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Right-Wing Extremism, Salafi Jihadism, and The War on Terror

 
 

17 years into the Global War on Terror, 68.5 million people are displaced worldwide, while Salafi jihadism and right-wing extremism are on the rise.

Jihadi organisations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State exploit the global impacts of the war on terror, while extreme right-wing individuals and organisations erroneously conflate jihadism with the broad religion of Islam, targeting Muslims and migrants on this basis.


Like jihadi organisations, right-wing extremist groups promote anti-Semitism, eschatology, and extreme social conservativism, seeking to undermine the liberal democratic governance standards of freedom, equality, and human rights.


Like jihadi organisations, right-wing extremist groups promote anti-Semitism, eschatology, and extreme social conservativism, seeking to undermine the liberal democratic governance standards of freedom, equality, and human rights.

Despite philosophical and practical reciprocity between these different contemporary forms of political violence, they are rarely examined in relation to one another. This situation may be set to change, however, following the murder of 50 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on the 10th of March, and the killing of 253 tourists and Easter Sunday observers (at last count) in bombings around Sri Lanka on the 21st of April.

Notwithstanding claims made by Sri Lanka’s State Minister for Defense, these attacks were perhaps not at first instance retaliatory for Christchurch. Nonetheless, the ‘ripeness’ of Christchurch potentially influenced the Sri Lanka attackers’ target selection, while the propaganda value of Christchurch for jihadis is extensive.

To understand these recent acts of violence, it is incumbent on those concerned to address the national and international ideological environment that provided for their occurrence. This extends to Western governments’ support for the war on terror, which has led to the deaths of half a million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq since 9/11, according to a recognised 2018 Costs of War report. It also includes explicitly anti-Muslim and anti-immigration political sentiments fomented in Western countries who have benefitted so extensively from global flows of people, goods, and services in their economic development.

“… it is incumbent on those concerned to address the national and international ideological environment that provided for their occurrence. This extends to Western governments’ support for the war on terror, which has led to the deaths of half a million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq since 9/11 …”

To its credit, in the aftermath of Christchurch, liberal news media in Australia and internationally highlighted the harmful impacts of historical anti-immigration and anti-Muslim dog-whistling on the part of Australian politicians.

Several commentators observed that, since the Liberal Party’s 2001 election campaign, run on the basis of fallacious news media reporting regarding the Tampa ‘children overboard’ incident, border (in)security is now a part of the country’s conservative firmament.

In the weeks that followed, outrage also reignited about the Australian government’s offshore immigration detention programme, with critics citing United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières reports that the policy approach is tantamount to torture.

Statements made by Australian Senator Fraser Anning blaming ‘Muslim immigration’ for Christchurch, and neo-Nazi overtones in his ‘final solution’ speech in Parliament, were also frequently highlighted. Of particular relevance given the country’s political history were Islamophobic remarks in Anning’s speech, his call for a return of the White Australia policy, and statements that reflect an unambiguous lauding of ‘race’-based neo-colonial white supremacy.

Less often highlighted after Christchurch were explicit connections between Australian politics and the international right-wing extremist organisation the alleged perpetrator donated money to, and modelled his post-massacre ‘Great Replacement’ manifesto on.

For researchers of these subjects, it is relevant that the European right-wing organisation Generation Identity co-opted Australia’s ‘No Way’ border policy slogans and imagery in their violent, anti-immigration ‘Defend Europemissions.  

Important connections between the alleged Christchurch shooter, notorious figures on the Australian extreme Right, and a ‘mainstreaming of the extreme’ in Australian state and federal politics were on the other hand foregrounded in the aftermath of the event.

An illustrative Background Briefing report detailed neo-Nazi and fascist individuals’ efforts to enter mainstream politics. This extends notably to their orchestration of political, propagandised messaging for Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party, and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, in the run-up to the May 2019 Australian federal election.

Fraser Anning and Blair Cottrell shake hands at a neo-Nazi/far-right rally in St Kilda, January 2019.  Image:  slackbastard

Fraser Anning and Blair Cottrell shake hands at a neo-Nazi/far-right rally in St Kilda, January 2019.

Image: slackbastard

Just as individuals and organisations from Australian neo-Nazi and fascist circles have long sought to enter the political mainstream though, so too have elected politicians historically pandered to the vote of the populist and extreme Right.

While Anning’s 2019 appearance at a neo-Nazi rally on the centenary of the foundation of the German Nazi Party is by now well noted, several appearances and speeches by sitting Senators and Members of Parliament at Reclaim Australia rallies, dating to 2015, seem relatively absent from current mainstream political debate.

A man is seen making a Nazi salute during a rally in St Kilda, January 2019.  Image:  ABC News .

A man is seen making a Nazi salute during a rally in St Kilda, January 2019.

Image: ABC News.

‘Reclaim’ was the forerunner to the notorious United Patriots Front, while members campaigned extensively off-the-back of the US-led ‘war on terror’, and through rallies and online propaganda promoted a radical anti-Muslim and anti-immigration agenda. It was founded by Shermon Burgess, aka ‘The Great Aussie Patriot’ and, as observed by right-wing extremism experts, the lyrics of Burgess’s song ‘Border Patrol’ among other cases, destabilise the ‘ordinary mums and dads’ Reclaim mythology. Referring to the notorious 2015 race riots in Sydney, these lyrics were:

‘We’re sick of your Sharia, burn your fucking mosques, it’s time to show you muzzrats we’re the fucking boss, you thought you had it easy, but you surely lost, Cronulla was Australia’s Muslim holocaust.’

While jihadi groups thus often express extreme hostility toward the modern West, right-wing extremism and violence that emerges from within Western societies parasitically draws upon and propagates a fear of the ‘Muslim Other’, that ultimately has its major genesis in the US-led response to 9/11.

So too do Islamophobic politics and exclusionary nationalism on the part of elected politicians ultimately perpetuate a seemingly endless dialectic of pseudo-civilizational conflict.

Demonstrating this, in the aftermath of Christchurch only this month, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for murdering 253 people in Sri Lanka and targeting attendants at an Anzac Day commemoration in Gallipoli, a state security building in Saudi Arabia, and a Washington Convention. Meanwhile, reporters of these and other related events are with increasing prevalence analysing right-wing extremism and Salafi jihadism in tension.

As peace and conflict scholars have long noted, un-dialectical and un-reflexive methods ultimately have limited utility in explaining contemporary cases of terrorism. In 2019, it is now necessary to begin to address the underlying conditions that give rise to politically violent collectives; not as epiphenomenal, but rather as foundational to their very existence.


Dr Imogen Richards is a lecturer in criminology in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University. She specialises in the areas of surveillance, social media, and counter/terrorism, and has published on issues related to online extremism, with a focus on comparative and cross-disciplinary approaches to online criminological research. Her wider research interests include the performance of security, theories of violence, and drugs and crime.