Why deradicalisation programmes are needed for the far right
New Zealand faced its darkest day following attacks on two mosques that killed 50 people in Christchurch. The assaults led many to question why politicians haven’t been focusing on the steady rise of far-right groups.
The alleged gunman was groomed in Australia, influenced online by prominent far-right Canadian Stefan Molyneux. The man charged with the attacks spewed a far-right conspiracy theory regarding the extinction of the white nation titled “The Great Replacement.” This racist rhetoric has been shared by politicians from Iowa to Hungary, with little criticism.
He left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto but there has been no distinctive discussion globally in addressing this threat.
A study of 200,000 articles in 80 different languages found one-quarter of stories about attacks by far-right perpetrators mentioned the word “terrorism.” This has a detrimental effect on public perceptions on terrorism.
Erin M. Kearns, from the University of Alabama, reported in a study titled “When Data Don’t Matter: Exploring Public Perceptions of Terrorism” that, from 2006-15, far-right extremists, such as white supremacists and anti-government militias, were responsible for approximately 50% of all terrorist attacks in the United States. Kearns’s research stated that discussing white supremacist discourse in the mainstream is sympathetically distorted.
This distortion is channelled through language and approach. This was evident in the recent New Zealand attack after which media outlets in the United Kingdom and Australia portrayed the suspected attacker as a “bullied schoolboy” or an “angelic” boy with a childhood photo of the attacker.
The British Broadcasting Corporation came under fire when it referred to the Christchurch incidents as shootings rather than terror attacks. This appears to indicate there is a position to minimise the threat rather than confront the very danger these alt-right groups pose.
The warning signs are there. Europol said there were five right-wing recorded terror plots in the United Kingdom in 2017.
Mark Rowley, the former head of Britain’s Metropolitan police’s counterterrorism unit, said in an interview with the Guardian “the UK had not woken up” to the threat that the far-right represents.
The Global Terror Index report in 2018 stated that the threat of far-right political terrorism is on the rise. There were 66 deaths from terrorism caused by far-right groups and individuals from 113 attacks from 2013-17. Of those, 17 deaths and 47 attacks occurred in 2017.
There were 12 attacks in the United Kingdom, six in Sweden and two each in Greece and France. In the United States, there were 30 attacks in 2017 that resulted in 16 deaths. Most of the attacks were carried out by lone actors with far-right, white nationalist or anti-Muslim beliefs.
Sara Khan, lead commissioner for Countering Extremism in the United Kingdom, said far-right activists were “organised, professional and actively attempting to recruit.”
Jessica Shepherd, from the Commission for Countering Terrorism, said academic papers that will look at the far right, Islamism, the far left and online extremism would be presented to the British home secretary this year.
The number of far-right suspects being monitored cannot be made public because the activity is happening covertly and deemed a security risk.
Gareth Rees, head of Counter Terrorism Policing National Intelligence Unit, said: “Extreme Right Wing (XRW) investigations are pursued by our officers with exactly the same level of resource and vigour as other forms of ideology. In addition to our enforcement activities, we have been working to raise the awareness of XRW ideology and behaviour with partner agencies, government bodies and communities. This raised awareness is reflected in the increase of XRW Prevent referrals from 10% of all referrals in 2015-16 to around 18% in 2017-18.”
Observers said the minimalist approach in condemnation of the attacks and the excessive cautionary language adopted have complicated qualitatively analysing the far-right phenomenon.
There appears to be a government focus on the Islamic State and other terror outfits from the Middle East. However, far-right rhetoric juxtaposed with technologically adept and younger supporters is making the extreme right-wing terror a major threat.
A major concern is whether Western governments will institute a policy in which Islamophobia cannot go unchecked. In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is the only political party that has not adopted the All Parliamentary group definition of Islamophobia.
Muslims need more than global outpouring when dealing with such heinous attacks such the one in Christchurch. They require an ardent legislative policy that tackles hate crime head-on. White supremacist discourse can only be tackled if governments institute effective deradicalisation programmes that are so readily available for Islamist terrorists.
Suddaf Chaudry is a journalist based between London and Islamabad focusing on the Middle East and South Asia.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.