A year of selective outrage over terror attacks

Identity politics has led to a hierarchy of victims and to dishonesty about the perpetrators.

Rakib Ehsan

Topics Politics UK USA World

A number of high-impact terror attacks took place across the world last year. Terrorists were inspired by a number of different ideologies and targeted a variety of victims. As identity politics has become more salient in Western politics, the identity of both the victims and the perpetrators played a huge role in the way political leaders responded to each attack.

Following the March 2019 mosque massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, leading politicians across the Western world did not hesitate to describe them as far-right terrorist attacks on Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers. Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed her solidarity with the global Islamic community. She said ‘we must continue to fight the perpetuation and normalisation of Islamophobia and racism in all its forms’. Former US president Barack Obama tweeted that he and his wife, Michelle, were grieving with the people of New Zealand and the ‘Muslim community’. The then UK prime minister, Theresa May, correctly described Christchurch as a ‘horrifying terrorist attack’.

Contrast this with the language used by the same three figures following the coordinated series of Islamist-inspired terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which took place one month later on Easter Sunday. Affectionate expressions of solidarity with persecuted Christian communities were notable by their absence. Christians murdered in their own churches were bizarrely referred to by both Clinton and Obama as ‘Easter worshippers’. The attacks were sophisticated and well-planned, and they had the clear aim of killing a large number of Christians in ‘target-rich’ churches. Nevertheless, Theresa May – a vicar’s daughter – referred to them as ‘acts of violence’, not terrorism.

The difference between the condemnations of the Christchurch and Sri Lanka terror attacks was striking. After Christchurch, there was no hesitation about naming the religious backgrounds of the victims and directing emotion and affection towards Muslim communities. Politicians also had no issue with categorising the events in Christchurch as terrorism. But this simply was not the case for Sri Lanka’s Christians – around 250 of whom were killed by jihadists during those Easter Sunday services.

Then in August 2019, a far-right terrorist called Patrick Crusius killed 20 people in a racist, anti-Hispanic attack in the Texas city of El Paso. Unleashing his terror at Cielo Vista Mall, Crusius published a violently anti-immigration ‘pre-attack’ manifesto in which he expressed fears that Hispanic people were ‘taking over’ Texas in both a demographic and political sense. President Donald Trump’s response to the El Paso terrorist attack was disappointing the say the least. He labelled it ‘an act of cowardice’. He dubiously emphasised the role of mental-health problems and videogames in mass shootings. The president was reluctant to delve into the ideological motivations that underpinned this act of white-nationalist terrorism.

The media have also failed to treat all terrorism equally. An anti-Semitic terrorist attack on a kosher market in New Jersey on 10 December received relatively little coverage. The attack was carried out by the Black Hebrew Israelites. The movement includes fervently anti-white and anti-Semitic individuals who believe blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are ‘God’s chosen peoples’ and are descendants of the Biblical 12 Tribes of Israel. The attack, which resulted in the deaths of three civilians and a police officer, passed by without much commentary. Similarly, following the recent Hanukkah stabbings in Monsey, New York, the Guardian published an article that offered little detail on the suspected perpetrator behind this anti-Semitic attack – Greenwood Lake resident Grafton E Thomas. The depth of the liberal-left media’s coverage of terrorist attacks increasingly depends on the background of those involved.

For many Western liberals, the ethnic and religious background of the perpetrators and the victims determine the robustness of the response. Placing particular groups in a ‘victim hierarchy system’, the left is comfortable condemning far-right terror attacks which target ethnic and religious minorities, but it is reluctant to condemn Islamist terror as robustly.

While far-right extremism is the fastest-growing terror threat in the UK, it is important to maintain some perspective – the predominant threat is still posed by jihadists. Despite this, the Labour Party’s most recent manifesto referred to the threat of far-right extremism. But it makes no explicit mention of Islamist-inspired extremism, which in recent times has been responsible for the vast majority of terror-related deaths on British soil – including the most recent terror attack on London Bridge. Clearly, the intention is to avoid even the most remote possibility of causing offence to British Muslim communities by raising the issue.

There is a similar but opposite dynamic across the pond. The more Trumpian elements of the Republican Party continue to ignore the fact that far-right terrorism is a serious problem. In the United States, white-supremacist and ethno-nationalist strands of extremism pose the deadliest terror threat. Much like how the Labour Party is fearful of upsetting the regressive elements of its British Muslim base, some Republicans who are fiercely loyal to Trump are wary of alienating any ethno-nationalist segments among their supporters.

Group-based loyalties have become dangerously entrenched, giving rise to forms of selective outrage over deadly acts of terror. All terrorism is to be deplored, and if we are to tackle it effectively, we must be open and honest about where it is coming from.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Follow him on Twitter: @rakibehsan.

Picture by: Getty

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Andrew Simpson

5th January 2020 at 4:55 am

“While far-right extremism is the fastest-growing terror threat in the UK”

We see journalists keep making this claim without presenting any evidence. Reports from organisations such as EUROPOL TESAT say completely the opposite, too.

By ‘far-right extremism, what they really mean is anti-white and this rhetoric and nonsense must be challenged.

Steve B

3rd January 2020 at 9:55 pm

The major threat, in terms of violence against “normal” people, seems to me to be Antifa.

Jerry Owen

4th January 2020 at 12:28 pm


Tim Heydon

3rd January 2020 at 7:43 pm

Far right attacks are likely to increase. They have surfaced because outlets for the ‘far-right’ point of view is closed to them, in Politics and in the media.

According to the latest Migration Watch UK opinion poll, 76% want immigration reduced, while just 4% want it increased and 14% want no change,. 50% thought that immigration was more important to them and their family than the economy or the Health Service. Watching the conversations that the political class Including the media has with itself, one would never guess any of this.

In the terminology of the current media, ‘Far Right’ can mean anything from Powellite romantic patriotism to out and out Nazi–style race hate and authoritarianism. Obviously, it is those at the extreme end of this spectrum who are likely to contemplate terrorist attacks.

John Kemp

3rd January 2020 at 12:38 am

‘Far Right’ What does that mean? the vast majority of Jewish folk have been killed by the far left FFS. Ever since time immemorial. Right is now a bad word, a thing one should not admit to even thinking. Yet right wing has only been thus tarred by the left whoi happily airbrush history. The greatest ‘Jew’ killers of all time are Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Not left and right but left and left, extreme left in both cases really. What those two did when they became the head men wasn’t about ideology. What they did and how they started up the pole was ALL left wing.

“Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”

“Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.

“Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.

“We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us state and race are one.”

So, a crazy mix of socialism and racism but still of the left in its genesis.

ps There is no evidence, thought word or implied that the ‘Halle’ nutter was right wing. The notion that right wing people dislike Jews is based on utter nonsense and a linkage of right wing to Hitler, which is nonsense again. [I’ve read snopes on this and now count them as tainted]

Mind Wizard

3rd January 2020 at 12:00 am

“While far-right extremism is the fastest-growing terror threat in the UK,…”

The danger in repeating this oft-said claim is that – while strictly true – it serves to mask and divert attention away from the massively greater risks posed by Islamist terrorism. Not according to me, but according to the European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend (TE-SAT) Report, which logs every terror-related incident across all European Member states.

For demonstration purposes, let’s look at the 2017 TE-SAT report (https://www.europol.europa.eu/tesat/2017/).

Right Wing terrorist arrests: 20. Right Wing terrorist attacks: 5. Deaths caused by Right Wing terrorists: 1. Injuries caused by Right Wing terrorists: 15.

Islamist terrorist arrests: 705. Islamist terrorist attacks: 265. Deaths caused by Islamist terrorists: 62. Injuries caused by Islamist terrorists: 819.

The simple statistical truth is that – in 2017 – Islamists were arrested at 35 times the rate of Right Wing terrorists and were 53 times more likely than Right Wing terrorists to plan and execute attacks.

And the significance of these numbers is even more startling when you consider that Muslims account for just 4.3% of the total European Union population.

Yes, arrests for Right Wing terrorism offences really did double in 2018, growing to a total of 44 (although zero deaths or injuries were caused). And arrests for Islamist terrorism fell from 705 in 2017 to 511 in 2018 (producing 13 deaths and 46 injuries in the process). But to imply any equivalence in the threat posed by the two forms of terrorism – let alone to suggest that Right Wing terrorism is what should really be keeping us awake at night – requires a staggering level of mathematical illiteracy and strategic blindness.

By way of illustration: if we visualise all the Right Wing attacks in 2017 as a 20-foot canoe and then multiply it by 52 (the relative incidence of Islamist attacks in that same year), we would need a battleship almost the size of the super-carrier USS Nimitz to represent the comparative Islamist threat.

nick hunt

3rd January 2020 at 2:09 pm

A much-needed corrective, thanks. The writer is clearly uninformed and tempted by moral equivalence

Cedar Grove

3rd January 2020 at 9:16 pm

Thank you for posting that.

Stats don’t always tell the whole story, but are more useful than evidence-free opinions.

Neil John

3rd January 2020 at 9:47 pm

From the ‘Wonkhe daily’: “The Home Office has published statistics on individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent programme for April 2018 to March 2019. Of 1,887 cases reported by the education sector (the largest single sector in terms of referrals), only 324 linked explicitly to Islamic extremism – 530 cases specified right wing extremism.”

Of course the bulk of reporting of individuals to the Prevent programme is by teachers, teachers who are almost invariably ‘left-wing’, what better way to attack those who thoughts or opinions you disagree with?

Further reading: wonkhe.com/blogs/should-we-be-worrying-about-right-wing-extremism-on-campus/

John Kemp

4th January 2020 at 4:15 pm


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