Last week’s terror attack in Norway prompted various commentators to try to draw analogies between right-wing and Islamic terror (here, for instance). There are two problems with this. One is the sheer falsity of the analogy, beyond the obvious fact that both are appalling and inexcusable. The other is that right-wing terror has a real analog – namely, left-wing terror. And by omitting this from the discussion, and instead treating terror as the exclusive province of one political camp, it becomes all too easy to use attacks like last week’s as fodder for cheap political point-scoring rather than trying to address a real problem.
While many people tend to associate terror with the right rather than the left, it’s important to realize this is false. Indeed, as the International Herald Tribune reported this week, European police were more concerned about left-wing than right-wing terror as recently as April, and for good reason: Right-wingers didn’t commit a single terror attack in 2010, according to Europol, whereas left-wing and anarchist groups perpetrated 45, up 12 percent from 2009.
So why do people nevertheless think of terror as the right’s exclusive domain? My guess is this is a legacy of the Nazis, whose crimes were horrendous enough that, in the West’s consciousness, they completely overshadowed the mass murders perpetrated by Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, thus creating an association between the right and ideological murder that persists to this day. Yet this association might have surprised most Westerners in the decades preceding World War I, when left-wing anarchists perpetrated a spate of bombings and assassinations throughout Europe and the U.S.
Clearly, the fact left-wing terror also exists doesn’t make right-wing terror any better. But if both sides could frankly acknowledge they have problems of roughly equal magnitude on their respective fringes, then instead of using terror attacks to try to score political points off each other, they might be able to focus on the real threat – Islamic terror – which in magnitude is greater than either.
Neither left-wing nor right-wing terrorism benefits from state sponsors; neither controls territory in its own right; neither is backed by a global fundraising network that includes international charities and religious institutions; and neither operates a worldwide network of schools to indoctrinate children with its terrorist philosophies.
Islamic terror, in contrast, has all of the above: state sponsors (Iran, Syria, Pakistan, etc.), terrorist groups that control territory in their own right (Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, etc.), a global fundraising network comprised of charities and mosques, and madrassas worldwide where children are indoctrinated in Islamic fundamentalism. All of this gives Islamic terrorists far greater capabilities than either right-wing or left-wing terrorists have – which is precisely why the vast majority of attacks worldwide in recent years have been perpetrated by Islamists.
Islamic terror is the real global threat nowadays. That doesn’t mean either right-wing or left-wing terror should be ignored. But excessive focus on a minor threat at the expense of a major one is the best possible way to assure more deadly attacks in the future.