Over the last twenty-years, we have seen how damaging extreme rhetoric can be – from the rise of so called Islamist terrorist groups to the successful recruitment of individuals into these groups from across Western countries. When governmental leaders are seen to make decisions that are perceived as misjudged, or to not take charge of issues such as conflict in the Middle East, extremist groups thrive. The uncertainty of international politics today enables those with more extreme narratives to take centre stage and offer solutions for perceived issues. We have seen this with groups such as ISIS who take advantage of political uncertainty by being opportunistic in terms of the narratives they adopt, both on and offline. In many cases, these groups present themselves as providing comfort and solutions for those who feel aggrieved by Western governments action (or inaction). This phenomenon is very well-traversed and Western governments continue to develop counter- and alternative narratives to combat this type of extremist propaganda and ideology.
Arguably, however, we are again making the same mistakes by not engaging with the concerns and perceived insecurity felt by millions in Western countries, which is arguably a contributing factor to the rise of the radical right. Within countries such as Britain and Australia, candid discussions surrounding immigration, asylum seekers and religious tensions within multi-cultural societies are often perceived as uncomfortable, highly sensitive and are overly politicised when discussed by governmental leaders and policy-makers. However, in recent years radical right groups have capitalised on the lack of clear, coherent and sustained narratives from these governments. These movements have been effective in spreading propaganda in order to offer (more often than not) extreme responses and solutions to the perceived threat from ‘Islamification’ across a number of nation-states.
For example, in a recent study of Reclaim Australia (RA), we found that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are used to put forward extremist ideology and propaganda through the discussion of topical issues. During the time period studied (31 January – 11 April), one revealing example includes RA’s rhetoric about the controversy in Australia over the introduction of halal certification by the chocolate company Cadburys for their Easter eggs. Many messages did not only propose to boycott the company’s products, but also put forward the idea that the money gained through the sale of those products was used to finance terrorism. This is exemplified by the following post from RA’s Facebook page:
We don’t need halal crap certification on Easter eggs, your just helping terrorists and Aussie people will not buy your product while you help terrorists and refuse to call them EASTER eggs as they have always been known. Couldn’t care less I hope the company goes broke.
Through these types of messages, RA strategically promote its anti-Muslim ideology. Halal certification is clearly used here as a way to ‘other’ Muslims in the community. They also directly link the trade policy of certifying halal products to the ‘funding of terrorism’. In the above example, RA initially appear to advocate for a change in consumerism. However, RA also provide one (albeit small) way to counter a perceived insecurity about the rise of Islam in Australia with the false claim that this is marking a change in Australian way of life. A presumptive ‘us’ is therefore created between the Christian (or at least, the Easter egg eating population of Australia) versus ‘them’; the Muslims.
Another RA example from this period concerns discussions about vaccines, a topic that is used by RA to argue that the only reason that Australians need to be vaccinated is to safeguard themselves from the diseases allegedly carried by the immigrants:
agree all mine got vaccinated nothing wrong with them and it stops other kids getting sicker well i hope all the Muslum kids are vaccinated as well but they’d be allowed to do what they like If the government didn’t keep importing unscreened humans from overseas maybe we wouldn’t get all these things back.
Again, what can be seen from this example is how RA take advantage of topical issues to expose false threats from ‘othered’ groups in order to advance their political ideology. These are just two of several examples of how RA use topical issues to attack Muslim communities of Australia. Findings from our study reveal that RA (and Britain First in the UK) articulate their messages through a range of topics relevant to the general public – from vaccines to strategic positioning of the ‘self’, through to notions of positive multiculturalism and writings about parents and respect.
RA propaganda on social media presents little that is surprising to the informed reader. However, its significance lies in how this paves the way for the normalisation of anti-immigrant, and especially Islamophobic, sentiments. Clearly the views of RA are not representative of a majority population in Australia. The question is however, are other politically legitimate groups and figures doing enough to offer a viable alternative to this rhetoric to ensure that these narratives will not permeate further? Until there is more open dialogue that directly addresses the uncertainty felt by some, the rise in popularity of radical right groups will continue to normalise the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric currently pervading Western societies, which only serves to incite more conflict.
Dr Lella Nouri is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and Senior Lecturer of Criminology at Swansea University. This blog is based on work in which the author collaborates with Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus based in the Department of Linguistics at Swansea University. See her profile at:
© Lella Nouri. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).