Analysis

What is the link between the far right, radical Islam and fossil fuels?

The 2016 election cycle showed a major shift across many Western democracies from the United States, to the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Germany; the rise of far-right nationalism, isolationism, and climate change denial. In the case of the United States and the UK, these groups were successful in electing Donald Trump as president and passing the Brexit legislation to remove the UK from the European Union, respectively. There was considerable public support for one another’s campaigns, suggesting a transnational trend that bonded these separate nationalist groups together.

Their shared ideology is staunchly against the “globalists” exemplified by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, who favour policies such as refugee resettlement and commitment to the Paris Accord. Both President Donald Trump and “Mr. Brexit” Nigel Farange advocate for isolationism under the pretence that “open borders” are causing a massive influx of refugees and immigrant groups that threaten the stability of each nation and compromise its very identity. Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, and numerous other far right groups gaining prominence across Europe reflected similar ideas in their campaigns. Simply put, it’s the same “us” versus “them” dichotomy that permeated colonial pasts, presented again in the more recent War on Terror, and continues to exploit Islamophobia to ensure that the “them” always includes Muslims.

Not everyone favours such politicians or ideologies-Donald Trump lost the popular vote by millions and Brexit was and remains extremely controversial. Much of the West was shocked by Trump’s win, but the ideology and imagery he embraces appeals to those who feel their social privilege threatened by a multicultural society. If one examines precisely how Trump won by the electoral college, he did so by strategically focusing his campaign on gathering support from rural, “rust belt” towns where largely white, high school educated, blue collar workers were struggling to survive as factory jobs and coal mines closed. What was being done by the far right was ablue-collar as it was sinister-to conflate refugee resettlement, immigration reform, and even acknowledgement of the existence of global warming as one looming external threat on our nation’s identity, masculinity, and by extension, security.

Trump has repeatedly stated his mantra “I’m for Pittsburgh, not Paris”, though his actual conduct and policies work against the very blue collar demographic he claims to represent[1]. For Trump and his followers, rejecting policies like the Paris Accord is not just about denying global warming-it is a refusal to integrate into an international body that they see as soft on terrorism and pro anti-Western values. By turning this into a war of identity-one in which Muslims represent the antithesis of everything he and his followers perceive to be American- it becomes easier to distract from the legislation that is ruining the planet and its people. Including Trump supporters.

There is no doubt that ISIS and like-minded terrorist groups are an abomination and appeal to the very worst of human behaviour, but they also don’t exist in a vacuum and can’t exist without an “Other” to define them. These groups pose a very real threat to the immediate populations they inhabit, but they are not the looming existential threat to Western democracy that fears mongering politicians like Trump portray them as being. That threat is far more likely to come from within a system and though those claiming ISIS affiliation have carried out horrific and serious attacks within both Western Europe and America, they are not the leading cause of terrorism. This is not in any way to diminish the gravity of their actions or the need for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to counter their narrative and actions, but it is essential that such groups be kept in perspective. As much as far right nationalist groups claim that they abhor “radical Islamic terrorism” and by extension-all Muslims-the fact is a large part of their identity and platform demands their very existence.



Just like ISIS.

Not surprisingly, many politicians on the far right, including Donald Trump, many in his cabinet, an alarming number of Republican (and some Democratic) congressmen and senators, financially benefit from the very nations supplying global oil resources-and funding fanatical extremist groups.[2] Trump speaks of defeating ISIS, yet his first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, a country known for its conservative Wahhabi views and contributions to hardline groups in Syria[3]. The “travel” ban includes no countries from which extremists have committed fatal acts of terror on U.S. soil. The countries that have had direct ties to extremist groups were excluded and many have business ties to the Trump Empire[4]. The Saudis and other oil rich nations rely on consumers like the United States to keep their fossil fuel industry alive and secure. To shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy would pose a national security threat to any nation whose very presence on the geopolitical scene is based in oil. Just beneath the façade of “fighting Islamic terrorism” you will find no actual shift in policy to combat radical groups, but rather a continuation of flawed foreign policies that exploit Islamophobic ignorance and only add fuel to the ideology of radical groups in both the East and the West.

Though it may seem an external issue, the relevance of petroleum and other fossil fuels to conflict and national security is a critical detail that many are glossing over, and to our detriment. The continued funding of the global fossil fuel industry does indeed aggravate ongoing wars in oil rich areas and contributes to human displacement either directly through conflict or indirectly from global warming.[5] Those facts are conveniently left out of the nationalist narrative. There’s a reason denouncing the Paris Accord and global warming is so appealing to far-right politicians-they want the oil because it lines their pockets and keeps them in positions of power and privilege.

The very power and privilege they perceive to be threatened by a society that would embrace a diversity of racial, ethnic, and religious groups. I’m not convinced that many politicians publicly rejecting the irrefutable science behind global warming actually believe what they say. Particularly not when such figures as say, head of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt who has been closely tied to energy companies, are the ones bringing that message[6]. It’s no secret that redirecting to renewable energy would eventually annihilate the petrol dollar. What is kept a secret is that the renewable industry would far outperform fossil fuels like coal in bringing more jobs, revenue, and security. Trump may “dig coal” but he doesn’t seem to dig job security. What is clear is that such a change would also result in the redistribution of social wealth and potentially remove the refugee, Arab, or Muslim from the top image of a terrorist. Perhaps a different image of threats on democracy would appear-the one that has been bankrupting our economy, contributing to conflict, eliminating sustainable jobs, ruining our earth, displacing millions of people, and bringing out the absolute worst in human behaviour.

by Anderson B. Al Wazni


[1] ‘Pittsburgh not Paris’ Rally at White House Thanks Trump, The Hill, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/336219-group-gathers-at-white-house-for-pittsburgh-not-paris-rally-thanking. (3 June, 2017).

[2] Oil & Gas, Open Secrets, https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=E01, OpenSecrets.org; Center for Responsive Politics.

[3] Scott Shane, Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters’, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-islam.html?_r=0., (25 August, 2016).

[4] Marilyn Geewax and Michel Martin, Countries Listed on Trump’s Refugee Ban Do Not Include Those He Has Business Ties With, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/28/512199324/countries-listed-on-trumps-refugee-ban-dont-include-those-he-has-business-with, (28 January, 2017).

[5] The Age of Consequences, directed by Jared P. Scott, (2016; PF Pictures), digital.

[6] Coral Davenport and Eric Lipten, The Pruitt Emails: E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/politics/scott-pruitt-environmental-protection-agency.html (22 February 2017).

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