Results released around the number of referrals to the Government’s counter-terrorism community strand, Prevent, have shown a sharp rise in people suspected of being influenced by far-right rhetoric.
This rise, a staggering 36%, has happened in a year where the actions of far-right groups have become more and more visible and better understood, and we have seen the toxic narrative of ‘victim-building’ allied to anti-Muslim and anti-migrant rhetoric.
As the founder and former director of Tell MAMA, I could see this problem coming even before the Islamist terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in 2013, given the anti-Muslim sentiment awash on social media sites.
Platforms like Twitter simply did nothing when hatred stalked across their service. They took the uber-liberal position that the ‘market of ideas’ would mean that ‘good wins over evil’.
That naivety and their desire to monetise their platform meant that ideas about Muslims, asylum seekers and migrants, and of a ‘cultural war’ against Europe by those seeking to Islamicise it and ‘outbreed’ the ‘indigenous’ (read: white) population, took root.
These narratives played to an orientalist and highly racist perception of Muslims, who became the new bogeyman community within: fifth columnists who were a threat. This was not helped by Islamist extremists and terrorists re-affirming these twisted narratives by murdering innocent people on our streets in Europe in the name of Allah.
It was, however, after the murder of Lee Rigby that far-right groups learnt that their messaging was being consumed far and wide through social media. Before, if they sold four magazines on a grubby street corner, it was a good day.
Britain First and the English Defence League alone racked up millions of followers and likes on social platforms, while alt-right and far-right You Tube channels and other social media outlets opened up.
These far-right extremists and their followers could suddenly network with each other to push through their messaging – and that messaging was highly divisive based on race, ‘white culture’ and civilisation versus the (supposed) ‘rape culture’ of Muslims and Africans. This is just one example of the fear that they pushed whilst playing to the view that the future of the UK was based on marginalising and stripping British Muslims of equal rights. These views have even taken root in UKIP with current leader Gerard Batten.
I can hedge a bet that many of the current crop of far-right referrals are coming from educational establishments where young people are still accessing social media content espousing these hateful views. While such channels have stripped back much of the violent discourse from far-right groups, what is now left are individuals and groups who still promote the narrative of ‘them versus us’.
Much of the victim-building pushed by such groups would not have resonated 10 years ago. However, while social media platforms provided large megaphones for the haters, the social drivers for young men has come about as austerity has stripped back opportunity in some of the most deprived parts of our country.
These young men, often with legitimate grievances about being unable to get work, pick up the easy and lazy narrative pushed by extremist groups that their hardship is the fault of Europe, Muslims, asylum seekers and migrants. Layered onto these grievances are something even more inflammatory, narratives exploited to the full extent by far-right groups: the abuse of young white girls by groups of predominantly Asian men of Pakistani heritage.
The narrative peddles is that rape is a specifically Asian, and more important, ‘Muslim’ affliction – when there is nothing in the Qu’ran to ever justify this sort of atrocious behaviour. The whole narrative has been that ‘our women’ have been abused, thereby placing the young girls – the victims – into the middle of a political battle, rather than campaigning for their rights and wellbeing.
This is the nexus of what I call the ‘perfect toxic storm’ that has led to where we are, with the rise in these far-right Prevent referrals. Social media, austerity and major national crises such as terrorist attacks and the grooming scandals have super-energised the far right. Their simple messaging has been consumed by many who have legitimate grievances or who are just angry with their lives and their world.
Yet, I suspect that next year, the rate of far-right referrals will again be higher – and this is because the impact of Brexit has yet to be felt. When we leave, will there be a rise in support for such extremist groups? Judging by the rise in hate incidents against minority groups after the Brexit vote, I hope that I am proved wrong. The last thing our country needs, are more young minds being drawn to far right or Islamist extremism. A pox on both of their houses!