New Research Report: Anti-Muslim Extremism, Radical Islamism and the Spiral of Polarization

‘Hostility towards Muslims and Islamist fundamentalism are closely interlinked. Mobilisation and recruitment strategies mirror each other and there are ideological overlaps as well. This becomes particularly evident in their internet propaganda on social media.’

These are key findings of a new study by the Jena Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ) in cooperation with the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Based on qualitative and quantitative social media analyses, more than one million German-language anti-Muslim and Islamist internet contents between 2013 and 2017 were analysed.

The analysis of Islamist and far-right posts on social media demonstrates an interaction between both radicalised milieus. References to each other serve to both claim one’s victimhood status and to construct an out-group as the bogeyman. The reciprocal rhetoric culminates in the invocation of an imminent conflict between “Islam” and “the West”, whose shared purpose is the abolition of liberal democracy and the rejection of individualism, pluralism and emancipation. The study points out commonalities and differences between the ideologies of Islamists and the far-right: Both, however, overlap with regard to anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories and the aim of creating homogenous societies based on racist (far-right) or religious (Islamist) dogmas. A central difference is the importance attached to the origin of a person. While the Islamist’s vision of a global caliphate is principally detached from the place of origin, far-right ideology excludes people from the national community based on their origin.

Linguistic analysis of the posts of Islamist and far-right accounts shows an overlap between the vocabulary used by both sides. Surprisingly, Islamist terms are used more commonly by far-right users than Islamist ones. Furthermore, our analyses show that Islamist communication has been massively restricted, which has led to a more moderate rhetoric than in early 2017. This does not apply to the propaganda and networks of the far-right to the same extent. The extent of openly far-right and anti-Muslim content easily surpasses the extent of Islamist content.

Especially in the aftermath of Islamist terror attacks, the volume of anti-Muslim posts on social media increases. New terms are established by far-right extremists online and deployed to devalue Muslims and paint them with a broad brush. On the other hand, Islamists also react to events (such as far-right demonstrations or election results) to create the image of a West in its entirety hostile to Muslims. In turn, this image of the West is used in their attempts to radicalise Muslims. Hence, the interaction has also a strategic aspect. Staging an unavoidable clash of homogeneously constructed cultures aims to polarize societies which creates fertile ground for Islamist and far-right interventions.

These processes of interaction are not only happening in Germany, but in many Western societies. Islamist and anti-Muslim extremists use social media to transcend borders. They justify the concern and connection of their target groups by pointing at events from all over the globe. Overall, racism, right-wing populism and extremism form the resonant spaces for international jihadists to further propagate their messages. The effects of Islamist attacks are also amplified by far-right agitators, attempting to radicalise individuals online.

The study concludes that both sides mutually depend on each other, they lend credibility to their extremist narratives and legitimise their actions. The study demonstrates that anti-Muslim prejudices and rhetoric play into the hands of Islamist and racist fanatics, who want to divide our societies. Islamist radicalisation, anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism have to be thought and confronted together. Many civil society organisations have already reckoned, internalised and acted on this. But in the public debate, there remains the idea that right-wing anti-Muslim extremists are the counter-weight to radical Islamists. This is untrue: Both have much in common and threaten open societies.

The study was co-authored by Maik Fielitz, Julia Ebner, Jakob Guhl and Matthias Quent and received funding from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Along with further material for researchers and practitioners, it is available in German and English here for download:

You can also download the pdf version of the report directly here:

Loving Hate. Anti-Muslim Extremism, Radical Islamism and The Spiral of Polarisation

Mr Maik Fielitz is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR, and a Research Associate at the Jena Institute for Democracy and Civil Society. See his profile here.

©Maik Fieliz. 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).