreported or misreported. Alternatively, when a discussion does ensue, the argument often made is that it is some kind of violence carried out by loners or the mentally ill. Never is there any direct association made with far-right groups, leading to the view that these actions relate to far-right extremism and terrorism in more general terms, and thus they are a counterterrorism matter rather than a policing issue. When it comes to young Muslims involved in acts of serious violence, there are often mechanical associations made with Jihadism, Islamic radicalism or even the Islamic State. Indeed, there is a particular reporting bias of such crimes inherent in the media, and which has a long history. There is also a sense that Islamic extremism is a given, while far right radicalisation is an emerging phenomenon. So in the recent case of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, while evidence was emerging relatively quickly that the assailant has direct associations with sinister far-right groups, as well as a chequered history with far-right activism, media and political elites have been slow to take the story up to its fullest.
Second, what can we understand about the links between what appears to be similar sets of realities between two highly polarised groups at the bottom of society? In many ways, we are looking at two sets of ‘left behind’ groups, one racialised and alienated and the other marginalised and alienated, but both in the context of neoliberalism and economic restructuring in post-industrial societies. While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, these groups remain angry, voiceless and underrepresented. For one set of people, they vehemently hold onto a sense of identity presented to them as potentially at risk due to the emergence of other groups in society who are seemingly taking away or diluting the purity of this identity. Such representations are ideological, selective and political. Indeed, the idea that to be a Briton is to be one in a nation of immigrants well held until recently. However, due to the conservative politics of anti-Europeanism and ethnic nationalism the idea of being English remains perfectly solidified with Anglo-Saxon blood. Race is the signifier here, but an imagined race, as always, when it comes to ethnic nationalism. Muslims who came to Britain at the end of the Second World War found themselves subordinated and subjugated by the workings of industrial capitalism. After its collapse, many of these Muslim communities remained locked in the inner city areas of the places in which they first migrated to. In the 1950s and 1960s, in locations such as Birmingham, parts of the North and areas in Greater London, diverse groups lived cheek by jowl with indigenous Britons in relatively peaceful harmony. As the pace of deindustrialisation accelerated, the extent of ‘white flight’ enhanced due to fears of residential concentration at the hands of specific ethnic minority groups accused of fragmenting communities. It was political then and it is political now. In various parts of these same inner-city areas, while those groups who desired to leave have left, minority and majority, what are left behind are the poorest and most excluded of white Britons, and the third and fourth generation offspring of Muslim minority groups who remain trapped in those areas due to racism, social immobility, as well as cultural relativism. It leads to excluded groups in society that are in intense competition for the least in society. Moreover, Islam as the main category of difference has replaced race and ethnicity.
What the state does in response to these challenges further creates the conflict at the bottom of society. As elites become ever more powerful and wealthier relative to the rest of society, they hold onto a notion of Englishness that is exclusive and inward looking. In an ironic twist, the former working classes have always remained loyal to the workings of classed English society, in particular, the monarchy. In an effort to sustain their existence, working class groups enhance their identity formations through an allusion to a purer Englishness, subsequently rejected by elite groups who have no interest in English groups at the bottom of society, routinely regarding them as a blot on a burden. However, right-wing politicians in the mainstream continuously focus on immigration as a way in which to protect English society from ‘alien others’ and whose apparent objectives are only to dilutes and dissect. Vehemently re-expressed by groups at the bottom of society who consequently project their anxiety, such sentiments to lead to alarm and to an extent hate towards their nearest neighbours; namely Muslim minority groups in inner-city areas. In the case of Muslim groups, since the end of the Cold War, global politics has shifted its attention to the Muslim world, while in Western European societies Muslim minorities are increasingly seen in religious terms rather than ethnic or cultural. It gives them greater exposure, which is often negative and in some cases hostile and violent. Political elites instrumentalise local area tensions for political gain, nationally and internationally. As some young men expressing forms of hyper-masculinity, combined with self-annihilation, engage in acts of violence extremism, there are automatic associations made with a global phenomenon, further legitimising invasive foreign policy and regressive domestic policy in relation to integration. With now the securitisation of multiculturalism, Muslim minorities are even more under the spotlight, receiving even greater attention from vast swathes of society who now generalise Islam and Muslims as a whole, thus leading to the accusation that Islamophobia is a dinner table topic in households up and down the country every day. As the levels of frustration among certain young Muslim men lead to the point of no return, they vent their anger at the global level, rendering their local area realities invisible. Muslim men do not fight for their local communities, but for an imagined global project, leading to a further vacuum at the local level filled easily by the machinations of right-wing politics, fermented locally but owned nationally.
Therefore, in answer to the question of the links between two sets of similar experiences, there are indeed local area considerations to take into account. The failures of government to introduce policies that bring about equality and fairness to limit the deleterious consequences of neoliberalism is crucial. This disappointment is also about the loss of imagination of the nation in a global climate of inequality and competition, where national elites hold onto an imagined notion of the nation as well its peoples. No more are concerns in relation to social justice and equality presented as key planks and policy, but rather vacuous notions such as ‘values’, which has no purpose in bringing communities together in reality. Groups of the bottom of society pushed down by the machinations of elite groups leads to intense levels of competition and conflict in certain local area communities. Some of which reaches fever pitch and ultimately violence and what is clearly terrorism. Both acts of terrorism are the result of the biopolitics of the state but in opposition to each other due to narrow definitions of identity. Far right groups project their angst nationally, while jihadists project it globally. These realities emerge in various spatial formations, reflecting the search of self-actualisation due to their ‘left behind’ status with little or no alternative route to empowerment or status