By Khaled Diab
Despite the hype about Islamists and jihadis, the truly terrifying threat for the democratic future of Europe and America are far-right extremists, who are becoming both increasingly mainstream and violent.
Thursday 29 November 2018
A secret cell of highly trained fighters reportedly planned to assassinate leftist and Green politicians in Germany on the ominously named ‘Day X‘. These terrorists were not jihadis but were commandos in the German army.
The 200 crack soldiers from the elite Kommando Spezialkräfte (KDK) had envisioned a plot to assassinate Claudia Roth, the leader of the Green party, Heiko Maas, the foreign minister, and Joachim Gauck, the former president, on ‘Day X’, when law and order would collapse, they believed.
“There is enormous ignorance here concerning not only racism but also far-right extremism,” asserts a German journalist friend. “We have had a problem with far-right extremism for a long time in Germany. I feel that many Germans don’t feel bothered by that, at least not as much as they are by Islamists; but this is the same all over the western hemisphere.”
Indeed, it is not like there were no warning signs that this rising tide of violent far-right extremism was coming. For the better part of a decade, I have been warning, like some others, that neo-Nazis and far-right extremists pose a greater threat to Europe and America than Muslim extremists – a conclusion that many still view with scepticism and as alarmist.
This is not to suggest that far-right fanatics are worse or more dangerous than their Islamist counterparts, who are an ominous threat in Muslim-majority societies. What sets fascists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists, including Christian fanatics, apart in the western context is not only their numerical superiority compared with Muslim extremists but also their ability to blend into the mainstream, enabling them to operate under the radar, especially as society is distracted by the other in their midst. Another factor is simple denial, the ‘It can’t happen here’ mentality,’ and the conviction that it is only Islamists who hate our freedoms, whereas a growing proportion of the right in Europe and America has fallen in love with authoritarianism and autocracy.
In addition, as the KDK commandos demonstrate, far-right extremists are often far more deeply woven into the social fabric and integrated into power structures. It is both interesting and terrifying that the ranks of the violent far-right are increasingly made up of (ex-)soldiers, such as the KDK commandos or the ‘outstanding’ officer who sought to set up an extremist National Action cell in the British army.
What radicalises soldiers in this way?
Some may have already been radical and saw the army as a way to defend against the Barbarian hordes and to take the fight, with all the bloodlust that involves, to the “enemy”. Others may have been radicalised during their service, extrapolating the War on Terror narrative to new extremes.
Even when violent far-right extremists are not themselves in positions of authority, they may have sympathisers in high or influential places. An example is Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s disgraced former spy chief, who questioned the authenticity of evidence of right-wing violence spearheaded by Revolution Chemnitz, a far-right militant group which is also suspected of plotting future terrorists attacks.
The most glaring current example of this kind of latent sympathy, and of creeping fascism, is the Trump administration and the Trumpian right in America, who take Draconian measures against Muslims supposedly to combat Islamic extremism and terrorism, even where it does not exist or is marginal, while ignoring white extremism and terrorism, even when it occurs right under their noses.
In America, this glaring contrast is made most blindingly obvious in the contradictory way in which mass shootings and bombings are treated depending on the identity of the perpetrator. In the minority of cases where the killer happens to be a Muslim, there is a rush to label it as terrorism, even when the motives are unknown or unclear.
However, when the perpetrator is white, many will insist that it was a “lone wolf” attack, blame it on mental illness, effectively helping to further vilify this already stigmatised group, or insist it was a “hate crime”, not terrorism, even when the attack was carried out for ideological, social or political motives. Considering how so many Americans are convinced that mass shootings are not motivated by ideology, it is remarkable how many of them are carried out by men who subscribe to white supremacist, conservative Christian or racist worldviews.
Despite this refusal to face facts, violent far-right extremists, as I have described before, share much in common with their Islamist counterparts, including a toxic mix of superiority and inferiority, a sense of immense victimhood reinforced by an array of outlandish conspiracy theories. Worryingly, a trend, albeit one that is still relatively isolated, is emerging in America of what can be classed as white suicide attacks, in that the bomber or gunman kills others and then takes their own life or commits suicide by police. What is most remarkable about this trend is that it has gone almost unremarked.
But it would be a mistake to think that all this extremism started under Trump, as many of his opponents seem to disingenuously imply, not just rightfully blaming him for his own failings and failures but also scapegoating him for theirs.
In reality, scapegoating the symptom will distract us from finding an effective cure, and may even lead to the administration of faulty medicine. We need to embark on an honest conversation about the causes of far-right white extremism if we are to tackle it effectively and not repeat the mistakes that have been made with Muslim extremism, such as a fixation and obsession with security-related solutions, the bolstering of arbitrary powers and the militarisation of policing.
Widening inequalities and greater insecurity are significant factors in this radicalisation and growing violence, but not in the way many people think. It is not people’s worsening status, in and of itself, that is causing this extremism, but the narrative that blames these difficulties and hardships on immigrants, refugees, minorities, including blacks in America and repurposed classic anti-Semitism everywhere, ‘globalism’ and even leftists. This makes the struggle about cultural, ethnic or national identity, rather than the common challenges facing society as a whole and much of humanity thrown up by globalisation and modern technologies. The false immigrant narrative, especially, is one that is shockingly mainstream.
This misdiagnosis has, for example, enabled Donald Trump to sell the apparent improvements in some economic indicators as a result of his xenophobic, supposedly ‘America First’ policies, while simultaneously continuing the long-term destruction of the welfare of the American middle-class through massive tax breaks to the wealthiest.
Before Americans and Europeans can implement the kind of progressive policies that will boost their welfare and security, these false narratives, both the extremist and more mainstream versions of them, need to be robustly rebutted and disproved. We need to show that it is not xenophobia that will solve our problems, but progressive socio-economic policies. This will work when we implement it not only at home but internationally, through joint global action on ensuring employment and minimum incomes for all, as well as tackling emerging monopolies and the offshore tax evasion of many multinationals and the super-rich.
As the swirling winds of conflict gather within and between our various societies, it is time to work together in our diversity before we destroy each other in our adversity.
This article was first published by the New Arab on 22 November 2018.