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It’s not often that I stick my nose into the fetid online cesspits of the more rabid right wing groups that have oozed into existence over the past several years. But after the horrors of Wednesday afternoon I thought I’d examine some of the simple-minded, self-righteous commentary pounded into keyboards from the darker recesses of our society.
Britain First didn’t disappoint as I scrolled down their timeline between now and when the first reports of the events in Westminster hit the networks. Someone had obviously been putting in the overtime at BF towers as they dragged their knuckles from floor to laptop every hour on the hour with updates about everything and anything they hoped would whip up the shaven-headed masses.
There were several references to a protest march, apparently being organised quite appropriately on April Fool’s day, something they and the EDL also tried after the Lee Rigby murder. Pinned to the top we were treated to knob-head-in-chief himself, Paul Golding, in full self entitled mode, eyes bulging, hands shaking, bellowing absurdities into the spittle-flecked lens. As always he was desperate to appear Churchillian, which I have to admit he managed quite well, as long as we’re talking about the nodding dog with the single overused catchphrase.
This was the war that he’d warned the liberal, lefty elites about with their crazy arguments for open borders, integration and tolerance. He cited similar random atrocities around the world to back up his claim that it was all the fault of immigration, seemingly oblivious the illogicality of that argument by virtue of the diversity of both perpetrators and locations.
As with many other far right commentators he focused on the problem being one of radicalised incomers, infiltrating our society from without. Neatly overlooking the fact that the most recent perpetrator was 52, born in Dartford in Kent and originally named Adrian. I grew up not 5 miles away from there, probably around the same time, and can categorically attest that it’s well and truly inside our borders.
Golding’s final furious flight of fancy came when he claimed that this attack, along with those of the 7/7 bombers were the “opening salvos” of a third world war. With nearly 12 years between those dark days and now, that’s a pretty slow first onslaught. But then judging by most of his gurning stormtroopers, that’s probably how long it takes a thought to move from backside to elbow.
Tommy Robinson of the EDL posted a similarly agitated video referencing his own previous ‘warnings’ and bemoaning people who blame his vocal attacks on Muslims as helping to drive radicalism, before launching into another vocal attack on Muslims.
Nigel Farage blamed multiculturalism, predictably bending the argument to lay responsibility in the lap of Europe.
Head troll Katy Hopkins also popped out from under her bridge to give us the benefit of her considered opinion. This time she wrapped herself in the mantle of poetic prescience. Clambering up on to what passes for her moral high ground, she refused to be shocked or surprised by events. Instead she accepted the inevitability with a weary wave of a polished fingernail. Again it was the liberal elite to blame who refused to see the problems they were causing by not rounding up anyone who looked a bit dodgy or beardy. She painted a picture of a London cowering in the face of radicalism, its inhabitants bizarrely portrayed as monkeys. She was of course alluding to the wise trio cliché, but amid her poorly written, non-sequitur gushings it was difficult to know if she was trying to conjure up a rather more offensive comparison.
The other notable contribution came from Donald Trump Jnr, apparently keen to emulate his father as the master of the inappropriate comment. In a tweet directed at Sadiq Khan questioning his sanguine acceptance of such attacks being part of the price of living in a capital city in any free society, he demonstrated the traditional Trump penchant for knowing exactly the wrong thing to say at the right moment. Later his daddy would go on to suggest that his travel ban would have prevented the attack in the first place, which I’m sure has the people of South East Kent nervously seeking out their passports.
There were of course many other similar contributions from extreme right commentators and the usual suspect gutter press, all eager to jump the bandwagon of condemnation of Muslims, of liberals and anyone who didn’t see the world through the same narrow tunnel they peer down. Some even chose to alight on the picture of an obviously shocked Muslim woman passing by a victim as if she were personally responsible. There are no pictures of the many non-Muslims who probably had the same understandable reaction.
As with previous attacks, Muslims at home and around the world have indeed stood up to condemn an action taken ostensibly in their name. But that’s a fact that will traditionally be forgotten in the weeks and months to come when a clickbait red-top needs a good headline to boost the ratings.
It’s all very familiar and not in the least bit unexpected, but in the post-Brexit, post-Trump world all this seemed to take on an extra pointedness. On previous occasions they could all be written off as crackpot blowhards, but with an increasingly right leaning narrative now playing out in our lives, we’re seeing a much more bold and entitled narrative emerging. The stark irony though is that the rhetoric spouted by these commentators has exactly the same roots as the extremism and fundamentalism motivating those they condemn.
The blind rage, the separatist rhetoric, the dehumanisation of anyone who doesn’t share exactly your cultural values is just as evident in any Jihadist as they are in a Britain First rant. The calls to bury liberalism and take an uncompromising approach towards anyone different or foreign, the arguments for selfish statehood and closed borders are echoed in chants from the Middle East to middle England.
Evidence is emerging that racism, conflict and intolerance may have fed into the life of the man who became Khalid Masood and ultimately drove him to his actions on Wednesday. An otherwise unremarkable Englishman who’s life took many wrong turns until he found an outlet for his rage. As with many before him, he was exactly the kind of person targeted by those looking for a human weapon. As is often the case it’s apparent that there may have been some element of a sick personal validation of his actions, but it’s also clear that a pervasive culture of distrust and prejudice does much of the preliminary groundwork for would-be radicalisers.
The kinds of liberal values that people like Jeremy Corbyn have espoused in Westminster and beyond are not merely the soft hearted indulgence of a fluffy lefty agenda. They are an antidote to those who would use the extremist rhetoric being pushed in our right wing media to turn their own people into weapons that we ultimately have little defence against.
Whatever steps we take in terms of physical security, no matter how secular a society becomes, ideals are enduring and religion will probably always be with us. You can’t put thoughts in handcuffs or stop a determined homegrown fanatic with a border check. The outpouring of positivity and solidarity that we saw on the streets after the attack is a far more effective defence than any number of travel bans. The only real protection from idealised violence is idealised tolerance and peace.
Even though they probably don’t see it, people like Golding, Robinson, Farage and Hopkins and many others are cut from exactly the same cloth as any other radical extremist calling their own people to rise up. They are opposite sides of the same double-headed coin and they are equally as dangerous to us all.
There are of course matters of physical security that will need to be addressed after the Westminster attack, and there have already been many arrests as a result. But we also have to start dealing with the other side of the problem. We need to tackle the mounting howl of those who claim to be on ‘our side’ who would seek to use the same techniques of radicalisation to spread hatred and discontent throughout our society. They are every bit as guilty as any fanatical cleric or ranting despot of creating the culture that has led us to this point, and they need to be held to account for it.