Pandering To The Far Right Is No Way To Counter Them

Placating radical right rhetoric will not stop the EDL, Pegida and the rest of the angry acronym brigade
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If you want a definition of not being able to see the wood for the trees, look no further than those who are spending their time arguing over whether ‘no Brexit’ or ‘no deal’ would be the best recruiter for the far right. The truth is that radical right extremism – as I prefer to call it - is a metastasising challenge, one that seeks to attach itself to any bandwagon; to bend any situation to fit a warped ideology. It is what the far right do. It is how they stay alive. The challenge for decent people is not pandering or placating but tackling the threat at source. The question is how best to do this.

That the xenophobic underbelly of some Brexit rhetoric closely parallels longstanding radical right talking points in Britain is, frankly, a boil that needs to be lanced if the country’s divisions are to be overcome. These roots go some way to explaining the spike in hate crime recorded immediately following the vote to leave the European Union. For example, between 16 June and 30 June 2016 – just 14 days – more than 3,000 hate crime incidents were reported to the police: an increase of 42% from the previous year. Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Craig Mackey argued that the Brexit vote had ‘unleashed something in people’. This was no coincidence. Fast forward two and a half years and we have groups harassing politicians in the street, their threats of extremist violence cloaked within the language of Brexit and a yellow vest.

These are all effects, not causes, of Britain’s radical right moving toward the mainstream in recent years. That the mainstream seems all too happy in moving rightward to meet it only compounds a problem that every specialist I know thinks is getting worse. The radical right is getting more emboldened, more sophisticated organisationally, and less afraid of the stigmas of being labelled ‘racist’ or ‘extremist’. This is true of the likes of the EDL, Pegida, the DFLA and the rest of the angry acronym brigade marching on our streets.

Combatting the radical right requires two things. First, doubling down on liberal self-confidence and political leadership is a must. If these values are worth a damn, now is the time to defend them. But just as important, in the longer term, is recognising both the appeal and the destructiveness presented by the radical right’s scavenger ideology. ‘White genocide’, ‘Islamification’, ‘America/Britain/et. al. First’ and the rest are merely the latest variations on old toxic themes. Understanding the different faces of the radical right in Britain has never been so important as today.

In simple terms, pandering to the far right is no way to defeat them. Knowledge and informed, sensitive intervention are. This means listening to former right-wing extremists, and supporting grass-roots organisations working to counter hatred and extremism. And it means extending counter-narrative initiatives like those launched by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Individuals can contribute too, by galvanising themselves – and by extension, those around them – against the torrent of far right disinformation corroding online spaces. At the very least, get reading: the threat of the radical right is not going away anytime soon. My centre publishes new analysis of radical right extremism every day; it is cutting edge and accessible.

As an educator, working with young people to better understand the nature and messaging of the radical right today is at the top of my agenda. For example, activists from Generation Identity have been targeting students in Manchester with extremist stickering and local activism in recent months. Their slick and shiny message belies the group’s sinister agenda. Helping young people to recognise and counter GI UK and other radical right groups’ propaganda means confronting these narratives head on.

For Manchester Hate Crime Awareness Week this year, my colleagues and I hosted events that provide training on the ideology, tactics and narratives used by extremists. We addressed local grievances and try to understand the nuances, the pathways of hatred, and the experience of survivors.

Let’s refrain from boring people with theory or abstract concepts, and instead take up more difficult conversations. After all, this is just simple safeguarding, countering extremists and empowering credible voices. This applies to the radical right and jihadi Islamists alike, who agree on two things: disgust with equality and human rights, and the value of attacking community cohesion locally and nationally.

Let’s make their jobs harder by standing up for one another, or, in the wonderful words of Margaret Mead, of individually being the change we want to see in the world.

Professor Matthew Feldman is director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right


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