Last Friday the advocacy group HOPE not hate launched a worrying new report, State of Hate 2018, which predicted that far-right terrorism is set to increase and that online radicalisation and anti-Muslim hatred has become a burgeoning problem.
The report reveals that an increasingly sophisticated and young set of activists are pushing these vile messages, much of it focused against Muslims and the idea that the ‘West’ is at a war with Islam. Unfortunately this re-affirms much about anti-Muslim hatred that I have seen since and heard I founded and started the Tell MAMA project in 2011, which monitors anti-Muslim hate and supports its victims.
I have seen a monumental shift in the activities of far-right groups, mirroring that reflected within State of Hate. The report states that “traditional British far-right groups are collapsing, with far-right inspired terrorism and violent extremism on the rise”. It talks about the “failure of authorities to fully recognise or tackle” the growing anti-Muslim hatred which rallies these groups at their core. It also points to a younger ‘tech-savvy’ generation that avoids the pitfalls of looking, sounding and giving the impression that they are a coterie of racists.
All of this is accurate. In 2011 when Tell MAMA was launched, my team and I saw the roots of an online coalition of anti-Muslim haters and national and international far-right groups developing. At the time, the English Defence League (EDL) was at its height mobilising anti-Muslim thugs on the streets, but by 2013 it could hardly mobilise more than 500 people. The group started to splinter, as the usual infighting within far-right groups and offshoots started.
Soon far-right activists realised that instead of marching on streets and being identified, they could go online and try and mask their identities. They opened up fake accounts promoting anti-Muslim hatred, using VPNs (Virtual Protocol Networks) and protected online web registrations to cover their tracks. At the time when we raised these issues with social media companies, in particular with Twitter (where a majority of the hate festered), our reports were not even acknowledged. It was clear that the reporting system was unmanaged, unmanageable and merely a front. It was a crude attempt to show social responsibility when, frankly, there was none.
In this failure to address hate, the networks of anti-Muslim hate grew online. Increasingly you could find views which said that ‘Muslims were all paedophiles and rapists’, that they were ‘secret Jihadists’, that they would ‘outbreed the rest of the population’ and ‘were trying to practice taqiyya’ [they had a religious dispensation to lie to everyone about ‘taking over’]. It was the language of what is called ‘counter-jihad’, that there was a Muslim plot to take over.
Such perverse anti-Muslim hate was allowed to fester and grow in the social media sphere. It spiked after every Islamist extremist atrocity, too. It was only a matter of time before someone took these views at their word. We saw the results with Darren Osborne and his attack on a crowd outside a Finsbury Park mosque last summer.
State of Hate 2018 also raises another fact that many of us could see. It highlights key nodal points of anti-Muslim activism, centred around central figures such as Stephen Lennon (EDL founder ‘Tommy Robinson’) and Paul Joseph Watson, the British editor of US conspiracy site InfoWars. An internal Tell MAMA survey in 2016 of these individuals’ followers showed that many were interconnected and that they often moved and amplified or aligned with a number of far-right activists online: activists who took an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and anti-EU stance.
Since Tell MAMA started to support victims of anti-Muslim hate and monitor what was happening across the country, it also became clear that Islamist-inspired terrorism was triggering a large spike in hate crimes and incidents against innocent Muslims, both online and off. HOPE not hate’s report suggests that these ‘spike points’ can be used to manipulate public anger and recruit to the far right cause.
For those working in the arena of countering extremism, it is clear that Islamist extremists and terrorists seek to snap the bonds, feelings and emotions that traverse and bind together different communities, races and religions. A world view emerges based on polarising communities, an us-and-them narrative that defines the West on one side and Muslims on the other.
The fact that hundreds of people have lost their lives because of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in the UK in the last decade means that we need to redouble our efforts to tackle both Islamist and far-right extremism. We need to do this with added vigour for the memory of those who have lost their lives, their families, as well as for the safety of all people in our country.
As far-right groups become more aggressive in their online posturing, many Muslims will be caught between a rock and a hard place. They abhor the violence that has killed fellow citizens in the name of their faith, while also fearing the greater volume of hate that is targeted at them online and in public discourse. To date, three Muslims have lost their lives in targeted attacks in our country, because of their faith.
We simply cannot let extremists continue in the manner they have done. We need to ensure that, where possible, we close down the social space for those who seek to harm our citizens, promote violence and who make threats against people which are criminal in nature. If anything, I hope that that HOPE not hate’s report is a wake up call for us all, that we must regroup for the challenges ahead and for the health of our nation.