One of the major themes to emerge from the recently released Quilliam report on the vulnerabilities of refugees – particularly young refugees – to radicalisation during their journeys and upon their arrival at their destination country has been reciprocal radicalisation or cumulative extremism.
These points of vulnerability can look linear when presented sequentially on a map as part of a journey. There is, however, an overarching discourse that runs from the very beginnings of the journey to the end point in the country of destination, where these push and pull factors (to extremism and away from peaceful integration), interact and mirror each other. The parties delivering this discourse at either end, Islamist groups or Far-Right organisations respectively, reinforce symbols and tropes that attempt to inspire hatred and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consider, for instance, one of the major overlaps between the two types of groups – invasion. 19% of the Facebook posts analysed as part of the Quilliam database on Far Right groups played on the fear of an ‘invasion’: Muslims coming into the UK and Europe, destroying the continent’s civilisational values. This is echoed in IS’s glossy magazine Dabiq, which refers to the airstrike campaign against the group as a ‘Crusade’ on a number of occasions. Far right accounts cotton on to this in turn, calling for a ‘Crusade’ against Muslims in this country, with several instances of graffiti of the common Crusader slogan ‘Deus Vult’ (God wills it) recorded by Tell MAMA UK around the country.
There is a neat symmetry in this, one that carries across themes of violence against women (occurring in 10% of far-right posts) and fear (occurring in 25% of far right posts). Access to online media, particularly twitter, is high, and there is a risk of refugees being exposed to a media that not only makes them feel undesired by their host society, but characterises them as cowards failing to defend their vulnerable brethren. Any instance where these tactics function successfully, where a refugee is inspired to carry out an attack against their host society, only strengthens this impression on both sides. IS are able to instil fear into the west, and encourage broader measures of alienating securitisation, and groups such as Britain First and the EDL are able to claim that letting in refugees is indeed tantamount to welcoming the armies of the caliphate onto British soil. Both agendas benefit symbiotically.
In the UK, where measures exist to prevent certain levels of hate speech and incitement, there is a limit to what these groups are able to say. Rather than emphasising their distance from the mainstream, they attempt to use it to legitimise their claims. Quilliam data collection found, for instance, that approximately three quarters of posts on the PEGIDA UK and EDL Facebook pages comes from mainstream newspapers such as the Daily Mail or Daily Express, building on the articles’ content to create a sense of actual truth around their claims. A steady stream of these articles, sometimes up to dozens a day, creates the sense of an immediate threat, and can only help to inspire the increased reports of Islamophobia we have witnessed over the months since Brexit, and incubate the sense of alienation and crisis of identity that are so often a part of the radicalisation process.
But there is a further circle of this media storm that exists outside of these official channels. The report’s analysis of forty twitter accounts and an echo chamber visualisation of them, demonstrate that these pages supply the foundations for the broader claims and more fervent intolerance we see from so-called Alt-Right groups on the twittersphere. Twenty-seven out of the forty accounts on which the report’s data focuses were connected to Donald Trump, for instance, on whose rhetoric they built and elaborated. It is for this reason that the category of ‘Race/Colour’ had to be added to the analysis: it was rarely mentioned by the groups above, but in the posts made by the anonymised figures who hold these accounts, these concerns appear in 7% of all posts. These come under the hashtag of #whitegenocide or a number of variations thereupon, extracting underlying themes of newspaper articles and making them more vitriolic and explicit, still under the cover of a veil of truth provided by their mainstream sources.
Any intolerance by us, member of host societies, works to the advantage of groups who wish ill to both us and the refugee populations fleeing them. The increased securitisation this brings with it (as in Donald Trump’s calls for ‘extreme vetting’), only serves to reinforce the negative image of the West broadcast by IS, by al-Qaeda, by al-Shabaab. In creating a climate of fear around refugees, particularly young people and children, we play into the hands of the Far Right, pushing members of our own society, as well as refugees settling here, towards hatred, otherisation and intolerance.
Daniel Amir is an intern at Quilliam.