Islamophobic Far-Right Counter-Jihad Movement Has Expanded

The radical right Counter-Jihad Movement has grown increasingly decentralized as it pushes Islamophobic rhetoric online.
English Defence League march in Newcastle – May 2018 (Gavin Lynn/Creative Commons License)

English Defence League march in Newcastle – May 2018 (Gavin Lynn/Creative Commons License)

Vasiliki Tsagkroni is a comparative politics scholar from Leiden University. 

Following the events of 9/11, a strong cross-border anti-Muslim narrative started to emerge. The narrative refers to liberal values ( e.g. liberties, human rights, and religious and political freedoms) of the Western societies, as a civilizational inheritance that need to be protected. What threatens these values, according to this narrative, is extremists who support Islamist supremacy and the notion of multiculturalism which is perceived to empower Islamisation that endangers Western societies. This is, in short, what Counter-Jihad Movement (CJM) stands for.

Reflecting on the fundamental differences and incompatibility between Western societies and Islam, CJM has evolved into a transnational and online network formed by a mixture of motivated key actors (organizations, think-tanks, bloggers, street movements, political parties, and individuals, creating a global network facilitation). CJM, in other words, can be alleged as an amorphous network that started around 2005, from initiatives like Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE), to the Centre of Vigilant Freedom (CVF), International Free Press Society (IFPS) and the International Defence Leagues.

However, it was only in 2009 that Baron Bodissey, a key narrator of CJM, in his entry entitled: ‘Building a Distributed Counterjihad Network’ addressed the need of networking with people of the CJM and the way it could contribute to the creation of an international Western resistance to the Islamization of Western societies. These network connections, among the different initiatives that construct the CJM, have become more apparent after a series of meetings at which various actors directly connected to CJM and other groups that sympathize with them, have made joint appearances e.g. First Annual Global Counter Jihad Rally in Stockholm in August 2012.

In order to understand the broader idea that corresponds to what CJM stands for, one can look at the ‘The Counterjihad manifesto’. The document summarises the goals of CJM, claiming that the main aim primarily to the resistance against Islamization by eliminating Muslim migration, the containment of Islam within the borders of existing Muslim-majority nations, and the development of a network that will eliminate the multicultural ideology and in extent protect nation and national identity along with an ethnic and religious homogeneity of western societies. In this cultural war as set in the center of the ‘othering’ discourse of CJM, ‘we’ share the same cultural values, values of tolerance, equality and freedom and ‘the other’ represent the homogenized and hostile Muslim world, that poses a threat to what ‘we’ represent.

A popular conspiracy that many in CJM believe, regarding Islam and threatening ‘the other’ can be found in Bat Ye’Or’s book Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis published in 2005. The argument lays that Europe has become powerless and helpless, facing ‘cultural extinction’ under the invasion of an instant ‘campaign of Islamization’ which will lead to a so-called ‘Eurabia’, an Islamized oppressed Europe to the Arab world. Ye’Or’s Eurabia theory has seemingly gained a foothold amongst Counter Jihad activists and has been expressively referenced by among others Anders Breivik in 2011 his manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, in which the reader can also find a significant number of quotes taken my actors related or directly linked to CJM.

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Although CJM has never directly engaged to organized violence, its rhetoric, and more specifically the part of embracing the idea of an impending civil war may be seen as encouragement towards lone actors implicated in violent incidents. From Anders Breivik and the 2011 attacks in Norway, to the UK EDL’s street demonstrations, that several times have resulted in violence, such cases provide a strong argument that these ethno-nationalist narratives of CJM contribute to mobilization of hate crimes and hate speech.

Additionally, beyond physical conferences and street demonstrations, it was clear from the start to many members of CJM that a broader platform is required in order to develop and promote the policies and ideas they preach about. A platform that the new media was able to offer. On that note, it is not random that since the idea of its emergence, CJM operates extensively online, something that provides an opportunity of a strong sustainability of a substantial presence in the scene.

Reflecting on the essence of a network, and working on the puzzle of these multispectral manifestations of the CJM, in both digital and physical places, researches have employed social network analysis (SNA) to visualize and explain the social ties in the CJM-Network (CJM-N), and enriched this with an in-depth examination of online discourse of the CJM, in order to provide a clear overview of the core of what constitutes the CJM network. In terms of discourse, a three-layer pattern appears that includes a) negative narratives, b) the sense of geographical belonging and finally c) raising awareness, all three oriented by the threat Islamization and the issue of securitization.

In terms of the ways in which the CJM-N has been developed and the reasons for the level of distribution and decentralization within it, the findings pointed to a strong decentralization of the CJM and clustering around certain nodes. What appears to be the case in CJM is that the emergence and wider embrace of internet technologies has had indeed a strong impact on the social connections and the social organisation of the CJM-N as well as the ways it communicates and distributes information. Additionally, SNA in this respect demonstrated that the claimed equal connectedness between the CJM-N participants and the empowering of the internet for the CJM discourse diverges from reality. In fact, there is.

Despite the differences among the regional actors, CJM has managed to become a cross-country network, succeeding to broaden its reach out points. Furthermore, despite the network’s reporting on violent acts, terrorism, hate speech and hate crimes, CJM and its actors continue to remain key contributors on the debate against multiculturalism both in Europe but also across the Atlantic. For that reason, although the focus on CJM is not new, the existing information and research on the topic is still ongoing, with a clear need of exploring the impact and influence of such discourse beyond the existing actors and well-known actors of the network. What would be further interesting to investigate is the potential of such influence in the ongoing debate in an institutional and societal level.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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Opinion // CARR / Islamophobia / Radical Right