Europe’s hidden terror menace

By Khaled Diab

The fifth anniversary of the 7 July attacks has refocused attention on Islamist , 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 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, 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-, and the far right in general, as opposed to , 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.

Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the , and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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6 thoughts on “Europe’s hidden terror menace

  • Steve Snedeker

    Well done, Khaled. As a Yank, please don’t leave us out of the Far Right Nonsense Brigade, guys. Our KKK can hate with the bestest of them!

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  • Well it seems this chap had links with anti Muslim bigots in the states (pam geller) and was an admirer of the EDL. We have copious amounts of screenshots to prove it. Many of the far right groups have been deleting their websites over night as this chap was an avid commenter and contributor to them. People have screen shotted as many as they can.

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  • Super article. I missed it at the time.

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  • Khaled Dabbagh

    Most of the terror attack in Europe were planned and executed by Europeans themselves and not Mooozlims.

    Also, the re-emergence of the far right, in combination with Christian fundamentalism in countries such as Holland, Germany, Belgium and the new Eastern European countries is very real. Yet, all what seems to trouble Europeans are Mooozlims, the Hijab and Halal food.

    As if once these poor, filthy immigrants will disappear, Europe will become glorious again!

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  • There is no one that is more aware of any movement of neo Nazi’s anywhere in the world. I make it my business to try to stay informed whenever it raises it’s ugly head. I agree with Kahled that no amount of attention is enough when it comes to the danger that the neo Nazi presents. But, the is a separate situation. When discussing them, neither one should dissipate the importance of the destruction each one is capable of causing. Because Islamic terrorism is spread out all over the world. It gets more attention then the Nazi movement, The Nazi’s are still waiting for Hitlers return. They are not as well organized or funded as the Terrorists. The shame are the innocent people, women and children that are murdered by both groups. The great majority of German people and the great majority of Muslims people who suffer from people who lump all Germans and all Muslims as terrorists.

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  • Steve Snedeker

    I didn’t laugh, although you want to. It happens to be the US’s own home grown nasty secret as well. A week ago, a couple of skinheads performed the heroic act of gunning down policemen in Arkansas.

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