The symbiotic relationship between Islamist extremism and far-right extremism is well established. Sharing a common narrative of hate, intolerance and sometimes violence, both feed off each other, validating each other’s existence. Following every Islamist inspired terrorist attack in Western countries, we see a spike in anti-Muslim hate both online and offline, against innocent law abiding Muslim citizens. This is then capitalised upon by groups such as ISIS for whom anti-Muslim hatred is a key recruitment tool in convincing Muslims to believe their message that the West is a hostile place for Muslims and an enemy of Islam. Breaking this cycle is one of the challenges of our time; yet as was demonstrated yesterday, there remains a complete failure to understand this.
President Trump claims he wants to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism” yet part of his misguided strategy appears to legitimise extremists by retweeting Jayda Fransen, the Deputy Leader of the far-right, racist and anti-Muslim party “Britain First.” This is not only irresponsible but incredibly dangerous. What Britain First stands for is not a hushed up secret. Jayda herself is convicted of religiously aggravated harassment of an innocent Muslim woman in front of her children. Britain First, like all extremists, seek to amplify their messages of hate by relying extensively on fake news to generate fear and justify their hate-filled politics. The video shared by Fransen and Trump, which apparently showed a “Muslim migrant” beating up a Dutch boy has already been debunked by Dutch officials as fake. Despite the damage done in feeding anti-Muslim hate and bolstering far right hate groups like Britain First, this hasn’t resulted in Trump undoing his tweet which was shared to over 42 million of his followers or offer an apology.
On the day POTUS retweeted Jayda, she gained upwards of 15000 new followers and numerous mainstream media interviews where smilingly, she appealed to Trump to intervene in her conviction. David Duke of the KKK, tweeted to show his approval. However Trump’s actions were not just a gift for the far-right, who he has continually validated since he came to power. It’s also a boost for Islamist extremists, who can now use Trump’s retweeting to evidence that the West is indeed a hostile place for Muslims whilst ignoring the fact that so many of the public expressed disgust and Government officials, including Prime Minister Teresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd who explicitly condemned the President as “wrong”.
According to a report published in August by The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Centre for Investigative Reportings, there were almost twice as many terrorist incidents by right-wing extremists as by Islamist extremists in the U.S. from 2008 to 2016. Looking at both plots and attacks carried out, the group tracked 201 terrorist incidents on U.S. soil from January 2008 to the end of 2016. The database shows 115 cases by right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― compared to 63 cases by Islamist extremists. So whilst Trump lectures us about dealing with Islamist terrorism, his silence on far right extremism demonstrates his complete inability (or unwillingness) to tackle far right extremism.
To date, far right extremists have been reliant on sophisticated social media strategies to push out their hateful narratives and recruit supporters and followers, including the use of Bots and fake accounts. However, this seems no longer necessary when the supposed leader of the Free World appears to be actively legitimising and promoting far-right extremism. And if he continues down this path, he makes Islamist extremism that much stronger and harder to challenge for the rest of us.
Finally just imagine if Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had retweeted Islamist extremists; Trump – and the entire world for that matter, would be the first to publicly rebuke him, yet the US President has defended his action of retweeting extremists and many more have stayed silent. While lecturing our government to solve the problem of extremism in the UK, he is unwilling to address white supremacism in his own country while he himself legitimises the far right extremist worldview. Our country does not need to take lessons from President Trump on how to defeat extremism.