What right-wing violent extremists and jihadists have in common

Seeing more and more articles outlining the similarities and the differences between the two forms of extremism:

The parallels between the extreme ideologies of the violent far right and the global jihadist fringe are too striking to ignore. Both believe that they are in a cosmic war between good and evil. Both look back to an imagined glorious past that has been derailed by an imagined inglorious present. Both think that their way of life is under existential threat and that only extreme violence can save their souls. Both want to polarize and create division. Both want to make their respective tribes great again, even if it means the genocidal destruction of other tribes. And both believe that the media can be weaponized to serve their aims.

Just as striking, however, are the parallels between the psychological profiles of those who adhere to these two opposing, yet structurally similar, ideologies.

Anyone who has ever met and engaged an extremist in conversation feels this in their bones. It is the trenchancy with which your interlocutor articulates his views. It is his unwillingness to listen to the other side of the argument. It is his cast-iron certainty that he is right and you are wrong. It is his conviction that the end justifies any and all means.

Drawing on a large body of research in political psychology, sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog note that individuals on the violent far right exhibit a number of distinct psychological traits. One is a proneness to be easily disgusted: a special sensitivity to objects that are felt to be polluting or corrupting. Another trait is the need for closure: that is, “a preference for order, structure and certainties.” A third trait is a “rigid in-group preference,” and a fourth is “simplism,” which is “a penchant to seek simple and unambiguous explanations of the social world and its ills.”

People with left-wing views, by contrast, according Gambetta and Hertog, are more likely to be tolerant of disorder, uncertainty and complexity.

Because so little is publicly known about the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre, it is hard to be sure whether he fits into Gambetta and Hertog’s profile of a right-wing extremist. But the 74-page manifesto he uploaded to the internet before his rampage certainly provides some suggestive evidence of a fit. The manifesto, titled “The Great Replacement,” is saturated in irony and booby-trapped with false-flags. But it also expresses beliefs, sentiments and anxieties that are clearly genuinely felt and that cast a sharp light on the mindset of the person who wrote it.

There is much disgust expressed in the document, all of it aimed at non-white “invaders,” particularly Muslims, who are reviled as dirty and contaminating. Cities are particularly distasteful to its author: sewers of “cultural filth.” Turkish people are dehumanized as “roaches,” while “Antifa/Marxists/Communists” are castigated in hollering capitalizations as “ANTI-WHITE SCUM.”

Sex isn’t a big theme in the manifesto, but a few stringent paragraphs are devoted to the sexual defilement of “European Women.” In a reference to the Rotherham child sexual abuse case, in which seven Pakistani-British men were found guilty of grooming young girls, the author of the manifesto writes, “Rotherham is just one of an ongoing trend of rape and molestation perpetrated by these non-white scum.”

The manifesto also reveals a mind fixated on in-group/out-group distinctions. These are rigidly hierarchical. At the top of the hierarchy are “European people,” whose traditions, achievements and very survival are perceived to be under grave threat. This is the in-group. At the bottom of the hierarchy are “invaders living on our soil,” which also stands for Muslims in the West. This is the main out-group. But the manifesto’s author reserves his most visceral hatred for what he calls “blood traitors to their own race.” “The only muslim I truly hate,” he writes, “is the convert, those from our own people that turn their backs on their heritage.” This is the subsidiary out-group.

Another insistent theme in the manifesto is simplism — what political scientists Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab called “the unambiguous ascription of single causes and remedies for multi-factored phenomenon.” For the author, the problem is clear: it is the gradual erasure of the culture of white Europeans at the hands of invading non-Europeans. The solution, in his mind, is equally clear: “Radical, explosive action is the only desired, and required, response to an attempted genocide.” The solution is also heavily gendered: “The people who are to blame most are ourselves, European men. Strong men do not get ethnically replaced … weak men have created this situation and strong men are needed to fix it.”

If all of this has a familiar ring to it, it is because, for the past two decades, it has been wearing Islamized clothing. In the most original part of their analysis of extremist mind-sets, Gambetta and Hertog discuss the parallels between the two extremisms currently wreaking havoc around the globe.

Islamic radicals, just like those on the far right, are rigidly Manichean, framing the world as a battlefield between “dirty kuffars” on one side and pure and true defenders of the faith on the other. Revealingly, they reserve their most potent contempt not for unbelievers, whose ignorance they pity, but for those who have known the true path but chosen to reject it (i.e. apostates).

They are also notoriously disgust prone, displaying a particular squeamishness about women’s bodies and sex. Related to this is a deep concern about the sexual purity of women — or rather, their defilement by non-Muslim men. Like the Christchurch terrorist, Islamic radicals are intensely preoccupied by the rape of “their” women by unclean, alien “Others.” And, just like him, they share his arrogant conviction that their own revered methodology is the perfect solution to all the world’s problems, which they attribute to the West.

It is often pointed out that jihadists and far-right violent extremists feed off each other, cynically exploiting the outrages of their enemies as a spur and justification for further retaliatory bloodshed. Earlier this month, for example, ISIL released a statement promising revenge for the Christchurch atrocity.

For all their mutual enmity, however, these two warring factions have far more in common than they would like to admit.

Source: What right-wing violent extremists and jihadists have in common

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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