Violence against Muslims is rarely labelled as "terrorism" but reputable scholarship on radicalisation and terrorism doesn't make a distinction between anti-Muslim violence and the violence perpetrated by groups like Daesh or Al Qaeda.
The next wave of terrorism is here, and it’s one where white ultra-nationalists carry out acts of premeditated violence against Muslims.
In the past year alone, a “Trump loving conservative” slaughtered six Canadian Muslims at a mosque in Quebec City; white nationalists bombed a mosque in Minnesota while twenty worshippers were inside; and in London a man “brainwashed” on far-right propaganda drove his van into Finsbury Park mosque with the intention to “kill more Muslims.”
Three attacks in three countries does not a proverbial winter make, but when aligned with the parabolic rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe, the United States, India, China, Myanmar, and pretty much anywhere else where Muslims constitute a minority of the population, a winter nevertheless. Line these up next to a number of attacks against mosques, Muslim owned businesses, and the 70,000 who marched on Warsaw, Poland, last November promising a “white Europe” and “death to the enemies of the homeland” while carrying anti-Muslim placards, the trend is impossible to miss.
So, what exactly is turning certain individuals — who carry with them a lifetime record of non-violence — into violent anti-Muslim extremists?
What creates a Darren Osborne - the 48-year-old Londoner who drove his van into a mosque?
A number of factors have been blamed for what is now a full-blown “moral panic” towards Muslim minority communities. Certainly the paralysing and hypnotic fear terror groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda provoke is a big part of the puzzle, and much of the blame can also be easily laid at the feet of the Islamophobia Industry: a consortium of groups and individuals whom are financially rewarded by Muslim hating groups of all stripes — including the Israel Lobby, neo-atheists, conservative Christian and Hindu nationalist organisations — for their discursive constructions of Muslims as a monolithic, and dangerous other.
But this, too, only tells part of the story. The other part, and maybe the larger part, is the way in which the forces of globalisation, including modern means of communication, have accentuated the theme of the Other.
While the term globalization lacks a universal definition, it is best understood as the processes that shrink time and space. When you think about the way in which the internet, social media, modern transportation, transnational organisations, and multinational corporations, have made the world smaller, communication easier, and national borders less of a barrier between people, then you have understood globalisation.
“The speedy circulation of people, material, financial and ideological elements, cultural styles, political rituals, and their media representations across national borders has dismantled fixed national, religious, and social identities,” observes Atreyee Sen.
“These unmitigated, often illegal, global flows have raised doubts about ‘who are we?,’ ‘who are they?’, and ‘how many of them are now among us?’ Violence is a volatile expression of this fluid order of insecurities, and is usually directed, in its most brutal form, towards ethnic minorities.”
In other words, the shrinking of time and space between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has suddenly brought into proximity the unfamiliar Other, thus instilling within our societies a sense of “physical or symbolic threat,” and, in turn, producing newly formed social anxieties.
“In times of heightened tension and conflict, emotive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ discourse will prevail,” writes Jane Jackson in Introducing Language and Intercultural Communication.
This, according to Teun van Dijk, ignites an open flame under the processes of “out-group derogation” and “in-group celebration,” whereas the in-group is categorised by those we share common beliefs and behavior with, while the out-group is categorised by those perceived to be the stranger, foreigner, or external threat.
This dichotomy leads members of the in-group to exalt their virtues and purity, while simultaneously ignoring the transgressions of its members. Sound familiar?
Moreover, the in-group is inclined to exaggerate the sins of the out-group, applying collective guilt and responsibility for the actions of a few to those it considers the Other, writ large.
To this end, anti-Muslim extremists are radicalizing in the exact same manner as homegrown “jihadists”. They’re consuming political and social discourse that narrates the following us versus them binary, according to JM Berger of the International Center for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in The Hague:
1) The out-group is responsible for a crisis that afflicts the eligible in-group
2) The extremist in-group is responsible for a solution that confronts the out-group to resolve the crisis
3) In order to access the solution, members of the eligible in-group must join the extremist in-group.
Berger says extremist groups seek to reinforce each of these linkages, “tying the out-group to the crisis, the extremist in-group to the solution, and making the case.”
Berger’s analysis of in-group, out-group binaries explains the violent actions of Darren Osborne, the Quebec City mosque attacker, and those behind the bombing of a Wisconsin mosque.
UK police believe Osborne was radicalised into violent extremism by “online extremist propaganda against Islam,” and would binge watch YouTube videos produced by the founder of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, and material produced by Britain First, the far-right group that inspired the murderer who killed British parliamentarian Jo Cox.
It’s no coincidence then that violent “Islamist” groups such as ISIS reinforce in-group, out-group narratives in their propaganda.
“The central narrative of this type of messaging is simple,” notes an ICCT report, “ISIS are champions and protectors of Sunnis (the in-group identity), ISIS’ enemies are evil Others (out-group identities) that are responsible for Sunni crises, to which ISIS are the only hope for solutions.”
When you flip and switch ISIS’ messaging to one the likes of Darren Osborne consumed, you can see quite clearly what creates an anti-Muslim extremist.
In his mind, the narrative he internalised reads as follows: “Britain First are champions and protectors of white Britons (in-group), Britain First’s enemies [Muslims] are evil Others that are responsible for Britain’s crises, to which Britain First are the only hope for solutions.”
From this perspective, one can see why and how the Global North is producing anti-Muslim extremists, while, at the same time, the Global South produces those who wish to carry out attacks against the West, proving once again that while beliefs, norms, and patterns of behavior might emphasise our differences - we are more alike than many of us care to think.
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