The parallels between Islamism and White Nationalism
Many people these days like to draw parallels between Islamic extremism, specifically Islamism/Islamists/radical Islamist terrorists and White Nationalist/white supremacist causes gaining attention in Western countries.
For some reason though, many are reluctant to fully complete the parallel.
Radical Islamist Terrorism is comprised of a few different ingredients:
1) A particular theology, commonly now referred to as ‘Salafi Jihadism’ or ‘Jihadi Salafism’, which represents the core of what makes this movement unique, fringe, and a detour from the mainstream politico-religious spectrum in the Muslim world.
2) The medium for that core ideology to swim in is the actual mainstream right wing of the political/cultural spectrum in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. This is where it hopes to gain currency and find potential recruits. Without this, it would be like a fish out of water.
3) The various current events of the day that aid the interaction of the above. This includes the growing popularity of terrorism as a form of asymmetric warfare through the 20th century and increasingly in the 21st as well as factors which promote political/cultural conservatism (including reactionary ones).
Notice that the religion of Islam itself is not a part of that list. The jihadist theology is the religious basis and it is derived from fringe movements spun off from fringe movements arising in turbulent political times in the Muslim world’s history (briefly, read up on Ibn Taymiyyah and the Mongol invasion) combined with a dash of modernism, such as the sort that inspired Sayyid Qutb once upon a time.
The result of all this is the general perception that the conservative right wing of the Muslim world has within it the core of Islamic militancy, and Islamic militancy has within it the core of radical Islamism which in turn encapsulates the hardcore Islamist terrorists we know (ISIS, Al-Qaeda).
While this may be a serviceable map with which to navigate the political and cultural topography, the perception then leads many to believe that each encapsulated movement is a foundation or ‘heart’ of the encapsulating movement. That if you want to not alienate the right wing conservatives in a Muslim country, you have to show some sympathy to the militants or tribal militias… maybe even the terrorists.
Those who’ve at least kept up to date on current events should know this isn’t actually the case. These circles overlap through circumstance and external factors, not internal ones. They don’t even necessarily breed one another. The Sunni Awakening period in Iraq where the US convinced Sunni tribes to turn on Salafist groups, followed by a merging of previously secular pro-Saddam anti-American forces with the Salafists and some Sunni tribes formerly of the Awakening illustrates how this is more of an artificial union whose glue was formed from the intense fire of the social and political forces on the ground (e.g, Syrian Civil War and the invasion and civil war in Iraq) rather than natural outgrowths of one another.
Think of it this way: The intense heat of the situation melted the ingredients just a little which caused them to mix and reharden as one, new, forged identity. A phenomenon we’ve seen countless times before throughout history.
Well, a similar perception exists for White Nationalism and the Far-Right in the West (and really, what is Islamism if not just Islamic Nationalism?).
Those same three ingredients above have corollaries in the rise of the modern white nationalist movement.
The same perception exists from some in the US establishment that in order to properly pander to the conservative right wing, the most extreme elements must be foundational and at the heart of these causes, rather than being standalone causes that were pushed into overlapping through circumstance.
Trump won his campaign for President on the basis of the ‘White Plight’, the plight of working class White Americans who have been left behind. Many of which happen to live in swing states. The same conditions that caused ‘White Plight’ pushed the circles of white nationalism, formerly isolated fringe movements, on top of this end of the mainstream American political spectrum.
Now Trump believes that, however misplaced their methods and ideas, White Nationalists represent a legitimate part (in fact, the heart) of his white voter base suffering from ‘White Plight’. This is why he courts them through their representatives (e.g, Steve Bannon) and is reluctant to name them in ironically much the same way President Obama seemed to be reluctant to name ‘Islam’ or even ‘Islamism’ when talking about Islamist terrorism.
We know Obama’s reasons, he didn’t want the more uneducated among us who can not distinguish between Islam and Islam-ism to lump normal Muslims in with fringe movements. This includes Trump himself and many of his supporters. And not only did Trump do exactly that with Muslims, Islam, and Islamists… he’s done the same with White Nationalists and white Americans in general. He thinks if he keeps blowing the dog whistle at this group, support and loyalty will continue to radiate out to the rest of the political Right.
In fact, white nationalists themselves think or at least hope for this. They want to divide the country into white and black. Van Jones of CNN commented on the eve of Trump’s victory that white Americans voted like a minority (as a bloc). This is what they want. They think eventually whites of all political persuasions will have no choice but to side with the champions of white causes (how they see themselves). All those “liberal” white voters will have to come crawling back to them, as the main upholders of white Americans’ interests.
Trump thinks if he keeps pandering to this 10–15% of the voters, it automatically means another 30–35% of the political ‘Right’ will follow in tow eventually.
This sort of reductionism, while understandable, is just flat out wrong. There are clear political, even social, fissures and boundaries between these movements which have been thrown into the sociopolitical forge together. Many Christian Evangelicals find White supremacism or nationalism as abhorrent as any Antifa/anti-Fascists. And these conservative Christians were the former ‘heart’ of American conservatism and powered George W. Bush to two terms in office. Many hardcore American patriots are the same, their grandparents and great-grandparents died fighting Nazis. Many of their ancestors died keeping the Union intact. Many of the same people who erected Confederate monuments today are descended from people who fought for the Union, their communities and families are mostly still very anti-Confederate. Not to mention much of the American Right do not follow the Alt-Right’s entire view of women (represented by extreme fringe movements like MGTOW — Men going their own way, TRP — The Red Pill, Incels — Involuntary Celibates, MRA — Men’s Rights Activists) which is more similar to ISIS than to anything American.
This error is compounded by the fact that when Trump publicly makes these mistakes, he’s actually creating current events and altering the sociopolitical landscape. He is literally heating the fires of the forge, helping to melt the various movements and make them more fluid so they mix and might eventually be reforged into a new identity. This is textbook authoritarianism as seen in the actions of governments like Nazi Germany, the USSR, and the early days of Red China (or even the Iranian Revolution) and of course, movements like ISIS.
This backlash against white nationalism might turn more of the country against Trump, but if it means the furthest 30% of the politial right becomes so heated that it can be reforged into a new single movement, even if that movement faces sharp opposition from the other 70%, it means they’ve come out of all this stronger. This was a cause that wasn’t even on the political spectrum in 2012 and now we’re talking about a bloc that could be more than a quarter of the vote?
On the other hand, this may also be the only way to mobilize the opposition. The only way to put this movement down (again). That means things will get worse before they get better and more conflict is in store.
Either way, the ‘Left’ has to be careful and not play into Trump’s game of turning up the thermostat. You can isolate and condemn white nationalism but to be truly clever, it should be done while also isolating legitimate movements representing working class white Americans. They didn’t choose to be thrown together, but we can choose to keep them apart. If we lump them in together, they will be lumped in together… in a forge. We need to reach out to real, traditional Republicans and especially to religious Christian movements who are horrified by white supremacism. We can turn the heat to our advantage by separating these elements.
We want to be builders, not smiths. Some on the far left want to do the same thing Trump is, but to reforge the American identity in the vein of Berniecratic socialism (turning white plight into anger properly directed at the capitalist elite). This is a game of chicken where the other guy is in control of the government. It is risky and dangerous. The socialists in Iran played the same game with the Islamists in 1979 (whom they helped overthrow the Shah) and they lost. At the end of the day you can still reach out to and talk to your fellow Americans for now and find common ground. We need to take advantage of that.