By Haras Rafiq and Magnus Roar Bech. Haras Rafiq is the CEO of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank based in the UK. Magnus Roar Bech is Quilliam’s communications officer. The opinions in this article belong to the authors.
(CNN) — What constitutes terrorism? The answer is using the threat of, or actual violence, as a means towards a political end.
The last decades’ notoriousness of terrorist attacks driven by Islamist extremist ideologies, coupled with the lack of constancy in defining terrorism, has not only prompted the rise of widespread societal anti-Muslim animosity, but also restricted public understanding of the term.
More importantly, it has served to neglect the emergence of an equally dangerous extremist ideology and similar terrorist attacks: far-right inspired attacks.
Islamist terrorism is driven by the political ideology of Islamism mixed with a Salafi jihadist interpretation of Islam. Yet, out of fear of being branded an anti-Muslim bigot, several high-standing politicians have used terms like “al Qaeda-inspired terrorism” or merely “terrorism,” seeking to avoid confrontation with non-extremist Muslims by not naming the Islamist ideology.
The consequences of such neglect have been severe. Beyond the rapid upsurge of anti-Muslim bigotry, the resultant public discourse has exposed disastrous double standards, revealing that subconsciously many people are on some level incapable of cognitively processing that terrorism comes in different forms, beyond Islamist terrorism.
This week, Thomas Mair, a Hitler-obsessed far-right terrorist, was sentenced for murdering a UK member of parliament, Jo Cox. The MP, who was sympathetic to the suffering of Syrian civilians, and in favor of welcoming immigration policies and cooperation with partners in multinational institutions, was stabbed and shot as Mair shouted “Death to traitors.”
Similarly, ISIS fanatics, motivated by establishing an Islamic state and enforcing a version of Sharia law on society, execute Muslims for not being Muslim enough, and non-Muslims for their different beliefs.
Both far-right and Islamist extremism are driven by dehumanizing, hate-promoting political ideologies, seeking to cleanse society of the “significant other” with disparate beliefs. In the aftermath of the Cox murder, Mair has publicly been labeled everything from a Nazi to a “Right Wing nut.” If an extremist claims to be executing non-believers and shouts “Allahu Akbar,” how should we react?
Mair may have been driven by Nazi ideologies, but the political purpose behind his action confirms the terrorist nature of his crime; it must therefore be labeled as such. The language used by Islamist and far-right perpetrators is similar; their crimes are similar; the ideologies behind the crimes entail similar components. Yet some public discourse seem reluctant to use the term terrorism when the act is driven by non-Islamist ideologies.