Nicolas Hénin, author and consultant
At first sight, the European far-Right and the jihadist movement are wholly antagonistic. They hate each other and do not miss an opportunity to express their mutual hatred. They seem to be at polar opposite ends of the spectrum. They even incite violence against one-another.
Several plots by far-Right forces have been uncovered in the recent years, including by the Action des forces opérationnelles (The Task Force of Action), which was disbanded in June 2018. These plots are often aimed at targets these groups described as “Islamists”, though this often transpires simply to mean Muslims.
On the other side, the Islamic State (ISIS) has recommended, in the edition of its magazine Dar al-Islam released on 6 February 2016, that its followers attack the supporters of the far-Right National Front party. In April 2017, two ISIS militants were arrested in Marseilles while planning to hit, among other targets, a meeting of the party’s president Marine Le Pen. Before that, the captured computers from the ISIS cell that carried out the 13 November 2015 and 22 March 2016 attacks in Paris and Brussels disclosed that the jihadists had listed the traditionalist Catholic organisation Civitas in a long list of potential targets.
Yet, these two ideologies have a more complex relationship than mere mutual hatred. This is evidenced, for example, by the use of propaganda material produced by the other side.
The jihadist movement is happy to exploit the victimization of Muslim communities in the West in order to recruit. What could be better than the racist and Islamophobic statements and attitudes developed by the far-Right to reinforce such narratives as “a Muslim will never be accepted or successful in a Western society”? This type of narrative fuels a reaction among Muslims, who feel discriminated and stigmatized, which facilitates their recruitment into radical groups.
From the other side, the far-Right takes advantage of the terrorist threat and jihadist attacks to justify its racism and obtain broader societal support for its policies, including harsher restrictions on Muslim citizens. The far-Right also gains from the actions of non-Muslim Europeans who are working for social cohesion. Following the murder of two Scandinavian campers in Morocco in December 2018, the French far-Right was outraged when the press remained muted about the beheading of one of the young girls. This was explained by some in the press as an effort to preserve her memory and not to unnecessarily increase the pain of her family and relatives. The far-Right rejected this explanation as a cover-up for “Muslim” crimes. The French far-Right agreed with the jihadist perpetrators that the most violent images should be circulated to the greatest number of people in order to maximize the impact of the crime.
France has a very vivid far-Right scene on the Internet, nicknamed the “fachosphère” (from the prefix “facho” for fascist), described in a book by Dominique Albertini and David Doucet. This militant sphere is particularly evident on blogs and social networks where they regularly share terrorist content produced by jihadists. Members of this “fachosphère” also insist on regularly posting stolen photographs taken inside the Bataclan theatre after the jihadist massacre in November 2015, showing the floor covered with corpses and blood. Marine le Pen herself, president of the National Rally, is being prosecuted for having posted on her Twitter account three uncensored photographs of people murdered by ISIS, including a graphic photo of the beheaded hostage James Foley.
Jihadist and far-Right narratives, nominally at odds with each other, converge on many points. Both agree that no cohabitation is possible between Muslims and non-Muslims. Both agree on the deeply violent nature of “true Islam”. The Muslim religious texts, the Qur’an and the Hadith, are polysemic and complex. They include very peaceful, humanistic, generous and poetic passages, alongside bellicose, violent and intolerant ones, especially with regard to other religions, including the “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab).
Several researchers have noted that jihadist publications tend to quote only very short extracts from Islamic texts, which often distorts their meaning and context, in order to isolate only the most intolerant and violent passages that argue in favour of religious violence as a duty. Amritha Venkatraman wrote on this issue some time ago, and Sergio Altuna Galán very recently, based on the publications of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Again, this reading of Muslim doctrine by ISIS perfectly suits the Islamophobes, particularly on the far-Right, who seek to emphasise the inherently conflictual relations between the West and the world of Islam. Both agree on the postulate: “ISIS is the true Islam”.
A similar convergence between the extremists occurs in the way the far-Right in France instrumentalizes the state doctrine of secularism to try to exclude and marginalize Muslims, and in the process strengthen the Islamists. Secularism in France, based on the 1905 law separating church and state, is intended as a framework to guarantee freedom by safeguarding, without discrimination, the rights of all believers and non-believers. But the far-Right has created a narrative where, as put by “Riposte laïque” (Retaliation for secularism), one of the most virulent French-speaking Islamophobic websites, if “laïcité” (the secularism law) is enforced properly, it would suppress aspects of a Muslim’s free practice of his religion. This narrative has gained a lot of traction amongst Muslims, and is one of the pillars of the recruitment pitch used by jihadist groups in France.
Any radicalisation process involves defining an in-group and an out-group with restrictive borders. Each radical group seeks to disqualify members within its “own” community whom it considers to be traitors to the cause. In the case of the jihadists, this might be Muslims who accept to living under the rule of unbelievers in an environment full of sin. For the far-Right, it is “whites” who accept the presence of Muslims on their soil or even defend them when they are being assaulted who are to be cast out.
Emmanuel Domenach, a lawyer who survived the Bataclan slaughter, has analysed how further the “myth of ‘us or them’” is one of the effects sought by the jihadists in their attacks. The lawyer bases his argument on a number of media interventions and on the social networks of French public figures, including a number of far-Right leaders. This “us or them” narrative, common to both forms of radicalization, is at the origin of identical sub-narratives: for example, jihadists and far-Right extremists agree that someone cannot be both French and Muslim. A terrorist campaign, as Raymond Aron reminded us, is not so much kinetic as psychological. Beyond human and material destructions, the group seeks to produce effects on the entire society it targets. It aims to divide the society, to dissolve it, to have it collapse on itself because its cohesion will have been undermined by the brutality of the attacks.
Some of the methods used by the French far-Right to propagate anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiments have been described in an article reporting the testimony of a former far-Right extremist nicknamed “Didier”. He explained how he was responsible for conducting an online press review that included all incidents that could produce a feeling of insecurity, especially when a foreigner or a Muslim could be involved. He also tells about the trick of using “a false name sounding like a Muslim, using it to insult the French, preaching an Islamist Republic in Paris or that sort of thing. It’s very rough, but it works every time.” By posing online as a jihadist supporter, the far-Right activist contributed to the uptick in Islamophobia among the French public.
In his last book, The Future of Terrorism: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Alt-Right, co-authored with Christopher Wall, Walter Laqueur made the provocative but meaningful choice to connect the alt-Right to the two heads of the jihadist movement. Among the parallels he drew between these ideologies, he wrote: “Much like Salafists, the alt-Right advocates a homogeneous society that absolutely rejects outsiders. The alt-Right is more extreme, however, because whereas Salafism castigates nonbelievers, the alt-Right rejects billions on the basis of their physical attributes.”
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 La Fachosphère, comment l’extrême droite remporte la bataille du net, Flammarion, 2016.
 Amritha Venkatraman, Religious Basis for Islamic Terrorism: The Quran and Its Interpretations, Studies in conflic & Terrorism, Vol 30, 2007.
 Made-to-measure Qur’anic quotations: the incomplete verses of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Sergio Altuna Galán. ARI 72/2019 (English version) – 20/6/2019, http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_en/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/ari72-2019-altuna-made-to-measure-quranic-quotations-incomplete-verses-al-qaeda-islamic-maghreb
 Perdons-nous la bataille idéologique contre le terrorisme djihadiste? Emmanuel Domenach, Slate, 19/02/2O19, http://www.slate.fr/story/173640/terrorisme-djihadiste-bataille-ideologique-attentats-democratie-etat-de-droit
 Un militant repenti balance les secrets de l’ultra-droite, Midi Libre, 8/10/12, https://www.midilibre.fr/2012/10/08/un-militant-repenti-balance-les-secrets-de-l-ultra-droite,574771.php