This flawed notion should be trashed. What happens in the US impacts the rest of the world. Extremist ideologies do not respect borders, and trends in the US metastasize faster across the world than from anywhere else. While the hate on show in Virginia was largely against Jews, blacks and Muslims, it targets all non-whites and all whites who dare fraternize with them.
White supremacists were the first to hail (or is it heil?) President Donald Trump’s plans for a total ban on Muslims entering the US. Hitler set up Nazi groups in the US such as the German American Bund, which in 1939 had a 20,000-strong rally in Madison Square Gardens in New York.
Such groups have a fascination with Middle East politics. Alarmingly, far-right figures such as David Duke tend to be admirers of such figures as Bashar Assad. In Charlottesville, some of the hate mob were even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Syrian president, shouting: “Assad did nothing wrong.”
We can thank Trump for at least one thing. His fence-sitting, prevarication and perceived tolerance of white supremacism has inadvertently raised awareness of the issue a thousand-fold, and not just in the US. Until Trump, white supremacists had committed acts of terror on US soil, but they were not given global attention in the manner that the horrific scenes in Charlottesville have.
Research shows that over the past eight years, right-wing extremism in the US has accounted for nearly twice the number of domestic terrorist incidents than Islamist extremists. Research also shows that Nazism is not a 20th-century phenomenon, but a resurgent and dangerous movement that needs addressing. In the US, there are 133 KKK groups. A dangerous reminder of this threat happened on Aug. 14 in Oklahoma, when the FBI arrested a far-right extremist attempting to blow up a van packed with explosives.
External actors should not brush this off as a product of deep-rooted issues in the US; many countries suffer from similar or related issues. Far-right extremism, white supremacism and neo-Nazism is alive and flourishing in Europe. It was only in 2011 that white supremacist Anders Breivik killed 77 people in a terrorist attack in Norway. The latest figures in England and Wales show that a hate crime is committed every seven minutes, or 171 per day. Anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hate crimes seem to be on a permanent upward curve.
Is there not more than an uncomfortable similarity between white supremacists and Daesh adherents, who are to be found not just in Muslim-majority countries but across the globe? Notorious alt-right leader Richard Spencer has spoken admiringly of Daesh.
Moreover, in the West Bank armed ideological Israeli settlers commit regular acts of violence against Palestinian civilians, advocating their extermination in the most extreme cases. Lest we forget as well, there are 193 black separatist groups in the US, mostly anti-white and anti-Jewish.
While the global response to Daesh has been understandably dramatic, even if inept — ranging from bombing to sanctions to terror lists — the international community has done next to nothing to counter other supremacist groups that pose a significant risk to our societies.
While the hate on show in Virginia was largely against Jews, blacks and Muslims, it targets all non-whites and all whites who dare fraternize with them.
Trump was right to ask: “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” He also proclaimed: “We cannot accept those who reject our values, and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent.” The problem is, he was only referring to Islamist extremism, not other forms.
What about social media and online hate? World leaders have queued up to insist that all the tech giants, from Google to Facebook to Twitter, take serious action against Daesh and Al-Qaeda media output. Yet Nazi publications are prolific on the Internet, and leading white supremacists can be seen on YouTube videos.
It took until November 2016 for Twitter to determine that Spencer’s account should be suspended, only to be reinstated in December. The Daily Stormer could not be more vile, yet it hides behind US freedom of expression laws. Very few Nazis and their fellow travelers are hit with travel bans. Where are the voluminous studies and documentaries on how the young are being recruited by such groups?
How did Alexandre Bissonnette get sucked into this ideology, to the extent that he attacked an Islamic cultural center in Quebec in January, killing six Muslims? Canada has more than 100 far-right extremist groups, and the KKK is active there. Bissonnette was particularly influenced by French far-right groups, especially the National Front.
The numbers of all such extremists, including Daesh, may not be huge, but their ability to kill and destroy is significant. What is more alarming is the extent to which the mainstream debate has shifted more in the extremist direction. Tackling all forms of hate and extremism may take decades, but if we are to hold our societies together, it is a struggle that must be won.
• Chris Doyle is the director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first-class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. He tweets @Doylech