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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Rise of the far right largely unseen as politicians and security services solely focused on Muslim extremists, debate hears

Tabah Foundation talk on extremism follows Virginia violence and electoral success for radicals

The rise of the far right in North America has been largely overlooked because politicians and security services have focused primarily on Islamic extremism, scholars said.

Speaking at a debate organised by the Tabah Futures Initiative, experts also said the rise of ISIL had been mirrored by reactionary groups of white nationalists – but little evidence of its growth was seen until violent protests rocked Charlottesville in Virginia just a month ago.

While there can be no let-up in the pursuit of extremists such as ISIL, the current strategy has allowed some groups to operate virtually undetected.

“If we focus on specific religious groups, a lot of other groups will fly off the radar. There is such focus on Muslim radicals that no one is noticing that in the US and Canada [the far right] is growing and festering,” said Dr Naved Bakali, research analyst at Tabah Foundation, an Abu Dhabi think tank that promotes moderate discourse and teaching in Islam.

Far-right extremists in western societies echo similar ideas to those espoused by Muslim extremist groups such as ISIL.

“Both promote this clash-of-civilisations thesis – that western and eastern cultures are different and they are bound to clash and cannot co-exist with one another; it totally strips conflicts of their geopolitical-historical context.”

However, extremist groups promote this idea because it makes things easier to understand. They make the world appear in black and white so it becomes easier for people to follow them.

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“We decide what is right and wrong, there is no grey area, and because they are wrong we should attack them,” he said.

“If you listen to far-right extremists and Muslim extremists they agree with each other.

“There is a theory that if you take one of each and put them in the dark and they start talking, they would agree on 90 per cent of the things they say.”

Moreover, they both brand themselves in a way that fulfils apocalyptic prophecies.

Dr Richard Burchill, director of research at Trends Research and Advisory, said the far right has grown in response to fears of Muslim extremism.

“What we are seeing in the West is the far right responding to the extremist ideas being perpetuated by violent groups like Daesh, and others like the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

“As these groups gain prominence and support, the far right feels that their world is under threat and then rise up in violent and non-violent ways. These actions support those seeking to politicise religion, allowing claims that Islam is under threat. We end up in a violent circle where each side is threatened by the extremism of the other side.”

Dr Bakali said that far-right groups now entering mainstream politics was once unthinkable, but now a reality.

He said the rise of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands would have been “seen as crazy 10 years ago”, but is now influential in government policy.

“It is very dangerous to make these views normal in the political arena,” he said.