As seen in Canada, terrorism cuts both ways

The killing of six Muslims at a mosque in Quebec shows that far-right nationalists can be just as dangerous as Islamist radicals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 6:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 6:59am

Canada’s politicians were quick to label the killing of six men at a Quebec City mosque as terrorism. The term has come to be most associated with Muslims, but as a result of the atrocity, it can now be firmly linked to the extreme far-right. Although the circumstances are not fully known, the gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, regularly posted anti-immigrant and nationalist views in social media forums. The outrage is proof of the dangers posed by the populist rhetoric of leaders like new US President Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front.

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Muslims in North America have long felt targeted by anti-terrorism policies. The shooting coincided with sentiment against migrants at near fever-pitch, buoyed by Trump’s executive order of a ban on Muslims from seven countries entering the US. The president tried to gain support for his controversial approach by highlighting the killings as proof of the need for tighter border controls. It was an absurd reaction; Muslims were the victims and the gunman was a white French-Canadian.

Right-wing extremism has been on the rise in the West for years, although it has been especially noticeable since 2015. Nationalist politicians have tapped into anxieties about jobs and terrorism by pointing to migrants from Muslim countries. Xenophobia, jobs and loss of culture were factors behind the vote by Britons to leave the European Union, Trump’s election and a rise in support for the political right in Europe. The shift has coincided with an increase in hate crimes against migrants and foreigners.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the killings an attack on “values of openness, diversity and freedom”. But that will do little to calm the fears of migrants. Racist and religious attacks have doubled in Canada over the past three years and the numbers are on the rise. While political leaders have to tone down nationalist rhetoric, deradicalisation efforts largely aimed at Muslim communities have to also be extended to counter right-wing extremism.