Islamist extremists and the far right — the Klu Klux Klan, Daesh, Hezbollah, neo-Nazis, Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi and the alt-right — are part of the same disease. Both Islamist extremists and anti-Islamist extremists know they represent only a tiny minority, and that ramming a truck into a crowd of people will never in itself achieve their hateful objectives. They want to create a ripple effect by mobilizing the wider population against anyone who is different. They aspire to create a climate of fear and violence in which different faiths and cultures cannot coexist.
The rhetoric of Daesh and extreme nationalists is identical in demonizing those who look and think differently. They detest the diversity that is an inescapable part of today’s globalized civilization. They hate minorities — yet these extremists themselves are the true minorities.
Nevertheless, fascists and their media propagandists have been increasingly successful in setting the agenda; enticing ordinary people to fear those who adopt unfamiliar clothing or customs. Liberal values, tolerance, multiculturalism and especially “political correctness” have become dirty words to be sneered at.
In Britain there has been a firestorm over cases of groups of men of Pakistani origin trafficking girls for sexual abuse. The MP Sarah Champion was sacked as a Labour Party opposition spokesman after making inflammatory comments in the Sun newspaper, itself notorious for its virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stance. Champion wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.”
Rape and sexual predation aren’t the preserve of any particular ethnicity; yet a sensible discussion could be had about the factors that created a permissive environment for such crimes. Instead, disreputable parts of the media exploited these incidents to yet again incite hatred against Muslims.
The white supremacists in Charlottesville were protesting against the planned demolition of statues commemorating a history of slavery and oppression of non-white Americans. Donald Trump drew condemnation even from his own Republican Party when he called those who marched alongside the neo-Nazi thugs “good people.” He justified the preservation of racist monuments, while condemning anti-fascist protesters for marching without a permit.
“Good people” don’t join a Nazi march at which demonstrators wave swastikas and chant “Jews will not replace us.” If these monuments championing hatred are to be torn down, they should be replaced by statues celebrating heroism and humanity. There is no better nominee for being thus immortalized than Heather Heyer, the civil rights activist mown down by a white supremacist in Charlottesville for daring to take a stand against racism. Another deserving figure is the British MP Jo Cox, the founder of Friends of Syria, who was murdered last year by a right-wing extremist who took exception to Cox’s support of refugees. We should celebrate all those who give their lives standing up for tolerance and coexistence.
The events in Barcelona and Charlottesville are depressing, but we should never lose sight of the fact that the sources of such evil are a tiny minority.
Many world leaders managed only belated and tepid responses to Trump’s outrageous comments. Binyamin Netanyahu habitually vociferously denounces any tiniest glimmers of anti-Semitism. However, when the US president defended actual Nazis chanting anti-Jewish slogans on American streets, Bibi became uncharacteristically bashful.
The fact that his son-in-law is an orthodox Jew in no way excuses Trump’s defense of neo-Nazis; it further exposes his ignorance of history and the wider world. We can only hope that those closest to him have privately expressed their disgust. Perhaps this belatedly resulted in the (very welcome) firing of alt-right ideologue Steve Bannon from the White House.
Commentators have looked foolish by precipitously predicting Trump’s political demise, but surely the laws of political gravity must apply at some time and Trump will ultimately take everybody else down with him. Republicans are gradually realizing that this president is discrediting their party and America. They are distancing themselves, not wanting to be caught in the inevitable carnage.
Within living memory, the world witnessed what happened when Nazis and racists were allowed to gain power. The likes of Heather Heyer and Jo Cox were absolutely right to stand against the same fanaticism that murdered six million European Jews during the Second World War. There can be no moral equivalency.
It has never been truer that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If we don’t want our world falling into the hands of swastika-waving preachers of hatred and armies of intolerance, let us — the majority of right-thinking citizens — regain the initiative with our infinitely larger armies of unity and love.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.