False parity

"Many of our politicians appear much more at ease when condemning the far Right than they ever are when talking about Islamists"

Tom Wilson

Al-Muhajiroun in 2009: Fuelling the far Right (GARETH DAVIES CC BY 2.0)

There has been considerable press attention given to the growth of the extreme Right in Western countries. In Britain many of our politicians appear much more at ease when condemning the far Right than they ever are when talking about Islamists. The violent Right is growing, and should be countered, but the present attitude seems to miss the point.

At times, the tendency has been to talk about far-right terrorism as if this is now the “new threat”, often in a tone that suggests that this group has perhaps somehow replaced the Islamists. As if to say, this is where we should be focusing more of our attention instead. At the very least you will hear the far Right and violent Islamism casually referred to as “two sides of the same coin”. This doesn’t only oversimplify matters; it also creates a false parity, which isn’t particularly helpful given that the challenge that each of these ideologies poses is quite different.

Yet, the far Right and the Islamists do clearly have a relationship with one another, and that is something we would be wise to give more attention to. The Independent Reviewer of Counter Terror Legislation’s annual report, published in October, pointed to how the threat from right-wing terrorism had grown in reaction to the London and Manchester attacks of 2017. There is good reason to believe that different types of extremism feed off each other, and that Islamists and the far Right in particular may have a reciprocal relationship. The danger Western democracies face is that Islamist and far-right elements will increasingly use one another’s violence as a means for recruiting and radicalising on their own side.

As has often been observed, had the authorities shut down Al-Muhajiroun in Luton sooner, the English Defence League might never have emerged. We must ensure that different extremist elements do not enter into a cycle of retaliatory violence and reprisal attacks, with our liberal way of life caught in the crossfire. We know that Islamists, the far Right, and the far Left all have good reason to want to incite turmoil and increase division. 

At a more concrete level there is a very real capacity for these groups to imitate one another’s tactics. In 2017, at Finsbury Park and Charlottesville we saw far-right assailants adopt the kind of low-tech vehicular attack previously perpetrated by jihadists. In terms of strategy, it was white supremacists in America in the 1980s and 1990s who pioneered the notion of the “lone wolf” terrorist, with the internet intended to facilitate a new wave of terrorism. This was decades before Abu Musab al-Suri published his online “Global Islamic Resistance Call” in late 2004, in the hope of instigating a leaderless jihad in the West.

None of this is to suggest that the far Right has replaced the (still much greater) Islamist terror threat; it has merely joined it. The threat each ideology poses is different in scale and in character. But our task is to see to it that Islamists, the far Right and the far Left do not fan the flames of one another’s extremism.

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