The mosque shootings in New Zealand on 15 March may represent a significant step up in anti- Muslim right-wing terrorism.
At the time of writing, while there has been no further incident of major large-scale violence against Muslims, there has been a significant increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and minor assaults, both verbal and physical, In the UK alone, in the week following the massacre in Christchurch, The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd reports: “…95 incidents were reported… between 15 March, the day of the New Zealand atrocity, and midnight on 21 March. Of those, 85 incidents – 89% of the total – contained direct references to the New Zealand attacks and featured gestures such as mimicking firearms being fired at Muslims…. Verbal abuse directed at Muslims in London in separate incidents is alleged to have included shouts of ‘you need to be shot’, ‘you deserve it’ and ‘Muslims must die’. Incidents were reported in Scotland, where a mosque was attacked; in Stanwell, Surrey, where police declared the stabbing of a teenager to be a suspected far-right terror attack; and in Lancashire. Meanwhile in Birmingham, police continue to hunt for those behind sledgehammer attacks on five mosques.”
After the Charlie Hedo shootings in 2015, Juan Cole of the Informed Comment blog noted more than 50 anti-Muslim attacks were recorded across France in the week after the murders, while there were numerous anti-Muslim hate incidents recorded across Western Europe in the wake of the killings. So, paradoxically, whether the attacks are by Islamist terrorists on non-Muslims or by right-wing extremists on Muslims, it seems that ordinary ‘moderate’ Muslims will be abused in the aftermath!
On the face of it, this looks like racism. The Gravesian approach can explain racism as a particularly nasty form of tribalism, driven by the PURPLE vMEME’s need to discriminate between those who are from its tribe (and with whom it feels safe) and those who are not of its tribe – see: Is Racism Natural…? For PURPLE, racism can indeed be a natural outcome of that need to discriminate – though, as Eva Telzer et al (2012) have shown, that natural tendency can be overcome through education and familiarity.
But is what is going on more than just an untrained inclination to discriminate against those who are different?
Islamism and persecution
Ever since the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 brought Islamist terrorism into the centres of Western cities, there have been increased tensions both between the non-Muslim majorities and their Muslim minorities and within the Muslim communities, between those radicalised into committing to violence in the name of Islam and those opposed to violence. It is, of course, a gross simplification to portray 2 rigid and monolithic viewpoints within the Muslim communities. There are, in fact, many, many different shades. Eg: there are fundamentalists committed to the establishment of Sharia law in their Western home countries but who are not prepared to use violence. Then there are those who believe Muslims can live in perfect harmony with their Christian, Jewish, Hindu and secular neighbours without it compromising their Muslim identity. And, of course, there are those who may identify nominally as ‘Muslims’ but are really, in both attitude and behaviour, as secular as many of those who eschew religion altogether.
The immediate danger in the fall-out from events like the Christchurch shootings is that Islamist violent extremists will respond in kind. After all the Qur’an instructs believers: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you…and fight them until persecution is no more.” (Surah 2: 191, 193) Furthermore, the Sahih Bukhari (Volume 3/Book 43/Number 622) states: “Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” From this perspective, it can be seen as a religious duty for Muslims to use violence in defence of their fellow Muslims.
There is no doubt the Christchurch massacre was ‘persecution’ – as were the Munich shootings of July 2016 in which 10 died and 36 were injured by a gunman shouting anti-Muslim insults at his victims (Bonnie Malkin, The Guardian, 2016). Of course, once the attack is ended, it could be argued the persecution is ended. But, while Christchurch and Munich are clearly the 2 most extreme attacks on Muslim communities by extremist right-wing whites, there has been a whole litany of lesser, small-scale attacks on Muslims over the past few years as Al Jazeera reported in the wake of Christchurch. With these and the kind of low level abuse described by Dodd and Cole, it can be argued the persecution has not ceased but is ongoing. Therefore, it is incumbent on Muslims to use violence to defend their fellow Muslims from further attack.
The extreme Islamists will already be planning their revenge attacks for Christchurch and the moderate imams will have their work cut out to stop others being radicalised. It’s to the credit of these moderate Muslim influencers – and the intelligence agencies too – that, at the time of writing at least, there has yet to be an Islamist terrorist attack in revenge for Christchurch. But there almost certainly will be…more a case of when, rather than if.
It is important here to note that the Qur’an does not give carte blanche to initiate violence – but actually warns against it – eg: “…begin not hostilities. Allah loves not aggressors.” (Surah 2: 191) and “…whoever kills another human being…it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind…” (Surah: 5:32). The extremists have to justify their use of violence in terms of persecution or oppression against themselves or other Muslims – which, by default, is wide open to multiple contextual interpretations.
Of course, it could be argued the violent Islamists started all this with 9/11. At least in the 21st Century. (Western Christian vs Muslim conflict, superseded by Western secular vs Muslim conflict, goes back more than a millennium.) But, in late 2001/early 2002, there was actually a tacit acceptance among most leaders of most Muslim countries that the United States had a right, from a Qur’anic perspective, to invade Afghanistan and destroy the al-Qaeda organisation responsible for the destruction of New York City’s twin towers. The campaign to gain at least acquiescence to the American invasion was led by Tony Blair in – what has always seemed to me – a remarkable display of 2nd Tier thinking, using the Qur’an and excerpts from various Hadith to provide a religious justification for the American action.
Unfortunately George W Bush and Blair insisted on foisting Western-style Democracy on tribal Afghanistan while diverting much needed resources from the rebuilding of that ruined country into the invasion of Iraq and the overthrew of Saddam Hussein on falsely-fabricated justifications. Not only was the invasion of Iraq illegal – in the eyes of many Western countries as well as most of the Islamic world – but the callous disregard of civilian casualties in the conflict sent out a clear message. As The Independent’s Andrew Buncombe (2017b) wrote: “The militaries of both the US and Britain kept painstaking records of its soldiers killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq – 2,280 and 4,491 for the US, and 455 and 179 for Britain. Yet, they have never tried to make an overall tally of Iraqi civilian deaths….” The impression so easily meta-stated from this is that Western lives are valuable and that Muslim Arab lives are not. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first serious Islamist terrorist event in Europe occurred the following year: the Madrid train bombings.
(There had been some Islamist terrorist bombings in Paris in the mid-1990s but they were specifically related to France’s involvement in the Algerian Civil War.)
So, while there will always be extreme Islamists like the radical Anjem Choudary who wish to create a caliphate and impose Sharia law, there is clearly a correlation between perception of persecution by the non-Muslims and the rate of radicalisation. In Gravesian terms, the religious duty of Muslims to defend their Muslim brothers – a vMEME harmonic of PURPLE and BLUE – makes them ripe for exploitation by a RED-driven demagogue like Choudary. Even the low-level abuse of Muslims that Dodd and Cole describe plays right into the hands of the radical imams, othering ordinary Muslims and pushing them towards the extremists.
Islam and the accommodation of Muslim culture into Europe and North America do indeed present huge challenges for the West, as discussed in Islamification: Europe’s Challenge. Most mainstream politicians are still not addressing these challenges…but the challenges can be addressed and the Muslim minorities can be accommodated. What is needed is politicians and academics to recognise, study and develop strategies to address the challenges – strategies which focus on the positives that Islam can add to Western society such as BLUE social disciplines.
So the 21st Century surge in Islamist terrorism is at least partly explainable through the perception of non-Muslims persecuting Muslims. But where does the surge in right-wing nationalism and extremism come from?
White nationalism and the surge in right-wing extremism
Clearly, the attacks on Muslims are in part an understandable response to Islamist extremism and terrorism. There is undoubtedly a cycle of tit-for-tat retaliatory abuse and violence.
However, the surge in right-wing extremism, while feeding on Islamism, looks to have far deeper roots than being merely responsive. Again, PURPLE tribalism is at play here. The Muslim minorities in the West are mainly Arabic or Asian in heritage so they don’t have the same skin tones as those in the white majorities, they often dress differently and they have many different cultural norms. As Social Identity Theory shows, those factors in themselves can be enough to drive a dangerous wedge between the different communities.
PURPLE, in itself, rarely initiates violence unless it perceives itself under threat. To stimulate PURPLE to violence usually requires, in the terms of Stanley Cohen (1972), the development of a moral panic and the stigmatisation of those seen to be responsible for the threat as folk devils. RED-driven demagogues, like Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Donald Trump in the United States, are expert at exploiting PURPLE fears about moral panics. Both have played with great success on the fears of ordinary, indigenous working class people about immigration. Orbán has made the media in Hungary fairly compliant to his policies, with much support for his anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim rhetoric. The support of Fox TV in the US has been immensely important to radicalising support for Trump.
In the UK we don’t (yet) have demagogues of the calibre of Trump and Orbán – though highly dangerous, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are hardly cut from the same cloth! – but we do have a particularly odious and influential right-wing tabloid press. For years they have maligned Muslims in the UK, creating moral panics and vilifying them as folk devils – as the montage of front pages below shows.
This is not, in any way, to denigrate the very real threat that Islamist extremists present or to deny the very real challenges that accommodating Islamic culture entails. It is to show just how the tabloid press in itself is fuelling anti-Muslim fear and hatred.
It’s the same right-wing tabloid press that has been so virulently anti-European Union for decades – and pro-Brexit since at least 2014 – as the montage below demonstrates.
At some of the above front pages show, at times these right-wing tabloids tie up immigration with the EU so that the EU becomes the root cause of the repeated moral panics about immigration. The montage below of Daily Express front pages illustrates this particularly.
In so doing the tabloids are feeding on PURPLE’s fear of ‘incomers’ which goes back to the 1960s. As I argue in Enoch Powell: Racist or Prescient?, the British government (of any persuasion) has never thought through the effects of large-scale immigration on the indigenous culture and how to accommodate it other than through the failed GREEN mantra of multiculturalism. By failing to anticipate such effects and develop strategies to manage such cultural contrasts, the Government has ceded the debate to the racists and anti-immigration politicians. (Angela Merkel made a similar one-off but catastrophic mistake that significantly undermined her authority and credibility when she allowed close to a million Syrian refugees into Germany in 2015 – Ulf Liebe & Klaus Glenk, 2018. Again she didn’t anticipate the effects and how to deal with them.)
Of course, the British tabloids draw only the thinnest distinctions – if any! – between Asian Muslims whose parents and grandparents were born in the UK, their great grandparents having come to the UK in the 1960s, and the so-called ‘hordes’ of Eastern European immigrants who have come to the UK since 2005. Some of these EU migrants will be Muslims but many are Catholics. However, it seems to suit the tabloids to conflate Islamism with immigration.
It almost seems that, in stoking right-wing anti-Muslm/anti-immigrant nationalism, the tabloids – or those who own them – actually want confrontation between cultures. It is almost as if the tabloid owners buy into Samuel Huntington’s (1993; 1996) infamous contention that civilisations will always clash and that other cultures will try to destroy the Western supposedly superior culture.
But the media which drive right-wing nationalism are not purely RED-driven. They are – or are part – of vast media conglomerates which generate huge profits for their owners and shareholders. There is an ORANGE commercial drive underlying this media near-relentless anti-Muslim/anti-EU/anti-immigrant campaigning. So, are there any other reasons they do this other than to sell papers or advertising?
Divide and rule…and prosper!
I argued in How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats that the Top 1% – the super-rich or ‘Plutocracy’, as Guy Standing (2009) terms them are bent on reducing the regulations – taxes, environmental protection, employment rights, healthy & safety, etc – that restrict their ability to maximise profit. I also argued that they use Standing’s (2014) next stratum down, the Elite, to do this. One element of their strategy is Trump who, by December 2017, had cancelled or delayed 1,500 regulatory actions, according to Celine McNicholas, Heidi Shierholz & Marni von Wilpert (2018) of the Economic Policy Institute. Thus, Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch, champions Trump (currently worth $3.1 BN, according to Forbes) against all the allegations against him and helps sustain his popularity amongst the American white working classes.
Interestingly, Murdoch – just about in the Plutocracy at $13.1 BN – is heavily involved in Brexit, having stated that he wants to see the EU broken up because the European Commission blocked him getting full control of Sky TV (Anthony Hilton, 2016). Brexit is another element in the Plutocracy’s deregulation strategy and Murdoch’s The Sun has been one of the most vociferous champions of Brexit. The other main British media magnates supporting Brexit are in the upper echelons of the Elite: David and Frederick Barclay, owners of the Daily Telegraph, have joint worth of £7 BN; Daily Express and Daily Star owner Richard Desmond is worth £2.25 BN; Jonathan Harmsworth, controlling shareholder in the trust which owns the Daily Mail, is worth £1 BN. (Worth figures are from Campaign’s Brittaney Kiefer in 2016.)
The new EU Tax Avoidance Directive gives the Plutocracy and its Elite lackeys yet more reason to want the EU done away! So whipping up anti-EU right-wing hysteria is clearly in the interests of the media magnates.
Back in 2010 I wondered Why is the West ignoring a Leading Moderate Muslim? and queried why Muslim clerics weren’t being invited onto television and radio to explain that Islamist terrorist atrocities only reflected a tiny sliver of Muslim thought and not the majority of Muslims. I eventually got an answer of sorts from reading media sociologists like David Edwards & David Cromwell (2006). They argue that the Capitalist elites manipulate the media to focus on stories that serve to maintain their control on society while obscuring narratives such as 5% of the West’s population owning 90% of its wealth.
I would now go further and contend that limited violent conflict actually suits the Plutocracy and their Elite lackeys. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan would almost certainly be too high a risk – with radioactive contaminate potentially spreading around the globe and causing untold chaos and havoc. By ‘limited’, I mean the likes of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War from 2015. Both theatres of war gave the American, British and Russian arms manufacturers ample opportunity to test and show off their latest weaponry – the US, Russia and the UK being the world’s leading arms exporters, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2017). Arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin (US) and BAE Systems (UK) are massive transnational corporations generating huge amounts of revenue worldwide and dedicated to maximising shareholder profit. Ownership of such companies is via tangled webs of banks and investment platforms such as Blackrock and Invesco, making it difficult to locate individual shareholdings easily. Russia’s biggest arms manufacturer Almaz–Antey is state-owned. As Al Jazeera’s Mansur Mirovalev reported in 2016, Vladimir Putin (worth $70 BN, according to Time’s Rob Wile in 2017) was explicit in saying the Syrian Civil War was a good advertisement of the capabilities of Russian weapons capable of boosting Russia’s military sales.
So there is money to be paid in agitating, creating and emphasising divisions and promoting violent conflict. As Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane sang back in 1967 about the Vietnam War: “War’s good business, so give your son”.
There are also huge amounts of money in the reconstruction that follows war and conflict. Eg: Anna Fifield (2013) reported in the Financial Times in 2013 that private contractors had made some $138 BN from the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
What is clearly implied in what I have written above is that the Plutocracy and their Elite lackeys are happy to promote conflict so they can…
- sell papers and magazines and advertising on TV and radio and online
- distract the people from investigating their wealth
- sell arms when the conflicts turn to violence
- make money from reconstruction when the violence ends
Said E Dawlabani (2013) see such aims as coming from ‘toxic [dysfunctional] ORANGE’ with its ‘only money matters’ meme. This combination of vMEME and meme has no morality and sees compassion and human rights as merely unimportant concepts that get in the way of maximising wealth. Other people are to be used for that wealth creation; they have no value beyond their use in that aim. It is also worth noting that most of the plutocrats and members of the Elite are men and that some of their compulsiveness and ruthlessness may also be related to the Psychoticism Dimension of Temperament, associated with the male sex hormone testosterone.
Of course, not all plutocrats and members of the Elite are so obsessed with increasing their personal wealth that they will encourage the destruction of others. Some seem to be quite the reverse. For example Bill Gates (the richest man in the world at $95 BN, according to Forbes) has reinvented himself as a philanthropist with a particular interest in improving education and reducing poverty – his ORANGE seemingly haven given way to GREEN. Likewise George Soros who is worth just $8BN after donating more than $32 BN to his philanthropic Open Society Foundation. Richard Branson ($5BN) is known both for his charitable works and his strong and very public anti-Brexit stance – even reported by Paul Withers (2018) in the Daily Express!
Nonetheless, the power of the Plutocracy is truly frightening and the willingness of they and their Elite lackeys to sacrifice others on a large-scale in their pursuit of wealth is hideous. Division, conflict and war have many sources…but every time a new division emerges or a conflict is exacerbated, we need to ask the question: who is making money from this? To quote the line first uttered in the movie All the President’s Men, “Follow the money”.