The rise of extremism in the early 21st century, characterized by the sudden increase in violence, has dominated global politics. Forces of globalization have brought non-state actors to the centre stage, whereas states are becoming less influential, giving way to a new kind of identity politics. Furthermore, the attack on the U.S.A on September 11, 2001, brought a paradigm shift in international relations. It is not just the collapse of the World Trade Center which makes the event noteworthy, but it is what had followed. The U.S.A’s war on terror engendered more terror and fostered extremist groups.
The very first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about extremism is Islamic fundamentalism, which contradicts Muslims’ own view of Islam. A general meaning of extremism, which is “the holding of extreme political or religious views”, under the weight of existing narrative often fails to explain the different sources of extremism. Extremism not only stems from Islamic fundamentalism but from its two complementary nodes i.e., far-right groups and Islamic fundamentalism. On one hand, far-right groups such as the English Defence League and National Action Network claim that Islam is at war with the West, and on the other hand, terror groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda attest that West is at war with Islam. They are two different faces of the same coin, playing the same game wearing a different uniform. Their identity politics is based on a dichotomous relationship of “us versus them”. Blaming them for every problem, these extremist groups have normalised “terror” with the identity of their counterpart. The bottom line is, far-right extremism and Islamic extremism feed off one another and help each other to flourish and nourish.
The conflation of the ideology of the rival group with the broader community has always been one of the main characteristics of these extremist groups, thus helping the prophecy of the clash of civilization turn into reality. Widening the gap between Islam and the West, this sense of “being at war” has fostered the disdain for each other. Globalization, with its homogeneity, integrity and universal appeal along with localization and heterogeneity has further fueled this.
The recent independence march of more than 60,000 people in Warsaw Poland, with chants like “pray for an Islamic holocaust”, clearly indicates anti-Islamic sentiments and unwillingness to live with Muslims. The so-called “War on Terror” and “Humanitarian Intervention” has created resentment, and in some cases led to terrorism. This animosity and fret have resulted in the rise of disturbing incidents of Islamophobia and deadly terror attacks claiming lives of innocents, fueling more hate and fear against each other. Thereby, helping these extremist groups to strengthen their narrative when the opposite groups engage in such terror activities. The more chaos there is in the society, the more the groups have chances of galvanizing support from their respective community. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a report showing a 57% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016. A report from FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics confirms an increase in the number of reported hate crimes in that year as well. On the contrary, a report published by Europol claims there were around 142 terror attacks in EU states in the same year.
Terrorist attacks create a divide between communities, while people become more vulnerable to extremist narratives. Whenever an attack happens, it serves the groups’ interest and gives them a chance to strengthen their perspective and demonize another group.
These extremist groups are interdependent on each other, their narratives are mutually reinforcing, neither can fully exist without the others. Their competing narratives are morally and politically equivalent, they are very similar both in terms of their ideologies, moral deductions, and potential political impact. Both are based on the victimization of an “in-group” and the demonization of an “out-group”; both blame the “corrupt political establishment” and the “other” for all that is going wrong and aim to bring about radical societal change by creating counter-cultures. They both yearn for purity and a desire to establish homogeneous societies, united either by religious beliefs or ideological convictions. It has resulted in a worldview that frames everything through the lens of two inherently opposed homogeneous blocs — in both cases, “the West” and “Islam,” or “Muslims” and “non-Muslims.” Their stories amplify each other because they use the same plot of an imminent or ongoing war between those two fronts as well as the same oversimplified depictions of its protagonists.
A communication gap arising from the stigma transforms itself into a vicious circle of rage, where fear feeds fear, hate generates more hate and violence leads to more violence. The globe is shrinking but the gap between communities is widening, making it difficult to achieve peace and stability. Rather than a vertical model of communication, there is a need for a horizontal communication structure, a need of strong civil society which educates people and develops the values of democratic life: tolerance, moderation, compromise, and respect for opposing points of view.