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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.