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 hyper-conservative coin.
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, 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 cultural dominance…
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.