Far right terror is growing but should not overshadow the greatest threat of extremism

Extremist voices empowered by the closing down of debate

Omar Ghobash says there is 'no specific guidance on how to live in the modern world'. Mona Al Marzooqi/The National

Right-wing extremism is growing quickly but its scale is nowhere near eclipsing the threat of Islamist extremism, experts addressing an Emirates Society webinar said.

The pandemic has proved double-edged in creating conditions of extremism, allowing more opportunity to cultivate followers and increase the influence of self-appointed groups seeking to propound "true versions" of reality. It has also enhanced the ability of authorities to track such activity.

Lord Walney, who is writing a British government review on the sources of extremism, said the changing landscape had to be seen in perspective.

""When people say the far right is the fastest growing area, they'll say things that are correct but what is heard then is that this issue is on a parallel with the Islamist threat, which is absolutely, demonstrably not the case.," he said. "I think you could end up skewing the conversation and end up skewing resources and focus in a way that is harmful."

The former member of parliament revealed that UK intelligence agencies assessed that the attack in the US against Congress in early January did meet the threshold for a terror incident, something that underlined the need to tackle the right-wing threat. He also said liberal democracies faced right-wing, left-wing and Islamist threats as a result of organised disinformation campaigns.

The isolation caused by the pandemic created new opportunities for all agendas. Omar Ghobash, the UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy was asked about the role of religious groups in providing guidance on issues such as vaccination.

"Often we were in the past given the impression that a Muslim spokesman represents what is called 'true Islam', and that there is this idea that true Islam exists somewhere and he's the one who can define it for us. And what we noticed also was that often these people are making it up as they go along anyway," he said. "There's no specific guidance on how to live in the modern world other than to live in the modern world and get on with things."

Sir John Jenkins, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said there was a danger the pandemic would distract attention from the challenges of extremism. He warned against the closing down of debate. "One of the ways in which extremist voices are empowered is because non-extreme voices are shut down," he said.