By Sara De Silva
The West is confronted with a new enemy. The face of this enemy is that of a familiar one, and is no alien to the Western soil unlike Islamic extremism that was imported from across the continent.
The new enemy is an indigenous phenomenon which has been lurking under the surface for years, and it is finally erupting.
The mass shooting of the Sikh temple on August 5th in Wisconsin, USA, was yet another reminder of the threat that the West is likely to suffer in the coming decades. Not only was this a horrific incident for the Sikh community, but possibly for all the South Asians living in the West.
The perpetrator of this despicable act, Wade Michael Page, was reported to be a white supremacist who was extremely vocal about his affinity to the neo-Nazi ideology. The tragic incident indicates a new trend in the neo-Nazi terrorism in the West, as the target selection is no longer limited to the Muslims and pro-immigration groups, but is gradually engulfing the different non-white communities
This incident is not isolated, but is part of a string of attacks that is increasingly becoming an internal security nightmare for the Western governments. The Norway attacks in July 2011 which killed 77 civilians still remain fresh in our memory. Anders Breivik, the perpetrator, was another right-wing xenophobe who claimed to have executed the attacks out of necessity to defend Norway from the growing number of immigrants.
Although the Western media attempts to play down such incidents by labelling them “isolated attacks carried out by lone wolves”, the statistics present a totally different picture. Far-right extremism in Europe and the US is becoming more prominent and violent over the years. According to reports, between 1990 and 2010, the white supremacists committed 145 ideologically motivated homicide incidents in the US alone, killing more than 180 people (excluding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings).
A non-profit civil rights organisation in the US estimated that in 2011, the number of ‘hate groups’ active in the US reached to 1,018- 69 per cent more than in the 2000. These numbers are on the rise each year, and have actually surpassed the number of attacks on US than religiously motivated terrorism. Clearly, the statistics speak for itself, and it would not be an over-exaggeration to state that far-right extremism now poses the most significant domestic security threat in the West, perhaps more than Islamist extremism.
More disturbing than the growing far-right extremism is the blatant reluctance of the Western governments, policymakers, and the media to acknowledge or even associate the violent right-wing extremists as terrorists. In the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting, a segment of the public expressed that this was nothing more or nothing less than a terrorist attack. Further, some noted that had this been a case of a brown and bearded-man indiscriminately shooting a Catholic church, the Western media would not have hesitated for a moment to report the horrific act as terrorism.
We would also expect the President to ferociously condemn the attack and vow to fight against it. However, what we see in the media today after xenophobic attacks is the leaders being merely “heartbroken” by the “incident”. How many more Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page must we witness, for the West to admit that such violence is an ideologically motivated terrorism? The hypocrisy lies here, and once again reiterates how the West creates its own political discourse in defining terrorism to their liking.
As long as the Western governments remain complacent about the severity of far-right extremism, it becomes extremely difficult to promulgate appropriate strategies to curb the new threat. Once a host country accepts legal immigrants, the governments are legally, politically and morally bound to safeguard their citizens against any acts of ideologically motivated violence, regardless of their race and ethnicity. Consequently, no government can afford to dismiss the increasing threat which will jeopardise a large number of their immigrant population.
The alarming increase of right-wing violence in the West brings the respective governments under immense scrutiny, as to how the state intends to protect the right to life, liberty, and security of their immigrants on their own soil. We are yet to witness the manner in which the Western governments intend to implement a concept which they advocate strongly elsewhere in the world.
Although the rise of new terror in the West is seemingly a domestic security threat, it holds broader implications for countries like Sri Lanka, considering the large number of expatriates living abroad. Sri Lankans are equally a vulnerable target of the growing xenophobia- especially because the white supremacists no longer differentiate between religion and race, and are against non-whites in general. In this light, it becomes pertinent for the Sri Lankan government to adopt a proactive approach, and further engage the Western governments in order to devise a contingency plan to prevent such attacks against the Sri Lankan communities abroad.
Despite the urgency of the matter, there is only so much the Sri Lankan government can do as long as the West remains oblivious and fails to acknowledge the rise of the new terror on their soil. Such complacency, intentional or otherwise, will provide a fertile ground for the violent ideology to flourish in the days to come. Now is the opportune moment for damage control before the West lets the genie of violent destruction out of the bottle.
(The writer is a PhD candidate and a researcher at Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, University of Wollongong, Australia)