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Extreme Right and Islamic Extremists: an evident comparison?

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The problems related to security, lack of dialogue between different cultures and religions, as well as the issues relating to mass migrations, are increasingly influencing the political and social confrontation in different parts of the world.

The further establishment of extreme Islamist movements in Middle East and Africa, paired with the parallel rise of extreme right parties in Europe, are progressively creating hurdles to pacific confrontation and development, apparently fuelling each other’s violence in words as in actions.

In this short article, we will try to reflect on the similarities between such extremist movements by constructing an empirical comparison between them.

The new challenges to the stability of contemporary society – as the difficulties of integrating the rising number of foreign workers and the perceived hurdles of the dialogue of civilizations – are more and more pushing towards polarization and extremization of political confrontation. With part of the mass media – especially in the so-called “Western” world – apparently putting (in bona fide or not) the focus only on the threats to the consolidated democratic way of life from large religiously-driven terrorist organizations, the analysis on how different forms of extremism are developing themselves is lacking an important aspect: the comparison between socio-political modus operandi of Islamic extremists and far right extremists.

While the analogy between Islamic extremist movements of the past – characterized by authoritarianism and racist elements – and the ideological predecessor of the European Extreme Right – i.e. Italian Fascism and German Nazism – has already been drawn and analysed in academic literature, the comparison between current Islamic extremism and current European Extreme Right political parties has not been attempted yet. Before delving into the crux of the issue, it is necessary to map out the essential features defining a diverse array of European Extreme Right political parties, such as the Italian Lega Nord, the British BNP (British National Party), and the Swiss SVP (Swiss People’s Party). To begin with, the European Extreme Right parties construct their identity in a negative way, since they delineate their identity features as opposed to a seemingly threatening “Other”, precisely immigrants in general, Muslim immigrants in particular. At this point it is worth, for the sake of clarity, making a brief digression to point out that the concept of the Other is rooted in the Hegelian notion that the definition of the identity of the self hinges on the definition of the identity of a negative Other, which is inherently different from the self. Consequently, the following Extreme Right’s features are to be considered as remarking the opposition between the European, Western self, also defined as the in-group, and its negative Other, also referred to as the out-group.

This said, we can start by pointing out xenophobia as an essential feature of the Extreme Right. Xenophobia, sadly, is an almost omnipresent feature of a not-properly developed (or simply “gone bad”) multicultural society: it is exploited by such parties as a main aggregator for unsatisfied citizens blaming problems (be them theirs, or of society in general) on the different “other”. Its ideology stresses the importance of the native ethnicity vis-à-vis the out-group. For instance, the BNP emphasizes the belonging to the British ethnic group, though vague the concept of ethnicity may be in this case. Indeed, the Extreme Right adheres to and promotes a form of nationalism of the ethnic type, conceptualizing the belonging to the nation as ascribed by blood, primitive, and irrational. It follows that the Extreme Right takes on an anti-immigration stance, thus appealing to public anxieties and frustration over the Other, which is depicted as a danger to the integrity and the security of the ethnic nation. Interestingly, it should be noted that some extreme right parties as the Lega Nord debuted by promoting an “intra-national” racism, fomenting discord between citizens of the same country originating from different areas, regions or cities.

Secondly, an anti-establishment position characterizes the Extreme Right. Extreme Right political parties are, indeed, often populist, as they harshly criticize the existing political, social, and economic structure of their respective states and, in doing so, they intend to appeal to the people as a whole. On the contrary, they do not appeal to the elites, which are deemed responsible for the grievances affecting their states. Within the frame of their anti-establishment stance, the European Extreme Right parties are hostile to traditional democracy, linked to diversity and liberal values, and are in favour of a form of post/ pseudo-democratic politics. Thirdly, authoritarianism distinguishes the Extreme Right political parties. In fact, they promote repressive and quasi-violent measures in the field of security, which ties into the discussion about the Extreme Right’s anti-immigration stance. For instance, the BNP, the Lega Nord and the SVP advocate the introduction of the death penalty and promote the expulsion of clandestine immigrants. Finally, the European Extreme Right upholds reactionary values, promoting traditions vis-à-vis modernity, and showing a deep nostalgia towards an idealized past, when the ethnic nation was, in their opinion, pure, safe, and unspoilt by the Other.

Turning the focus onto Islamic extremism, it is possible to start finding analogies. The first and most apparent one regards, not surprisingly, xenophobia: the West, for a paradoxical twist of fate, becomes Islamic extremism’s threatening Other. Some examples of this can be seen in Boko Haram fundamental ideology – the same very name of the organization literally translates to “Western education is forbidden”, which conveys its acute anti-Western stance that is ultimately driven (very often violently) against Western-style educational institutions and Western-derived religious institutions. Similarly, IS is antagonistic to the West, planning terror attacks against it and unleashing pitiless violence against Christians in the Middle East and more recently in Northern Africa via its affiliate sub-organizations. It is important to underline, however, Islamic extremism does not emphasize (yet) the belonging to any ethnic nation, but rather the belonging to Islam: it is not possible to classify it as a form of ethnic nationalism, as the Extreme Right is. Paradoxically, Islamic extremism can be considered as “inclusive” when compared to the other kind of extremism since that adhering to its religion can open its doors to foreigners, as seen with the various “foreign fighters” who joined the ranks of IS.

Secondly, similarly to the Extreme Right, Extremist Islamic organizations have an anti-establishment hue which, however, is expressed in a different way. Ideologically, Islamic terrorists oppose democracy – in particular, Western/European-inspired democratic values and institutions – because they are seen as Western, foreign and non-native imposed product. Practically, this is expressed by the direct violent attacks to institutions and their representatives, as well as different attempts to boycott elections or other steps of the democratic process. The capacity of appealing to the people as a whole – provided they are Muslim – is an important lever for consensus, especially when new followers are made by capitalizing on the problems of the (more or less) democratic institutions of the countries where extremists operate. Corruption, inequalities and widespread poverty, and are among the main reasons which helped the establishment (and the strengthening) of such organizations. This way, thanks to a general feebleness of the institutional structure – summed up with a lesser, or simply different, acceptance of often European-derived institutions – Islamic extremist organizations arrange their fight with more violent means, often leaving the political dialogue in favour of menaces and attacks or various nature. This way, even if such organizations (like IS and its parent groups, as well as Boko Haram) share with the Extreme right the element of authoritarianism, the different socio-political and historical context in which they are active influences their modus operandi. If it is legitimate to think how a different and better consolidated institutional framework could have influenced the formation of extremist religious movements, it is interesting to think what could have happened in a far weaker and lesser interconnected Europe, with an eye on the history books and the first establishment of far right regimes in the Old Continent.

As a last point, an easier analogy to be analysed is the one that can be drawn between Islamic extremism, in particular IS, and Fascism. The neologism “Islamofascism” has been coined to describe the similarity between Islamic extremism and the Italian Fascism. This analogy allows for a greater range of elements to be included in the analysis, in addition to a xenophobic and anti-establishment ideology, and an authoritarian and reactionary strategy. For instance, both Fascism and Islamic extremism are movements that depict themselves as the liberators ushering in a golden age, which will benefit the masses and lift them out of economic, social, and political crises. Moreover, both movements are driven by the willingness to form an empire. While Fascism dreamt of building an Italian Empire, in order to revive the imperialist glories of Ancient Rome, IS and Boko Haram want to create (or re-create, in some specific regional cases) an Islamic caliphate trespassing state borders and resembling an empire in dimensions and rule.

To sum up, the European Extreme Right and Islamic extremism share a xenophobic and anti-establishment ideology and an authoritarian, reactionary strategy. Moreover, they both exploit the population’s discontent regarding the existing economic, social, and political conditions. However, probing beyond the surface, these movements are not fully comparable. Indeed, the Extreme Right’s anti-immigration stance is alien to Islamic extremism, due to the different context in which the two movements operate.

On such bases, could be useful to make a last reflection: are such movements “sons of their times”, sprouting from an unexpressed miscontent for determined living conditions, or are they the expression of different powers trying to impose a precise way of seeing (and then defining) society for their vested interests? Behind mere violence and ideology, it is important to take note of the fact that these factions have an agenda of theirs with clear economic, political and strategic objectives. The rise of organizations like IS and Boko Haram is also linked to complex economic interests, related to the control of strategic areas and commodities, as well as arms dealing if we enlarge the focus to Eastern Africa and Al Shabaab. The religious or the ideological element is exploited to force “change” and gather followers in order to topple the current elite and obtain its power and revenues. Similarly, even if without the element of the extreme violence, this is happening with the Extreme Right in some areas of Europe. An example comes from the Italian case, where the Lega Nord formed to “defend” local economic interests by promoting destabilizing (and not sufficiently evaluated) measures for the country’s management, next to the overall anti-immigration and xenophobic stance. Material interests drive ideology, which becomes an instrument built in and for social, political and economic exclusion to the advantage of a restricted clique demonstrating limited interest for its own followers.

Ultimately, we can reach the conclusion that these two kinds of extremism – with their analogies and differences – capitalize on each other strength, thus ultimately reinforcing themselves in their quest to annihilate each other, be it verbally or practically. In absence of sound policies and concrete solutions to the problems that gave birth to these movements, more the “violence” of the confrontation is raised, more discontented citizens will feel attracted by extreme measures.

Related to this, it is important to remember the role of Europe and the “West” in general in the strengthening of extremist organizations in ME and in the Mediterranean. As during Cold War times, in a broader (but surprisingly narrow-minded) geopolitical strategy based on the assumption that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, extremist organizations have been used as a filler or pressure item to damage non-collaborating leaders and States instead of being annihilated, bringing to the results we know. On the other hand, a real engagement against the development of Extreme Right movements has usually been absent, sometimes replaced by a more dangerous act of capitalization on these movements for national (or regional) short-term political objectives by other factions – as securing government stability, slowing down specific steps of the European integration process. Furthermore, even in countries where the reformation or even the apology of former Extreme Right factions is illegal (again, as in Italy), enforcement has often been poor or sporadic.

In conclusion, with these reflections referring to a wider picture, it is worth mentioning a promising avenue for future thought and research on this comparative topic. Indeed, in this age threatened by the Extreme Right and Islamic extremism, it is useful to think about how these two dangers can be related by a causal nexus. The menacing spread of Islamic extremism may fuel the growth of the support for European Extreme Right parties, as Islamic extremism becomes the enemy, namely the Hegelian Other, to fight against both within Europe- where it is embodied by the immigrants – and outside Europe – in the cradles of Islamic extremism – by invoking the ethnic and pure nation. The most serious consequence of this process is that it may undermine multiculturalism, which is only incipient in some states, such as Italy, but belongs to an established and deep-seated political and social configuration of other states, such as the United Kingdom.

(special thanks to Ms. Marianna Griffini for the help and support)

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Terrorism

Despite acknowledging strict measures, Pakistan has to stay on the grey-list in FATF

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President of The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Dr. Marcus Pleyer, announced in a press conference held on 25 February 2021 after the four-day virtual plenary meeting in Paris, France, that  “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring,” adding that while Islamabad had made “significant progress,” there remained some “deficiencies” in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental formal decision-making body. It was founded in 1989 during the G7 Summit in Paris to develop policies against money laundering. It is a “policy-making body “that generates the political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in money laundering. It has also started dealing with virtual currencies. The FATF Secretariat is located in Paris. It sets standards and promotes effective implementation of:-

a. Legal, regulatory, and operational measures for combating money laundering.

b. The FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities to protect the international financial system from misuse.

Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and has been asked to implement the FATF Action Plan fully by September 2019. Pakistan has implemented almost 90% of the recommendations; only three out of 27 points are not fully implemented.

Pakistan has suffered heavy economic losses due to being put on the grey-list; according to some estimates, Pakistan has suffered US Dollars 38 billion.

The FATF president noted that Pakistan was working towards its commitment made at a high level to implement the illicit financing watchdog’s recommendations, saying “that is not the time to put a country on the blacklist.”He added that as soon as Pakistan completed the action, the watchdog “will verify the reforms’ sustainability and discuss in next plenary in June.”

However, there are no chances that Pakistan could be put on the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF — China, Turkey, and Malaysia — that can sustain all pressures against any downgrade.

The government of Pakistan is committed to fully implementing the action plan, and to date, the progress achieved is admired by other FATF members.

However, FATF is also being used as a political tool against other nations. By reviewing the countries on the blacklist, the new additions are  North Korea and Iran- the West’s adverse enemies. Also,the addition of   Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the Cayman Islands, are political decisions. As a matter of fact, the Western world is using international organizations, including FATF, to coerce their political opponents. Pakistan was a close ally with the West during the cold war era, and the front line state on Afghan war and non-NATO ally in the war on terror, yet faced worst sanctions like Pressler Amendments, Kerry Loggar Bill, etc.

Pakistani journalist Adeela Khan stepped up and raised a question asking FATF president Marcus Pleyer why India is not on the grey or blacklist of FATF even after financing proxies in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil to end terrorism in Pakistan, and violating human rights in India Occupied Kashmir. There more than forty banks in India involved in money laundering. The Incident of terrorism in Sri Lanka can be traced back to India. Yet India is not on the grey list or blacklist. India has been playing an ugly role in keeping Pakistan on the grey list. Although the EU Disinfo lab has revealed that Indian state-sponsored media think tanks and professionals play a dirty role in spreading fake news and disinformation against China and Pakistan yet, the world has not realized India’s evil intentions.

A bais and discriminatory attitude may harm the FATF’s reputation ultimately.

Many neutral people ask similar questions and demand justice and a fair playground for all nations, above the political motives and discrimination. The international community may maintain the reputation of International organizations and integrity – merit-based decisions.

On the one hand, Pakistan is trying its best to implement the FATF plan fully, and on the other hand, it is demanded that a fair playground be provided to judge the case for Pakistan. It is expected that in the next plenary session to be held in June 2021, Pakistan will come out of the grey list.

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‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began

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A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday. 

In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.  

It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013. 

However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said. 

At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety. 

Rise in ‘targeted killings’ 

According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.  

There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said. 

According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents. 

2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’ 

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”. 

“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said

The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added. 

Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.” 

UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020

‘Shocking toll’ on women and children 

The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women. 

“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said. 

“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.” 

Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’ 

With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations. 

It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes. 

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Is Blacklisting on Cards for Pakistan?

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Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been an integral part of the economic decision making and regulatory procedures of the country. The days of the ultimate decision are finally on cards as the Global Watchdog is expected to evaluate and review the performance and strategies of Pakistan via virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for February 22-25, 2021. This would be a much-anticipated review since a keen eye would be payed following a long hiatus to the litigations recently undertaken by the country to eliminate the risks and gaps in the financial framework which might earn Pakistan, a way out from the grey list. However, while the preceding meeting only guided more hopes for better litigation and measures to curb terror financing, brimming foreign propaganda and nefarious rulings within the country itself might hamper the way out but instead could dig the trench further towards a harrowing financial turmoil.

Pakistan was placed on the grey list back in June 2018 due to strategic deficiencies. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, Pakistan was allowed a breather of 4-months to comply with the 27-point action plan; of which Pakistan met only 14 targets while missing out on the rest of 13 targets. Moreover, Pakistan could only satisfy 10 of a total of 40 recommendations devised by the task force. These lags led to a major pitfall in the Pakistan’s Stock Market; PSX plummeting bellow 30,000 points. Furthermore, a bitter narrative started blooming regarding arch-rival India pulling all the strings to push Pakistan down further, even in the blacklist. This was largely shunned by the Indian representatives but the failure of the economic and diplomatic front of Pakistan was evident by now.

The FATF plenary was scheduled, like traditionally, in June. However, all scheduled evaluations and review procedures were deferred for 4-months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing yet another unforeseen yet thoroughly welcomed relief span to Pakistan to strive more actively to meet the requirements.

In the preceding 4 months, Pakistan acutely worked to amend the contradicting laws and policies, the parliament playing an agile role to introduce new bills relating to counter-terrorism and countering money laundering as an act to expedite compliance to the international laws and ultimately meeting up all 27 points in the action plan. Almost all the bills presented, albeit some political resistance, were eventually passed which even led to optimism in the stock market; PSX climbing back over 40,000 points after more than half a year, rallying to record high levels despite of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the investors’ mentality across the globe.

The meeting held, after a steep deferral, back in October 2020; the FATF committee observed and commended on the vigilant stance assumed by Pakistan to crawl out of the Grey list. Pakistan has since delivered on 22 out of the 27 core points of the action plan defined. However, the meetings adjourned till February, retaining Pakistan in the grey list under the tag of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ whilst praising the steps of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering adopted by Islamabad.

Pakistan was warned back in February last year that if not complied by the 27-point action plan, it could be a great threat to the foreign mechanism and would be eventually moved to the monitored jurisdiction, notoriously also known as the ‘Blacklist’. Later this month, FATF would examine if Pakistan meets the 8 key categories of the action plan; remedial actions taken against money laundering, counterfeit terrorism while also reviewing the vigilance of the institutions in countering Terror Financing and actively managing risk. The committee representing Pakistan would perpetually convince the plenary that the country in-fact meets the criteria and transitioning over the next month, the fate of the tormented economy would finally prevail in light of the decision made.

However, Pakistan has been sluggish in taking action against the notorious entities linked to terrorism around the region. The meeting nears with the pinned watch of UN regarding Pakistan’s role of providing a safe haven to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, or the notorious acquittal of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime culprit of the Daniel Pearle Murder case of 2002. Pakistan, however, claims to have made virtue on 22 of the defined 27 points while has garnered ‘Substantial progress’ on the remaining 5 points. Thus, the optimism brews that the meeting would push the country out of the list and would open more financial avenues especially in these distressful conditions.

Although Pakistan’s Foreign Office including the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, appears optimistic to climb out of the grey list after 3 years, the infamous decisions passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the excessive money laundering cases surging against the ex-office holders of Pakistan and the determined efforts of India to subvert Pakistan in global politics, all thwart down that optimism bit by bit. And while some of the economic experts claim that the decision of advancing Pakistan off the Grey list would be naïve move and would arguably impact regional dynamics, the decision could fall in tandem with the preceding outcome of sustaining the grey list status or could deteriorate the level further as gauged by a political expert, opining his narrative: “The facts demand that Pakistan remain on the grey list. The FATF shouldn’t just keep Pakistan on the grey list. It should rather warn Islamabad that absent rapid and wide-ranging reform; blacklisting is coming”.

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