Radical-right narratives and how to counter them

Countering five common myths promoted by the radical right, from anti-semitic conspiracy theories to political correctness.

A demonstration by the English Defence League in London, 2010. | PA ImagesB

Britain, as a liberal democracy, clearly has free speech. Yet, there is a distinction between people using free speech to express themselves and inciting hatred and violence to others. The latter is something which governments have every right to clamp down on whereas the former they do not. Radical-right narratives can be challenged first and foremost by dispelling the myths and distortions of facts which drive them, whether it is refuting the allegations that immigration is destroying Britain, dispelling factually incorrect myths associated with immigration, or countering the myths which have arisen in public discourse about the Islamic faith, associating it with extremism and terrorism.

An increasingly important radical-right narrative is the argument that ‘political correctness’ is stifling free speech and elites are out of touch with what ordinary British people think. This notion can be challenged by pointing out that many proponents who rail against political correctness are often from privileged members of society (white, wealthy, male etc.) and are merely seeking to protect their own powerful status. Furthermore, governments have become more vigilant against intolerance and bigotry due to the realities of its damaging impact on communities rather than a desire to stifle the right to free speech. Emphasising the right to free speech but also the right to protection for vulnerable communities is crucial.

Myth 1: ‘Immigration is destroying the country’

  • The radical-right claim that immigration to Britain has made it a worse place and should be stopped or even reversed by sending immigrants back to the country they came from.
  • Britain has had immigration for centuries since the Romans arrived in 43 AD and it is not new. Since then, people from different countries from all over the world have arrived in large numbers and settled in Britain. Most people in Britain now, in some form or another, descend from migrants.
  • They have come for a host of different reasons: fleeing persecution, like the French protestants who emigrated in the 17th century; escaping hunger and poverty like the Irish in the 19th century or seeking greater economic opportunities like migrants from India and Pakistan after the Second World War.
  • Immigrants have benefitted Britain immeasurably. Many businesses which are household names such as Marks and Spencer were founded by immigrants, sports stars like Raheem Sterling and Mo Farah were born overseas and even the Royal family descend from German immigrants!
  • While immigration has increased over the last 20 years, the vast majority of immigrants, such as those from Poland or India, have come here to work and pay taxes. In fact, immigrants generally pay more tax and are less likely to claim benefits than British people.
  • Many people are fearful of immigration because they believe migrants are different and unfamiliar because they have been born somewhere with a different language and culture, or even skin colour. Yet all immigrants have the same goals and aspirations as everyone else: to get a good job, provide for their families and have a nice life.

Q: Why do you think immigrants are often targeted as the source of people’s problems?

Myth 2: ‘Muslims are a threat to Britain’

  • The radical right attack Muslims more than any other group because they are seen as different and dangerous to white Christian Britons.
  • Many people are hostile towards Muslims in Britain because they have a different religion, culture or skin colour. Since 9/11 and other terrorist attacks committed by extreme Muslims not representative of the religion, they have become even more stigmatised and associated with violence.
  • The Islamic faith is a centuries-old religion which teaches tolerance and respect. Like all religions, it can be interpreted differently by different people, and a very small number of Muslims justify bad or violent actions through their religion. Yet, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims which span mostly North America, Europe and Asia and number over 1.5 billion are peaceful.
  • There are many myths surrounding what Islam teaches, which are often promoted by the media and politicians, such as being violent to non-Muslims as well as hostile to woman and homosexuals. How can you possibly claim an entire group of 1.5 billion people does this? Also, misogyny, violence and homophobia are serious issues which can be found among all religious and cultural groups, in all countries and are clearly not unique to Muslims.
  • Not only are not all Muslims terrorists, but only a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslim population are linked to terrorist organisations. They interpret the Koran very differently from the vast majority of Muslims and are rejected by practically all mainstream Muslims who condemn violence. Muslim terrorists are no more representative of their religion than the radical right terrorist Anders Breivik (who killed 77 people in a terrorist attack in Norway in 2011) is of white Christians.

Q: Why do you think Muslims are the group which is the most stigmatised by the radical right in Britain?

Myth 3: ‘Britain is governed by a politically correct elite’

  • The radical right argue that the government doesn’t understand the concerns of ordinary people and discriminates against white people in favour of others.
  • Some people claim that Britain’s government is ‘politically correct’. By that, they mean they give too much attention to marginalised groups such as women, ethnic minorities or the LGBT community and not enough to ‘ordinary Britons’, by which they often mean white, male and straight.
  • We frequently hear stories in the newspaper about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – which usually refers to a case where someone has said or done something silly in order to protect a marginalised group. A good example is that some schools during Christmas time don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ if they have a lot of Muslim or Jewish children at the school. These stories appear a lot in the media but are in fact very rare and do not represent a widespread trend.
  • The government should be responsible for protecting everyone and should help those who are often discriminated against in society. Women are often overlooked for job opportunities in favour of men and are more likely to be a victim of sexism or even sexual harassment. Ethnic minorities are also discriminated against and can be victims of racism. The LGBT community still suffers homophobia. That is why governments and charities try to help these groups by empowering them and making it illegal to discriminate against them.
  • It is always worth looking at the motives of people who complain about political correctness. It tends to be those who are privileged within society – often wealthy, white men – who are fearful of other groups being helped as they are afraid their own power might decline as a result.

Q: Have you heard of any stories which argue that ‘political correctness has gone too far’?

Myth 4: ‘Freedom of speech is under threat in Britain’

  • The radical right often use language which is racist or discriminates against others. When they are criticised or arrested for this they claim that Britain is a ‘dictatorship’ which doesn’t have freedom of speech.
  • Britain is a liberal democracy where people can pretty much say and do whatever they want. The media and news on the TV criticise the government daily. Satirical TV shows such as Have I Got News For You make fun of people in positions of power and we can vote for the governments we want whenever we have elections. This demonstrates that we have free speech in Britain and there are very few countries where people are more free than Britain.
  • There are only a few cases where freedom of speech is slightly restricted. You cannot use ‘free speech’ to discriminate against a minority group (such as the LGBT community or ethnic minorities) or incite violence – speech can often be dangerous and encourage people to do harmful things. You are also not free to talk openly about some court cases in case you jeopardise the trial.
  • In Britain, before laws restricting discrimination against minorities existed, people were openly racist. There was widespread prejudice against these groups and therefore, by banning people from discriminating against them, they were helping them have the same opportunities as everyone else.
  • In Britain you can criticise immigration, other religions, politicians and anything you want as long as you don’t do it in a way that creates harm to another person or community. People who do this often claim that their ‘free speech’ is under threat, when really they just want an excuse to be prejudicial to someone.

Q: Why do you think people dislike laws which mean you cannot incite hatred towards marginalised groups?

Myth 5: ‘There is a global Jewish conspiracy’

  • The radical right discriminates against many minority groups such as Muslims and the LGBT community, but Jewish people have always been a target. It is often claimed that they are part of a conspiracy, which means they are behind a secret plot to do something terrible.
  • Some people believe that Jewish people have too much power and influence either by being wealthy, in politics or in the media. These are anti-Jewish ‘stereotypes’ – myths about Jewish people which have existed for centuries. They are dangerous most of all because they are not true and based on false information, but also because they encourage people to act violently against Jewish people.
  • Jewish people were discriminated against in Britain for centuries, particularly, when many arrived in the late 19th century as immigrants fleeing persecution. In Germany, Adolf Hitler believed that Jewish people had a lot of power and control in society during the 1930s and set out to exterminate them physically in order to remove their ‘negative influence’. This led to the Holocaust – the murder of nearly 6 million Jews in Europe during World War 2.
  • Despite this appalling crime against humanity, since then, people still believe that Jews exercise a lot of power of control. Often, they accuse Israel – the worlds only Jewish state – of having too much global influence.
  • While there are prominent Jewish people in British society (such as Alan Sugar), they do not exercise any more power and control than any other group.
  • In fact, Jews have in fact been subjected to discrimination much like other ethnic minorities and hate crimes towards Jewish people have become increasingly common recently as ideas about their power have increased.

Q: Why have Jews become a target for people?

Dr Paul Stocker is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Teacher of History at Chelsea Independent College. His profile can be found here:

©Paul Stocker. 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).

This post was originally hosted by CARR’s media partner, Open Democracy. See the original post here.