Islamophobic Violence

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Anxiety about Obama and acceleration in the Trump era

The rise of violence committed by far-right extremist groups has been widely discussed in the last weeks and has attracted special attention following the endorsement of Donald Trump by white supremacist groups. Donald Trump was not only endorsed by the Ku Klux Klans’ official newspaper shortly before Election Day in 2016. He was also praised by far-right leaders after he blamed “many sides” for deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.

Many observers argue that the violence committed by white supremacist attackers had been on the rise already since Barack Obama’s presidency. At the same time, the hypothesis that white people in power will prevent white supremacist violence was disproven, because data also shows that violence has increased since Donald J. Trump became president, while data on global terrorism conducted by the Washington Post shows a decline in violence by left-wing groups. The authors of the Post report, Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy and Andrew Ba Tran say: “Over the past decade, attackers motivated by right-wing political ideologies have committed dozens of shootings, bombings and other acts of violence, far more than any other category of domestic extremist”. In detail, the reports states that “of 263 incidents of domestic terrorism between 2010 and the end of 2017, a third — 92 — were committed by right-wing attackers.” Terrorist acts committed by Islamist extremists numbered 38 and left-wing extremists 34 incidents within the same period. According to the research, in 2018 alone, at least 20 people have been killed in alleged right-wing attacks.

Earlier this month, the New York Times featured a longer story that U.S. Law Enforcement failed to see the threat of white nationalism.  Government bodies such as the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department focus instead on “countering violent extremism” that targets first and foremost Muslims living in the United States.

White nationalists agitate against diverse groups. Its target include Jews as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting reveals. White supremacists also target Feminists, Blacks and Muslims. And this is not simply a US or North American phenomenon.

Violence in Europe

Given the stark rise of far-right nationalist parties and groups in Europe, East as well as West, violence against Muslims has also become prevalent, although not widely discussed. To give a few examples from last year. Attacks against mosques and Muslim institutions have become a daily routine in Germany. According to the DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs), in Germany there were 101 attacks on mosques in 2017. Indeed, attacks against Muslims, persons who are perceived as Muslims, and persons who are vocal in their support for Muslim or refugee rights are becoming more and more frequent and violent. On the night of April 15, 2017, for example, 22-year-old Egyptian student, Shaden Mohamed al-Gohary, was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Cottbus, Germany. While she lay injured on the street, people started insulting her in racist ways, believing she was a refugee. The attackers eventually came back on foot and said things like, “Well, they gotta check the street first, since they don’t have streets at home. They should fuck off to their damn country.” The conservative mayor of Altena, Andreas Hollstein, known for his welcoming stance towards refugees was stabbed in the neck and seriously injured at a kebab restaurant. In the UK, nn September 27, 2017, four members of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action were arrested on suspicion of preparing and instigating acts of terrorism. According to the UK’s Defense Ministry some of them were soldiers serving in the British army. In Sweden, three members of the national socialist Nordic Resistance Movement were sentenced to up to eight-and-a-half years in prison. The trio was found guilty of bombings of two refugee housings and a libertarian socialist trade union office in Gothenburg, which severely wounded one person. They were trained in urban guerrilla warfare by a Russian radical nationalist and anti-Muslim paramilitary organization. The perpetrators were influenced by Islamophobic and anti-Semitic discourse, which was clear in a recorded video prayer to All-Father Odin (ancient Norse god who has been adopted as a symbol for white supremacist groups) in which they vowed to “retake our land” and “take the fight against you who have defiled our country.” In Germany, two supporters of a neo-Nazi terrorist group were arrested on January 14 after 155 kg of explosives were discovered in their home. On April 27, a German soldier posing as a Syrian refugee was arrested for allegedly planning a “false flag” shooting attack against politicians that would be blamed on asylum seekers. On October 17, 2017, 10 far-right militants were arrested by French anti-terrorist police in France. According to the TV station M6, they were suspected of planning attacks on French politicians and on Muslim places of worship. On June 19, 2017, a man drove his van deliberately into a crowd of Muslim worshippers leaving the north London Finsbury Park Mosque. As a result of this attack, one person was killed and eleven were injured. On September 27, 2017, four members of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action in the UK were arrested on suspicion of preparing and instigating acts of terrorism. According to the UK’s Defense Ministry some of them were soldiers serving in the British army.

Given these findings and the increasingly violent threat that white supremacist and far-right groups are posing to the safety of Western societies, a change of thinking as to who really poses a threat to our societies seems to be urgently needed.

Dr. Farid Hafez is a Senior Research Fellow at the Bridge Initiative.