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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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution