Monday 19 June 2017

Why Far Right Terrorism is on the Rise

And here we are again. Another day, another terror attack with one dead and eight others injured. Though, on this occasion it's definitely not Islamist-inspired. According to witnesses the man who rammed worshippers leaving Finsbury Park Mosque screamed "Kill me, kill me, I want to kill all Muslims". It's to the credit of the traumatised crowd that the suspect wasn't granted his wish and got carted off into police custody. As the legal process is now in train there is little that can be reported about him or his intentions, but there are points we can make about hate crime and political violence motivated by far right politics.

While incidences of Islamist terror are shocking, in another sense they aren't. For the last 16 years the press and politicians have talked up the possibility of attacks from this quarter to justify military action overseas and authoritarian legislation at home. It's part and parcel of measures that have the consequence of scaring, cowing, atomising large numbers of people. It is an approach utterly disinterested in dealing meaningfully with the roots of terror as it raises uncomfortable questions. And so we have a sensibility, a notion that as awful Islamist atrocities are they are also banal, or something to be expected. The state is prepped for it. Culture is prepped for it.

Unfortunately, it is possible we could be approaching a similar situation when it comes to far right terrorism. Permit me to quote this post on the murder of Jo Cox:

But you know what the really awful thing about this is? We should have seen it coming a mile off. In most of the advanced Western states, acts of political terror tend to be committed by two creeds of extremist. The Islamist, and the Neo-Nazi. The depths to which the debate around the referendum has plunged has seen Leave, and I'm singling out the Tory right and UKIP in particular, raid the BNP playbook and repeat their attack lines have contributed to a febrile atmosphere where migrants are terrified for their future, and a good many decent people share those fears too. But remember, it's definitely not racist to scaremonger about tens of millions of Turks coming here, about "rapist refugees", about people "with a different culture". This poisonous drivel is all about addressing "the very real concerns people have about immigration", not pandering to racism, whipping up hysteria and hate.

What happened to Jo is a violent culmination of a politics that has played out over decades. The finger should be pointed at every politician who has used immigration and race for their own selfish ends. Farage and Johnson are two well accustomed to the sewer, but all of the Leave campaign have been at it. They more than anyone are responsible for the present climate. But blaming them alone is too easy. The Conservative Party as a whole have played the immigration card repeatedly throughout its history, more recently the PM doing so by portraying Labour as the party of unmitigated immigration and open borders. And idiot Labour politicians calling for restrictions here and peddling stupid pledge mugs there have all done their bit in feeding the drip drip of toxicity. The media as well carry some of the can, especially those regular Daily Mail and Daily Express headlines that scream out as if ripped from Der Stürmer. Their ceaseless diet of Islamophobia and refugee-bashing pollute our politics and ensure its eyes are dragged to the gutter instead of being fixed on the horizon. The press are windows onto the political world for millions of people, and they what they see is tinted with purposive misrepresentation and lies. They too are culpable for this mess.

In short, when you have a huge propaganda operation, of so-called intellectuals poisoning the waters, and politicians seizing upon race and religion to grub for headlines and votes, we should not be shocked that a small subset of people who gorge on these lies should feel compelled to act on them. Mostly, they are content shitposting racist memes on social media or forming their own internet cesspits well away from the mainstream. Others get involved in political activity and/or the "street activity" of the English Defence League and/or Britain First. And for some, well, terror is a viable option - at least if the number of racists and far right activists banged up for weapons or bomb making offences are anything to go by.

While true, this propaganda apparatus has operated for a long time, so why should the prospect of far right terror become more likely? One cannot offer an exhaustive explanation, especially in the space of a blog post, but there are two things worth looking at. Firstly, there is the role of gender or, to avoid essentialist explanations rooting masculinity in hormonal aggression, the practices and expectations that come with being a man. After all, it is not insignificant that all the jihadi attacks and far right terrorist incidences to have taken place in Western Europe and North America over the past 20 or so years have exclusively been carried out by men? For younger men, the tendency toward the dissolution of gendered privileges but without a congruent retreat of gendered expectations is background noise to all extremist politics. For instance, IS is viciously misogynistic for a reason. For young white men, the parallel processes help fuel the ugly underbelly of online gynophobia and gay hatred though, it should be stressed, this has an outright purchase on only a minority of young guys just as the IS message draws in very small numbers. The fraying of gendered tradition impacts on older men differently. For some, they and wider society has undergone a process of emasculation, they just know it and feel it. Women don't know their place, boys are screwing around with boys, and men's jobs have given way to women's jobs. As far as UKIP and organisations further right go, part of their appeal is gendered nostalgia, of a strong Britain when men were men and took pride in being in charge and providing for their families. Nowadays, everything is so permissive and effete. Britain's gone soft, but something surely has to be done about Muslims taking the piss and killing girls and mums at pop concerts.

This is where masculine impotence intersects with political realities. With the collapse of UKIP at the general election from nearly 13% in 2015 to just under two per cent this year, effectively the constitutional outlet for right wing, xenophobic politics has dried up. And with the rise of the left, the general political culture is much less congenial to nudge nudge race hate than was even the case last year. Not least as politics is polarising and the Tories have smothered the political space the far right can operate in. With them locked out of the system, with politics more hostile and seemingly unconcerned by their hobby horses, and a studied refusal by the mainstream to blame Muslims in general for the terroristic acts of extremists, so non-constitutional methods start looking more attractive, be it vandalism of mosques or Muslim-owned businesses, hate crime, or terrorism. Their imagined grievances boil over into frustration, and that can in turn spin off into the kinds of actions we've seen a dramatic rise in.

That is why I believe the possibility of far right terrorism grows, not because it's strong, but because it's weak and out of kilter with the real world. What can be done? Using what laws already exist to round up and charge far right hate preachers, like the execrable Tommy Robinson, is something of a start. But more authoritarianism is not the answer, and so politics has to be. It means politicians should not be allowed to get away with toxic politics, that far right voices who pepper the airwaves and newspaper columns with barely coded race hate should be denied their berths in the mainstream, and a more robust challenging of this politics, be it the fascism lite of UKIP or the dyed-in-wool drivel of Britain First, wherever it appears sound like good places to begin.


Anonymous said...

All well and good as far as it goes, but what is the scale of far-right terrorism in this country? There was Thomas Mair last year, and a year or two before that there was Zack something (Davies?). I'm struggling to recall any others, and I don't think my memory is worse than average. An increase? Yes, but an increase from zero to three in five years is not exactly a very potent threat.

There's clearly no excuse for terrorism, but there's also no point in debating what ought to be when we have to deal with what is. And what 'is' is that there is far more Islamist terrorism in the UK than there is far-right terrorism, and it has claimed more lives into the bargain.

While people like Sadiq Khan can airily dismiss terrorism on the grounds that it's "part and parcel of living in a large city" we (the left) aren't having a serious debate on the subject - and other people can see it a mile off.

Anonymous said...

You are forgetting the spike in racially motivated attacks that make the press daily.

Anonymous said...

You are forgetting the spike in racially motivated attacks that make the press daily.

I'm really not. It's true that hate crimes have increased across the board (race, disability, sexuality) but not astronomically. Chances are that we will always have such idiots with us, and unfortunately the only way hate crime could be stamped out altogether is by becoming some kind of dictatorship.

But this is sort of beside the point. Hate crimes are not the same thing as terrorism, which is why the law (legislature, enforcement, and justice) handles them differently. So bringing up 'hate crime' is borderline irrelevant to this discussion.

Speedy said...

What's the link between sociology and anthropology? Serious question, because the former seems to be untouched by the latter.

There is little evidence this terrorist was "far right", only that he hated Muslims. Correlation does not equal causation. How about placing the attack in context? More than 30 people have been murdered in the name of Islam in the UK over the past few months, so one violent individual - perhaps egged on by aspects of the media - seeks revenge. I don't see much ideology behind this, and neither can you lay the blame solely at the door of the Tories and the media (as you evidently desire to do). What this is is communal violence.

Violence begats violence is as old as humanity itself, and when you have representatives from one community murdering non-community members in the name of that community (and only politicians and sociologists split the difference) then it is inevitable there will be consequences.

In Western society, citizens rely on the state to protect them and provide retribution, but (and this is the key point) when the state fails to do so (and the recent attacks could be seen as evidence of that) it is hardly a surprise when individuals (certain, violent-minded individuals) will take it on themselves to do so. This is the flipside of the multiculturalism. It does not mean all multiculturalism is wrong, but neither is it the universal good you believe in. You're a bit like an old-style preacher blaming an outbreak of cholera on sin.

While the elite (which, in this case, you represent) continue to deny the impact of the policies (the religion) they so fervently believe in, there will continue to be consequences (indeed, there will always be consequences, because what's done is done). What has happened, quite simply, is that along with the many benefits of multiculturalism, we have also imported communal violence as witnessed, for example on the Indian sub-continent - it is not a Western thing, it is not even a Muslim thing (witness Northern Ireland) but it is the consequence of blindly pursuing mass immigration policies without considering the impact of the "culture" part of multiculturalism. Yet, as so often in the past, the ruling elite has too much invested in this policy (not least their careers) to recognise their error. Hence the cycle of violence will continue (and the victims will continue to be blamed for their sins).

Dialectician1 said...

You wrote recently about the need for a 'sociological imagination' when trying to make sense of the new political landscape that emerged following the last election. Most of the polling experts, main stream media and political parties predicted the wrong result because they lack the ability to go beyond everyday 'taken for granted' assumptions. But in the same way, your analysis of the underlying causes of Finsbury Park atrocity does the same thing. It focuses upon two well-trodden paths: the 'dog whistle' effect of the media and the crisis of masculinity. Both are credible lines of analysis but lack a proper class analysis. Masculine and feminine behaviours are always class based. Just as there are working class women who align with authoritarian politics and support racist arguments, there are plenty of middle class men who are doing very well as a consequence of the shift to a more 'effete and permissive' society. While we are prone to offering a hurried psychological profile of the (nearly always) men who carry out terrorist acts, the more, deeply hidden, underlying shifts in class-based behaviour is rarely analysed.

Phil said...

Yes, I absolutely agree Dialectician. You will note that the dissolution of gender roles is entirely bound up with how class is being reconfigured in the 21st century, and that my argument is supported by an earlier piece that talks about the link between class and gender in understanding UKIP's support. No blog post is an island and every one draws on arguments made before.

Speedy said...

Incidentally, you repeat your error about women being involved in acts of terrorism. There are plenty of examples of this in the Uk and throughout the world.

Between 1998 and 2010, women accounted for four per cent of all offences. But between 2011 and 2015 this figure jumped to 11 per cent.

Phil said...

I wasn't talking about offences, I was talking about *incidences* (as in attacks) of jihadi and far right terror in Western Europe and North America. And I think you'll find I'm right.

Speedy said...

I think you are making a distinction without a difference tbh, but in any case you are not correct. The San Bernadino shooters were a married couple, for example, and of course Samantha Lethwaite, AKA The White Widow, the "world's most wanted woman" and is one of "ours".

Phil said...

The so-called white widow however doesn't disprove the point. I'm talking about actual jihadi attacks, not the behind-the-scenes planning and support. And the point remains, with the sole exception of San Bernadino, the jihadis that blow themselves up, shoot innocent civilians, weaponise vehicles, and go on knifing sprees in the West have been men. Ditto for far right terrorism.

BCFG said...

I have been pointing out how this site and others on the Yvette Cooper loving left has deliberately and systematically played down Islamophobia and played up anti Semitism.

I have pointed out repeatedly that the main pre-occupation of the far right is Muslims and not Jews.

Then I have further pointed out that the reason Islamophobia is so dangerous is that it is totally acceptable in polite society. In one way speedy is correct it looks like this guy was not far right at all, this shows how normalised hatred of Muslims is. Those with mental health problems now target Muslims, can there be any greater image of how Muslims are seen culturally as an enemy within.

Of course while far right speedy provides justification for this attack and totally blames the victims for this act of terror (multiculturalism) he does not give the same courtesy to member of ISIS. Who has protected them and their families from the barrage of imperialist bombs over the last 2 decades? Are they not just individuals taking it upon themselves to right an injustice because there is no one there for them? Have they not got a far bigger grievance than any Westerner could ever have? Consider this fact, even by the lowest estimates of children killed by British and US terrorists (troops) in Iraq it would mean a Manchester bombing every day for 8 years! Also consider that people in the West suffer individual incidents while ISIS have seen their whole societies destroyed. You really can’t compare their suffering to ours; there’s is far far worse.

I looked at this headline to this article and could not see the word Islamophobia chickens come home to roost.

I read this article as a defence of Islamophobes and another example of playing down Islamophobia.

Once again the Yvette Cooper loving left show no solidarity with the beleaguered Muslim community.

Speedy said...

Without wishing to be pedantic (moi?) I think you're flogging a dead horse with this women thing, Phil. As you agree, plenty of women have been convicted for terrorism offences, but the fact that most don't get stabby might have as much to do with practicality as anything else. Then there are the gender roles "its man's work" within the ISIS meme, but that doesn't mean they are any less committed. But perhaps we can agree to disagree.

For a moment I thought BCFG had begun to see reason, but I was relieved when this was not the case - what would the world be coming to? BCFG - how about actually reading up about the roots of ISIS, which is very much focused on Saudi Arabia, rather than the West, than parroting shit you read in Socialist Worker. It is not "all about us". Certainly the West bears responsibility for the foundation of the entity, but it exists not as some kind of anti-colonial champion but to correct the errors of the Saudi monarchy.

Certainly the ISIS meme encourages violence against the West, but this is not in response to injustice but to stir up hatred, foment division and encourage intervention for its own purposes - I repeat, it is not all about us, it is all about them. There is a deep battle going on about the nature of Islam and this is bleeding onto our shores. The West did much to encourage its development by its stupid invasion of Iraq, etc, but it existed long before then.

I write of communal violence because I think you can get too bogged down in the wood to see the trees. You can blame the media, but you can't deny the mass rapes in Rotherham (an act of organised violence against women, facilitated by the authorities) or the dozens dead. In other parts of the world it can spring from other reasons (India, Thailand, Burma, Northern Ireland, the Lebanon) but you should call it what it is. If this had happened in India or elsewhere it would have been met with a shrug, here the Left (with the same mindset that produced the mass rapes) scurries around looking for excuses - yeah, it's the media, its prejudice, etc. But it is an age old, simple story. More cock up than conspiracy.