The violent attack on a mosque in North London by an Islamophobe, leaving one man dead and several seriously injured, is the latest in a long line of terrorist acts on mainland Britain.
The extreme Far Right, with its pernicious racist ideology, is as much of a menace as its close cousin Islamist extremism. Both feed off each other to bring fear and division in our society. The rise of anti-Muslim view-points is not just confined to the UK, but elsewhere in Europe too.
The growth of right-wing authoritarian nationalism coupled with the rise of anti-minority hatred is becoming entrenched in many European liberal democracies including Britain. The anti-terrorism expert Rob Wainwright of Euro-Poll claims the next worrying development, after radical Islam, is ‘’the significant rise in nationalist, xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of far-right extremism.’’
Although the radical right UKIP, with its focus on white identity politics and immigration control, poses no real threat to our security or democratic way of life, other extreme far-right groups do. This phenomena is no toy town fascism or moral panic, but is firmly rooted in moral realism.
According to the charities Hope Not Hate and the Jo Cox Foundation, ‘Britain First is ‘’probably the only group experiencing rapid growth on the far-right’’. It has supplanted Nick Griffin’s quasi-fascist BNP, whose party is virtually defunct. With its populist anti-migrant programme and commitment to street politics based on direct action against Muslim public figures, Britain First strongly resembles the inter-war British Union of Fascists headed by Sir Oswald Mosley. Staunchly racist, homophobic and Islamophobic, several of its supporters are known soccer hooligans with criminal convictions.
Last Christmas the Government added the extreme right-wing group, National Action, to its list of banned terrorist organisations. National Action, a self-defined neo-Nazi party with an active membership of 200 and a significant social media presence, staged a number of protests in Newcastle- Upon- Tyne last year. The group is motivated by racism, intolerance and hatred of social minorities. As the Home Secretary Amber Rudd rightly pointed out it has no place in our democracy. Both MI5 and MI6, the state’ s security services, have noted there are genuine concerns that British, and sometime foreign born neo-fascists, have connections with a European wider terror network.
According to figures obtained from the Home Office hate crimes against Muslims soared by 70% in 2016-17. The Government’s Prevent scheme has witnessed a surge in far-right referrals. Over a quarter of cases investigated were connected with extreme right-wing activities. 57% of ‘lone-wolf’ foiled terrorist attacks on British soil have been instigated by right-wing extremists.
The social characteristics of the extreme right display striking similarities to those who subscribe to Radical Islam or to extreme left-wing domestic organisations. This is known as the ‘horse-shoe theory’ where extremists from both the far right and far left come together in their mutual contempt of democracy, difference and ‘’the other’’. These groups have become ironically symbiotic. Their interdependent relationship with one another contributes to their continuation and survival.
Some are psychological fractured individuals with authoritarian personality disorders. Others are socio-economically marginalised seeking out scapegoats; or alienated from the wider society with embedded sets of grievances. All have bought into a divisive, racist, hate driven and poisonous narrative.
Although many members are drawn from a disenfranchised ‘under-class’, the leaders of far-right groups tend to be university educated. Some have found a niche in deregulated large scale public bureaucracies built on rigid hierarchies. As the journalist Nick Cohen notes in his book, ‘What’s Left’, a significant minority are workplace bullies who misuse their power to the detriment of the silent majority. The former leaders of the National Front and BNP – Andrew Broms, Nick Griffin and Adam Walker are graduates. And all taught in northern English Colleges.
The rise of the British far-right is attributable to a number of factors. One, the sharp growth of fundamental Islamic extremism has fuelled support for white supremacist groups like the English Defence League , Britain First or lone-actors like Daren Osbourne, now in police custody over the Finsbury Park Mosque attack. Two, as a response to the ‘’loss of centre ground’’ in post-truth politics. And three, the election of the populist maverick Donald Trump to the top job of American President, has spawned increased cases of racial hatred both in the US and UK.
According to the campaign group Tell Mama the number of Islamophobic attacks in Manchester rose fivefold in the week after the concert suicide bombing with 139 incidents recorded by the police compared to 25 incidents the previous week.
For others Brexit has unleashed a strand of intolerance. The rise of Marie Le Pen’s NF in France (with the tacit approval of Russian leader Vladimir Putin) where she gained over 10 million votes in March, and Geert Wilder’s Dutch Freedom Party, has helped to legitimise the world view of neo-fascism last seen in the 1930s. There remains a danger that UKIP could become more radicalised under a new leader. With a possibility of negotiations breaking down between the British Government and the EU over the thorny issue of Immigration, Ukip could enjoy a future resurgence in urban small-town Britain.
As Europe has become infected with a disturbing strand of far-right populism we as a nation must reaffirm our commitment to the liberal democratic values of parliamentary democracy, equality of worth and opportunity, the rule of law, mutual tolerance and a respect for other faiths and belief systems. Extremism in its varied forms is the enemy within. We must never let extremists and terrorists turn people and communities against each other.