The common factors of far right and radical Islamist hatred
Nothing has shown the similarities between the far-right and Islamist extremists more than the use of a van driven into Muslims leaving prayers in London’s Finsbury Park. The attack, which killed a 51-year-old man and injured 11 other people, was a chilling copy of the carnage claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) on London Bridge and Borough Market that left seven dead and dozens injured.
The decision by the Metropolitan Police to charge the alleged Finsbury Park perpetrator, Darren Osborne, 47, with terrorist offences as well as murder had the virtue of confirming the similarities between extremists. ISIS quickly called for revenge.
London is probably the most global city in the world. Every nationality and sect can be found somewhere in the city. If this cosmopolitan nature has made London a tourist attraction with 30 million annual visitors, it has also given it a vulnerability that can be exploited by those who seek to stir and exploit division.
Disparities in wealth are as striking as differences in culture or religion. Some of the world’s most expensive apartments sit near social housing blocks such as Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, which burned so spectacularly in mid-June, killing at least 79 people.
The British government — like most governments around the world — faces a challenge in the alienation of young people, particularly in marginalisation caused by high levels of youth unemployment. Commentators well able to point out the role of jobless youths in the “Arab spring” seem to miss the level of disenchantment in Europe and the way it fuels extremism.
“There is so much elitism in the way the world is seen,” an Arab human rights lawyer working in Europe recently said. “In my own field, there’s a shocking lack of understanding or awareness of the situation faced by poor people in Europe. Poverty and disenfranchisement are associated with Africa and the Middle East. People pull faces when I suggest that some of the money spent on the International Criminal Court might be better invested in the London fire brigade.”
“Radicalisation” is a term usually applied in Europe to young Muslims who fall under the influence of extremists. The thousand or so from Britain — a figure determined by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College, London — who have fought in Syria are part of a larger number sympathetic to militancy. Last year, however, one-third of referrals to Channel, a British government body dealing with political extremism, were over the far right. Osborne was hardly young but he was unemployed.
Social media are the chosen means both of Islamists and the far-right, who, like corporate giants Facebook and Google, have been quicker than governments to see the potential. It has taken atrocities such as London Bridge and Finsbury Park, plus the prospect of jihadis returning from Syria as the ISIS caliphate crumbles, for British Prime Minister Theresa May to propose better regulation of the internet.
Given the international structures and power of the corporates, this will not be easy. John Mann, Labour member of Parliament for Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire, has rightly argued for the application to social media of existing laws governing libel and incitement to hatred or violence. Put simply, whipping up violence, harassing others and criminal conspiracy are illegal.
Citizens too have responsibility. Nicola Benyahia — a 47-year-old whose son Rasheed, 18, died in Syria six months after he went in 2015 to fight for ISIS — has established Families for Life to offer advice and support for people worried that a friend or family member is being radicalised. Her eloquent voice warns other parents not to assume a child spending a lot of time with a gaming headset on is simply playing games; they might be communicating with extremist recruiters.
Friends and relatives of Darren Osborne said he showed few if any signs of the hatred of Muslims that led him to drive 250km in a hired van from his home in Wales with malice in his mind. However, material inciting such hatred is readily and freely available. It is time it was not.