Mehdi Hasan on the threat from far-right terrorism

The Home Affairs Select Committee has produced an important report on an oft-ignored subject.

For some in the west, and in particular here in the UK, the murder of 77 people in Norway by Anders Breivik seemed unbelievable and inexplicable. It didn't compute. The moment the news broke, for instance, Labour MP Tom Harris took to Twitter to blame - yep, you guessed it - Muslim extremists for the killings. To be fair to Harris, he was just articulating out loud what others - liberals and conservatives alike - were thinking and assuming in their heads. Even after it became clear that it wasn't a Muslim who had perpetrated this atrocity, some refused to call it an act of terrorism, preferring to refer to the perpetrator of the crime as "mad" and "insane".

As Guy Walters noted at the time:

For some commentators, such as Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, Sam Leith in the Evening Standard, and Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph, Breivik's actions are explained by insanity, and there is not much need to study Breivik's 'manifesto'. This, the argument runs, was the work of a lunatic who had built a puerile ideology to accommodate his psychopathy. In essence - the madness comes first, then the political justification, then the slaughter.

But Anders Breivik isn't a madman and his crime wasn't prompted by voices in his head. Just read his detailed, 1500-page manifesto, 2083 A European Declaration of Independence, to see how disturbingly rational, thought-through and politicized his hate-filled views and opinions are.

As Walters argued last year:

The roots of Breivik's actions clearly lie in his politics, and when you read his 'manifesto', it is clear why he decided to act as he did. His argument runs thus: Multiculturalism, 'cultural Marxism' and immigration of Muslims is destroying our way of life. The people responsible for this are the ruling Labour Party. These people are traitors. I have tried to act politically, but that has yielded no reward, and little hope of doing so. Violence is the only solution. Therefore, kill the next generation of political Labour Party leaders. This is a necessary evil, but will save us from the greater murderousness of Islam in the long run. And, in a brutally logical way, that is just what Breivik did.

You can read Walter's excellent blogpost in full here.

Now, I've written before about the oft-ignored threat from far-right, "white" terrorism - for example, in the New Statesman in July 2009 and in the Guardian in January 2011. In the latter piece, I noted how

FBI figures show between 2002 and 2005 there were 24 acts of terrorism recorded in the US; 23 of those incidents were carried out by non-Muslim,"domestic terrorists".

Often the reaction I get to such pieces amounts to a version of: "You're just saying all this because you're Muslim and you want to deflect attention away from the crimes of your co-religionists." There is an assumption among opinion-formers and decison-makers that the threat from far-right terrorism isn't as serious or worthy of debate and discussion as the threat from Islamist terorrism - despite the killing of 77 people in nearby Norway by a non-Muslim terrorist with extensive links to our own English Defence League (EDL).

Thankfully, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in a new report out today, seems to disagree with the conventional wisdom. MPs on the committee noted that there

appears to be a growth in more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology. Indeed it is clear that individuals from many different backgrounds are vulnerable, with no typical profile or pathway to radicalisation.

The MPs concluded:

A view was expressed by some of those giving evidence to us, and those to whom we spoke less formally, that the revised Prevent Strategy only pays lip service to the threat from extreme far-right terrorism. We accept that Prevent resources should be allocated proportionately to the terrorist threat, and that to an extent we must rely upon the intelligence and security services to make this judgement. However, we received persuasive evidence about the potential threat from extreme far-right terrorism. The ease of travel and communications between countries in Europe and the growth of far-right organisations, which appear to have good communications with like-minded groups within Europe, suggest that the current lack of firm evidence should not be a reason for neglecting this area of risk. The Prevent Strategy should outline more clearly the actions to be taken to tackle far right radicalisation as well as explicitly acknowledge the potential interplay between different forms of violent extremism, and the potential for measures directed at far-right extremism to have a consequential effect on Islamist extremism, and vice versa.

Will Theresa May and co take notice of the report's conclusions? Will the media start shining a light on the very real threat from far-right terrorism? If not in the interests of fairness and balance, then at least in the interests of safety, security and self-preservation? I have my doubts...

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Brexit negotiations: What happens if we don't get access to the single market?

Nearly half of British exports go to the EU. 

The Finsbury Park branch of Lidl, in north London, is crammed with shoppers buying cheap French cheese, Spanish wine and German sausages. Four miles south, the City of London’s bankers meet with clients from across the continent. The chandeliers glittering above their heads may be powered by French energy company EDF, or Germany’s E.ON. Underpinning all of this is access to the European Union’s single market, which could soon disappear. 

The single market is based on the principle of free trade - specifically, removing barriers like tariffs and allowing the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour across borders.

The vote for Brexit has been mostly read as a protest against the last category. But immigration aside, the majority of British politicians would agree that access to the rest of the common market should be preserved as far as possible. This view is common among economists too.  A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in May 2016 predicted four varying economic outcomes. The main difference between the scenarios was the trade deal Britain had with the EU.

This reflects the wider liberal economic consensus of the nineties and early noughties. Back in the 1970s, Eurosceptics tended to be on the left and motivated by suspicion of free trade (in the first European referendum of 1975, a young left-wing activist named Jeremy Corbyn voted No). But others observed that European economies seemed to be thriving while British growth remained sluggish. Two-thirds of the public voted to become permanent members of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community. 

For younger voters, it can be hard to imagine an economy outside the single market. That is not least because there isn’t one opposite model. Instead, depending on what governments do, the consequences can be felt in multiple ways. 

Freed of free trade, governments can protect domestic companies. In 2009, the left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina revived a high import tax on electronics. This created the tech boom town among the penguins and sea lions of Tierra del Fuego.  In Britain, campaigners to save the steel industry have argued for some minor protectionist policies to shield it from a slump in demand. 

But protectionism tends to keep prices high. Argentina's tax made iPhones and tablets an unattainable luxury for most Argentinian consumers. Frivolous, perhaps, until you consider how many tech entrepreneurs were once kids mucking around with a computer.

In Britain, the 19th century Corn Laws whacked tariffs on imported grain, which benefited farmers, but forced hungry factory workers to pay more for their grain. After widespread protest and a famine in Ireland, the laws were repealed. 

Making up the rules also works both ways. Nearly half of British exports go to the EU. In a gloomy scenario, the EU could decide to impose tariffs that made it hard for British companies to compete on the continent.

Even without trade wars, Britain’s companies could be shut out for regulatory reasons, just like the US has banned French cheeses on health and safety grounds. Up till now, the EU and Britain have shared roughly the same quality controls. But if practices diverge, this could change. Except with Britain, the biggest risk isn’t to the cheddar industry, but to the financial services sector, which could find itself facing unfamiliar regulations and lose the right to operate from a London base outside the UK.

For those who oppose free trade of any sort, Brexit brings a chance to rethink the economy. But most Brexit negotiators are signed-up economic liberals. David Davis, the Brexit minister, said in July that “the first order of business” is to agree more free trade deals, not just with the EU but the rest of the world. 

Can Davis really persuade other countries to sign up? Britain’s most successful stint as a sole free trader was in the 19th century, when it could flood the rest of the world with the kind of cheap goods China does today. This time, it is the rest of the world setting the agenda.