The atrocities in Norway last weekend, that left 76 people dead, should be a landmark event that changes the way we approach far right extremist groups and ideologies. To date, the focus by global security services has been almost exclusively on the threat from al-Qaeda -inspired terrorism. Right wing extremism has been dismissed as irrelevant and viewed as a relatively harmless movement.
The tragic incidents in Norway may sadly have been the price to pay for European democracies and global security services to finally asses the threat posed by right wing extremists, a threat that has been ignored for far too long.
It has been revealed that Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind the weekend’s massacre, developed far right ideologies at a meeting in London in 2002, according to his online manifesto. Breivik expressed concerns about the effects of immigration, multiculturalism, Islam and the growth of settled Muslim communities. He developed an affiliation with the English Defence League (EDL), who he claims have fundamental differences with the traditional race-based forms of rightwing extremism such as those of the BNP. The EDL reject white supremacist discourse and racism and instead oppose Islam on cultural grounds – the idea of cultural incompatibility being more likely to gain support than an ideology based on an inferior race.
The online manifesto, signed "Andrew Berwick London 2011", contains repeated references to his links with the EDL. On Sunday there were unconfirmed reports from one of the organisation's supporters that the 32-year-old had attended at least one EDL demonstration in the UK in 2010.
So why is it that recent attacks on Muslim communities associated with groups such as the EDL remain relatively under the radar and low on the news agenda?
Last month saw a nationwide wave of hate attacks against Muslim communities. A Sussex mosque received a suspicious package that police treated as racially motivated, and several other Islamic centres were targeted in London, Dorset, Merseyside, Birmingham and Gloucestershire. During the same month Christopher Payne pleaded guilty to helping a group of EDL members put a pig's head sprayed with an anti-Muslim message on a 4ft yellow pole in West Bridgford and three Asian youths were seriously assaulted by racist EDL thugs in Dagenham.
Evidently some of the rhetoric aimed at Muslim communities in the UK has been excessive, aggressive and led to a feeling of fear among a community under attack, physically and metaphorically.
Fair debates about integration, immigration and religious intolerance are often used as a basis to then openly express hostility to all Muslims, their traditions and cultures. The antics of fringe fascist media friendly idiots such as Anjum Choudary are used as a launch pad for demonising all Muslims, often by high profile media commentators and established blogging networks.
Now the likes of influential US far right commentators such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer are in a muddle because their shameless Muslim-bashing has put them in the spotlight over the Norway attacks. Rather arrogantly on her blog this Sunday Geller wrote "If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists."
In the UK Melanie Philips has written a massive body of distasteful work in this field. In 2009 she wrote in the Daily Mail, ‘Any Western institution that endorses sharia-compliant products therefore effectively endorses the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam, whether it knows it or not..?’ Even more troubling is the potential cover provided by sharia finance for the financing of terrorism. Sharia requires Muslims to tithe a percentage of their money to charity, called ‘zakat’.
Anybody that knows the importance of Zakat to all Muslims, whether devout or pretty lapsed, would realise just how pernicious her words are in implying that all our charity, welfare and philanthropic activities are to be treated with suspicion. Here is some Zakat in practice.
Douglas Murray, now part of the Henry Jackson Society is somebody else I hope reins his more aggressive rhetoric towards Muslims.
I could pick many more, including the website Harry’s Place, which would have you believe that Tower Hamlets Council is in the hands of a right wing theocratic mafia. How this balances with Spitalfields being home to some of London’s best late night drinking emporiums I am not sure. Harry’s Place also specialise in attacks on many high profile politically active British Muslims, especially those that support campaigns linked to Palestine.
There is a great sensitivity related to this issue which needs to be discussed with restraint. The conflict in Israel Palestine has led in recent years to some awful hostility between pro Palestinian campaign groups and some groups closely aligned to Israel. This has also led to some pretty disgusting anti Semitism by some Muslim groups. Laurie Penny analysed these issues very well in an article about blogs and bullies.
This current demonisation spreading its poison across Europe and the world, reminds me of something closer to home as a British Pakistani involved in welfare and cultural work in Pakistan. I have all my adult life watched Pakistani and Indian politicians and religious led political groupings, demonise each other in the coarsest, most reactionary, and downright anti humanitarian manner to justify the conflicts supported and fed by the hawks in both establishments. I also know, as somebody with many Indian friends just how depressing and unnecessary this is and how it hurts both communities and countries.
It is a damning reflection on politicians and wider society that more pressure has not been put on groups such as the EDL in order to deter targeted attacks on Muslim communities. I can only hope that the horrific events in Norway make people, regardless of their political stance or faith, stop and think that those they consider to be ‘others’ are just like them actually– children, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends.
Anwar Akhtar is the director of www.thesamosa.co.uk, a British culture and news project.