By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“What factors cause individuals to reject violent extremism in Yemen,” is the title of a new report by Rand. It has seven authors. It’s “related” topics, according to those chosen by the publication are “Al Qaida”, “counterterrorism”, “terrorism”, “violence”, “Yemen.”
The article asks several questions. Why do people engage in “political violence.” Why might they reject “violent extremism”? What about rejecting political violence and radicalization? It provides a laundry list of ways to undermine “violent extremism” but most of them seem counterintuitive. “Yemenis view political violence as a form of activism, so redirected pathways – or participation in nonviolent activism – do not diminish a propensity for violence.” Buried in one bullet point is the mention of “religious leaders,” although the study apparently shows that they “do not affect individual radicalization in one clear direction.” Another article about “extremism” that doesn’t articulate its topic or who it is talking about or who the perpetrators are.
The term “violent extremism” has become the convenient way for governments, media, and law enforcement to code “Islamist terror” into something that is general and, for them, inoffensive. The FBI has a webpage about it, the AP reports that Germany just detained nine men with links to “violent extremism.” The White House even has a budget to counter “violent extremism.” The UN has conferences on it. “The virulent spread of violent extremism has greatly troubled the international community over the last several years. Violent extremist groups are posing a direct assault on the United Nations Charter.”
Behind the mask of “violent extremism” reports sometimes tell you who is actually involved. The AP report about Germany noted that men detained had links to “Islamic extremism.” The term was carefully thought out and policymakers, such as Richard Stengel have defended using it. The purveyors of the term had best intentions at heart, but the consequences are paving a road to a hell of ignorance.
The reality is that the term encourages ignorance and serves as a way to whitewash, excuse and misdirect attention away from the intolerance and far right Islamist religious hatred that underpins the “violent extremism.” Let’s take a little trip back in time to the Catholic Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the KKK and the Nazis. Reading up on the hysteria of burning of witches in Europe and the US, the hand of the church and religious persecution is never hidden behind some amorphous phrase like “violent extremism.” Violent extremism didn’t kill witches. People killed alleged witches. Religious people. Churches. It has been called gendercide. A 2015 article in The New Yorker about the events in Salem, don’t mention “violent extremism.” The article notes, “Neither age, fortune, gender, nor church membership offered immunity; prominent men stood accused alongside homeless five-year-old girls.” It wasn’t violent extremism that sought them out, it was church goers, caught up in religious hysteria.
When we teach about the Inquisition, there is no question about who ran it and why. “The crime of heresy was defined as a deliberate denial of an article of truth of the Catholic faith, and a public and obstinate persistence in that alleged error.” No mention of “violent extremism,” but a clear explanation of the connection between religious intolerance and the Inquisition.
Yale University maintains a webpage about the “Negro Holocaust” relating to the acts of the KKK. Blacks were lynched for no reason at all other than race prejudice.” Clear. No need to hide this behind “violent extremism.” It was racism, or race prejudice.
When the BBC explains Nazi ideology, it doesn’t use the term “violent extremism.” It says Hitler joined a “far right” movement and believed that “Communists and Jews, who had to be destroyed. It says Nazism appealed to racists who believed “Jews should not be German citizens and immigration should be stopped.” Quite clear.
Every other violent extremist movement in history can be described exactly as it is. Religious extremism. Racist Aryan supremacy. White supremacy. Catholic Inquisition. No fear to label the church or religion or group involved. Only when it comes to Islamist far right terror does the mind grind to a halt and everyone rush to claim it is something other than it is. “Make no mistake about it: the attack at Manchester Arena was an attack on young women. Violent fundamentalists often find young women enjoying themselves the most infuriating prospect,” writes one author. Violent fundamentalists are like violent extremists, an amorphous, generalized description that refuses to acknowledge the reality.
To turn the Nazis into “violent extremists” refuses to acknowledge who is the target and who is the perpetrator. If you label the KKK just “violent extremists” you refuse to discuss racism as a motivating factor and whiteness as the determining factor of being a perpetrator. To deny that the KKK were white or to try to confuse the race issue as simply being “KKK are not real white people” or “most whites are not KKK” is a way to hide what the KKK was. Every white person is not a member of the KKK, but every KKK member was white. Victims were singled out not randomly, but for a reason, and primarily black people paid the price of this racism. To pretend that the Inquisition wasn’t carried out by “real Christians” is simply a way to whitewash the intolerance within the church.
How do you defeat Nazism, the KKK, the Inquisition or Witch burnings without attacking the theology and ideology behind it? How to raise a generation not to be the KKK if you refuse to acknowledge that white racism is the problem and teach tolerance to white people and go after the roots of racism in that community?
So how do you reduce Islamist extremist far right intolerance that leads to terror if you just generalize it into “extremism” or pretend every perpetrator is not “really Muslim,” and is in fact just something else, a drug addict, a criminal, as if he just randomly built a bomb and killed people. How many Ahamdi and Shia Muslims carry out Islamist Jihadist attacks? How many Sikhs do? How many Buddhists? To ignore the defining feature of today’s terror, the religious aspect, the far right leanings, the hatred, the intolerance, the dehumanization of the ‘other’ that is behind it, makes it impossible to address.
This is the intention of the Orwellian term “violent extremism.” It was designed to not “offend” countries like Saudi Arabia and also to not offend communities in the West. But it didn’t work to prevent ISIS. People were talking against “extremism” in 2014 and 5,000 EU citizens joined ISIS. Many of them boasted openly of “killing the kuffar” on social media and no one said anything. Because no one wanted to say that anyone who speaks about “kuffar” is using a far right Islamist terminology, similar to Nazis speaking about “degenerates” and that is the problem. From the time “violent extremism” because a catch-phrase for Islamist far right terror, the amount of far right Islamist terror has increased, because no one wants to go address it. Everytime there is a terror attack, the perpetrator’s motive and background is hidden, his social media posts, his intolerance, his specific ideological views, are hidden from view, so that we cannot see the clear development of religious bigotry, but instead have to see something random. A “soccer fan,” and a normal person who suddenly just kills people. This despite the fact friends warned about the man’s support for murder.
Columbia University Press didn’t mind publishing a book about “Jewish terrorism in Israel.” The Guardian has published about Hindu terrorism. Time has covered “extremist Buddhist monks.” When it comes to every other religious group media and governments are not afraid to discuss religious terror. Calling something Hindu terror or Jewish terror is apparently not offensive. No need to hide it behind “violent extremism.” Only with Islamist or Islamic terror, is there a need to hide behind Orwellian language.
Ironically it is with the largest religious terror in the world that the greatest is done to hide it. Al-Shabab, the Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, Islamic State, and a thousand other groups openly say what they are. They say they are Islamic and they are trying to rid their countries of “kuffar” and they openly target minorities, churches, synagogues, Shia, Ahmadis, Sufi shrines and an endless list. Everyday there are attacks throughout the world, just this week in the Philippines, Kenya, Somalia, Iraq, Jakarta, the UK and elsewhere. There are canings of gay men in Indonesia, threats to Christians in Sinai, all of it based on a religious-driven ideology of far right Islamist hatred.
And yet Orwellian mind poisoning comes and says “violent extremism.” Rarely in history have so many resources been invested in pretending something is different than what it is. In 1934 New York mayor La Guardia denounced the Nazis and was critiqued for it by FDR. Newspapers whitewashed Stalinism in the 1930s as well. George Bernard Shaw whitewashed Stalin’s mass murder. Historically there were excuses for racism in the Old South, for Apartheid as well. But generally these excuses didn’t work very long. Those who pretended Hitler just wanted peace and was angry about the Versailles treaty, eventually realized the Nazism was an ideology of racial hatred designed to conquer and exterminate. Those who excused the KKK and enjoyed Birth of a Nation eventually faded.
When will “violent extremism” and our Orwellian world order fade? When will we decide that if you don’t confront the root cause of hatred and intolerance and far right bigotry that underpins Islamist terror, it will not stop. Media prefers opeds blaming terror on “the West’s bombings” or on “male violence” or “drugs and criminality.” Everything but the one thing that determines whether a person becomes a terrorist. Take 10,000 male, drug addicted criminals. Only the one that decides he will start listening to the far right intolerant Islamist preacher, whether on Youtube or at some back-alley mosque, or perhaps after traveling to Syria or elsewhere, will become a terrorist. There was one determining factor in Nazi and KKK violence, joining the SS, putting on a bed sheet and going to a meeting. It isn’t random.
When a person decides to drive a car into people, or behead a priest or blow up a concert, he has gone through many choices of “extremism,” he could have been a soccer hooligan, a petty criminal, an anarchist, or in a motorcycle gang, he chose one thing that is religious hatred as a motivation. That’s why he seeks out a synagogue or a kosher deli, or kills women at a concert, or targets Shia or Ahmadis, Sikhs or gay men. “Violent extremism” doesn’t tell you the “why.” It describes violence. But not the motive of the perpetrator and the kind of victims. In that it is an Orwellian term that poisons the mind.