The Third Position on Far Right and Islamist Extremism

Far right and Islamist politics are mutually dependent in the shared displacement of 'the Muslim'

For some time now, I have been trying to make sense of the process by which a particular representation of the figure of ‘the Muslim’ is intrinsically entangled in Islamist and far right politics.[1] The prevalence of the Muslim ‘other’ in legitimising their identity is known from studies on far right politics. In Islamist politics, 'the Muslim' is central in the legitimising the establishment of a Muslim homeland - the caliphate.[2] What dominant research and policy tends to overlook, however, is how far right and Islamist politics connect beyond language and action.

In other words, research is generally occupied with the political discourse and performances of certain groups and parties without giving sufficient focus to the actual workings of identification. One way to perceive mutuality in more detail is to shift attention from the study of identity to the study of identification. In the study of identity, politics is understood as the formulation of, and interaction between, fixed identities. As an alternative, the study of identification acknowledges that political identities are always relational and co-constituted. In the context of identity politics and extremism, the relational aspect is important because it provides insight into the legitimation, or normalisation of radical political demands.

As researchers, community practitioners and policy-makers, I suggest we take into account the deeper, undisclosed, connection between far right and Islamist politics. In focusing solely on plain language and actions, we risk missing important factors related to the dynamics of political identification. We have to allow for inconsistencies and contradictions, some of which are ingrained in the concepts we use as observers ourselves. In the case of far right and Islamist politics, there is a contradictory alliance between seemingly opposing identities.

One such radical demand is the construction of a state governed by Islamic laws and principles - the caliphate. Rather than arguing such a demand is an Islamist demand only, the caliphate is co-constructed by both Islamist and far right politics. Perceiving mutuality beyond mere interaction between Islamist and far right politics reveals such underlying paradoxes. The far right would never explicitly demand the establishment of the caliphate as the solution to the ‘out of placeness’ of Muslims.

And from what we might conclude from the analysis of Islamist groups such as Daesh, not every form of Islamist politics actively pursues the establishment of the caliphate. The caliphate is rather an imaginative tool - a utopia/dystopia - that functions to legitimise the displacement of Muslims. The possibility of the caliphate is important for the emotive appeal to the discourse of the far right and Islamists. The politics of Daesh, for example, is not necessarily in favour to other Islamist groups that aim to mobilise the Muslim community (the ummah) on the grounds of displacement.

In the context of identity politics and extremism, the relational aspect is important because it provides insight into the legitimation, or normalisation of radical political demands.

The legitimacy of the caliphate, both in far right and Islamist politics, is dependent on the construction of ‘the Muslim’ as one particular - homogeneous - way of being Muslim. ‘The Muslim’ in the politics of the far right is a ‘out of place’, or displaced, figure deprived of a homeland. For the far right, there is no place for ‘the Muslim’ beyond the structure of the caliphate. The only way of being Muslim is to abide by the all-encompassing way of life, or ideology, of Islam. Hence the reasoning that ‘the Muslim’ is irreconciable with secular and liberal culture.

And because there is only one way of being authentically Muslim, the far right ultimately deny the possibility of so-called progressive or liberal Islam. Similarly, the ‘out of placeness’ of ‘the Muslim’ is pivotal to the legitimacy of Islamist politics. Their displacement is an inevitable outcome of the dominant culture and politics of assimilation of the West. The structural eradication of Muslims can only be reversed through the establishment of the caliphate - the place of origin of the ummah.

To merely conceive them as polarised identities overlooks the symbiosis, or mutuality, of such a construction. After all, far right and Islamist politics aim to construct a frontier between ‘the Muslim’ and ‘the secular’. Yet, beyond the frontier there exists a mutual relationship that is paramount to the longevity of both forms of (extremist) politics. And although such a relationship has recently been captured in concepts such as ‘cumulative extremism’ and ‘reciprocal radicalisation’, I propose we need to go beyond the binary to perceive the so-called third position.

The third position refers to the context far right and Islamist extremism are subjected to and, through their mutual practice, aim to change. While generally understood as the outcome of far right politics alone, the ‘mainstreaming’ of the political right is a result of the interaction between oppositions. Without the lens of complexity, it is easy to attribute such mainstreaming entirely to the far right.

However, by taking into account the relational dynamics embedded in the optimal functioning of the far right, the critical role of Islamist politics in the mainstreaming of the political right is rendered visible. The third position is the synthesis - the coming together - of far right and Islamist politics. It is a particular perspective that privileges perceiving relations and its very (contingent) implications. Thus, in occupying a third position, context is crucial because the extremist identities we analyse not only derive from it, but also seek to change it.


[1] Please note I acknowledge recent discussions on the ambiguity of these categories. In speaking of far right and Islamist politics here, I refer to the variant that is overdetermined populist in articulation and identification.

[2] The Muslim in Islamist politics encapsulated both the Muslim ‘self’ as the authentic subject, and the Muslim ‘other’ as the corrupted subject (e.g. the progressive or liberal Muslim).

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