Dangerous reality of far-right hate crimes and terrorism is being overlooked
'Be under no illusion, we are at war. And it is a war we are losing badly.' These were the words found scribbled on notes belonging to Martyn Gilleard, a neo-Nazi from East Yorkshire who was imprisoned in 2008 for 16 years for terror offences.
Thought to be planning attacks on Muslims, Jews, and black people, police found a cache of weapons including homemade nail bombs, gunpowder, fuses, bullets, and swords in Gilleard’s flat.
The murder of Jo Cox MP and the subsequent spate of post-EU referendum racist attacks have brought to light the simmering reality of the far-right in the UK.
Worryingly, for far too long the threat posed by far-right British and European terrorists (yes, terrorists) has been allowed to fall under the radar. This problem will only be tackled with the rise of political and social movements intent on changing the prejudice inherent in our characterisation of terrorism and with a greater recognition of the multiple frontiers on which we ought to be combating terrorism.
I vividly recall the first time that I witnessed the ugliness of far-right, anti-Muslim hatred. It was more than a decade ago at a funeral, of all places, in the south east of England.
Only hours after burying someone very dear to me, I tearfully walked away from his grave towards the entrance of the burial ground. Lost in my emotions, I thought nothing of a pick-up-truck rushing towards me, until my thoughts were disrupted by the sound of brakes screeching and rubber skidding along the road.
No sooner had the truck stopped, that the driver and passenger sped off screaming that Muslims should go back to where they came from; while their words were directed at me, it felt as though they were addressing the world at large. As they left, an object flew past me and thumped the group. It was a pig’s head.
The incident provoked some important questions in my mind: What would cause someone to do such a thing? And irrespective of hate, how could anyone consider it humane or civilised to act in this way after a funeral? As for the intended offence itself, it did not offend me; I was more bothered by the thought of a poor pig losing its head for the sake of a twisted and deluded moment of hate.
In reality, there is no logic to what those people did, just as there is no logic to all acts of hate – be it someone shouting ‘Paki’ from across the street, or an act of terrorism (keep it to yourself, but the joke’s on the racists as the literal etymology of calling someone a ‘Paki’ is to say that they are pure!). And that’s the whole point about hate, it is a human emotion that suffocates all traces of logic and reason.
Take Amjid Mehmood, for example, a West-Midlands road maintenance worker subjected to a nine-month campaign of violence and hate by three colleagues. Among the torments, Mehmood had his hands bound, was force-fed pork, had a rucksack with wires protruding from it placed on his locker, and had his trousers set alight – while he was wearing them! What was the need or the point for this man to suffer in this way? These were senseless acts of pure hate.
Nevertheless, the pointlessness of such hate does not lessen the threat posed by this ever-present and real threat to the UK.
Other examples of this existential threat, particularly since the turn of the millennium, are too numerous to ignore or put down to fringe, mentally disturbed, middle-aged white men. In 2010 42-year-old Ian Davison of County Durham, a senior member of the ‘’Aryan Strike Force" (ASF), was the first man in the UK to be found guilty of developing a chemical weapon. He developed ricin in his kitchen, which he had hoped to kill Jews and Muslims with.
In 2014 Pavlo Lapshyn, 25, stabbed to death Mohammed Saleem, 82, as Saleem returned home from the evening prayers at his local Mosque in Birmingham. Lapshyn also set off bombs outside three UK Mosques and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. In the East Midlands, Kamal Raza Butt, 48, suffered the same fate as Saleem in 2005 when three men beat him to death in Nottingham.
The growing number of far-right, often neo-Nazi, plots against Muslims, Jews, and other minority groups belong to a wider pattern of criminal behaviour spread across the breadth of Europe. In 2011 five members of a Russian neo-Nazi group shouted:"Our conscience is above your laws, we'll be back" as the court sentenced them to 23 years for the murder of 27 ‘Muslim and dark-skinned’ people across a one year period. They shared the same hate that Anders Breivik carried with him as he slaughtered 77 fellow Norwegians, spurred by his right-wing ideology.
A more recent example came on the eve of this summer’s European Championships in France when French neo-Nazi Gregoire Moutaux, 25, was arrested on the border between the Ukraine and Poland. A self-identified Islamophobe and anti-Semite, Moutaux planned to stage 15 attacks on Muslims in France, aided by a 'vast arsenal' including five Kalashnikov assault rifles, two anti-tank grenade launchers, 5000 rounds of ammunition, and 125kg of TNT explosives.
Few will have heard of Moutaux and his potentially devastating plan. One wonders, though, if this would have been the case had he been a Muslim affiliate of Isis?
And herein lies part of the problem. As has been written previously, we currently have no agreed on definition of terrorism, meaning that each government, journalist, and tweeter can identify whomever they like as a terrorist. The natural result has been the development of a narrative that perpetuates the idea that terrorism is a uniquely Muslim problem.
To be clear, there are undoubtedly terrible people who identify themselves as Muslim and commit acts of terrorism. However, we also know that over the past decades the majority of terrorist attacks have been state-sponsored, largely by non-Muslim countries. Moreover, that non-state terrorism has been carried out by a broad range of people from diverse backgrounds and geographical areas.
So here is the critical question that we need to ask ourselves and the media: Do we view Caucasian, European acts of terrorism in the same way that we view so-called Muslim terrorists? To my mind, the answer is no. Therefore, the UK and Europe need to fully recognise the dangerous reality of far-right hate crimes and terrorism perpetrated against anyone who does not fit its ugly mould.
To quote the late and great Muhammad Ali: ‘It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.’