What the rise of extremism means for the world - Hindustan Times

What the rise of extremism means for the world

ByShashi Shekhar
Sep 05, 2021 08:02 PM IST

Extremism is spreading across the world through phones and computers. Now news, videos, and photos of the Taliban’s excesses in Afghanistan will make this mix even more lethal

Last Friday, two significant events took place in a span of a few hours. First, the fundamentalist Taliban took over the reins of governance in Afghanistan. Second, a young man went on a stabbing spree in Auckland, New Zealand, injuring six people. He raised religious slogans and was shot by the police.

Taliban fighters patrol on vehicles along a street in Kabul on September 2, 2021. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP) (AFP)
Taliban fighters patrol on vehicles along a street in Kabul on September 2, 2021. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP) (AFP)

There are apprehensions that more violent incidents may take place in different places in the days to come. These are often known to set-off chain reactions of the worst kind, fuelled often by the politics of hate, stoked by growing illiberal impulses, and amplified by social media. We saw this happen in the United States (US) during the transition of power on January 6. The new administration had just about been voted to power, when at Capitol Hill, a mob assembled, comprising people who felt that the defeat of Donald Trump was their defeat. The US is not alone in witnessing such dangerous trends.

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Similar incidents are occurring in many parts of Europe, which was once considered a bastion of liberalism. Neo-Nazi tendencies are spreading fast. Horst Seehofer, Germany’s federal minister of the interior, building and community, recently told the Bundestag that Right-wing extremist crimes increased by 5.7% in the past year. This figure is the highest since the German government began keeping a record of such incidents.

The government seemed unable to comprehend how to prevent such incidents from spreading. The general elections are to be held later this month. Moderates fear that the ultra-nationalist Alternative for Germany (AFD) and other similar parties could significantly affect the outcome. Germany’s refugee policy has been flexible compared to other countries. Outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, has sheltered over one million people in her country over the last five years. This is the biggest reason behind the rise of the AFD.

In France, over the last few years, a far-Right organisation called Génération Identitaire has increased its influence. Its activists not only protest on the streets about the influx of refugees, but also put up black and white videos on YouTube warning young people to “be careful, or get finished”. The organisation now has several branches. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, the refugee influx, and the Covid-19 pandemic have provided movements like this with a tremendous impetus. In March, the French government banned the organisation, but it is unlikely that the movement will die down.

The man who attacked mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, which killed 51 people, was allegedly in communication with, and donated to, this organisation. The attacker not only announced his intention to kill Muslims before the attack, but broadcast it live on Facebook. Even if governments attempt to ban such footage, violent criminals will find a way around it.

Video games endorsing this kind of violence are also being made because of their growing popularity, and the fact that they cannot be banned easily. According to researchers at the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University, social media accounts run by the extreme Right-wing are getting more likes and shares — their engagement rates — than any other ideological propaganda.

The study found that, among the far-Right, known sources of misinformation saw about 426 interactions per 1,000 followers in an average week. This is compared to 259 far-Right sources of information (who/which do not have the misinformation label). These numbers are far greater than any other groupings (such as Left, Centrist and so on), with the far-Left being the next highest at 145 interactions. This is proof that Right-wing populism is far more engaging, even if the information being spread on their platforms is known to be misinformation.

The result is clear. Across the world, the attacks by Right-wing extremists have increased significantly in the past few decades, with a number of teenagers and young people being swayed by this ideology. In the United Kingdom (UK), neo-Nazi groups are targeting young British teenagers through online interactions, openly advocating hate in their attempts to recruit children.

This trend is spreading in Australia as well. The Canberra administration recently banned the UK-based Right-wing extremist group, Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), a known terrorist organisation, and issued an arrest warrant for its members. In March, Mike Burgess, head of the ASIO intelligence agency, said that SKD and other Right-wing groups accounted for 40% of terror-related investigations that were carried out in Australia in the last year.

That is why there is pressure to ban such content on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Though some steps have been taken, there are many platforms through which extremism is reaching the new generation of young adults through phones and computers. At such a time, news, videos, and photos from Afghanistan of the Taliban’s excesses will make this mix even more lethal. There is no way of dealing with this effectively at the moment as many politicians across the world are trying to capitalise on this for short-term gains.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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