I watched Imperium a few weeks back. I was interested in seeing the transformation of Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter stereotype, as much as I was interested in the theme of the film. An FBI agent infiltrates white supremacist gangs and factions to foil a plot to use dirty bombs in a rally. It was a difficult film to watch, almost cringing at the actors portraying the faction members. And it was difficult to watch knowing the fact that it’s not just a film but a true reflection of the society. These groups exist and these ideologies exist — knowing that was revolting enough. But assuming in reality, the clans must be behaving like this as well made the feeling much worse. I knew that somewhere, this must be happening already, as we are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it’s just a matter of time when it all blows up. The Charlottesville incidents just proved my fears; not the first instance, but certainly the most broadcasted event in the recent times. It’s time to wake up to racism, and terrorism. And more importantly, to rid off the media bias and call a spade a spade. Charlottesville attacks were terrorist attacks and the governments must gear up to quash such extremist views.
9/11 had permanently changed the world. It made the world polarised. On one side, 9/11 meant more woes to the Middle East because that would just let Uncle Sam interfere in the region in the name of national safety, something that it had been doing for a long time anyway. For the Middle East, American intervention is seen as a symbol of West’s imposition of supposedly higher moral values in the region. This resulted in spreading of Islamist extremism like a wildfire since 9/11 that didn’t stay localised in the Middle East but spread across the globe. Disgusting is the ideology — of killing people of different faiths and race, and disgusting are the people who preach this and carry out the attacks. This is straightforward geopolitics so far.
Yet the less talked about change about 9/11 is equally sinister, and it’s not easily perceived. 9/11 brought the fear into the minds of the people — especially in the west. That these extremists can run their killing spree in the west, and that it’s not an issue of mad people killing each other in a faraway land — it blew the bubble of security people were living in. Growing up in the subcontinent where India had been constantly battered by terrorist attacks, we never had that safety bubble that it wouldn’t happen to us. In a day, that absurdity suddenly seemed quite possible.
Fear brings the worst out of us humans. We lose our sense of reasoning and stop trusting people. We look at everyone with suspicion. The heightened fear of a Muslim extremist attack became so apparent that overnight anyone with a Muslim name or appearance was subjected to scrutinies, hate crimes and proving their allegiance to the state. I’d like to mention another brilliant film that captured the transition of mentalities about Muslims during this epoch — The Reluctant Fundamentalist. People felt threatened and wanted to do something to feel safe again. And that paved the path for white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi rhetoric is not new. They have always been around but never reached a critical mass since WWII, because most people didn’t believe in their threats, nor did the groups have issues to preach their hatred against. 9/11 gave them an enemy. And with people losing their sense of judgement, the white supremacist doomsday threats started to appear credible.
Extremism alone didn’t pave the path for these extremist right wing voices. Over last few decades, the world had become more mobile than it has ever been. With an increased level of business and exposure to education, geographical barriers seemed to be disappearing. That facilitated greater global mobility and it’s evident that the net immigration has increased in the West, especially if in G20 states. Also, apart from the skilled migrants, a number of unskilled immigrants had been on the rise as well, caused by heightened social, political and religious unrest in countries. More people in those conflict torn countries were forced to flee in fear of their life. Not only did these new immigrants raise fear of the increased risk of extremist attacks (“who can say they weren’t terrorist disguised as normal people” etc.), but businesses employed immigrants more to pay less for the same work.
And thus, migrants are linked to joblessness, social unrest, their inability to integrate into the society and imbibe ethos of the state. People started to have a feeling that the minorities have better privileges than the non-migrant population of the country. A feeling that they are losing control of the stronghold they had over the local communities. The situation has worsened with the global economic downturn, and the working class was hit by the housing bubble, unemployment, relocation, poverty. In desperate times, people look for either something to salvage themselves or blame someone for their misery. Immigrants were an easy target. And thus the majority of the large economies with a high net positive migration has witnessed a growing sense of nationalism.
I don’t see any difference between nationalism and racism. Nationalism is a concept to differentiate people who belong to the land, pledge their allegiance no matter if the state is right or wrong, and dissuade diversity. The plague of nationalism is on the surge across the world, but it’s particularly noticeable in the US and Europe. There are docile ones, such as outfits like organisers of #whitelivesmatter, and there are the Neo-Nazi clans. It is even horrific to find that the right-wing nationalist outfits are finding their feet as legitimate set-ups. Recent elections in France, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland – nationalists have not only found their foothold in the legislative system but also were close to winning the elections in some cases. That was scary.
It was scary seeing nationalist parties gather so much support, with their politics of hate, but two biggest events last year completely upstaged the notion that common sense will prevail. The UK left the European Union, spurred by the campaign full of lies and scaremongering about immigration. And on the other side of the pond, Donald Trump has become the most powerful man on earth. Different countries, same rhetoric. The UK, despite its receding importance in the global political landscape, delivered a boost to all nationalist voices around the world. The aftermath of Brexit is, of course, the election of Donald Trump. Desperate working-class people, trying to change their living conditions, have fallen prey to the opportunist vultures, supported by expensive campaigns, sourced from the donors who benefit most from the election results.
It’s a long prelude to the Charlottesville attacks. The conflict was always due coming. The signs were all there. Brexit wasn’t that much of a threat on a global scale, although the heightened levels of hate and race crimes since the Brexit results show that a lot of people wore a mask before, of being open-minded, liberal – and suddenly, their true self is out in the open. But the biggest threat is the orange clown sitting at the White House. A complete moron with immense power is never a good combination and seeing all nationalist people across the world hailing him a hero, it spells danger. This may sound controversial, but Donald Trump, with all his shockingly horrific views on Americanism, being elected to the White House is equally cringeworthy as was the declaration of Al-Baghdadi his Caliphate. One’s vile, the other’s evil, both morons, both have thousands of moron followers who hails them and acts to their orders without thinking…you get the picture, right?
Charlottesville is scary for another reason. For the nationalists, the common demographic happened to be white working class – disenfranchised, marginalised public. However, many of the Charlottesville alt-right protesters were university students, a segment typically seen to be left wing. It is worrying that the sphere of influence has grown in size. The anti-immigrant nationalist rhetoric has reached beyond its grassroots support base. People are more prejudiced and eager to show their racial bias under the helm of the new leaders. Yet the situation observed in Charlottesville was more disturbing, seeing the alt-right drop its reformist mask and show their white supremacist face. They gave Nazi salutes, bore the Confederate cross, chanted anti-Semitic slogans, and then stooped to another low by planning to use murdered Heather Heyer’s funeral. This is the real face of America’s alt-right. If their agenda of nationalism is desperate, their white supremacist ideology is pure evil. And if you think that’s an American problem, you’re making the same mistake as done while branding Muslim extremism a Middle East problem. Just look at the anti-immigrant sentiment that swept through Britain post-Brexit. Then there are anti-Islam Britain First and EDL, who want to portray every Muslim in the UK as terrorists. But there’s a larger hidden threat, from lesser known outfits, such as National Action.
Terrorist. That’s a term I consciously avoided so far because media semantics is another area that needs immediate rethinking. Okay. Imagine a terrorist. What do you see? A Muslim man, long beard, possibly carrying a rucksack? Was it far off my guess? What about hate preacher? Middle age Muslim man with long beards and even better if he wore a cap? Well, as far as Islamist terrorist or hate preaching goes, these images probably match the profiles of the most notorious ones. How do the following people fit in the profile of a terrorist? Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, KKK, hundreds of killers involved in school shootings, IRA, ETA. They are all white, perhaps Christians as well. And that’s just one demographic section. There are examples from all corners of the world. There are governments carrying out organised ethnic cleansing – directly or indirectly. The new addition to that list of terrorists is James Fields. Yet, we seem to be too frivolous to use the term terrorist with Muslim attacks and try our best not to use the term for any other community. What about hate preachers? What about The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Britain First, EDL, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Front National, Jobbik, Geert Wilders, Golden Dawn? What about Katie Hopkins? And above all, the Donald Trump, spending more time posting halfwit tweets slagging off half the world’s population? Do you see these people as hate preachers? I guess not, but they no doubt are. The jihadi extremists do it in the name of their religion, and the other bunch does it from a moral high ground. They think they represent liberal western civilisation. They are wrong. Their views are as primitive as is the Islamist terrorists they are directing their hatred.
And this is what is worrying. That these opportunist people are given a platform – by the media, by the public, by the system – to spread their hatred. There was a speculation whether Charlottesville spelled the end of the alt-right in America. On the contrary, it was found that its supporters became bolder and flew Swastikas on their house in the open. It was all there in Charlottesville – Confederate flag, Swastikas, Nazi salute, chants like “Blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us”. It was a shameless display of blatant racism and equally shameful silence from a waste of a space president. He stayed silent as long as possible – which already emboldened the Neo-Nazis, and then a meek criticism that seemed completely unlike Donald Trump speech. His vocabulary does not stretch to repugnant. Then he made a U-turn by calling the protesters alt-left and tried to blame both parties of intolerance. And then he defended keeping the Confederate statues that caused the clash. The president spoke of bigotry, yet he turned out to be the biggest bigot during this crisis.
The killing of Heather Heyer and the two police officers are abhorrent. It was unfortunate that it took the death of three people to get the condemnation of the rally it deserved at the very first place. But it’s not all gloomy. The resistance and the counter-protests have gathered more supporters than the white supremacist militias did. It is a consolation that the picture is the same in most of the places, wherever the fascists held a rally, they either give up or outnumbered and overshadowed by the anti-racism supporters. There was a stream of photos that went viral where one Neo-Nazi is seen to be punched in the face after he did a Nazi salute. Now, the judgement is divided whether the use of violence was justified. Probably not. But let’s draw a parallel here. During an Islamist terrorist attack, the entire Muslim community is expected to prove their allegiance to the government, criticising the attack. If they don’t do it, it is expected that they discretely support terrorism. The white supremacists, on the other hand, adhere to the views of America’s dark racist past. If the Muslim terror suspects and sympathisers can be kept under surveillance and arrested, why couldn’t their counterparts? And lastly, it’s crazy how a Muslim terrorist is shot dead within seconds whilst Anders Breiviks and James Fields are safely led away by police, despite their crime was equally despicable. And supporting a movement that committed the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century, the neo-Nazis show that essentially there is no difference in them and the supporters of Islamist extremism. Their objective is no different. But there is not attempt to criticise them as terrorist sympathisers.
From that perspective, the best work is probably done by an anonymous twitter user @YesYoureRacist, by identifying all alt-right supporters on the rally. In a group, people do awful things, but when they realise that they are singled out, that might put an end to their little adventure with the big boys. It’s sort of vigilantism, which is a questionable trend, but it should have been the police and intelligence to identify them and monitor of their movements. They failed, so somebody had to bring it out in the daylight. The little escapades of these tin soldiers had to be made public. Some might end up losing jobs, being socially outcast in the community, rethink their mistakes and follow a normal course of life. The few others, let’s call them terrorist material, should then have to be kept under surveillance by the police as potential terror suspects.
Nazism didn’t happen in Germany overnight. It started with the election of an overzealous maniac by popular mandate. And the history repeated itself again last year. Unless uprooted at its nascent stage, it will be too late. The right-wing already are in the motion. They are given more voice in the media for some reason anyway. The popularity of the right-wing press is mind-boggling. Perhaps the media watchdog wanted to observe the freedom of speech a little more. But what is freedom of speech for rabid dogs? That’s what these fanatics are. It’s a pity that many feel marginalised in the new ethical world but joining a fanatical movement is not going to solve the problem. Brexit happened last year. Trump was elected eight months back. Where did all the promises go? Apart from the failed attempts to implement racist Muslim ban and the Mexico wall, Trump managed to do fuck all. Either people are already beginning to realise that it was all lies and empty boasts, or they are brainwashed enough not to see that nothing’s happening. They have become right-wing automatons. They can’t see that religion, culture, social cohesion — none of it is the root of the problem. It’s the wealth, and its distribution. This sentence might make you brand me as a Commie, but I don’t mind, just as I think that if you support this then you are a racist, and you are trying to sugar coat it with patriotism and culture and all other nonsense.
This is why, it is absolutely paramount that we do everything to prevent this wildfire of hatred. And for that, people will need to speak up. Disagreeing in silence will not give a clear message that you are opposed to the horrific ideas of the neo-Nazis. We need to square up to them. Protest can be as cynical as by brave Saffiyah Khan, smirking on the face of the Britain First scum, or literally punching them. You have to match them strength to strength. Violence cannot be the solution, but where the far-right form militias, hold camps on how to attack/fight the enemy (who is the enemy anyway?), or to the least, resort to intimidation and a racial slur, repeating lines of Das Kapital or Beatles is not going to make much difference, will it? There is no space for debate yet because that’s not what the Neo-Nazis are after. They have the pseudo alt-right mouthpieces like Milo Yannopoulos and Tommy Robinson but they are just red herrings, the agent provocateurs. They are dangerous as their reach spans the furthest, in terms of brainwashing the confused and misrepresented youth, but it’s the lesser known direct action groups that people need to watch out for. They are possibly hard to identify, and their whereabouts, therefore, stay unknown to the authorities and protestors. Take a parallel with the Islamist extremism. You have hate preachers like Anjem Chaudhury, who provokes the youth, and perhaps preaches them about carrying out attacks, but is never found to be linked directly to any of the terrorist attacks. Then you have/had the notorious terrorists like Bin Laden, Al-Baghdadi, the Samantha Lewthwaite…they are masterminds but are so heavily monitored that it’s unlikely that they’ll be involved in the attacks themselves. But it’s the unknown brainwashed misguided marginalised people, working in little sleeper cells, who are carrying out the majority of the terrorist attacks. London, Nice, Barcelona, Paris — it’s the less known or unknown faces that are involved in the attacks. Just like James Fields. An unknown and unsuspecting individual. It is important to gather and pass information so these terrorists are identified. Identified so police track their whereabouts and also identified amongst the anti-racism and other protest groups. Outnumbering the opposition is a great tactic and so far, it worked great in the UK where the protesters relentlessly outnumbered the right-wing demonstrators in every rally. And when the threat of white-supremacist zealots have calmed down, and people see the emptiness of their propaganda, then it’s the time to engage in talks. Talks to the vulnerable, underprivileged section of the population who have been continuously exploited and given false hope of a brighter future. It’s only by education, and by forming a truly inclusive society can we rid of the evils of racism and religious hatred.
Going back to where I started, talking about Daniel Radcliffe, I am a big fan of Harry Potter books. They drew inspiration from many modern day events and that’s why the significance of the books never fade away from the memory. You just keep on identifying incidents with the book, and you get a new meaning of the series. The reign of terror ran by Voldemort and his death eaters were reminiscent of the Nazi Germany. The persecution of the muggles and witches born in non-wizarding family reminded of the atrocities of the Third Reich. Apart from the historical accounts of the WWII, Harry Potter books showed how the reign of terror actually started. A sudden appearance of the dark mark in the sky. March of past by the death eaters. Death of an individual. The government’s attempt to play it down. Persecution of the ones who asked for tougher measures. Failures of the government to protect the vulnerable. Until it’s beyond control. This is how just things unfold in Harry Potter. And this is how the first signs have started appearing. Terrorism is evil for humankind. The governments are doing enough to curb Islamist terrorism, but not enough to eliminate the threats posed by the Neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the alt-right. The threat should have been taken seriously for a long time, but the movement is nigh on getting its critical mass. It’s time to act fast. It’s not the time to be philosophical about the problem but quash it brutally, before it turns into a raging wildfire of communal hatred that will engulf our entire society irrespective of colour, race, religion.
I am an alarmist. And I see patterns. And the patterns like above do not bode well. At the end of Harry Potter, everybody fought together to defeat the evil forces of Voldemort. Battle of Hogwarts gave us hope. That in the end, the Good wins. Yet, the reality is far more complicated than the book. We don’t always get the happy ending. Can we fight together shoulder to shoulder forgetting our petty differences? Because that’s what is needed to achieve that goal. To give Donald Trump and his “fine people” alt-right a kick up their backside. Let’s hope that the history doesn’t repeat itself, and we keep on hoping that the threats of white-supremacist and far-right extremisms are uprooted at its nascent stage.
As I write this, 16 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona, two were killed in Finland, and there were a number of attempts including in Buckingham Palace, Paris and Brussels. So the threat of Islamist terrorism is very real, and it’s not going to be resolved in our lifetime. But creating another monster to eliminate that threat is suicidal. Killing terrorists or even surveillance are reactive measures, which is necessary, but not sustainable. The threat of homegrown terrorism can only be countered through the social inclusion of the youth. And it is essential to change the perception of the public on terrorism. All the events above are well covered in the media. What unfortunately didn’t get so much public attention is the fact that the death toll is much higher in a number of attacks carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria. Most of these are carried out by Islamist terrorists. The public apathy towards extremism outside Europe and North America is one of the main reasons how the dangers of religious/nationalist extremism have spread across the world. And the proliferation of the nationalism and racism. Islamist and Right-wing extremism aren’t even the two sides of the coin; they are absolutely identical in nature. They rely on hate, they are divisive and wants to destroy the fabric of the modern multicultural society. It’s reassuring that the threat of Islamist terrorism is well identified, but it’s also essential that we don’t turn a blind eye to the other. Wikipedia shows there are 199 terrorist attacks in August across the world. But Heather Heyer does not feature in that list of victims. She damn well should.