Today, another mid-week blog due to an attack on the streets of the United Kingdom, one in which a vehicle has been used to mow down people and the driver has emerged shouting for people to die. Bewildered family members and neighbours register their shock and offer their condolences. So far the same, but no knives, no bomb vest, and no inclination to martyrdom. This time the attacker is caught and handed over to the Police bruised but intact. There seems to be a problem with what to term that which has occurred, a word on the lips that has been used before but doesn’t seem right to some, but then it is used anyway, just to be sure, after all, we want to be fair or at least be seen to be fair, right?
And right after the thing that has happened, there’s a word for it that is coming to mind, the usual cries for something to be done, for more security, to send ‘them’ back or deport ‘them’ are muted, except of course for the truly committed or tactless. There’s nothing to fear here. Move on.
To be accurate, there are qualitative differences between terrorism influenced by Jihadists and that influenced by the far-right. The former attacks randomly and spectacularly, not caring exactly who dies, and with no regard for their own life. The latter attacks a specific group, but has no desire to die. Both the Oklahoma bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Anders Brievik’s handiwork in Norway attest to this. McVeigh had an issue with the government and Brievik dreamed of a race war. Lots of people died. The British neo-Nazi David Copeland hoped to spark a race war in order to raise support for the British National Party, setting off bombs in London and targeting gay people along the way. Thomas Mair also had something to say, murdering Jo Cox MP in the street, to do it. This is not to underplay the dangers of Jihadism, it is far more powerful, and a global menace to everyone, including Muslims, who simultaneously get killed and reviled due to the actions of others. This perception does not apply after attacks by fringe elements of the far-right, as they are deemed to be different, not part of the group. Thus far, there is no indication that the attacker at Finsbury Park had any links to any far-right group, or dwelled on its fringes, but he clearly shared their ideas. There is also a difference in the claiming of attacks: far-right groups tend to back away from any association with either a hate crime or a terrorist attack, whereas Al-Qaeda and ISIS will happily claim anything.
One thing the far-right did give us was the concept of the ‘lone wolf’, an individual not part of any organisation, but who absorbs the propaganda they put out, and over time is gradually eased towards action. It is a controversial concept as there are usually links to others and sometimes support. It would be more accurate to describe the ‘lone wolf’ as a ‘self-actualizer’, able to organise themselves and use everyday objects such as vans and lorries to carry out an attack. This concept has been adopted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and we have seen the effects across Europe as the alienated and unhappy wreak carnage ‘in the name of’ and stoke the fires of hate, fear, and division. Their actions give sustenance to the far-right and careless newspaper Editors who sensationalise and encourage knee-jerk reactions. In turn, the message is sent out to the alienated and unhappy, who see Jihadism as an answer, and that they really are under threat. The truth is that the Jihadist message is a powerful one and Muslim communities are at the forefront in trying to counter it, as they did at the Finsbury Mosque. Their work just got a whole lot harder. So did that of the security services and the Police, who already had to contend with the combined threat of Northern Ireland related terrorism, the far-right, and the Jihadists.
There is a whole tranche of explanations for why the man who mowed down people in the street did what he did but they won’t work any more than they would when applied to the Westminster attacker or any of the other attacks cited above. Responsibility lies with the individual and those who encouraged him.
There are people who keep on ringing the division bell but no one needs to listen, nor do they need to use one atrocity to justify another. There are some things that the far-right and Islamic extremists do have in common, namely that they have very rigid views and don’t like anyone who is not like them, and that they believe that by carrying out an attack they will provoke a backlash, triggering more and greater violence, and a war their side will win. These are despicable goals and reflect on the people promulgating them as much as they do on the ideology they claim to follow. The other commonality is that all-pervasive one, the self-declared right to take life and the sense of entitlement that comes with it.
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Dr Carl Turner,