Fear of ISIS, faltering economies and resentment over rising immigration from war-torn Iraq and Syria has resulted in a surge in right-wing populism in Europe and the UK.
Here in the UK, following the departure of three sisters with their nine children to join ISIS, and the emergence of the first British suicide bomber in Iraq, newly re-elected conservative Prime Minister David Cameron stirred controversy when, in an address to a security conference in Slovakia and coinciding with the beginning of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan, said that parts of the Muslim community are 'quietly condoning' ISIS ideology.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen. (Flickr/Ernest Morales.)
Echoing the wording of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Cameron issued a message to Muslim families and leaders that they must do more to combat the lure of ISIS ideology among young people. 'The cause is ideological. It is an Islamist extremist ideology, one that says the West is bad, that democracy is wrong, that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil, ' he told the conference.
In Australia, debate continues over controversial moves to suspend the citizenship of those involved in terror, however broadly that may be defined. Abbott has consistently called on Muslim leaders to do more to counter extremism and called on Muslims to get on board with Australian values. In February, Abbott outraged Muslim leaders when he told journalists: 'I've often heard western leaders describe Islam as a "religion of peace". I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.'
France, with Western Europe's largest Muslim population of around 7 million, is still reeling from the attack in January by radical Islamists against the satirical cartoon Charlie Hebdo. Marine Le Pen's far right National Front is making gains campaigning on a platform emphasising the threat Islam poses to French secular nationhood.
When times get tough, it's not surprising that we blame 'the other'. But as more radical right wing parties with an anti-immigration and anti-multicultural agendas gain momentum in Europe and the West, so do dangerous levels of Islamaphobia. It's no coincidence that alongside this increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric we have seen a surge in the number of radical Islam-inspired terror attacks and plots in the West. Minority Islamic populations in Europe, already feeling marginalised and economically and socially disadvantaged, will feel increasingly alienated, leading to greater levels of anger and more polarised communities.
Research on radicalisation has shown that those who choose to join the fight in Syria and Iraq present a varied profile. Some are highly religiously and ideologically driven, others have a violent predisposition or criminal history, but by far the most easily identifiable signal is a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement with their current environment and a lack of a sense of belonging.
If we really want to stop the radicalisation of young Muslim men and women, we need to stop goading them.
ISIS recruiters thrive on the vulnerabilities created by divisive rhetoric coming from the far right. The narrative pushed by ISIS recruiters is of a functioning alternative state that welcomes those feeling alienated and unwelcome in their Western homes. By reinforcing a perception of 'Islam versus the West', right-wing politicians create exactly the right conditions for the appeal of reactionary and violent rejectionist groups to grow. We are playing right into their hands.
In countless interviews with Muslims in Australia, France and the UK, I have heard the same dismay over the perception of negative stereotyping and demonisation, fueled by a media frenzy over their apparent guilt by association with a radical group whose numbers are minuscule in comparison to the millions of Muslims practising a peaceful version of the religion. Australia is not a comfortable place for Muslims right now. Nor is France, and nor is the UK.
These are dangerous times. Our terror threat levels are set to severe, yet our rhetoric continues to feed the beast. The best way to get tough on terror would be to tone down the rhetoric and embrace policies that promote social cohesion and remain steadfast in the face of extremism on both sides of this growing political divide.