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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How Tony Blair's disingenuous line on Iraq eroded our faith in politicians

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne reveals how Blair exagerrated evidence from the intelligence services to parliament – and the public.

In this incisive book, Peter Oborne calls the invasion of Iraq “the defining calamity of the post-Cold War era” and I am inclined to agree. Not long after the March 2003 attack, I interviewed Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and UN ambassador for Iraq. He told me that he had visited President George W Bush in Washington a few weeks before the invasion and begged him not to go ahead with it. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein would, Pachachi warned, lead inevitably to civil war between Iraq’s two main religious groupings, the Sunnis and the Shias. Bush was shocked. According to Pachachi, he had no idea that any such division among Muslims existed.

Granted, Bush was an ignoramus – but you would have thought that someone might have explained this crucial fact to him. Pachachi turned out to be right. Iraq has fallen into a disastrous religious civil war as a direct result of the invasion and Isis, a more extreme force even than al-Qaeda, has come to the fore. Nearly 5,000 coalition soldiers died; many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, perhaps a million, have lost their lives; and the man who led the whole terrible business didn’t know that the danger even existed.

Pachachi, like many politicians across the Middle East, found this puzzling. The US had never understood the Middle East, he said, but the British did; so why hadn’t Tony Blair warned the Americans what was going to happen? We know the answer to that: although Blair was far cleverer than Bush and had better advisers, his approach was always a subservient one. Like the entire British establishment, he believed that Britain’s influence in the world depended on sticking close to the US and he was prepared to be led around on a leash because he knew that this was the only relationship Bush’s people understood or wanted from him.

To “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Bush – at least, to stand closer behind him, head bowed, than any other national leader – Blair had to persuade the British people that Saddam posed a threat to them. Oborne, in fine forensic form, demolishes (his word) the notion that Blair was simply repeating what the intelligence services had told him about Saddam’s weapons and capability; he shows that Blair exaggerated and misrepresented the intelligence he was given.

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who had investigated the government’s pre-invasion use of intelligence, said the same thing in a speech in the House of Lords in 2007. He described Blair’s approach as “disingenuous”: mandarin-speak for dishonest. Oborne quotes Butler at length:

 

The United Kingdom intelligence community told him [Blair] on 23 August 2002 that, “We . . . know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988.” The prime minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”.

 

Oborne’s central point is that this dishonesty has done serious damage to the fundamental trust that the British people used to have in their rulers. There are all sorts of reasons why people have lost faith in politicians but it was the charismatic Blair – along with his head of communications, Alastair Campbell – who let us down the most.

Campbell is a former journalist who, even when he was the political editor of the Daily Mirror, seemed far more concerned with pushing a party line than with trying to report things truthfully. In May 2003, the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan accused him of “sexing up” the dossier on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Campbell was irate. In July, Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence weapons expert who had briefed Gilligan, committed suicide. If, indeed, it was suicide – once you start losing faith in the ­official version of things, there is no end to it. And that is Oborne’s point.

Kelly’s death was followed by the scandalous Hutton inquiry, which managed to deflect attention from the questionable nature of the dossier to the way in which Gilligan had reported on it. However, although Kelly wasn’t a sufficiently senior source for Gilligan to base his report on, there is no doubt that Gilligan was essentially right: the intelligence dossier had been grossly hyped up. Campbell’s frenzied efforts to protect himself and Blair did huge damage to the BBC, the judiciary, the intelligence and security agencies and public trust in government.

Oborne’s excellent book is clear-headed and furious in its condemnation of Blair. But what about the Chilcot report, when it appears on 6 July? The ludicrous delay in publishing it has given people the expectation that it, too, will be a whitewash. Yet we are starting to get leaks that it won’t be – that it will be just as savage as Oborne would like. That is the only way we can start to drain the poison that has built up in our national life since Blair took the calamitous decision to follow the US into invading a country that its president knew zip about.

John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) is the world affairs editor of the BBC

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne is published by Head of Zeus (208pp, £10)

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad