Far Right Extremism and Islamic Political Radicalism

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

2 thoughts on “Far Right Extremism and Islamic Political Radicalism

  1. Dear Tahir
    As usual, a very enlightened approach to the issue of so-called radicalisation among Muslims.
    EU Commission had a High Level Group meeting on 14th June where issue of Islamophobia was one topic.
    Here is EMISCO’s views that I presented. I hope that you would like it.

    Islamophobia and points to ponder for our future work
    1. There is a need of a comprehensive EU survey of Islamophobia that would map the extent, nature, location of its presence and practical consequences – both on Muslim communities and the majority societies. This survey can be done by FRA as they did with anti-Semitism in 2012 and LGBT survey in European Union- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey – 2012. It can be an on-Line survey as was the case with the above mentioned cases. We believe that such a survey would help your office and us NGOs to focus correctly on the areas of the problem and who to deal with it.
    2. The second issue that EMISCO finds very problematic is the hate speech and increasing use of misinformative terminologies used against Islam and Muslims by politicians and media and especially on Social media. That is the single most damaging discourse that has worsened Islamophobia. Terminologies like militant Islamist, extremist Islam, Islamo-fascism and now Jihadists has created an image of Islam as a uniformed and intolerant religion and Muslims as accomplice in extremism. A counter narrative to such hate speech is necessary if we hope to minimize Islamophobia. We are very well aware of the pitfalls between Freedom of speech and freedom of religion but this issue is should get more attention. because this is creating tensions among majority and minorities and creating an atmosphere of hatred against Muslims and an increasing Hate Crimes, especially women. 
    3. The legal remedies against Islamophobia are very few. For example, in my own country Denmark, the law 266 B covers hate speech against all religions and incitement to hatred but is almost never used to protect Muslim communities. Actually the Attorney General has not allowed cases of Islamophobia to reach the courts. Implementation of existing laws and EU Directives on anti-discrimination can go a long way to remedy this situation. 
    4.  There is also a need to look at school syllabus, education materials and how teachers teach Islam in schools and gymnasiums. Few years back, the present Culture and Ecclesiastical Affairs in Denmark was Education Minister and he in 2006, ordered new material for Gymnasium in Denmark about Islam to be produced. The commissioned new book about Islam started its first chapter with Osama Bin Laded. It was withdrawn after many protests. There are other examples where teachers themselves have very anti-Islam prejudices that they transmit to pupils. Implementing Paris declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education would be a great help.
    5. Last but not least, is the question of NGOs funding. NGOs as you know, work very closely with communities and often in hostile environment, without any funding, office, staff or professional advisors. That is why, there is so little work being done on Data collection, advisory services and training for hate crime monitoring as well as reporting to police.
    This lack of funding has another dire consequence that is directly related to fight against extremism among some Muslim youth. When NGOs do not have resources to work with campaigning directed towards Muslim communities and lobbying the authorities in their preventive work related to extremism on regular basis, that hinders society’s efforts to deal with the issue in a way that is both beneficial for the majority public and acceptable to communities.
    In this respect, it is also necessary to point out that EU needs to delink the genuine need to fight extremism and terrorism and the wide ranging counter terrorism measures that only focus on Islam as the main reason for terrorism. There is a need to look at the issue in an inclusive manner, such as; socio-economic depreciation, cultural baggage, geographical placing, societal pressures, Islamophobic narrative and marginalization of Muslim minorities, especially youth.

  2. A burning question raised by you in this article. Why is extreme view withing Europe and within its ethnic and cultural dichotomy ignored? Te group and prejudice usually is against Islam and Muslims. You raise this point very clearly and effectively in the recent assassination of MP Jo Cox by a radicalised man of indigenous social background. This fact is usually underplayed. Islamophobia remains in the forefront in Western Society as if there is no undercurrent of hatred within.

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