Dangerous forces of radicalisation - It’s time we recognised our real foes

When Susan Bro spoke at a memorial for her daughter, Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a right-wing extremist in Charlottesville just over a week ago, her powerful response resonated with families on this island who had lost a loved-one to bewildered extremism.

Bro’s refusal to speak with US president, Donald Trump, because of his response to the car killing, was, after all, just a version of Austin Stack’s campaign to get Sinn Féin, or their founding fathers, the IRA, to identify his father Brian’s 1983 murderers.

One call-out honours a child, the other a father, but the core principle is the same. Each is a brave reaction to the grief visited on a family by a minority so inculcated with hate and delusion that they feel free to challenge democracies, though they have no mandate of any kind.

Susan Bro, Austin Stack, and many others have had grief stitched into their lives, but, as we all know, they are not alone; terrorists’ families can be victims, too.

This weekend, the family of the man believed to be the Barcelona mass killer blamed a local Islamic cleric for the hate-filled radicalisation that provoked his rampage.

Though there cannot be a hierarchy of grief, their loss may even be greater, as their grief must be needled by guilt — a guilt shared by some of the families whose children have left Europe to join Isis.

Though there is confusion surrounding the fate of Younes Abouyaaquob, who is suspected of driving the Las Ramblas van, his mother, Hann Ghanim, blamed a malignant iman for her son’s behaviour — if, indeed, he, like the Charlottesville killer, drove the murder car.

Her accusation seems plausible, as seven young men from Ripoll have been implicated in the Barcelona or Cambrils attacks, suggesting that there was a dark force at play in the region. “A mastermind who has brainwashed them,” was how Ms Abouyaaquob described it.

Another mastermind, one far more influential and dangerous, returned to brainwashing this weekend.

In his first interview since he was sacked by the White House, Steve Bannon, the right-wing ideologue who led America up the garden path and Donald Trump to the White House, made clear that he had no intention of going quietly.

“I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said on his return to America’s version of a thousand radicalising imans, Breitbart News. “I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart... and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do”.

He warmed to his theme: “I’m... going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”

That he met with Robert Mercer, a hedge fund mega-donor to Trump, before Bannon was fired, suggests that Breitbart, whose traffic and advertising have fallen significantly since the election, will be well-resourced to continue his radicalisation of the American right.

It is a tragedy of our time, one certain to deepen, that differences between the malignant imans behind Islamic extremism and one of America’s most powerful, aggressive voices are at best marginal. It is also time we were a bit more realistic about who our real enemies are. If you have any doubt about who they might be, put yourself in Susan Bro’s shoes.


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