Essay: Does Islamic Revivalism Undermine Arab Borders?

This is an Undergraduate Essay, written in my third year.

The modern Islamic revival effort has espoused a core principle of action: the return to the caliphate. However, this dysfunctional political premise has encountered numerous problems throughout history; this paper will attempt to prove that Islamic revivalism will thrive within national borders and not under the notion of a caliphate. The evidence will be expressed by emphasising three examples: The caliphate functioned under divided sub-states and never proved to be a united entity; globalisation and the spread of international law has stifled calls for the caliphate and; the reinvention of revivalist parties within the constraints of democracy.

The idea of Islamic resurgence is a manifestation of the prophetic statement that God will send a reviver of the religion at the turn of every century.[1]  The classical motivation for revival as John Esposito indicates was to arrest a moral decline, but it was also used as response against colonisation.[2] The latter gained prominence after the official collapse of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924; groups such as the Khilafat movement expressed an immediate intention to re-establish the caliphate. More recently, this Islamic endeavour has reconsolidated its efforts citing the failure of numerous nation states which replaced the caliphate.[3] The nationalist movements in Indonesia and Iran for example, were seen as iconic failures in addressing the concerns of political stagnancy in Muslim countries.[4] Sayyid Qutb and Hassan Al Banna were seen as advocates of a sharia (Islamic law) compliant state whereby the prominence of God’s governance abrogated all other rules of law. Therefore the only satisfactory remedy, according to Islamists, was to re-establish the Islamic Empire.

The downfall of the call to reinvigorate an Islamic state is the inability to administer itself under one wholly unified body. The sheer scale of the Islamic empire, like other empires before it, demonstrated weak central governance. Albert Hourani infers that during the Ummayad dynasty the rapid expansion of the state led to problems in governance and the eventual compromising of power.[5] Mustafa Kemal, the late President of Turkey, referred to the Islamic caliphate as an unworkable system due to the vastness of the empire.[6]

It is a misnomer to presume that the caliphate was without fractious relationships; in fact, these self-interest and sectarian based differences had become apparent within a few generations of the death of the Prophet Muhammad.[7] The proliferation of this divisive mentality would cause an eventual division of power and the utopian idea of the rule of God under His vicegerent had become warped. There is a vast array of evidence to suggest that the empire operated with a decentralised authority. In the 10th century (CE) the Muslims had effectively created three near-autocratic regions, in Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba.[8] In another example, the precursor to revival during the time of Saladin required a unification of the faithful, not in belief but in administration.[9] After Saladin’s ascendency to Sultan, the efforts of uniting numerous regions demonstrated that governance was divided across various Arab regions and that these regions were defined by loose borders. As a reconsolidation of the fact that nation states were the norm, John Darwin adds that in the period following the death of Tamerlane and his vast empire, power reverted back to nation states.[10] Therefore, history has shown an apparent inclination towards division, indicating that the caliphate worked principally as a conglomerate of numerous nation states in all matters but self determination.

The existence of a common bond is used to argue against regional divisions. Nevertheless, both ummah (Islamic community) and ikwah (brotherhood) merely imply that there is a link between partisans of the faith. Feldman notes that the ummah was established from a unified belief and disassociation from tribalism.[11] Allawi affirms that borders can easily be transcended to reflect a common bond between Muslims.[12] However, despite this Koranic emphasis that, “the Muslims are one brotherhood,[13] the concept did not stifle civil war or rivalries within the Muslim population. A common bond does not necessitate the creation of a new, independent, Islamically-governed state.

Western empires employ a similar common denominator in the Kantian theory of democratic peace which states that democratic nations rarely engage in war with each other. This concept of perpetual peace has spread throughout the world through globalisation and has become an integral ideal.[14] The global idea is ever changing, especially given its influence of rapid change in economic markets and spread of ideas. There are common features of globalisation that have had an impact on the revivalist movement and these are:

  1. A single global market which has created interdependency between states;
  2. The spread of media outlets and information has helped converge on global ideas as opposed to regional preferences;
  3. Diplomatic relations between states have become more accessible and bureaucratically quicker and;
  4. Large levels of migration have interrupted a wealth of cultural ideas to propagate shared values. [15]

Globalisation has come as a huge blow to the concept of brotherhood. The spread of information, commercial proliferation and international law has helped to establish a new uniformed international character. The treaties of Westphalia reinforced the concept of the state as having internal and external legitimacy. The idea of sovereignty has changed since the end of the cold war. International imperatives introduced in the 2005 World Summit[16] compel the nation with responsibility over its citizens.[17] Failure to comply could result in military intervention by the international community.[18] The right to self determination needs to pass stringent tests in order for a state to be established. A combination of these legal advances effectively reduces the potential for the growth of a new independent Islamic state. In the event that a caliphate is established, the international community will stringently assess its ability to protect its people, therefore its sovereignty will constantly be undermined.

Conservative revivalist movements consider globalisation as an extension of imperial or colonial values. The fact that this is more an expression of the west[19] rather than a true sharing of values, means that some Islamic movements are likely to reject its overtures.[20] Sayyid Qutb categorised the world into two fragments; belief in Islam and adherence to it or jahilliya[21] (a state of ignorance). This idea has reinforced the arguments of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ which amplifies the division of cultures between the East and the West.

In contrast, the recent developments of Islamic movements have proven that there is adequate room to manoeuvre. There has been a seismic political shift by Islamic revivalist parties in the Arab region. The move towards a democratic alternative has proved to be another significant blow towards conservative revivalist movements. Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have attempted to engage in democratic elections in Palestine and Egypt respectively proving that a transition can be made into mainstream politics.[22] The tone of Noah Feldman’s assertion seems to be one of scepticism when mentioning the motives of Islamic parties partaking in democratic methods. Further to that, another debate which centres on the compatibility of Islam and democracy is one that has been reconciled in many Arab regions.[23]

Two theoretical evidences may suggest that the traditional structure of the state is inclined towards the nation state. According to El Effendi, Ibn Khuldun writes in his Al-Muqadimat that religion does not form the basis of social order; he adds that religion can have two impacts on a state; to reinforce or to erode. The conclusion to this idea is added by Abdel Wahab El-Effendi himself by stating that prophets cannot achieve success without asabiyya (nationalism).[24]

Revivalism has clearly adapted to its environment in some force, though clearly with strong Islamic undertones. Popularity of democratically elected Islamist regimes has surged substantially and successes in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Palestine indicate a huge shift in the psyche of the Muslim population.[25] This is a clear indication of the movement towards the western normative of democracy and the cultural norms of the Arab region. Furthermore, this shift has mobilised Islam as a proponent of democratic rule whereas it was previously deemed unable to develop. Islamic tendency could quite easily shift from supporting the call for the caliphate to supporting a democratised Islam as a modern alternative to the failures of pan-Arabian nationalism.

It appears as though the natural disposition of the Islamic revival is constrained within the confines of nation states. Historic evidence suggests that fractured, self governing sub-states removed executive powers away from the central government during the Islamic Caliphate. The suggestion is that revival cannot move beyond friendly borders, it has never operated in such a manner. It would be impractical for any modern revival effort to assume power without establishing a central base from which it can expand. To date, no autonomous region within the Arab provinces has been created, neither has it succeeded with self-determination and even if it tried, international law would probably restrict it from doing so. This leads to The Westphalian imperative which has effectively sanctified borders; this and other international law edicts have created little opportunity to challenge national boundaries.

Democratic parties are inherently national based organisations that do not transcend borders. Modern revivalist groups have reasserted themselves as national movements with significant religious influences. The shift towards Islamic democratic politics has proved successful for parties like Hamas and Hizbullah and they have helped to redefine Islamic revivalist movements. All of these points indicate that Islamic revivalism operates within the confines of nationalism.

Perhaps the best portrayal of Islamic revivalist development within borders is expressed by James Gelvin:

Other transnational religions have become the wellspring of territorial nationalisms… It only stands to reason, therefore, that their Islam would conform to such a world as well.[26]

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Bibliography

Books:

Allawi, A. (2009) The Crisis of the Islamic Civilization, Yale University Press, London.

Baylis, J., Owens, P., Smith, S. (2008) The Globalization of World Politics- An Introduction to International Relations– 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Darwin, J. (2007) After Tamerlane, Penguin Books, London.

Ed-Din, B. (2002) Saladin, Adam Publishers, New Delhi.

Eickelman, D. & Piscatori, J. (2004) Muslim Politics [2nd Edition], Princeton University Press, Oxfordshire.

El-Effendi, A. (2008) Who Needs an Islamic State? [2nd Edition], Malaysia Think Tank, London.

Esposito, J. (1991) Islam and Politics [3rd Edition], Syracuse University Press, New York

Feldman, N. (2004) After Jihad, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.

Feldman, N. (2008) The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, Oxford.

Hourani, A. (1993) A History of Arab Peoples, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001) ‘The Responsibility to Protect,’ http://www.iciss.ca/report-en.asp

Articles:

Gelvin J. (2010) ‘Nationalism, Anarchism, Reform: Political Islam from Inside Out,’ Middle East Policy, Vol.17/3, pp. 118-133

Sadiki, L. (2010) ‘Reframing Resistance & Democracy- Narratives from Hamas & Hizbullah,’ Democratization, Vol. 17/2, pp. 350-376

Soage, A. (2009) ‘Hassan al Banna & Sayyid Qutb: Continuity or Rupture?’The Muslim World, Vol. 99, pp. 294-311


[1] Sunan Abi Dawud

[2] Esposito J., (1991) Islam & Politics (3rd Ed.) pp. 32-33

[3] Feldman, N., (2008) The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, p. 19

[4] Feldman, N., (2004) After Jihad, pp. 20-21

[5] Hourani, A., (1993) A History of the Arab Peoples,p. 26

[6] El Effendi, A., (2008) Who Needs an Islamic State?(2nd Ed.) p. 82

[7] Hourani, A., op cit. pp. 24-25

[8] Hourani, A., op cit. p. 83

[9] Ed Din, B., Saladin, pp. 61-121

[10] Darwin, J., After Tamerlane, p. 6

[11] Feldman, N., (2004) op. cit. pp. 51-52

[12] Allawi, A., (2009) The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, p. 6

[13] The Koran, ch. 49, verse 10

[14] Baylis J.et al, (2008) The Globalization of World Politics (4th Ed.) p. 11

[15] Baylis, J., op cit. pp. 17-18

[16] The Responsibility to Protect

[17] ICISS (2001) ‘The Responsibility to Protect,’ p. VIII

[18] Baylis, J., op cit. pp. 195

[19] Darwin, J., op cit. pp. 7-8

[20] Gelvin, J., (2010) Political Islam from the Inside Out, p. 125

[21] Soage, A.,  p. 297

[22] Gelvin, J., op cit. p. 125

[23] Feldman, N., (2008) op. cit. p. 112

[24] El Effendi, A., op cit. pp. 44-45

[25] Feldman, N., (2008) op. cit. p. 142

[26] Gelvin, J., (2010) Nationalism, Anarchism, Reform: Political Islam from the Inside Out, p. 126

Essay: Was Europe to Blamed for the Decline of the Ottoman Empire?

This is an essay I wrote in my first year at university. It has not been edited.  

The Islamic state was a vast entity that spread across Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa. However, there was no one absolute authority over it; instead history records a few fragmented, regional authorities. The most celebrated amongst them was the Ottoman Empire, encompassing the largest stretch of land and a near incontestable authority. During the same era however, in Moorish Spain, Christendom was preparing to declare victory over Islam in the reconquista[1].

Serious military deficiency and fragmented kingdoms encouraged an onslaught in Andalusia. By specialising in the arts, science, intellectual and medicinal reform, Islamic Spain was able to sustain itself and its citizens lavishly. The failure to provide adequate provisions for a military force meant that they were easily overrun. In fact, when Moorish Spain began to diminish they invited the Murabitun[2] to help them. The Turks, on the other hand were undisputed in their knowledge of warfare but their downfall was their inability to reach the academic heights of their Andalusian counterparts. It was as though the emphases between the two had been switched from intellect to military prowess without attempting to create a utopian balance. Despite the lament of Islamists, lessons had not been learnt.

Within a short amount of time in power, they had produced some of the most miraculous feats in Islamic history. In later years, after a series of these incredible successes, there came a period of self induced stagnation and decline.

Is it fair though, to claim that the decline of the Ottoman Empire was self-inflicted? The counter-argument makes reference to the growth of European Empires with superior technology and political prowess. Nevertheless, it was the passive approach of the Islamic empire that facilitated their own demise and the rise of their opponents.

Seeds of Decline

During the infancy of the Ottoman Empire, there is no evidence to suggest that it was challenged by Europe. Generally history dictates that European intervention occurred much later, there was a period of rapid European activity immediately before the official demise of the Islamic state in 1924. Based on that notion it is easy to suggest that the decline was not necessarily induced by European incendiary figures. Furthermore, if it cannot be external forces that caused the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the only remaining possibility is that it was self-induced.

Samuel Huntington suggests that in a uni-polar world the Leviathan[3] can “maintain its dominance over minor states until it is weakened by internal decay.” [pg36]

There are four plausible factors for the eventual decline:

  • Weak leadership
  • Poor administration & governance over provinces
  • Lack of technological progression
  • Internal Corruption

The faults of a hereditary monarchy are clear to see, such a mechanism does not adequately develop natural leaders, it just passes it onto a successor.  Landes adds that the Ottoman Empire initially had strong leaders, however leadership quality rapidly receded within a short amount of time. Sultans were raised without gaining an education in politics or policy and they had instead become largely occupied with the harem. [Landes. 1999]

Similarly, Kinross cites the example of Sultan Abdul Hamid who refused to engage himself with the public in preference of isolation within his palace walls. He adds, “In the past it (the Ottoman Empire) had depended essentially on the absolute sovereign authority of the Sultan and the will and capacity to rule. This its Sultans now generally lacked, prone to the distractions of the harem…No longer was the heir sent to the throne to gain experience in public affairs. No longer-with rare exceptions did a Sultan command his own troops in battle.” [Kinross. 2002]

Most provinces, by default, had been administered weakly with only nominal control. That helped to create an ethnic or regional division within state borders, governance though, was officially under the Ottoman Turks. Strathern claims that the leader in Egypt in latter years became highly ineffectual because the Beys orchestrated governance and had put the governor under virtual house arrest in Cairo. This mattered little to the Ottomans provided there was some semblance of government and no conflict within the province. [Strathern. 2007]

The Hijaz was another district of control but once again, they found great difficulty in garnering control of Najd. When eventually, a challenge to the Ottoman Authority arose, unsurprisingly it came from Najd. Ibn Saud, a staunch supporter of the British (and vice versa), became recognised ruler of the region. These provinces were gradually increased in a short amount of time, providing yet further proof of unsustainable governance. The example suggests that the Ottoman Empire was on the cusp of collapse because of poor management and not having been overrun by foreign forces throughout their history. [Al-Rasheed. 2002]

The Ottomans were hardly known for their pioneering insights into education and invention. Intellectual stagnancy had been embellished further because of European buoyancy. They were incredibly reliant on Christian adversaries for expertise in developing their arsenal. Furthermore, the Ottoman navy was out-dated and incomparable to the rest of Europe. It now meant that their military ascendancy was being undermined, they no longer had the advantage. In 1529 they were defeated in Vienna.

Their clerical body had admonished certain beneficial advancements as heretical innovations which meant that the inventor’s trade was hardly adopted. With such opinions the stifling of progression can easily be placed on the shoulders of the Ulema[4].

They had gradually become isolated in trade as they suffered from their inability to refine raw materials as well as their counterparts. Even in trade, because of their lack of insight to the benefits of technological progress, they suffered. The eastern market had been in huge demand but as Europe developed, the Ottomans failed to maintain the same speed of advancement. The Europeans had become self sufficient, requiring raw materials rather than purchasing products. The tide had turned, the Ottomans went from providing goods to purchasing from Europe. By the time the industrial revolution had arrived, the Ottomans were lagging too far behind to have a significant impact.

After numerous defeats, the ineffectual military unit became a burden and could not accumulate revenues for the state. According to Landes, the empire needed booty or land. When both dried up, they sought to generate wealth from within and some resorted to looting. [Landes. 1999]

The Ottoman Empire had obviously now become very susceptible to losing their provinces and were effectively being torn apart. Italy had taken control in Libya, the Baltic provinces in the late 19th century were also being recaptured by natives [Bruce. 2008]. When Napoleon for example, had consulted the French ambassador regarding invading Egypt, he was received with outright approval and that he might be wise to consider capturing the Ottoman Empire. By this time though, the empire was already considered the sick man of Europe. [Strathern. 2007]

The British, nearly a century later had made significant forays into Ottoman territory and convinced Ibn Saud to declare his independence. The old adage of divide and conquer was coming into effect. Islamists claim that the Ottoman empire and the Islamic state are inter-linked, so when the Islamic state was pronounced dead in 1924, so ended the era of the Ottoman Empire.

There is no doubting the advancement of Europe whilst the Ottoman Empire clicked its heels. Development was being stifled by religious bodies who considered such technological innovations as sacrilegious. Such passiveness had granted their opponents the upper hand. Neither did they choose to invest in education and intellectual advancements even though they had the capacity to do so.

The whole event became cyclical, faced with losses on the battlefield then by a further lack of development on their part and an abundance of technological advancement by their enemies they faced yet more failures in their military campaigns. Ultimately they had fallen foul of their lack of ambition to develop.

There is a finite nature about the empire as experienced by Alexander the Great, Rome and Britain, all at varying lengths of success. Herein lays the issue; internal decay caused the empire to crumble. It was the technological backwardness of the Ottomans that did not allow them to advance and resulted in their opponents being granted a significant advantage. In the chain of events, their military prowess was easily challenged because they never had the know-how of developing much further than the cannon. That led to their main source of revenue being cut-off. The decision to find hired help only fuelled hatred and animosity and so created the potential for mutiny. Corruption ravaged internal politics and once again it had a lasting impact on revenue. They failed to exert any authority in the industrial revolution and were easily stifled when they had ambitions to progress. By the time the Europeans decided to challenge Ottoman authority, the Turks had already exhausted themselves of modern political standing.

The clearest indication that there is a limit on how long an empire can sustain its prolonged assault for world domination is Francis Bacon’s damning verdict,

“We also see that kings that have been fortunate conquerors in their first      years, it being not possible for them to go forward infinitely, but that they must         have some check or arrest in their fortunes, turn in their latter years to be       superstitious and melancholy; as did Alexander the Great, Diocletian and our         memory of Charles the Fifth and others. For he that is used to go forward, and   findeth a stop, falleth out of his own favour and is not the thing he was.” [Bacon, F. 2005]


[1] The reacquisition of Spain by the native Christians.

[2] The Murabitun were skilled fighters who lived in Morocco and the surrounding areas.

[3] Thomas Hobbes referred to the supreme authority as the ‘Leviathan.’

[4] Arabic term for scholars (of Islam).

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Bibliography

Books:

Al-Rasheed. M. (2002), A History of Saudi Arabia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Bacon, F. (2008), Of Empire, Penguin Books, London.

Bruce, A. (2003), The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War, John Murray Publishers, London.

Crowley, R. (2005) 1453, Hyperion, New York.

Darwin, J. (2007), After Tamerlane, Penguin Books, London.

Hobbes, T. (2005), Of Man, Penguin Books, London.

Hourani, A. (1993), A History of Arab Peoples, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kinross, J.P.D.B. (2002), The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise & Fall of the Turkish Empire, Perennial, New York.

Landes, D. (1999), The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Abacus, London.

Stratern, P. (2007), Napoleon in Egypt, Vintage Books, London.

Journal Articles:

Huntington, S. (1999) ‘The Lonely Superpower’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 78/2, pp. 35-49.

News: A Different Kind of Terrorism

… And apparently it is not one worthy of further investigation, at least not to the degree of other forms. The many incidents of right-wing terrorism at home and abroad over the last couple of decades have reason to cause concern. Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma bombing was an insight into the misguided hatred of a new, rising breed of people and subsequent acts of terrorism have been proportionately overlooked when compared to Islamic terrorism. However both are, in fact, one and the same thing: both incite hatred, both create an atmosphere of fear. From David Copeland, Timothy McVeigh and to the most recent terrorist acts by Breivik and Page, Right-wing extremism is becoming ever-popular and it’s not something that any of us should take lightly.

The Economist (Vol. 404 No. 8797) reported that membership and support has increased for Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party; Golden Dawn (Greece) and the French National Front by virtue of intense anti-immigration policies. What makes this trend frightening is that according to Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University, the surge is not based on the downturn in the economic  climate. He adds that there are “Concerns over national culture, identity and a way of life more than material worries.” [See my forthcoming comment on the failures of multiculturalism]

Below is an article published in the Guardian by Matthew Goodwin.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/08/wade-michael-page-violent-far-right?INTCMP=SRCH

Wade Michael Page and the rise of violent far-right extremism

On Saturday 28 July 2012, Wade Michael Page walked into the Shooters Shop in Wisconsin to buy a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, and ammunition. Eight days later, the 40-year-old military veteran arrived at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek and began shooting at members of the congregation who had gathered to prepare a meal. During the shooting, six members of the Sikh community, one police officer and the attacker were killed.

Within hours of the shootings, the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC)revealed that Page was a known white supremacist. He had links to networks including the Hammerskin Nation and was involved in an underground music scene often referred to as “white power music” or “hate rock”. Influenced strongly by earlier bands in England such as Skrewdriver, white power music is seen by those who study extremism as one of the most important recruitment tools for the modern far right. Page’s involvement appears to have been deep: in an interview with online music magazine Label56.com in 2005, he claimed to have sold all of his possessions so that he could travel around the country attending white power festivals such as Hammerfest. The next year he formed a band called End Apathy recruiting bandmates from the other groups such as Definite Hate and 13 Knots. Asked in 2005 to elaborate on the meaning of the band’s lyrics, Page replied: “The topics vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to.”

Page’s body also contained references to white supremacism. A tattoo of the number “14” was a direct reference to the so-called “14 words” that occupy a central role in neo-Nazi vocabulary: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” This passage, a reference to a section of Mein Kampf, was popularised by David Lane, a member of white supremacist terror group The Order. Another tattoo of the Odin or Celtic cross represents one of the most popular symbols among neo-Nazis, seen as the international symbol for “white pride”. Those who had been close to Page confirmed his ideological affinity to the extreme right. Reflecting a wider belief within the movement, an old army friend of Page claimed that as far back as the 90s he had talked about “racial holy war”, and would rant “about mostly any non-white person”.

As with the aftermath of the attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway, it was not long until sympathisers surfaced online. “Take your dead and go back to India and dump their ashes in the Ganges, Sikhs,” wrote one neo-Nazi. Others praised their “brother”: “All I feel is loss and sympathy for a brother that was overwhelmed by pain and frustration. I could [sic] care less though for those injured and wounded other than Wade.” Another warned of future attacks: “There are thousands of other angry White men like Page, the vast majority of them unknown … When will they, like Page, reach their breaking point…?”

The threat of violence from disgruntled rightwing extremists is not lost on the security services, or analysts. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, an analyst at the Department for Homeland Security, authored a report that explicitly warned of the growing threat of far-right violence. Pointing to the economic downturn, the election of Barack Obama and evidence that some military veterans were struggling to re-integrate into civilian life, the report was one of the first to flag the growing importance of the extreme right – a movement that was routinely overlooked after 9/11. Few, however, took the warning seriously. Rather, Republicans and rightwing commentators openly criticised the report. Some saw it as an attempt to discredit the insurgent and right-wing Tea Party movement while many viewed it as an unfair attack on military veterans. Others said it focused unnecessarily on domestic rather than foreign manifestations of terrorism.

But Johnson (who was later shunted into a different department) was not wrong. Following Wisconsin, some analysts reminded commentators thatthe far right is responsible for as many – if not more – attacks on US soil than religious-based extremists, and now poses the most significant domestic security threat. Indeed, prior to 9/11 the most damaging act of terrorism within the US was the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma by militia sympathiser Timothy McVeigh, which resulted in 168 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Between 1990 and 2010 the far right committed 145 ideologically motivated homicide incidents in the US. Of these incidents, excluding the bombing in Oklahoma City, far-right extremists killed 180 people.

The data suggests that American far right groups have grown “explosively”, which is attributed to a potent combination of public anxieties over the financial crisis, the growth of conspiracy theories, the exploitation of fears over non-white immigration and the prospect of Obama securing a second term in office.

According to the SPLC, in 2011 the number of “hate groups” active in the US reached 1,018, 69% more than in 2000. The most striking growth has been within the “patriot” scene, which contains anti-government groups that cling to conspiracy theories and view the government as enemy number one. There were fewer than 150 of these (mostly inactive) groups in 2000. By 2011, there were almost 1,300. In fact, since 2009 this particular variant of the far right has grown at a rate of 755%.

While it is difficult to compare across borders, similar warnings have been voiced in Europe. Last year, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany noted that while the number of people in far-right political parties had contracted to 22,000, the number of those involved in more combative and confrontational forms of far-right politics was on the rise: the number of rightwing extremists with a propensity to violence had increased to 9,800; the number of followers of more violence-prone neo-Nazi groups had risen to 6,000; and the number of street-based demonstrations had reached an all-time high.

Though less affected than other countries, from 2001 onward, authorities in the UK have similarly voiced concern over a rapidly evolving far-right scene. In recent years, at least 17 individuals who committed or planned acts of violence or terrorism, and who were linked to the far right, have been imprisoned. In 2009, the discovery of a network of rightwing extremists in England with access to an arsenal of weapons prompted London Metropolitan police to warn that far-right militants might attempt a “spectacular” attack. In the same year the English Defence League (EDL) was born, introducing a new form of far-right politics that is less interested than its predecessors in elections, and more focused on rallying support through street-based confrontation and networks that transcend national borders.

A candlelight vigil following the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Photograph: Chris Wilson/AP

Though often dismissed as alarmist, these warnings were partly validated in July 2011, when Breivik launched his politically motivated attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utøya. Shortly afterward, authorities in Germany discovered that a violent neo-Nazi cell – the National Socialist Underground (NSU) – had been responsible for at least a dozen murders. Then, in Florence, an activist connected to the far-right group Casa Pound shot dead two immigrant street traders in an unprovoked attack. While it might be tempting to treat the attack in Wisconsin in isolation, it is actually the latest in a series of acts of violence from individuals linked to far-right groups.

The perpetrators of these attacks are often dismissed as crazed and psychologically flawed loners. Perhaps this is because we have grown used to the security threat from religious extremists and tend to view their far-right counterparts as a loony fringe, rather than rational agents who are using violence to achieve certain goals. What Breivik in Norway,Gianluca Casseri in Florence, the “London nailbomber” David Copelandand Michael Page all share in common is that they arrived at violence following a longer involvement with far-right extremism. For more recent examples – such as Breivik – their attacks followed an almost total immersion in online “virtual communities”. These perform a crucial role in cultivating a set of narratives that are often later used to justify violence. These include emphasis on the perceived threat of racial or cultural extinction, belief in an impending and apocalyptic conflict (a “race war” or “clash of civilisations”), belief that urgent, radical action is required and that followers have a moral obligation. In short, only by engaging in violence can they defend the wider group from various threats in society.

This preference for violence or terrorism reflects a viewpoint within the far right that has long prioritised “direct action” over a ballot-box strategy. For much of the past two decades in Europe, the strength of the far right has been measured through its number of votes at elections. But it is important to note that – for some within this scene – strength is measured as the ability and willingness to engage in violent action against “enemies” that are seen to threaten the racial purity and survival of the native group. These enemies can beimmigrants, minority groups, future leaders of mainstream parties or the state.

Identifying and tracking the Breiviks and Pages of this world will always be extremely difficult. But the reality is that – at least for the past 10 years – western democracies and their security agencies have focused almost exclusively on only one form of violent extremism. The far right may still pose less of a threat than al-Qaida-inspired groups, say, but our ignorance of this form of extremism is striking.

Wisconsin teaches us that the challenge that now presents itself is to understand what “pushes and pulls” citizens to commit violence in the name of rightwing extremism, and to develop an effective response. To do this, we must first start taking violence from the far right more seriously.

Brief: Rescuing the Plight of the Rohingya

A highly disproportionate reflection of world events is usually amplified by an exceptional level of interest by one, if not more interest groups. That is to say, the world media focuses on issues that it believes is relevant to the public. These disproportionate affairs and issues are not merely reflected in the national media but extend as far as foreign affairs and foreign policy issues. Britain’s alliances with regional and international powers have caused considerable bias in subject matter.  Political alliances mirror media concerns to a large extent and vice versa, therefore though the British public have no immediate concern with the welfare of America’s home issues, many incidents are relayed to the British press as highly important, front-page news. What has become incredibly apparent in recent years, is the lack of concern by major political powers (ergo superpowers) on other non-domestic affairs.

Issues of humanitarian rights abuses, genocide and ethnic cleansing should have a major impact on political ethics. What has been witnessed in the reactions of the intra-governmental organisations and nations (standing independently) have not led to a satisfactory halt in overcoming the abuse of a right to life. More specifically, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Bosnia and the most recent case in Burma has been a repetitive programme of reaction rather than prevention. Nevertheless, at this point in time the Rohingya, an ethnic population, who live in Myanmar, require action.

International interference in the domestic affairs of other nations is not permitted by the United Nations (UN) however, there have been a number of incidents of disregard. The references here are to the alleged regime changes in Iraq and Libya. In such circumstances, where overlooking a UN precedent is deemed worthy of non-compliance, would it not be equally worthy in cases of human rights abuses?

The situation in point: Nearly 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar, none of whom have been granted citizenship. International law states that ‘no person should be rendered stateless’ which is a situation that the Rohingya have suffered since 1982, when the their citizenship and rights were revoked. The Rakhine claim that the Rohingya are a people without history, such propaganda is akin to the claims of pro-zionist groups that allege that the Palestinian people have no real ancestry. Nevertheless, in Myanmar, 30 years of incessant brutality and abuse have de-sensitised the locals into believing formalised bigotry. Systemic abuse and misinformation helps to misguide further generations and in order to stop the abuses from taking place, it needs to be targeted from the top down. Rakhine campaigners have used their public platforms to belittle the existence of the Rohingya minority. The press, unfortunately, has not been granted adequate access into the country and cannot report the intensity of violence that has taken in Rakhine state. What is understood is that as of June 29th 2012, at least 52,000 have been displaced (according to the UN) with scores killed and injured. The allegations  of the abuses are overwhelming, but it is equally important for people to seek the truth and not be misguided by exaggerations and other propaganda.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6JE9X9cezQ&sns=fb

Political responsibility however is not incumbent upon any particular nation but there remains a moral and ethical responsibility to preserve life. Unfortunately, as reported in the UN daily press briefing, Sheikh Hasina has stated that the Rohingya are not Bangladesh’s immediate problem [http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2012/db120806.doc.htm]. However, for at least 30 years, Bangladesh has housed refugees fleeing from Burma despite economic constraints on one of the poorest countries in the world. In such case, who is responsible for the welfare of stateless persons. Charity and providing shelter are not inexhaustible but by no means unwelcome. The Independent reported that humanitarian assistance is being blocked by Rakhine Monks [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burmas-monks-call-for-muslim-community-to-be-shunned-7973317.html]. It is imperative that individuals act with financial aid and beyond to raise awareness to their government. This is not another ‘Make Kony Famous’ campaign, this really is about making the plight of an oppressed people known. Hopefully, with more press coverage there will be a greater impetus for the government(s) to react.

By filling out the petition below, you will enable at least some time for the issue to be raised:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32542

The approach, as implied in the introduction is to raise awareness in the media and also in political forums. When Britain is gripped by the Olympics and the world wishes to forget about the economic hardships that must be endured, it seems a little to morbid to mention the Rohingya. The purpose of this post is simple: Airtime.