Categories: Rise to Peace blog

Far-Right Versus Islamist Extremism: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD) is one of the many extremist far right groups that operate in the United Kingdom, but only the second to be proscribed as a terrorist organization. More often than not, the threat posed by the far-right is neglected, especially in comparison with Islamist extremism. There is a general tendency to minimize far-right extremist incidents and the media seem to be rather reluctant to link such incidents to terrorism. This is somewhat disquieting as the far-right has been identified as the fastest growing terrorist threat in the UK, as well as in other liberal democratic countries.

According to new research, those convicted of Islamist extremist related crimes receive prison sentences three times longer than those affiliated with the far-right in the UK. For instance, Islamist extremists convicted of online crimes receive an average of 73.4 months compared to the right-wing extremists who serve approximately 24.5 months. This disparity is due to the failure of the Home Office to ban right-wing extremist groups as terrorist organizations. As well, the UK’s counter-radicalization strategy has been severely criticized for its focus on Islamic extremism although right-wing referrals have exceeded those related to religious extremism.

In the same way, there is disproportionate academic research on far-right terrorism, as indicated by Bart Schuurman study at the University of Leiden. More precisely, a review of the nine leading academic journals within the field of terrorism provided clear confirmation of something suspected all along, namely that far-right extremism is neglected not only by the government and policy makers, but also by academia.

Serious concerns over the proliferation of right-wing ideology worldwide and the lack of attention paid to it by intelligence and security services were raised following a series of high-profile far-right inspired attacks in 2019, primarily those in New Zealand, Texas and Germany. However, despite the 300% increase of far-right terrorism over the past five years, Islamist extremism continues to be the dominant threat in the UK.

Having said that, far right and Islamist extremism could be considered as being two sides of the same coin. Despite their diametrically opposed positions, they seem to reinforce each other. The rapidly growing Muslim community is essentially perceived as a threat to those that espouse far-right beliefs, therefore provoking a violent reaction. At the same time, Muslims in liberal democratic countries feel oppressed and deprived. They seek to participate proactively in the broader struggle against the oppression of Muslim people for that reason.

Notwithstanding their opposing views, both rightists and Islamists share certain common ideological characteristics, such as the anti-Semitic rhetoric and a belief in conspiracy theories. They also pursue objectives of similar nature. Far-right extremists seek to create a homogeneous society exempt of immigrants, or people of different races or religions, likewise, Islamist extremists aim at creating an Islamic Caliphate across the world with no ‘infidels’, namely people of a different religion. In addition, they are both opposed to globalization: Islamists under the fear of losing their cultural identity and right-wing extremists under the risk of losing homogeneity.

What emerges from the above is that despite all their differences, the threat posed by these two types of extremism is of equal importance. Both Islamist and right-wing extremists deserve specific attention and impartiality is an essential ingredient in the strategy of counter-radicalization. A policy which puts a disproportionate emphasis on one could be considered biased and ineffective, therefore making it difficult for experts to tackle either of those. By neglecting or over-emphasizing only one side of the problem, policymakers risk any attempt to effectively respond to such types of extremism.

Vasileia Kioutsouki

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