Experts believe that recent New Zealand far-right attacks are aimed at radicalising Muslim youth around the world, while Arab autocrats are complementing such plans with their oppressive policies against their citizens.
As a far-right terrorist gunned down 50 Muslim worshippers in two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch city last week, the world responded with rage and condemnation. While the global powers passed on sympathies to the grieving families, the discourse seems to have missed one significant aspect of the killing: that it was carried out by a white supremacist, who is part of a global movement that has plagued the US and much of Europe as well as New Zealand and Australia.
While the Christchurch incident has reignited the debate over gun laws in both New Zealand and the US, there isn't much talk about how to tackle the fast growing far-right extremism. Global leaders and opinion makers are yet to argue for swift action, something along the lines of the September 11 attacks, when many Western nations joined US-led War on Terror to eradicate so-called ‘Islamic extremism’.
Beyond Western nations, notorious oppressive regimes of the Middle East, from Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s Egypt to Bashar al Assad’s Syria, who often want to portray ‘fundamentalist Islam’ or ‘Islamic extremism’ as the main cause for their authoritarian stances, have also failed to express interest in an extensive campaign against far-right groups.
But both Western leaders and Arab autocratic leaders from Egypt to Saudi Arabia have shown great willingness to crackdown on terrorism and violence, which they usually relate to extremism emerging from conservative groups that rely on puritanical interpretations of Islam, while ignoring the rise of far-right groups backed by the ideology of white supremacy.
“These kinds of attacks aim to provoke a Muslim reaction,” said Osman Bostan, a Turkish political analyst, indicating that Western far-right tendencies embracing anti-democratic stances can also embolden extreme groups in the Islamic world.
Brenton Tarrant, the Australian terrorist who committed the New Zealand attacks, also wrote how he lost his faith in a democratic solution in his manifesto in the face of increasing Muslim populations in Europe and other Western countries.
On the other hand, confirming Bostan’s analysis, Daesh, which is now cornered in a village called Baghouz, its last stronghold, covering half a square kilometre in eastern Syria, recently made a statement, calling for a certain revenge attack against the New Zealand massacre.
“The scenes of the massacres in the two mosques should wake up those who were fooled, and should incite the supporters of the caliphate to avenge their religion,” said Daesh spokesman Abu Hassan al Muhajir, who is an elusive figure inside the group, in an audio recording released on Monday.
In the meantime, as happened in New Zealand, Muslim migrants to Western countries have been apparently stuck between oppressive regimes in their origin countries and Islamophobic attacks in their new homes.
“Indeed, these kind of acts aim to press these migrants’ nerve endings, making them feel that your (new) country of citizenship does not give you the essential security framework you are looking for,” said Talha Kose, the Chair and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Ibn Haldun University, whose main focus has long been conflict analysis and resolution.
Kose believes this sense of insecurity can deepen a ‘marginalisation’ process, which could trigger a new wave of counter-violence in young Muslim generations to defend themselves and their identity.
“I think these [far-right] acts try to provoke Muslim reaction, making Muslims marginalise and criminalise among larger communities they are living [across Western countries],” Kose told TRT World.
Apparently, Arab autocrats are also collaborating with these far-right groups to radicalise large Muslim populations.
“Whenever there is a minority trying to impose their extremist ideology. We have to intervene regardless of their numbers,” Sisi, a former general, said in a militaristic language during a CBS interview in early January.
But people he labels as a minority have happened to be part of Egypt’s biggest political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, whose candidate Mohammed Morsi had been the country’s first democratically-elected president in 2013 in a majority vote before Sisi’s coup.
The currently banned Freedom and Justice Party, whose leading members and supporters have been either jailed or exiled, was the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Muslim political movement professedly non-violent in the face of decades-long oppression against its members.
Since the coup, Sisi refers to the members of the group as terrorists, seeing the Brotherhood as the source of extremism.
“Because these regimes are not willing to share any political space with their opponents, they are directly criminalising their opponents,” Kose said.
“A legitimate opposition in Egypt has been pretty much criminalised [by Sisi],” Kose observed, also seeing similarities with other oppressive regimes across the Middle East.
As long as these regimes give security and political assurances to the Western bloc about their own extreme groups, they feel free to do anything against their opponents without any concern to address their countries’ fundamental economic and educational problems, Kose thinks.
“They try to create their political legitimacy, using anti-extremist rhetoric,” Kose said.
Trump and Arab autocrats
A recent summit in the Saudi capital, appears to confirm Kose’s argument.
In 2017, during the Riyadh summit, Sisi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud met with US President Donald Trump, who has been brought into power partly thanks to rising waves of white supremacy in the US, partnering with Trump to fight against mainly ‘Islamic extremism’.
Both Sisi and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi king’s son, have portrayed themselves as political barriers against ‘Islamic extremism’.
But experts think that indeed, the very regimes who have claimed to keep extreme groups under control, are mainly responsible for their emergence at the first place.
“These leaders are in the heart of the radicalisation process in their own countries, pushing people further radicalisation,” Kose said.
“We call it ‘the push factor’ in the literature of radicalisation and violent extremism. These leaders with their oppressive policies create a political environment for their radicalisation,” Kose said.
On the other hand, Western democracies, which abhor all kinds of autocratic regimes, still continue to collaborate with these regimes, meaning they stay in power.
Going after armed groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda, the Western world is able to come together, creating a united front like the US-led anti-Daesh coalition, whose 74 members, in differing degrees, have both politically and financially committed to the war against Daesh since 2014.
But when it comes to understanding and addressing the root causes of extreme movements such as Daesh and Al Qaeda in Muslim-majority countries, they are much less committed to a comprehensive democratic campaign across the Muslim world.
“The Western world has not promoted democracy in the Muslim world,” Bostan concluded, referring to both the colonialist and post-colonialist period.