The current crisis is a gift for the far right

These groups feed off a growing discontent and mistrust towards immigrant populations. How can they

Extreme right-wing ideology across both sides of the Atlantic has traditionally been rooted by notions of singular identity bounded in place and space. But it today's post-9/11 era and its ensuing war on terror, a clash of civilization-style narrative has fuelled the emergence of a common enemy uniting the various disjointed identities. Commonality in hatred, fear and othering has become a transnational phenomenon in today's information age.

While Europe and the US have dealt with the problem of organised far-right groups for decades, the evolving nature of the elevated identity requires an evolution in approach to overcome what represents a major internal security challenge for Nato nations.

Firstly, the infiltration of Islamophobic narratives in mainstream discourses needs to be noted. It appears to be the strategy of far-right pundits in the US and activists in the UK to highlight, increasingly, the 'failure' of Muslim communities to integrate into mainstream life. They accuse immigrants of being responsible for the creation of ghettos; profiteering from social security systems and taking away jobs that 'belong' to 'indigenous' communities. The proliferation of this perspective, along with increasingly aggressive tactics, particularly in the UK and Holland (such as far-right demonstrations in areas with a high Muslim population) inflames community tension, costs millions of dollars to police and appears designed to provoke a violent response from the Muslim community.

Exacerbated by the current global financial crisis, these groups feed off a growing discontent/mistrust that some American/European whites have towards immigrant populations and government in general. These groups can be exploited by hostile external actors and thus provide platforms for hostile interventions.

The electoral success of the far right in Europe has increasingly legitimised their exclusionist narratives in media circles and, perhaps more dangerously, has led to the open adoption of many of their views by more 'mainstream' right wing thinkers/appeasers. There has also been a recent increase in attacks by such groups, from the notorious massacre by Anders Breivik in Norway to an increase in vandalism towards mosques and harassment of Muslims on streets.

In the US, anti-Muslim rhetoric has been openly used by politicians including some former US presidential candidates. All this activity is correlated with a dramatic increase in the numbers of supporters, funding and visibility for far-right causes, and is linked to greater cross-Atlantic co-operation between far-right groups. This cooperation takes the shape of intellectual exchange, direct financial support and joint misinformation projects.

We must not underestimate the capacity of these groups to exploit the multitude of overlapping crises facing Western societies by funneling populist frustration through this vehicle. In the age of globalisation, the West faces not only a panoply of interconnected global crises - financial instability; environmental degradation; food inflation; energy insecurity; state-failure; international terrorism - there is also an increased propensity for shocks and grievances in one sector to be swiftly transmitted to other sectors due to the power of global communications. Far-right extremists exploit these interconnections by providing simplistic explanations based on identity politics, scapegoating particular communities while obfuscating the real causes of social problems - and, more dangerously, offering a course of action that can potentially lead to mass violence

Our leaders should respond to this threat by actively building cross-Atlantic networks to facilitate co-operation among anti-extremist activist groups, media portals and policy makers. Europe can learn from the success of the US multicultural model, while the US can learn from the challenges Europe faces in integrating diaspora communities, with the ultimate aim of developing a new inclusive vision for a multi-ethnic Western polity.

The next 5-10 years are likely to see a disturbing consolidation of these groups into a political force with the potential to significantly influence and transform the political landscape. It is therefore critical that leaders amongst the transatlantic community begin taking this challenge more seriously. Politicians should seek to address the root causes driving disenfranchisement, while taking active efforts to purge extremist views from their discourse.

Equally, politicians should seek ways of criminalising some of the actions of these groups. More light needs to be shed on the financing of these networks and efforts need to be made to names and shame the individuals that finance their campaigns and actions. Finally, increased financial support is necessary for organisations combating such prejudices, while mainstream right wing parties must concertedly disavow extremist rhetoric and intensify outreach to minority communities.

Muddassar Ahmed is founder and the Chief Executive of Unitas Communications Ltd, a London based international communications agency. Cenk Sidar is the managing director of Sidar Global Advisors, a Washington-DC based strategic advisory and research firm. Sidar and Ahmed are both members of Young Atlanticist NATO Working Group.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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