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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 witnessesthe 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.

3 Comments

  1. Igor Slamoff says:

    “For the last 16 years the press and politicians have talked up the possibility of attacks from this quarter [i.e. Islamist terror] to justify military action overseas …”
    Strangely enough, offhand I cannot recall any instances of any such talk-ups, i.e. someone saying “We must invade foreign countries to prevent terrorism at home”. Could someone refresh my memory?

  2. john preid says:

    the idea that ukip including femenists Harriet yeo Anne marie waters,Nikki Sinclair,or peter shore’s widow are far right or Michael gove or boris, therefore they cause Nazi terrorism,is silly

  3. john preid says:

    the IRA past of Jeremy corbyn, didn’t bother the electorate ,but to say that the theres right wing terrorism to be responsible is silly

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