Thursday, June 30 2016

IRR reports on ‘the violent impact of the European far Right’

The Institute of Race Relations has published a new paper looking at far-right violence across Europe. ‘Pedlars of Hate: the violent impact of the European far right’, looks at over 100 cases from the beginning of 2010 to April 2012 and analyses the various dimensions of far-right sub-cultures, delineating “the various stages that the far Right go through as its members make their way from racist ranting and the peddling of hate online, to violence and death on the streets, to the stockpiling of weapons in preparation for ‘race war’.”

The paper identifies Roma, Gypsy, Muslim and immigrant communities as vulnerable targets of the far-right in Europe with “Islamophobia now emerging as the acceptable faces of European racism”. The report also highlights that many far-right supporters are ‘classical anti-Semites’. It notes the anti-multicultural sentiment that underpins far-right ideology and reviews the way in which the far right has exploited recent speeches by mainstream European politicians such as David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy on the issue.

Some of the key aspects and findings from the report are summarised below:

Online threats and ‘national traitor’ listings

The paper highlights how “the new social media allows the far Right an important new way to increase its support base and to disseminate conspiracy theories, and the pattern of violence often starts with intimidation against Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and political opponents in the virtual world.” It adds that intelligence services are now waking up to the dangers of hatred in the virtual sphere noting the difficulties authorities have often experienced in taking forward prosecutions. It goes on to offer examples of extremist sites which have come to the attention of the authorities. Although not covered in the IRR report, there have been several notable examples in the UK in recent months where arrests have been made for making racist, Islamophobic and threatening comments online (see here, here and here).

From virtual attack to acts of violence

The report emphasises the way that hatred expressed online can spill over to violence or incitement to violence on the street,

“Though action against online hate is very welcome, there is the danger that over- reaction to the virtual world will be counterproductive, especially if it is disconnected from actual acts of violence in the real world on the streets where racial hatred is already ineffectually policed. The role of nativist and Islamophobic politicians in creating a climate where physical attacks on the streets take place is also insufficiently understood.”

The section goes on to highlight the way in which the far-right often present ‘natives’ as the victims of ‘non-natives’, a discourse which is tied in with anti-immigrant and anti-multicultural sentiment.

The paper also notes that the EDL have targeted trade unionists, anti-globalisation and anti-cuts movements, and those campaigning for Palestinian rights.

Preparing for ‘race war’

The IRR highlights here that “while there has been an obvious increase in incitement, death threats, harassment and intimidation, there has also been an upsurge in more serious organised physical violence, including arson and murder.” It states that whilst the attacks in Norway in 2011 shocked Europe, its lessons are quickly being forgotten and “other murders that took place in 2010 and 2011 are barely talked about,” citing examples of racist murders in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and Greece.

It notes that in some European countries, racist violence is simply not taken seriously by the criminal justice system, and that Mosque trustees, opponents of far-right policies, migrants and asylum support groups are amongst those who have had their premises attacked.”

Vigilantism, militia, policing and the military

This section analyses how “Far-right parties have often engaged in secretive and sinister training exercises in remote locations, and a number of neo-Nazi militia are active today”, looking at examples from Hungary and Italy. It also raises concerns around the far-right’s influence in the army and how the war on terror and ‘latent Islamophobia’ form the basis of these changing concerns.

The report states that, “The involvement of soldiers in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may be precipitating a deeper crisis within the armed forces, especially now troops are arriving back from those conflicts to find that defence leagues and counter-jihadist movements, which portray themselves as patriots not Nazi, are describing the Muslim community in Europe as a threat equal to that of the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It adds examples of how people and organisations with links to the BNP and the EDL have exploited the bitterness that taints soldiers returning home to societies where opinions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are divided and often negative.

Extremist sub-cultures and the ‘cultural revolution from the Right’

The report also covers how “the rise of targeted political violence is the link between the far Right and specific subcultures” arguing that “On the one hand there is evidence of the integration of ‘football firms’ into the far-right and counter-jihadist scene, on the other hand there are the rapid changes in rightwing sub-cultures which embrace causes, such as anti-globalisation and anti-capitalism, usually associated with the Left.”

The report observes the common opposition to globalisation and multiculturalism, which are seen as ‘synonymous’. It also explores how in some parts of mainland Europe, neo-Nazis are “setting up communes in rural areas”. The report also looks at the links between the far-right and the racist elements of some football hooliganism, noting the British example of the EDL’s links with a group called ‘Casuals United’, “a counter-jihadist group composed of violent and provocative football supporters.”

The changing geography and mechanics of hate

This final section highlights “The political climate can become the more explosive in conservative rural areas (particularly close to borders), or smaller de-industrialised decaying towns, where unemployment is high,” noting that in some countries such as Holland, Switzerland and Germany, the far-right has shown a stronger presence in rural areas.

‘Pedlars of Hate’ adds to a number of recent reports looking at the nature of far-right politics in Europe and in the UK. Previous reports include ‘Right Response: Understanding and Countering Populist Extremism in Europe,' by Matthew Goodwin for Chatham House, as well as Goodwin’s most recent report, ‘From voting to violence? Far right extremism in Britain’. Demos published a report looking at the social media dimension of the EDL, ‘Inside the EDL: Populist politics in a digital age'; and researchers at Northampton university authored a report titled 'The EDL: Britain’s “New Far Right” Social Movement'. All the reports refer to the EDL’s “politics of hate” and their specific target group “Asian Muslims in Britain”.

Notable in ‘Pedlars of Hate’ is the stark warning it provides on the extent to which far-right tendencies have spread and taken hold in some communities in Europe. Its findings prompt deep concerns about whether European policymakers are taking seriously the threat of the European far-right, as manifest in both rhetoric and actions. Whether we look at the ‘street politics’ of the EDL in the UK, to the mainstream presence of parties like Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Front in France and the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, the far right and its anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-multiculturalism platforms are a growing feature of the political landscape and political discourse of Europe today.

The full paper is available to download here.

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