There’s a double standard where Islamist terror is met with hysteria, while far-right terror is met with indifference, writes Lindsey German
How do you define terrorism? This isn’t just a philosophical question.
Two brothers from Stratford in east London are now in jail for participating in a training camp run by an Islamist group, Junud al-Shaam (Soldiers of Damascus), fighting the Syrian government. The two, Mohommod Nawaz and his brother Hamza, are serving four-and-a-half years and three years respectively. It was agreed that they had not participated in any actual fighting in Syria. It was also agreed that they were not a threat in Britain and were not planning to carry out any attacks here.
Contrast this with the treatment of British soldier Ryan McGee, who constructed a bomb in his bedroom in Salford, where it was found by police along with an air pistol, axes and knives. He had downloaded a video of two men being executed, one by beheading, beneath a swastika flag.
He hated immigrants, was a supporter of the English Defence League (EDL) and admired Hitler. He came from a committed right-wing family, his mother buying him EDL T-shirt, jumper and “No surrender” flag for his 18th birthday. Amazingly, he was not prosecuted under any terror laws and was given only a two-year sentence.
Can anyone doubt that the different treatment of the two cases lies in the different approach towards Muslims, who are held to much higher levels of accountability. For example, McGee was called an immature teenager, but the actions of the two brothers are not put down to immaturity or foolishness. They were accused of being ideologically committed to extreme Islamic ideas, but surely the soldier is at least as ideologically committed to right-wing ideas?
Expressing support for jihad and going to Syria to fight with Islamist groups may be something bitterly opposed by many of us, but aren’t they being convicted on the basis of their ideas, rather than anything that they have actually done? And if anyone is to justify imprisoning people on the basis of ideas, why is this not applied across the board and in particular to extreme right-wing groups?
These double standards also apply to responses to terrorism. Has the army been asked to denounce right-wing terrorism and to root it out? Are white soldiers asked to reject extremism? The demands made on the whole Muslim community in these respects are ones that no other group or community has to adhere to.
We have to put these double standards in the context of Islamophobia. It is now socially accepted to argue that Muslims = extremist = terrorist, and that there is something fanatical about the Muslim religion. Yet the vast majority of Muslims reject individual acts of terror, just as most white Christians living in Manchester do.
A disastrous 'War on Terror'
What the vast majority of Muslims in Britain also reject, however, is the government’s disastrous foreign policy that has presided over a series of wars and occupations in Muslim majority countries. These wars have created a vicious circle — supposedly to end terrorism, they have created a breeding ground for terrorism. Isis has grown in Iraq and Syria as a result of opposition to Western policies and to the client politicians who have supported the West.
The Taliban is coming back in Afghanistan as the majority of Nato troops leave, fuelled by opposition to Western occupation and to the corruption of pro-Western politicians. In Libya the country is in a state of civil war three years after the Western air strikes there.
If support for terrorist groups has spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, then Western governments have to take a very large part of the responsibility.
Here in Britain millions have campaigned against the wars and for Palestine, from all races and communities. They have been rewarded by politicians who ignore the demands of public opinion and who have so far failed to hold to account a single politician for their terrible consequences.
Demonising Muslim communities
The Muslim community also suffers very high levels of attacks on civil liberties and surveillance by the security services. The latest government attempts to crack down on people going to fight in Syria will only help criminalise a layer of young Muslims, rather than deal with the political problems that lead people to do these things in the first place.
And as Nawaz’s solicitor Imran Khan argues, “he thought what he was doing at the time was not unlawful,” given the arming and support for many of the Islamist groups from Western powers and their allies.
They could be forgiven for thinking they were doing nothing wrong. Khan also says this will make it harder to encourage Muslims to return from Syria.
This is less about rooting out terrorism but about blaming Muslims, already suffering discrimination in housing, jobs and education. New research shows that Muslims face worse job discrimination than any other minority group in Britain and have less chance of being in work or a managerial role.
Dr Nabil Khattab from Bristol University put this down to growing Islamophobia and hostility against them, saying: “They are perceived as disloyal and as a threat,” and the “penalties” for being Muslim got worse in competing for professional and managerial jobs.
When terrorism is defined by your religion and the colour of your skin, this situation is likely to worsen. The fights against war, Islamophobia and racism have to go together.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Tories: the Covid mask slips – weekly briefing
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing