By David Atkins
March 17, 2019
For a long time, it was a truth spoken only
quietly and on the fringes of the blogosphere: the difference between far-right
Christian extremism and Islamist extremism is a very thin line drenched in
conservative violence. Both despise modernity, feminism, LGBTQ rights,
secularism, urbanity, and education. Both love guns, militarism, theocracy, expansionism,
and a return to the “good old days.” They’re essentially two sides of the same
I’ve written on this topic a few times here
at the Washington Monthly and elsewhere; none of the pieces made much of a
splash. Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, wrote a whole book on the topic.
Comparatively few read that compared to his first book Crashing the Gate.
That’s not surprising: it’s a very touchy
subject, and the few Very Serious People who have dared to make the point in
the past and (weren’t simply ignored) were excoriated for comparing their
fellow citizens to ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Understandably, though, the outrage falls
on deaf ears for those of us who lived through accusations that liberal
opposition to the invasion of Iraq was the equivalent of standing alongside
Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.
But after the spate of white supremacist
violence including the most recent appalling massacre in New Zealand, it looks
like the moratorium on expressing those opinions in more respectable quarters
is falling away.
Two new op-eds in the Washington Post
covered the topic recently. One was by Anne Applebaum:
There is a difference, though, in how they
have been treated. Since 2001, governments around the world have approached
online Islamist radicalism with grim seriousness, blocking its financial
sources, searching out potential terrorists, working with Internet platforms to
stop its spread. By contrast, we have yet to treat white supremacism with
anything like the same kind of vigor. Many hours after the New Zealand
shooting, it was still ridiculously easy to find the video online. There are
few special government programs to fight the milder forms of this violent
ideology, and relatively little time has been devoted to thinking about it. The
U.S. president has not taken a stand against it; an Australian politician, in
the wake of the attack, even seemed to endorse it.
Both radicalisms kill. But while we dither,
the death toll — in Norway, South Carolina, and Britain— continues to rise. And
the alternate world continues to tell jokes, make memes — and draw people in.
The other by Khaled Diab:
If a terrorist were to claim that their
attack was intended to “add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further
destabilizing and polarizing Western society,” you might be excused in thinking
the perpetrator was an Islamic extremist. But these are the words of a white
supremacist and crusader…
These two hateful ideologies — white
supremacy and radical Islamism — may regard themselves as polar opposites, but
their worldviews resemble the other. Both are paranoid, exhibit a toxic blend
of superiority and inferiority toward the other, are scornful of less extreme
members of their own communities, and are nostalgic for an imagined past of
A contempt for “Western” modernity is
another trait shared by Islamists and the Christian far right. “The Europeans
worked assiduously in trying to immerse (the world) in materialism, with their
corrupting traits and murderous germs, to overwhelm those Muslim lands that
their hands stretched out to,” believed al-Banna. Unintentionally echoing the
founding father of political Islam, Tarrant is convinced that the West has
become a “society of rampant nihilism, consumerism and individualism.”
This disdain for many aspects of modernity
translates into an overwhelming yearning for a supposedly more glorious and
pure past and a nostalgia for bygone imperial greatness when the world was at
their command — for the days of European empire or Islamic caliphates.
A number of other pieces across the
journalistic spectrum are demanding that the United States government treat
white-supremacist terrorism as seriously as it does all other forms of
terrorism, making a similar point implicitly if not quite so explicitly.
It’s good that editors of major opinion
sections are finally either waking up to the reality of the parallelism between
both types of far-right conservative violence, or perhaps feeling more free now
to admit it on their pages in the age of Trump.
But one can’t help but wonder if more could
have been done to stop this rising threat if the biggest voices in journalism
had done more to acknowledge it earlier instead of leaving it to bloggers in
the less noticed edges of public discourse.
David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in
Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal
and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.