October 2017

For as long as we minimise the domestic terror threat from far-right groups while inflating the threat from homegrown Muslim extremists, the lives of ordinary citizens in the West will continue to be put at risk.

To end the terror threat, let’s call all forms of violence for what it is.

By Siddiq Bazarwala

If the aim is to mitigate the impact of the next terror attack, the excessive focus on Islam contrary to the evidence will continue to be a costly distraction.

This uncomfortably means lifting the veil on both terrorism by Muslim extremists as well as removing the balaclava on right wing extremism.

In the 2017 U.S. Government Accountability Office report tracking deadly terror attacks in America, it found far-right extremists have killed more people in America between 9/11 and 2016 than Muslim extremists.

“Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far-right groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent).” That’s a margin of almost three to one.

In a separate report titled “A Dark and Constant Rage” by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), it noted how rightwing extremists (85 percent of whom are anti-abortionists and anti-immigrant extremists) have been responsible for at least 150 acts of terror in America over the past 25 years, killing 255 people and injuring 600 more. The New America Foundation meanwhile has counted 11 attacks by Islamic extremists since 9/11, compared to 21 by far-right extremists. 

While the numbers vary due to different methodologies, the writing on the wall is too plain to see. 

Over the Atlantic in Britain, official statistics too, found 91 out of a total 260 people held on suspicion of terrorism offences were white, the highest number since 2003. White suspects made up 35 per cent – or again, one in three – of all terror related arrests in 2016, compared with 25 per cent in 2015. Home Office figures also showed 41 per cent of people who were investigated under anti-terror legislation between 2009 and 2016 were white. 

It is however important to point out Muslim extremists, are more deadly in terms of the number of people killed in each of their attacks, yet far-right terrorists are far more active and consistent in carrying out deadly attacks on American soil, especially when one considers “41 percent of the deaths attributable to radical Islamist violent extremists occurred in a single event – the 2016 attack at Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida”.

Despite this, attacks by Muslims in America receive on average, about 4½ times  more coverage than similar attacks by far right extremists.

In other words, media coverage disproportionately emphasise the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims, consequentially leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat, according to a recent Cato Institute report, a leading American public policy think tank.

Of course, counterbalancing savagery is never useful but it is often made to appear anybody making this obvious point is seeking to limit the responsibility of terrorism by Muslim extremists and its apologists when the unequivocal purpose should not only be to avoid downplaying the threat posed by Muslim extremists which is real but shine the much needed spotlight equally on the terror threat from far-right white extremist groups instead of not daring to speak its name.

We should not under-report the danger of militancy by Muslim extremists but for as long as we minimise the domestic terror threat from far-right groups while inflating the threat from homegrown Muslim extremists, the lives of ordinary citizens in the West will continue to be put at risk. We must highlight and oppose white supremacist violence with the same intensity that we oppose Muslim extremism. 

The media needs to produce more socially responsible reporting of terror to demonstrate how traditional journalism remains an important part of modern society, especially given the incessant rise of social media reporting.

As a final bedrock guarding its very own survival, traditional mainstream media have no choice but to prioritise news analysis over breaking news by avoiding shorthand reporting focusing on present day events instead of reporting news using the sorely needed historical context. This so that it can blow away the fog of bias and provide a much-needed true sense of clarity.

The mainstream media should also be criticised for their unwillingness to label attacks by white perpetrators as “terrorism” while the same standard is never used when perpetrators are Muslims. This when the psychological effects of a mass shooting on all victims is no less terrorising than the variant methods employed by Muslim extremists who commit similar acts of terror.

This breathtaking irrationality is further exposed when white attackers are almost instantaneously portrayed as “lone wolves with mental health issues”, while Muslim extremists are just as quickly referred to as terrorists, exposing mainstream media hypocrisy given its different motives whilst reporting.

When reporting the latest attack by Muslim extremists, articles and news clips are also often augmented with a brief rundown of recent attacks by Muslim extremists but when covering mass shootings by white supremacists, the detailed analysis of recent attacks by similar neo-fascist extremists is also curiously given a miss. Rolling media coverage of the June 2017 UK attacks vis-à-vis the Portland, USA throat slashing attack by far-right Jeremy Christian serve as one of many examples.

In fact, violence by white rightwing extremists rarely qualify for front-page reporting, political podcasts, trending hashtags or Snapchat filters but Muslim led extremism get far more posthumous airtime and oxygen of publicity than it deserves.

Numerous academic studies and research by neutral think tanks have indeed documented the wanton fear-mongering in the Western media and commentaries about Muslims and Islam over the past decades, evidently playing a part in radicalizing non-Muslims to commit Islamophobic attacks, as recent attacks in Portland, USA and Finsbury Park, UK illustrate, among others.

If we continue to fail seeing beyond our own prejudice, we won’t be able to confront the fact that Islamophobia has its hate preachers too. In fact, this far-right tabloid culture, reactionary politics and tolerance of hate speech have now become just as dangerous as the radicalising influence of prisons and certain websites followed by Muslim extremists who go on to commit acts of terror.

The real test of our leadership therefore is whether we have the courage to identify, challenge and probe far-right terror in the same way we scrutinize attacks by Muslims. To stay narrowly focused on Islam will only continue to impede our understanding of this garguantuan problem.

It is therefore critical for our politicians, leaders and self-styled security “experts” to resist sensationalist and divisive rhetoric the alt-right relishes in promoting, and the very same narrative groups like IS relies on heavily for its survival. To engage in either is self-indulgent, counterproductive and, frankly, helps no one.