Far-right terrorism and what to do

Terrorism continues to take many forms. Many of the ways to help tackle it remain the same

People wearing shirts with Proud Boys on them join supporters of President Donald Trump in a march Saturday Nov. 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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The Institute of Economics and Peace, an Australian think tank, published its Global Terror Index for 2020 on Wednesday. It observes a worrying rise in far-right extremism.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of far-right terrorist attacks rose by 250 per cent and the number of deaths as a consequence by 709 per cent.

Right-wing terrorism still constitutes a relatively small share of attacks worldwide. It is the rate at which it is rising that is concerning.

Certain features make right-wing extremism difficult to prevent. Sixty per cent of far-right terrorists are not affiliated with an organisation, far more than in leftist or Islamist terrorism.

Last year, there were 53 terrorist attacks in the US. It is perhaps unsurprising. American politics today are deeply divided, increasingly unmoderated by a centrist consensus.

A greater number of reasonable conservative positions are now taboo, as a more censorious left labels those with different beliefs to their own as enemies, rather than opponents in debate.

This risks pushing some conservatives into online echo chambers, where there is less challenge and dogma thrives. And anonymous, often encrypted forums with their parallel vocabularies of hate, are hard for authorities to monitor.

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 21: Law enforcement officers in riot gear create a line opposing anti-Trump protesters during a 'March for Trump' rally against the results of the 2020 Presidential election on November 21, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. This week Georgia finished their hand recount of the ballots which also confirmed President-Elect Joe Biden's win in the state.   Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/AFP
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With a lack of direction in life, a small but significant minority will fill a void in their identity with the psychosis of extremism

Those with limited opportunity, particularly young men, are vulnerable to this cycle. In regions where jobs are already scarce, the pandemic risks making the situation worse. With a lack of direction in life, a small but significant minority will fill a void in their identity with the psychosis of extremism.

Considering the causes of terrorism by no means excuses it. Instead, it treats extremism as a problem that should be tackled. The Middle East has been making progress in this regard. Eighteen nations in the region have a reduced level of terrorism this year. The UAE was described as having a "perfect record", with no attacks in the past five years.

The Middle East’s deradicalisation programmes have mostly proven to be more effective than those in the West. From the efforts of Saudi Arabia’s internal deradicalisation program, to the joint partnership between the UAE, UNESCO and Iraq in restoring Mosul’s Al Nouri mosque, reviving a symbol of traditional Islamic values, serious efforts are being exerted to negate the mantra of hate extremists want to promote.

In the West, however, the challenge is growing. Deradicalisation programmes there have unimpressive records. This month, when a terrorist in Austria killed four people, authorities subsequently revealed he had been taken off such a programme because he was deemed no longer a threat.

While the West improves on these areas, it should in parallel address the social causes of terrorism.

Not all extremists can be rehabilitated, but those newly possessed by radical ideology might not necessarily be lost to it irrevocably. A 15-year-old girl, groomed by adults to join ISIS, or a young boy with learning difficulties who is given a bomb, is not the same person as someone who premeditates a rampage in a New Zealand mosque while livestreaming the attack. They are not the same as members of the infamous ISIS Beatles cell, who are criminals turned executioners.

Long-time terrorist leaders are also more likely driven by nihilistic political agendas, than ideological ones. Osama bin Laden or ISIS's top brass all had, as their core purpose, the attainment of political notoriety.

For the moderate majority, the aim of ending terrorism often feels hopeless. Most cannot comprehend the process by which someone becomes inspired by nihilism and death. Regardless, countries need to define their values robustly. All must feel included, especially those at risk of radicalisation. Without doing so, extremism in its many forms risks rising further.