26th Oct 2016

EU authorities accused of blindness on 'counter-jihad'

Security services in Europe have neglected the kind of right-wing extremism which inspired Norway's Anders Behring Breivik to commit mass murder, a UK-based rights group has warned.

"Post-911, all major authorities have themselves in the EU focused on the direct threat of Islamic terrorism while they took their eye off the ball on the radicalisation of Europeans," Daniel Hodges, a campaigner for Hope Not Hate, a London-based NGO, told EUobserver on Monday (16 April).

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"EU authorities have been lagging on radicalisation in Europe. They've been slow to grasp the power of the Internet and social media that encourages and helps co-ordinate the activities of the groups," he added.

Hope Not Hate in a report out on Sunday said the 'counter-jihad' movement has become the new face of the far right in Europe and North America. The survey identifies some 300 disparate groups and individuals behind the trend.

Many of them say Muslims are a threat to Western cultural identity or values because old-fashioned racist language is no longer acceptable in mainstream politics and media. They also profess sympathy toward gay people and Jews.

The conservative American commentator, David Horowitz, is possibly the number one counter-jihad personality. His Freedom Centre think tank is a financial backer of many of the groups, the report says. He has also organised fund-raising events for Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who recently hit the headlines by launching a website where people can denounce immigrants who work on the black market.

Money is being pumped in from fundamentalist Christian organisations as well. "There is a link between these groups and the religious fundamentalist movement in the US and in Europe. A lot of the funding for these groups come from these religious movements in Europe," Hodges explained.

Breivik - who is today standing trial in Oslo for killing 77 people on 22 July 2011 in two separate attacks - drew inspiration from some of the people cited in the Hope Not Hate study for his own 1,500-page manifesto.

Among them is Peder Nostvold Jensen, a 36-year old Norwegian blogger whose name appears 118 times in Breivik's text. Jensen himself writes regularly for counter-jihad weblogs Gates of Vienna, Brussels Journal and Jihad Watch and says there is a Muslim plot to conquer Europe.

For his part, Sindre Bangstad, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo who is writing a book on Breivik, agreed with Hodges that European authorities had a blind spot on counter-jihad.

"The threats from the far right and radicalisation in Europe are quite real. In the Norwegian experience, the authorities have taken a one-sided approach. The PST, the police intelligence services who monitor terrorism threats in Norway, had only limited knowledge of right-wing extremists," he told this website.

He cautioned that despite the scale of the Breivik incident, the number of far-right activists prepared to use deadly violence is limited, however. "They do not constitute a credible threat to democracy in Europe," he said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has publicly admitted that EU countries and institutions failed to stem far-right threats.

"Let's face it: neither the EU member states nor the European Commission have taken enough action to face the growing problem of radicalisation," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said at the inauguration of the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network in September last year.

The network is a group of NGOs, universities and law enforcement authorities which use EU money to monitor radicals' activities. A ministerial conference is scheduled to present their findings sometime after summer.

The commission has washed its hands of Wilders' website and a Belgian copy-cat site launched by the far-right Vlaams Belang party in early April, saying the online vigilante projects are problems for national authorities to deal with. In an example of Malmstrom's complaint, Belgian authorities have said the Vlaams Belang site is illegal, but it is still online.

Belgium's Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism told EUobserver the country has seen a surge in reports of online hate speech, mostly targeting Muslims.

Five years ago, it got around 100 reports of incidents on websites, blogs, social media and chain mails. Last year it received some 600.

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