I’ve encountered the far right online as I’ve grown up, be that the BNP on yahoo and msn groups, to the EDL on Facebook and the many anti-jihadists groups (as they call themselves) on many social media platforms.
The only thing in common has been the consistent anti-Muslim rhetoric, often being very crude whilst some of it being intellectual, articulate and eloquent. Post 9-11 many often have the stereotype of the knuckle dragging Neanderthal struggling to articulate their hate whilst vehemently and violently expressing it. The reality has been an interesting mix of the stereotypical racist to those who are articulating their hate in a very intelligent manner.
I’ve been attempting to have conversations with members of the far right for over 15 years. I have come to a number of conclusions, debating isn’t going to change opinions actually it will polarise further and individuals will dig their heels in deeper. I often watch in dismay when Muslims feel the need to counter by debating and further exacerbating the problem. We need to pause, breath and take a step back. We need to find a new approach in order to effectively counter and tackle.
We need to understand that Far right in Europe has diversified, from those groups who continue to be racist and anti-Semitic and have included an anti-Muslim rhetoric to those who have solely focused on Muslims communities who present Islam and Muslims as an existential threat. The Guardian has created an informative piece introducing the history of the far right in Britain.
The anti-jihadist groups are an interesting phenomenon, they have often tried to distance themselves from racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, claiming to stand against jihadism, terrorism, Salafism and the new buzz word Islamism (this is a topic that really needs unpacking and the diversity of viewpoints including those groups that engage in democracy and non-violent all the way through to violent Islamist groups), not Muslims per se. Scratch the surface and the reality is that they consider all Muslims to be the problem, either as hidden Islamists or jihadists and terrorist sympathisers.
We have seen a significant increase in anti-mosque demonstrations, often with blatant displays of racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric, a recent demo in Bolton saw a number of known neo-Nazis attending and one being photographed showing off his swastika tattoo. In reality the far right reinforces the narratives of Daesh and al-Qaeda, who consider themselves to be the only true Muslims and followers of true Islam. This protrayal of Muslims is a very worrying trend, however this has created a permissive culture for individuals to feel they have the right to express their hate for Islam and Muslims to strangers through words, comments to ripping off hijabs and physically attacking anyone who they perceive to look Muslim. Be that a Sikh man who wears a turban and a long beard to cancer sufferers who wear a scarf.
Dig deeper and you will find that racist rhetoric is easily found and their claims of being non-violent is easily challenged by the number of EDL and far right activists arrested for violent crimes. In 2014 Ryan Magee, a service soldier from Eccles was jailed for building a home made nail bomb, there are many more examples Arrests with significant capability have often had minimal media coverage, public discourse and political debate. The unfortunate murder of the MP Jo Cox has focused the issue onto the far right, how many more lives do we need to lose before we begin to take the far right seriously?
“Ignore the far right” is a comment I’ve heard again and again, often by well meaning people including fellow Muslims! A continual policy of ignoring the far right has allowed their narratives to be normalised and we have seen a significant increase in Islamophobia, anti-semitism and racism. This approach has clearly failed however there is a continual denial about the problem and how we can be part of the solution.
Having raised the issue of the far right for a few years, I’ve faced criticism and resistance! We need to firstly understand Far Right narratives, empower civil society to take a proactive approach to counter & challenge. We need to start a conversation and thinking about solutions. Last July, under the banner of Christian Muslim Encounters we organised a conference on “Faith, Communities & Radicalisation” at Lancaster University. The afternoon explored the far right and how as leaders, activists, practitioners, teachers, youth workers and policy makers we can begin creating solutions. During 2017 I intend to work in collaboration with a university in organising a conference on countering the far right through youth work, the aim is to create a deeper understanding of the issues and present examples of good practice locally & nationally.
We need to create a multi-level strategy in countering the far right, at a local level this begins with Building Bridges, moving beyond the tea & samosa interfaith to fostering good relations and creating opportunities for meaningful encounter. We need to find allies and friends who will stand with communities against this threat. A willingness to have more local conversations in order to empower communities to create local solutions
There is a need for deeper research into the far right, understanding the hundreds of international, national and local movements, organisations and groups who have a sophisticated network of activists who communicate through social media and annual conferences. We can only counter if we are more effective in bringing more people together to counter hate, prejudice and discrimination.
Mosques, institutions and activists need to “Demystify Islam” in a way that creates safe spaces to discuss Islam and the diversity of Muslims in Britain. I regularly deliver a workshop titled “Unveiling Islam” in churches which is a great opportunity to identify our common ground and understand our differences. The primary aim should be to inform and educate, we need to move away from street dawah and proselytism and focus on fostering good relations.
Muslim communities often complain about the media, which has contributed significantly to Far Right narratives about Islam and Muslim. We must first have a more nuanced understanding of the media and develop strategies to engage beyond simply complaining in a reactionary manner.
Muslim communities need to take a proactive approach in changing the narrative about Muslims. Only by taking ownership of the narrative will we create change using mainstream media and social media. We need to deliver training on media campaigning to support the activists and creatives in our communities. I attended training by the US embassy and recently the Innovation Lab by ISD has me convinced that we need to empower communities to create counter narratives to counter hate, prejudice and discrimination but to also create alternative and positive narratives. I translated this learning to create a school based workshop and the challenge is translating this knowledge to develop local projects.
What is a counter narrative? This is a great introduction by ISD https://youtu.be/5oxwZuDe7aM
I don’t claim to have all the solutions, however Muslim communities, institutions, leaders and activists need to understand the far right & start developing their own strategies to counter beyond being reactive!