Alt-jihad – Part II: Delusions of grandeur and persecution

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By Khaled Diab

In the second in a series of articles exploring the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, Khaled Diab examines the far-right’s dual sense of superiority and inferiority, as well as its persecution complex.



Tuesday 17 April 2018

In the previous piece in this series on the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, I examined the emerging phenomenon of far-right suicide attackers and far-right political violence in general. In this, the second article in the series, I explore a number of other parallels, namely the bizarre blend of supremacist convictions combined with a sense of inferiority, an overpowering mentality of victimhood, a persecution complex centred around a rogues’ parade of imagined enemies, as well as a related belief in outlandish conspiracy theories.

Inferiority-superiority complex

Extremist Islamist and jihadist discourse is dominated simultaneously by a dual inferiority-supremacy narrative. On the one hand, they view Islam as innately superior to other religions and political philosophies, lament Islam’s loss of global dominance and dream of the restoration of its hegemony. On the other hand, they are convinced that Muslims everywhere are oppressed and victims. Even in situations where conservative Muslims are the dominant political force and wield enormous political clout, Islamists often believe they are oppressed, their beliefs are under attack and their way of life is threatened with extinction.

A similar narrative has emerged in white and Christian nationalist circles, though, given the continuing might of the West, superiority outweighs inferiority when compared with Islamist discourse. This sense of entitlement was best summed up by Richard Spencer, the spiritual leader of the alt-right movement in America. “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build; we produce; we go upward,” Spencer told the audience at an alt-right conference in Washington, DC. “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

Nevertheless, unlike the cocky white supremacy of the 19th century, when the West directly ruled most of the planet and required an ideology to justify its global dominance, instead of the white man’s burden of yore, many whites, especially men, now feel they are regarded as the burden. In fact, these far-right movements, as well as some segments of more mainstream conservatism, to a lesser degree, have appropriated the language of oppression and subjugation more common among the formerly enslaved and segregated African-Americans, or subject populations who lived under colonial rule.

At one level, this shift in rhetoric is opportunistic and cynical, with the aim of turning the tables on the truly marginalised minorities living in the West and on those who have suffered under the boot of western hegemony by suggesting that the real victims of racism and imperialism are whites, and especially the Christian right, who supposedly suffer under the multiple tyrannies of political correctness, liberalism, immigration (which is regarded as a sort of invasion by stealth) and Islam.

However, it would be a mistake to view these attitudes as merely rhetorical devices. Many on the far-right absolutely believe, their sense of supremacy and privilege notwithstanding, that they belong to an oppressed, repressed and persecuted group. At times, this can be a reflection of their sense of personal isolation. “I didn’t have many friends at school, I wanted to be a member of a group of people that had an aim,” admitted Kevin Wilshaw, who was a well-known organiser for the UK’s National Front in the 1980s and later joined the British National Party, before renouncing his former life and coming out as gay and of Jewish heritage. “Even though you end up being a group of people that through their own extreme views are cut off from society, you do have a sense of comradeship in that you’re a member of a group that’s being attacked by other people.” This sense of camaraderie, as well as a desire to stand out and be noticed, appears to have been a spur for Andrew Anglin’s transformation from a vegan anti-racist into the American extreme right’s most outspoken and outrageous troll, through his creation of the rabidly racist website The Daily Stormer.

This sense of alienation and the desperate desire to bond this produces is also something that afflicts many who fall into the embrace of radical and jihadist Islamism. “For most jihadis, the first steps on their journeys to Syria were rarely taken for political or religious reasons,” observes Kenan Malik, the Indian-Britisher writer and intellectual. “The journeys were, rather, a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for belongingness, for respect.”

Paranoid confusions

This sense of living in a world which deprives them of their perceived God-given right to dominate society and to rule the world translates into an increasingly outspoken and irrational victimhood mentality. “No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die,” Spencer lamented in the speech mentioned above, echoing the jihadist extremists the Christian right so despises. “We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace.”

This sense of being embattled has led to the paranoid conviction that the modern-day white conservative is surrounded by foes, both near enemies and far ones, to borrow from the jihadist lexicon. The far horizon of Enemistan is dominated by Muslims, who are closing in so rapidly and decisively that the very survival of Western civilisation and Christendom is at stake. At home, the alt-right fears migrants and other minorities, including a resurgence of classic Judeophobia, leftists, liberals, journalists and media professionals, experts, academics, feminists and the LGBT community.

This paranoid sense of being surrounded and besieged by enemies on every front has led to the proliferation of outlandish conspiracy theories. In societies whose superior technologies have for centuries visited mass slaughter upon weaker populations across the planet, there is now talk of a “white genocide” – a paranoid theory that there is a conspiracy to wipe out the white race. What is most infuriating about the white genocide myth is that many who subscribe to it deny the historical reality of actual genocides, such as the Holocaust or extermination campaigns against native populations.

The purported white genocide is not just confined to Europe and America, it is also allegedly taking place in Africa. The alt-right blogger Laura Southern has even produced a ‘documentary’ entitled Farmland which claims to highlight the plight of supposedly persecuted whites in South Africa. Needless to say, no such extermination programme is occurring in the country where the legacy of Apartheid still lives on in stark racial inequalities, unless by ‘genocide’ she means the relative erosion of white privilege.

The army of Islam

In Europe, the end goal of mass immigration, according to far-right conspiracy theorists, is not only ‘white genocide’ but also a stealthy conquest of the West, its complete Islamisation and subjugation and its conversion into ‘Eurabia’, the mythical European Umma. And Eurabia is apparently making major inroads in America too. The far-right myth that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where the police do not dare enter and Islamic law prevails has made it across the Atlantic, and has been spread by both Fox News and the NRA, amongst others. A similar narrative of a crusade/war against Islam is a common refrain amongst Islamists. However, this notion amongst both conservative Muslims and Christians that we are in the throes of a monumental clash of civilisations does not hold up to scrutiny, as I reveal in my book Islam for the Politically Incorrect.

How far this dastardly Muslim conquest has advanced is a matter of some disagreement, however. The most pessimistic on the far-right believe the war is already over and the West has lost, others believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end, while some, like the founder of France’s Front National (FN), are convinced that it is the “the beginning of the beginning” of the Islamic subjugation of Europe. “It’s an episode in the war that is being waged against us by Islamism,” he claimed. “The blindness and deafness of our leaders, for years, is in part responsible for these kinds of attacks.”

The most recent variation on this is the conspiracy theory that the refugees who have been entering Europe are not desperate civilians fleeing war, but part of an invading army bent on the destruction of western civilisation. This supposed phenomenon has been called “jihad by emigration” – a term coined by the creator of the far-right website Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer, not to be confused with the Richard Spencer mentioned earlier.

In its self-righteous panic, the right has become more panicky and shrill, triggering the kind of terror usually expressed by the defenceless towards an army of ruthless conquerors. Bedraggled, desperate and unarmed, the stream of refugees flowing into Europe can only be referred to as an army in the loosest, most figurative sense of the word, yet, this army without soldiers or arms is somehow mounting an invasion.

They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, a bishop in southern Hungary, a country which has become a far-right hotbed in recent years and found itself on a major transit route, until it built a wall to keep the refugees out. “It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” echoed Dutch far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, who once infamously called for the banning of the Quran. A related myth is the notion that Muslim asylum seekers are obsessed with an uncontrollable urge to violate and rape western women – they are not refugees but “rapefugees”.

Away from the high-security fortress of far-right perception and in the real world of hard facts, the influx of refugees into the European Union from 2012 to the peak of 2015/16 represented under half a percent of the EU’s population. Since then, thanks to government reactions to knee-jerk xenophobia or to the xenophobia of politicians, the numbers have tailed off significantly, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. Moreover, and contrary to the ‘sponger’ image of refugees, an analysis by the Brookings Institute revealed that the inflow of refugees actually has a net positive effect on host economies – and the OECD agrees – which raises the perplexing question, if migrants are out to destroy the West, why are they making it richer?

More confoundingly still, if the aim of Muslims in Europe and America is to destroy Christendom and wipe out the infidel, either with actual bombs or with demographic time-bombs, it appears inconceivable that any Muslim fanatic worth his salt would head the other way. Yet this is exactly what they are believed to be doing, with overstated and exaggerated hordes of European Muslims heading to Syria and Iraq to heed the call of jihad, so sensationally covered that you would be forgiven if you had the impression that Europe was being depopulated of its Muslim population.

Master puppeteers

Despite the fixation on Islam, it would be a mistake to think that Muslims have replaced the Jews in extreme right discourse – their presence appears to be a complementary one. A special place remains reserved for Jews in far-right narratives and conspiracy theories. For decades following the Holocaust, these narratives had become marginalised or had gone underground (such as the transnational Malm Movement), often only mentioned in hints and suggestions. But with the rise of the far-right, they have enjoyed a comeback in recent years in a number of countries, from Hungary to the United States.

Many Judeophobic conspiracy theories are recycled or adapted traditional anti-Semitic canards revolving around how Jews represent some kind of homogeneous cabal which runs the world clandestinely by controlling the financial sector and the media. This includes the renewed vogue the discredited hoax known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the fantasy that the Rothschild family controls the world’s central banks and causes war by financing both sides of every conflict enjoy in the growing far-right movement. More recent variations on this theme include the troubling mainstreaming in conservative circles of the narrative, which is especially popular in Hungary, that the tycoon and philanthropist George Soros is behind all kinds of sinister conspiracies to destroy Europe in order to be able better to rule it. Another is the conspiracy theory that a shadowy Zionist Occupation Government (‘Zionist’ here refers to Jew, not political Zionism) controls governments in the United States and Europe.

Some have even attempted to forge unified conspiracy theories of everything, in which various disparate and contradictory conspiracist ideas are forcibly mixed into a potently toxic cocktail. An example of this is how the mythical Zionist Occupation Government is responsible for mass migration in order to dilute or exterminate the white race so as to facilitate its satanic quest for global dominance. This blends anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, white genocidal and anti-leftist/liberal conspiracy theories into one incoherent whole.

Toxic far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have drifted not only to segments of the far-left but have found their way into Arab, Islamic and Islamist narratives, which historically discriminated much less than Christianity against the Jews, with Muslim bigots traditionally regarding Jews with condescension rather than suspicion and fear. This changed dramatically with the advent of modern Zionism, the influence of fascism and the creation of Israel, and is often fuelled by a desperate need to scapegoat weakness and failure by depicting the ‘enemy’ as super-humanely powerful and evil.

The hatred, contempt and fear of Jews shared by Christian and Muslim extremists has occasionally resulted in some unlikely and troubling alliances between neo-Nazi groups and Islamists, such as has occurred in some parts of Germany, both of which “ascribe extraordinary political power to Israel and the Jews, and their goal is to fight this power,” in the words of Heinz Fromm, the then president of the German domestic intelligence agency.

Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even suggested that the Kurdish referendum on independence was a devilish Jewish conspiracy, one unconvincingly masterminded by Bernard-Henri Lévy, once memorably described as the “Donald Trump of French philosophy”. Of course, this is not the first time that Erdoğan has ascribed superpowers to BHL, as he often referred to in France: he once hinted that the French ‘philosopher’ was behind the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi. Islamists often portray Arab regimes with whom they disagree as being American and Jewish stooges. Some members of the outlawed and oppressed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt subscribe to a conspiracy theory that dictator Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has a Jewish mother. Some conservative Muslims and Islamists are convinced that ISIS is a creation of western and Zionist imperialism, as are some secular Arabs. Interestingly, numerous white supremacists are also convinced of a similar conspiracy theory, even alleging that ISIS’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is actually a Mossad agent.

Mainstreaming falsehood

These far-right conspiracy theories do not exist in a vacuum. They are fed by more mainstream conservative falsehoods, which then feedback to the mainstream, pulling it ever further into the la-la zone. This is apparent in everything from the decades of eurosceptic myths that led the UK to leap off the Brexit cliff to the anti-immigrant, pseudo-fascistic rhetoric of large segments of Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire in Italy. Some mainstream conservatives find the twilight zone so alluring that they take the express train to the extreme because the mainstream’s gradual drift to the former fringe was not moving nearly fast enough. An example of this is Gavin McInnes who abandoned his creation, Vice, to embrace his inner white supremacist, misogynist and racist.

Even though the negative stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs has a very long pedigree, and has for generations been a staple of Hollywood myth-making, toxic mainstream conservative demonisation took off in earnest in the wake of the horrors of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Since then, America and Europe’s Muslim minorities have been inextricably linked in conservative perceptions with terrorism and treason.

The same applies to other minorities and marginalised groups, from Jews to Eastern European migrants to asylum seekers. The rightwing tabloid media in a number of countries has been vilifying them for years while claiming that it the imagined bogeyman of political correctness that was enjoying the upper hand, rather than the reality, that rightwing bigotry has been the dominant voice for generations.

Read part I

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The Islamic (re)conquista of the West

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By Khaled Diab

As a member of the advance guard sent out to plot the Islamisation of Europe, my mission is to pave the way for my migrant jihadi brothers and sisters.

This undercover jihadist practising taqiya to blend in with the infidel natives.

Despite this undercover jihadists best efforts to blend in with the infidel natives, he’s really out to destroy Western civilisation from within.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

We’ve all been fooled. We’ve been duped into believing that the millions of refugees streaming out of Syria were the result of the country’s civil war and the state’s collapse into anarchy.

In reality, they are foot soldiers cunningly disguised as distressed civilians, ordinary men, women and children. Their mission? Armed with the deadliest weapon known to man, the demographic time-bomb, they are mounting the (re)conquest of Europe and the Western world for Islam.

“The entire continent of Europe is being inundated with refugees at a rate unprecedented in world history,” wrote ultra-conservative pundit Robert Spencer, whose history reference material must be very different to those available to me. “This is no longer just a ‘refugee crisis.’ This is a hijrah.”

Now, if you’re an Arabic speaker, like myself, this thunderous warning may have you rubbing your chin in confusion.

Hijrah? Migration? “Well, yes, of course, it is migration,” you may think. “But I prefer not to call them ‘migrants’. It’s more accurate to say, ‘refugees’.”

But, no, no, no, Arabic speaker, learn your language properly. Hijrah means “jihad by emigration”.

Now forget it if your dictionary does not include this definition, Robert Spencer knows better than any stuffy reference work.

In Spencer’s esteemed view, “jihad by emigration” dates back to the very dawn of Islam, when Muhammad fled with his tiny band of followers from Mecca to Yathrib (later renamed Medina).

I was confused by how a religious minority fleeing persecution and threats to their lives (i.e. refugees) constitutes a form of “jihad”. My understanding of jihad is that it involves charging towards your enemy, not away from them.

But, of course, I would say that. I am, after all, a “Muslim” – even if I profess to be an atheist – and we Muslims are experts in the dark art of “taqiyya”. And what is that, you may wonder?

Spencer’s highly authoritative Jihad Watch website, one of the last dams struggling to hold back the Islamic tsunami, describes the concept of “taqiyya” in its succinct guide, Islam 101. “Systematic lying to the infidel, must be considered part and parcel of Islamic tactics,” it explains. “The natural attitude of a Muslim to the infidel world must be one of deception and omission.”

Now I have to confess that I (and my Muslim friends) had never heard of taqiyya until I started seeing it mentioned by rightwing pundits. Curious, I started to dig for more information.

According to the Islamic sources I could find, taqiyya, it turns out, is a Shia concept which dates back to the eighth century when the Shia (i.e. Party of Ali) were a small and vulnerable minority and the newly minted Abbasid caliphate persecuted them when they revolted in rejection of the dynasty’s legitimacy.

At that time of grave danger, the Sixth Shia Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq, ruled that it was permissible to conceal one’s beliefs in order to avoid persecution or death – though not if it endangers the life of another person – as long as the believer remained true to the faith in their hearts.

It sounds rather like how many early Christians eluded persecution by hiding their faith and living as “crypto-Christians”, practising their religion in secret while sometimes even observing the rituals of another faith.

But what’s with this “what-aboutery”? Everyone knows that Christianity is completely different to Islam.

In fact, unintentionally and with a naturalness that sends a chill down my spine, I have just caught myself red-handed in the act of practising “taqiyya about taqiyya”, i.e. dissimulating about dissimulation.

Perhaps it is because I have been under deep cover for so long that my mind has grown soft and confused under the plush duvet of Western living, where I have slumbered for so many years in my centrally located, highly sought-after sleeper cell.

And it’s been a long slumber. As a member of the advance guard sent out to plot the Islamisation of Europe and to build a Eurabian utopia, my mission is to pave the way for my migrant jihadi brothers and sisters (“refugee” is the taqiyya term) – and finally they’re arriving.

In the process, I have built up a highly convincing profile to pull the wool over the eyes of an unsuspecting, naïve and trusting Europe. The cover I have chosen is that of a progressive, enlightened, feminist and secularist. I even indulge in all those sinful Western ways, am married to a blue-eyed European and have produced a blonde child, who I plan to train in the dark art of dissimulation in the hope that he surpasses his father while looking like the enemy.

Though we usually prefer the sword, we also recognise the value of the word – you know, to win hearts and minds. And that is why I pose as a journalist and writer. Despite my secular writings, some sharp and astute observers have seen through my deception and penetrated my façade, cleverly identifying me as a closeted “Islamofascist”.

Despite my pride in what I have achieved, fairness compels me to admit that I am small fry. The crowning achievement of our Secret Society for Islamisation (SecSI) has to be our man in the White House, Barack Hussein Obama.

You have to admire the masterfulness with which he has managed to manoeuvre himself to become the most powerful man in the infidel world, while pretending to be a devout Christian. But even this grand master sometimes lets his mask slip, such as when he invited to the White House that radical Muslim teen with the ignoble plan to kill time itself.

A Christian called Hussein? You fell for that? I hate to admit it but the birthers and the Tea Party were right. Fortunately for Western civilisation, they saw right through him and have been tirelessly and selflessly working to expose the truth.

Sadly, our man’s time in Washington is nearly up. With so much suspicion floating around us, we must now up our game. But we still have our trump card up our sleeves. Our next plot is to get a candidate with very un-Islamic hair, who is posing as an incurable Islamophobe, elected president. Then, the rest of the west will be ours.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 23 September 2015.

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A battle for the soul of every Egyptian

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By Khaled Diab

Converts have become pawns in Egypt’s increasingly bitter standoff between Muslims and Christians.

22 September 2010

The religion we are born into is one of those accidents of circumstance that none of us has any control over. Believers in individual freedom should oppose the idea that we automatically inherit our parents’ faith. In my view, children should not come into this world with a predetermined religious identity but should be able to decide for themselves when they are adults, as my son will do.

Failing that, people should have the complete freedom to convert out of their inherited faith without fear of negative repercussions. So the fact that hundreds of Egyptian Muslims took to the streets in solidarity with Kamilia Shehata – the wife of a Coptic priest who is rumoured to have been kidnapped by church authorities because of her decision to convert to Islam – should seem like a victory for religious freedom.

But this is only ostensibly so and there is a strong stench of hypocrisy attached to this grandstanding. The protesters were not defending a universal principle of freedom but a relative one. Had this woman been converting out of Islam, few would have taken to the streets to defend her; most would have met the news with silent disappointment and disapproval, while a vocal few would have been out attacking her.

This is partly because of a widely held belief that Islam prohibits Muslims from converting to other faiths. However, as I’ve argued before, the case for the prohibition of ‘apostasy’ in Islam – and especially its punishment by death – is extremely weak or even nonexistent. The idea, in Islamic jurisprudence, that apostasy should be punished seems to have been born in Umayyad times as a political tool to silence opponents of the caliphate.

For its part, Egyptian law not only prescribes no punishment for apostasy, it also regards all Egyptians as equals, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and protects their religious freedom, at least in theory. However, Egyptian law also contradicts itself. Although it borrows heavily from the French legal system and other secular sources, article 2 of the constitution states that Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.

The clause was a fudge used by secularists to appease religious conservatives at a time when Egypt was secularising rapidly, but it is slowly returning to haunt the establishment. This inherent contradiction within Egypt’s secular laws, as well as ambiguous laws against ‘defaming religion’ and ‘sowing sedition’, allows reactionary government officials, judges and activists to punish, or at the very least obstruct, people who act in what they perceive to be an ‘un-Islamic’ manner.

Take the case of Mohammed Hegazy, the first Egyptian convert to Christianity to seek official recognition of his conversion. His dream was dashed when, in 2008, a judge ruled that, because Islam is “the final” and “most complete” religion, a Muslim who converts to Christianity “can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert”.

The judge’s remarks are telling. As someone who believes that if God had intended us to believe in him, he would have created Faithbook, I can only conclude that split hairs separate Judaism, Christianity and Islam, yet each of the three religions believes only it possesses the full truth. In the case of conservative Islam, this superiority manifests itself in the conviction that once nonbelievers are exposed to “true” Islam, they will see the light and embrace the faith. People like Hegazy, going the other way, are an inconvenient embarrassment to this view.

The fact that Egyptians – both Muslims and Christians – facing the very serious challenges of corruption, poverty and an oppressive regime have devoted so much attention to these as-yet unsubstantiated rumours, even launching law suits, suggests that this case is about far more than the conscience of a single individual.

Judging by the regularity with which conversion stories surface in Egypt, and the interest and passion they elicit, it might not be an overstatement to say that the soul of every Egyptian has become a battleground in the increasingly ugly standoff between Muslims and Christians, which has led to the growing marginalisation of Egypt’s Coptic community.

This is not surprising as Copts have seen their religion in constant retreat since the arrival of Islam. However, it should be noted that the early Muslims were not interested in converting the Egyptians and showed more tolerance towards them than the Eastern Roman Empire, which regarded Coptic theology as a ‘heresy’.

Although Muslims make up the majority of the Egyptian population, they, too, feel their faith is under threat. In addition to the general threat posed by modernity, which all religions are feeling, Muslims have the additional fear that their religion has fallen behind Christianity – at least the western form of it – and the west (often equated with Christendom), they believe, is conspiring to impose its hegemony aggressively on Islam. Ironically, western Christians often feel the same way, as demonstrated by the increasingly popular “Eurabia” myth.

Despite the fact that a growing percentage of Egyptians are actively and courageously seeking political change, the vast majority of Muslims and Christians still share a sense of political disenfranchisement and disempowerment. Faced with this marginalisation, one of the few areas left to the individual is that of “morality”. Moreover, faith that a greater power can provide deliverance from worldly oppression is something of a survival mechanism.

For its part, the government has found religion to be a double-edged sword. In its desperate bid to cloak itself with a veneer of legitimacy, the regime has been desperately juggling the conflicting roles of secular state, “defender of the faith”, as well as the emblem of national unity and harmony.

But at least the Egyptian government is an egalitarian oppressor. And, so, instead of falling into the trap of attacking each other, Muslims and Christians should find common cause in fighting the system.

This is the extended version of a column which appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 15 September 2010. Read the full discussion here.

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Europe’s hidden terror menace

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By Khaled Diab

The fifth anniversary of the 7 July attacks has refocused attention on Islamist terrorism, but the neo-Nazi threat goes largely unnoticed.

13 July 2010

On the fifth anniversary of the 7 July terror attacks in London, the issue of Islamist terrorism and Islamic extremism is back in the media spotlight. While the threat posed by a small number of violent Islamist extremists is very real and the danger of Islamic fundamentalism should not be downplayed or understated, the seriousness of the situation is often exaggerated into a menace of Hitlerian proportions.

In contrast, Hitler’s ideological descendants, who have become increasingly emboldened in recent years, constitute a growing, if still minor, threat that largely goes unnoticed and under-reported.

An example of this menace is the Belgian neo-Nazi group Bloed, Bodem, Eer en Trouw (Blood, Soil, Honour and Loyalty), whose trial is to start soon. The group, whose members were arrested in 2006, stands accused of planning terror attacks targeting the National Bank and other institutions, plotting the assassination of a number of prominent politicians and conspiring to destabilise the Belgian state. BBET had even apparently managed to infiltrate the Belgian military and had amassed a large cache of guns and explosives.

More worryingly, perhaps, at least in terms of social cohesion, the neo-Nazi group had intended to sow the seeds of discord by carrying out a “false flag” operation to murder the popular Flemish far-right politician Filip Dewinter in the hope that the blame would be pinned on Islamists, stoking further hatred of the country’s embattled and marginalised Muslim minority. During the expected outrage that would ensue, they would then seize the opportunity to assassinate the radical Lebanese-Belgian politician and activist Dyab Abou Jahjah.

Had members of an Islamist cell been planning similar outrages, news of their forthcoming trial would have grabbed headlines across Europe and enough columns to support the Karnak temple complex would have been written on the subject. As it stands, the group has elicited little to no attention outside Belgium.

Not that I feel we should deal with neo-Nazi extremism and its violent manifestations with the same level of sensationalism and mass hysteria we reserve for extremist Islam – we need to be vigilant, not vigilante about it. More attention needs to be paid to the fact that it is a growing menace. We need to build greater awareness and better understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural factors feeding this phenomenon, especially since mainstream society is, in certain ways, complicit in the emergence of this troubling current.

Some, dare I say many, will consider my last assertion as an overreaction and will dismiss BBET and other violent far-right groups as little more than the outer reaches of the ‘lunatic fringe’. And at some level, this is true and can equally be applied to violent Islamist groups. But just because they’re mad and bad, that does not exclude the possibility that they are the symptoms of a deeper malaise – there is some warped logic to their madness.

Just like their Islamist counterparts, many people who are drawn to neo-Nazi and other far-right ideologies feel disempowered and marginalised, and believe that the way to overcome this is to turn back the clock to an idyllic “pure” past – based on religion, in the case of Islamists, and based on race and, to a lesser extent, religion for neo-Nazis.

And, as the economic situation worsens – especially for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder, but also for the middle classes who are increasingly feeling the bite of job losses, as unemployment figures rise and government spending falls – this sense of exclusion and frustration will grow.

And minorities will continue to fill the role of convenient scapegoat, as has long been the case with far-right parties, many of which have gained a sheen of respectability in recent years. In fact, time and again, violent neo-Nazi groups and individuals have been linked to these parties. For example, there are reports that the BBET had ties to the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, as had a teenager who went on a racially motivated murder spree in Antwerp.However, this does not exonerate the rest of society. The increasingly mainstream vilification and demonisation of Europe’s Muslim minority and Islam in general – based on fear, insecurity, ignorance and political expediency, as well as the worry that extremist groups will succeed in their bid to “Islamise” Europe – since the 11 September terror attacks in the US has created fertile ground for the far-right to lay down deeper roots. Some governments have been complicit in this for foreign policy purposes, while some politicians, such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, have skillfully manipulated the situation to enter the corridors of power.

In a bid to downplay the threat, some will play a macabre numbers game and claim that Islamic terrorism in Europe claims far more lives than far-right violence. Although it is true that there have been no spectacular, large-scale attacks, neo-Nazis are responsible for a regular and growing stream of violence against Muslims, Jews, blacks and other minorities across Europe.

For example, between 2000 and 2005, racial violence spiked dramatically in many European countries. Denmark alone reported an increase of 70% in reported racial violence and crime.

Of course, neo-Nazis have yet to pull off any attack as spectacular as those in Madrid or London. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to or don’t plan to, as the case of the BBET amply demonstrates. In May 2010, a British neo-Nazi father and son – who, in an worrying echo of a bygone era, had set up a group to overthrow the government because they believed it had been taken over by Jews – planned to poison Jewish, Muslim and black people with ricin.

In addition, neo-nazism seems to be going increasingly global, with groups in different European countries and the US building increasingly strong alliances. Examples of this include Combat 18 and Blood and Honour (of which BBET is a splinter group).  Could such transnational groupings become the kernel of a loose-knit global neo-Nazi network along the lines of al-Qaeda? Only time can tell, but I certainly hope not.

The most troubling threat posed by neo-nazism, and the far right in general, as opposed to Islamism, is that it is an indigenous ideology which once held powerful sway in Europe, even in countries that were not run by Nazi regimes. If we are not careful and do not learn the lessons of history, there is the future possibility that Nazi and fascist totalitarianism may rear its ugly face again.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 11 July 2010. Read the related discussion.

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Building intolerance in Switzerland

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By Khaled Diab

The Swiss minaret ban doesn’t mean European Muslims are persecuted, but it makes me worry for the Europe my son has been born into.

7 December 2009

Though Muslims don’t need minarets to worship, the Swiss vote to ban them is a troubling sign of mounting intolerance.

Alongside the crescent, the minaret is one of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Islam. However, it’s only functional purpose – to call worshippers to pray – has, in the modern age, become obsolete. And even then, it is not absolutely necessary, as attested to by the earliest mosques which did not have minarets.

That is why, at face value, the Swiss referendum on whether to ban minarets, especially since there are only four of them in the entire country, as Tariq Ramadan points out, seems superficial and pointless. In fact, when my wife first heard the news she wondered whether the Swiss didn’t have anything more important to go to the ballot box for.

Preposterous as the whole campaign is, especially given that Zurich’s oldest minaret is so much a part of the cityscape that most passers-by don’t even notice it, it does carry certain ominous undertones.

Although mosques don’t need minarets to function and Muslims don’t need them to worship, the Swiss decision – by a majority of 57% – to ban their construction carries enormous symbolic significance. Ironically, it even came on the weekend in which Muslims were celebrating one of their holiest festivals, Eid al-Adha.

To be clear, Muslims in Switzerland are still legally entitled to practise their faith. However, the message this vote sends is one that undermines the principle of religious freedom. The Swiss are effectively saying that, even if Muslims have the legal right to gather together for communal prayer, mainstream society wants them to be invisible.

In addition, one can’t help thinking that for one of the main sponsors of the referendum, the far-right and populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the heart of the issue is not so much minarets, but Muslims themselves. If it were up to them, I suspect, they would much rather ban Islam than minarets – but fortunately the law would never allow them to organise such a vote and Swiss voters don’t fear Muslims enough to go that far – judging by some of the statements members of the party made in the run-up to the vote.

For example, the SVP’s Ulrich Schlüer described the minaret as “a symbol of political power, a prelude to the introduction of sharia law”. In this, the SVP is like far-right parties across Europe who subscribe to the preposterous notion of the imminent emergence of a “Eurabia”, a myth I’ve deconstructed before.

As a sign of the deeper hatred upon which this ban is built – and a foretaste of things to come if we do not address the issue of intercommunal relations in Europe urgently – anti-Muslim politicians in other parts of Europe are already jumping on the Swiss bandwagon.

The party of the infamous Geert Wilders – who has already called unsuccessfully for the banning of the Qur’an – has demanded a similar referendum to be carried out in the Netherlands.

Mario Borghezio of Italy’s Northern League also called for a vote in Italy, surreally suggesting that: “The flag of a courageous Switzerland which wants to remain Christian is flying over a near-Islamised Europe.”

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss decision has not gone down well in Arab and Muslim countries. But I offer a similar observation to the one I made at the time of the German hijab murder controversy: troubling and Islamophobic as this vote is, millions of Swiss and other Europeans also find it reprehensible. In addition, it is not a sign that European Muslims are being persecuted. In fact, the Muslim minority in most of Europe enjoys more freedom of faith and conscience than minorities in many Muslim countries.

Nevertheless, the vote does fill me with foreboding. If matters are left unchecked, then European Muslims could well one day, become an oppressed or persecuted minority, and the artificial divide between western and Muslim countries could widen until it becomes an unbridgeable chasm.

We like to take pride in the fact that we live in the most tolerant times ever. But there were periods in Europe’s history where Christianity and Islam actually may have co-existed more harmoniously than they do today. An interesting example of this was Sicily, under both Arab and Norman rule.

On the eve of the Swiss minaret referendum, our son, who is of mixed Arab and European background, was born. Although we are sceptical of religion, intend to give him a secular upbringing and let the choice of belief system be his when he comes of age, I hope that by the time Iskander is an adult, he will be able to live comfortably and proudly with his multicultural heritage and not be discriminated against because of it.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 1 December 2009. Read the related discussion.

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The mythical European Umma

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Given that only about 4% of the EU’s population is Muslim, why is the fear of a coming Eurabia so strong in certain quarters?

25 August 2009

Muslims in Europe are secretly amassing an arsenal of the deadliest in biological weaponry: the demographic time bomb. The first phase of the Muslim invasion – or should I say reinvasion – of Europe has already begun with the deployment of an expeditionary force of womb-men: a fearsome army of mutant ninja warriors whose function is to go forth and multiply. Their turbo-charged and perhaps even genetically modified uteruses mass produce the deadly biological agent which is currently being stockpiled in Muslim homes across the continent.

And their mission: to create Eurabia – or, better said, since many European Muslims are not Arabs, to turn the EU into the European Umma. Having been driven out of Europe once and unable to reconquer it through force of arms, those crafty and cunning Muslims are back to do it through the Trojan horse of immigration and reproduction.

Some dismiss this demographic time bomb as being far-fetched and as fantastical as Saddam Hussein’s non-existent arsenal of WMD, but yet another smoking gun has been found in the Netherlands. Troubling evidence has emerged that Muhammad has become the most popular boy’s name in the country’s four biggest cities. And a similar situation is emerging in other European urban centres.

In fact, five centuries after the reconquest of Granada, that last Muslim stronghold, Eurabia has established its first de facto capital in Rotterdam.

And when the number of Muhammads and other assorted Mohammedans become a majority over the coming century – as the great Bernard Lewis warned – they will form an army of mujahideen of Talibanesque horror which will subjugate the natives and make them live as second-class dhimmis under sharia law.

As far-fetched conspiracy theories go, the Eurabia myth is one of the most persistent and dangerous of recent years – and the Daily Telegraph fanned the controversy this month with its claims that it had carried out an investigation which revealed that the EU’s Muslim population would jump from the current 4-5% to an improbable 20% by 2050.

The six-paragraph article gives no indication of how the projections were arrived at, nor the assumptions upon which they were based. In fact, as the BBC pointed out in a piece debunking a popular YouTube hit on ‘Muslim Demographics’, population projection is an inexact science. It cites, as an example, the projections made in the 1930s that the UK’s population would fall to 20 million by the end of the 20th century.

Most projections that foresee a massive increase in Europe’s Muslim population are based on certain assumptions which are hard to justify. They assume that recent immigration trends will continue indefinitely for decades to come, but this is unlikely as Europe continuously raises the immigration bar for non-EU citizens, and it is not far-fetched to expect that many European countries may call a halt to immigration or draw their future immigrants from certain more ‘desirable’ countries.

The projections also assume that European Muslims will continue to have a significantly higher fertility rate than the population at large. But evidence suggests that the fertility rates of Muslim women are gradually converging with those of the wider population. And there are signs that the fertility rate among the white population of some European countries, such as France, is recovering.

So, given that the only hard facts we can be sure of is that a small minority of about 4% of the EU’s population is Muslim, why is this fear of a coming Eurabia so strong in certain quarters? Many of the biggest proponents of the Muslim demographic time bomb myth are cheerleaders of and apologists for US imperialism in the Middle East, such as Bat Y’eor and Bernard Lewis.

Some Europeans, particularly from conservative and Christian circles and the intolerant wing of liberalism, have fallen for the myth for a variety of reasons. One is the relatively rapid shift in western Europe towards multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in recent decades, which has caused a certain sense of alienation and insecurity, especially for those whose economic security has been undermined by neo-liberal economics and globalisation.

Other reasons are the massive lifestyle and social changes. These have caused distress for traditionalists and people who still identify themselves as Christian: they have seen their religion die a slow death, while Islam seems to go from strength to strength.

Then, there is the plain old fear stoked by the overexposure given to the most intolerant Islamic fringe groups and individuals. Certainly, there are some European Muslims who want to live according to sharia and there is even a lunatic fringe who would like to see Europe incorporated into some fantastical global caliphate.

But Muslims in Europe are not some unified, monolithic force. Not only are they ethnically diverse and from communities that are not the greatest fans of each other – consider the animosity between Moroccans and Algerians, for example – they are also as varied ideologically as the rest of the population.

Although Muslims tend to be more religious and conservative than the rest of society, there are also plenty of secular, non-practising, cultural and even non-believing Muslims. In addition, it is impossible to tell what kind of identities future European Muslims will have, but I suspect that the future cultural fault lines in Europe will not run along traditional religious lines, but will pit believers against non-believers, creating a kind unity of purpose between conservative Muslims and Christians intent on preserving faith in a ‘Godless Europe’.

While Eurabia is a fantasy, Europe is almost certainly going to become more diverse in the future, and so a debate is worth having about how to adapt to this reality and what constitutes citizenship in an increasingly mobile world.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 21 August 2009. Read the related discussion.

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