Beware the dreaded Extremist Groups

Here’s a bit of weirdness. Tara McKelvey at the BBC reports on something labeled an “extremism summit” at the White House yesterday…without ever explaining what it was actually about. Well it was about “violent extremism”…but what is meant by that? She never says. You can tell what it’s about if you already know some things, but it’s utterly bizarre that the BBC is so exceedingly coy about it. I’m tempted to convene a summit on Extremist Evasiveness.

A summit at the White House to counter violent extremism has been criticised for being poorly organised and hasty. Will it be able to achieve anything, whether substantial or superficial?

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, spoke in halting English at the White House summit on Wednesday – though her message was forthright.

“When we are together, we are most strong,” she told police officers, FBI agents, European mayors and others gathered in a windowless auditorium for a conference on countering violent extremism, a three-day event held this week in Washington.

Oooh, violent extremism, what’s that, a naïve reader might wonder. Well a naïve reader will never find out by reading the article, no matter how closely or repeatedly. It’s just more of the same.

Extremists killed 17 people in attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January.

Ms Hidalgo joined a unity march on the streets of Paris a few days later. She walked with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – and more than a million others.

There’s the tipoff. Oh that “violent extremism.” But then since it is in fact a particular kind of “violent extremism” with particular hates and particular goals and a particular ideology, what the HELL is the point of concealing all that? What is the point of giving it a generic and fundamentally empty label when an informative one exists? Imagine a White House summit on Nazism convened in 1938 (if only they had…) that was reported as being about “violent extremism” without mentioning Nazism. What would have been the use of that?

Obama wasn’t at the Paris march against “violent extremism” and the administration is worried about the criticisms of his failure to appear.

US officials seemed sensitive about the criticism. On the day of the march, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about their plans to host a summit.

The forum, according to White House officials, was designed to help “prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalising, recruiting or inspiring individuals”.

Radicalizing into what? Recruiting to what? Inspiring to what? These violent extremists and their supporters don’t just go up to people and urge them to join the movement for “violent extremism” do they? Of course they fucking don’t.

Even those who are passionate about the goals of the summit – combating violent extremism – wonder about the optics – a term the Washington political class use to describe how an event is perceived.

One participant, a former State Department official, says there isn’t enough time to coordinate ministers for public appearances – one of the main goals for this kind of event.

Officials from France, Belgium, the UK, and other countries are attending. Mr Obama is expected to address them at the State Department on Thursday.

Whether hastily pulled together or carefully orchestrated, the summit to counter violent extremism is timely.

Timely! But mysterious. What oh what could all this violent extremism be in aid of? What’s its platform? What does it want? What vision of a better world is its goal? Won’t someone please tell us?

Speaking at the White House summit, a Belgian mayor, Hans Bonte, describes people from his city, Vilvoorde, who have joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.

“They are seen in awful video movies,” he says.

He believes dozens more people are now preparing to leave Belgium to join the extremist groups.

“We are facing a global problem,” Mr Bonte says. “But we have to act locally.”

Regardless of the politics – and the optics – of the summit, he and the others are facing the difficult task of trying to stop acts of violence. However flawed, the summit is better than nothing.

But is the reporting?

Not this reporting, that’s for sure. This reporting might as well be nothing. Godalmighty McKelvey even spells it out about the “extremist groups in Iraq and Syria” and the “awful videos” and people leaving Belgium to join “the extremist groups” but still doesn’t say the word. The word is never said throughout the article. Not once.

Islamist. The “violent extremist” groups are Islamist groups. “Violent extremist” is code for Islamist. But why does the BBC think it’s required to talk in code?

This is just plan bad reporting, reporting so bad that it borders on mendacious. The BBC ought to be better than this. It’s one of the chief sources of global news, and millions of people around the globe – most of them Muslims – are terrorized and victimized by Islamist groups. The BBC should be reporting honestly on the subject.

[Note: I’m pretty sure this is a BBC matter, not an individual reporter matter. I don’t think McKelvey decided for herself to report the story this way; I think it’s a house rule.]


  1. Jean says

    That’s what you get when you respect the “right” not to be offended. You can’t inform people or educate them and the only ones who win are the “violent extremists”.

    Hopefully the summit actually addresses the religious components of the issue but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t.

  2. says

    Actually it did – I saw a piece of what Obama said there, on some tv news thing last night, and Asra Nomani talked about it on MSNBC. The BBC doesn’t have that excuse.

  3. gmcard says

    The spin from the Obama administration is that they avoided explicit labeling of the particular form of extremism because they don’t want to feed into the narrative used by Al Qaeda/IS/etc. that this is a war between the West and Islam itself. I can understand why people might not find that compelling, but with assholes like Bill O’Reilly going on about “the Holy War is here”, I can sympathize with the administration and the hoops they’re trying to jump through to engage with the Islamic community.

  4. gmcard says

    Addendum: And since the summit itself avoided explicit labeling of the extremism, it makes sense that media coverage would also use vague terms. I suspect they were encouraged to do so by the administration, and I don’t see the harm in accepting.

    All that said, given that they kept the summit topic generic, I sure hope they spent some time on the homegrown Christian right-wing extremism that’s a more immediate concern for Americans.

  5. RJW says

    “But why does the BBC think it’s required to talk in code?”

    Probably because “Speak o’ the Devil and He will appear”. That’s the state that Western civilisation is in these days

  6. Anne Fenwick says

    Obama apparently went out of his way to say the ‘extremism summit’ wasn’t about Islamic extremism specifically. To some extent that seems sensible. If you’re able to say anything intelligent about stopping young people being sucked into jihadism, it should also work for stopping young people being sucked into white nationalism (currently responsible for many extremist acts not reported as terrorism because they happen not to terrify middle class white people). Conversely, if all you can talk about is Islam, you’re likely to end up over-extending your reach to people who, however false their beliefs, aren’t extremists.

  7. lorn says

    I don’t agree. Recently, today, we have been focused on violent Muslim extremists but that doesn’t mean the Christian fundamentalists, Christian Identity movement, or Hindu fundamentalists, all shown to be wiling to use violence against people who do not share their views, have gone away. Focusing on any one case opens the back door for another side to advance. Some of those pushing hardest to focus on Muslim violence are Christian fundamentalists pushing for a wider war against Islam that they can exploit to advance their own cause.

    Unpopular as it may be today, we have to think ahead and focus on the behavior instead of what flag the violent thugs are flying.

  8. luke says

    Two other things pissed me off about that article. First “in halting English”. How is that relevant? Why highlight it?

    Second, this bit: “She was dressed French-chic in fitted black pants and a black top with a dark jacket, and the colours captured the sombre mood in the room.” Again, how is this AT ALL relevant? Does the author usually comment on male attire in this way?

  9. sonofrojblake says

    On the one hand, is there really anywhere “a naïve reader” so unbelievably naïve that they don’t know EXACTLY what this is about?

    And on the other – what Anne Fenwick and lorn said. “Reality” is that yes, most of the “violent extremism” that’s sexy right now is coming from Islamists. But if our leaders dared to acknowledge that and put their focus explicitly on Islamists – they would be tacitly excluding all the other assholes lorn listed. And you can guarantee at least some of said assholes would read that as implicit endorsement of them, and line up to say “Yeah – that’s right guys, go get the Mooslems!”.

    It’s disingenous and dishonest, yes, but hey, politics.

  10. johnthedrunkard says

    Well, the Beeb is just like everyone else. Not willing to address A Certain Religion because to do so will unleash well-prepared violence.


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