With the 2016 US election cycle and the rise of Donald Trump, the alt right has burst onto the scene, taking with it significant controversy. Short for ‘alternative right,’ it’s a conglomeration of right wing thinkers, social media personalities, opinionated blogs and mischievous trolls in cyberspace. Common themes among the group are cultural conservatism, opposition to mass immigration from the third world, skepticism towards foreign wars, support for free speech, and a distrust of government, to name a few.
A diverse bunch, their unity is two-fold: they’re disaffected with the American right of the past, and largely supportive of Trump’s candidacy.
Since its inception, however, the alt right has been accused of bigotry, including Islamophobia. Certainly, the movement calls for less (or no) Muslim immigration to the US, and many identify with a distinctly white American identity. But as many also call for an end to wars in the Muslim world, is the alt right really prejudice against Muslims?
Several mainstream and liberal media outlets seem to think so. The Daily Beast cited some alt right supporters use of the term “Muslim invasion” as an example of their dislike of Muslims. Buzzfeed claimed the group targets Muslims, in addition to other minority groups, and noted the Anti-Defamation League spends some time monitoring the movement. Left wing reporter and journalist Max Blumenthal wrote that alt right figures “collectively blamed them (Muslims) for the (Orlando) shooting spree.”
The alt right has even caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
The above language and accusations are no doubt troubling. However, some alt right thinkers believe their ideas are actually good for Muslims, and don’t constitute hatred. “I could understand a Muslim thinking ‘he (Trump) must hate Muslims’. But I think a wiser Muslim would see that Trump would bring about a more peaceful world,” said Richard Spencer, head of the nationalist National Policy Institute to Al Bawaba.
Dubbed by some a racist, Spencer coined the term alternative right, and prefers to identify as an identitarian. He poses this question to those accusing the alt right of bigotry towards Muslims: “Which is more important? Immigrating to America or being dead?”
Spencer is referring to two things here. First, he is talking about Trump’s proposed temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the US. Second, he is pointing to Trump’s repeated criticisms of US intervention in the Middle East, with which Trump has cited Libya and Iraq, for example.
While Spencer believes his opposition to both Muslim immigration and wars in the Middle East would benefit Muslims, there’s no denying that some on the alt right use inflammatory language towards the group.
Milo Yiannopoulos is perhaps the most well-known advocate for the alt right. The British homosexual of Jewish and Greek origins and technology editor for the right-wing news outlet Breitbart is a self-described “supervillain” and diehard Trump supporter. In this capacity, he has defended the alt right against accusations of racism. But do his comments on Muslims constitute bigotry themselves?
“America has a Muslim problem. Notice my wording carefully here. It isn’t a radical Muslim problem...The terror attack on Saturday is an expression of mainstream Muslim values,” he wrote after the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub. This appears to implicate most Muslims in the attack.
Yiannopoulos declined a request via Twitter to comment for this article, but usually defends such statements by citing polls on attitudes in the Muslim world. Britain’s Channel 4 concluded that 52% of British Muslims do not believe homosexuality should be legal in their series ‘What British Muslims Really Think,’ and Yiannopoulos referred to this poll in his response to the Orlando massacre.
For gays and straights alike of all faiths, such attitudes are undoubtedly cause for concern. But Yiannopoulos did not link Islam to discrimination against gays, which clearly exists in the Muslim world. Yiannopoulos linked Islam to the murder of gays, and the connection there is less apparent, as negative attitudes towards homosexuality do not equate advocation of their death.
“Islamophobia is not a real word. I’m an Islamo-realist. We don’t want to destroy Islam. Most of us want to isolate it,” said Spencer to Al Bawaba via phone. To their supporters, the alt right’s criticism of Muslim immigration to the US is sensible, and their skepticism towards wars in the Middle East better for all involved parties. To their critics, the alt right is a re-packaged, internet-savvy version of the racism in America’s past.
Regardless of who is right, the movement’s popularity on the world wide web warrants watching, especially for those interested in relations between the West and the Muslim world.
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