Last week, US President Joe Biden stood up to deliver a speech on the Tulsa racial massacre a century ago, when dozens of black Americans were killed and their homes and property burned. Among the emotional words that carried bitter memories of that tragic incident and the important lessons to be drawn from it, one particular statement emerged which sparked controversy; when President Biden said that the danger posed by white supremacy is much greater than that of al-Qaeda and ISIS!
But is it true what President Biden has said? Before discussing that, why did he say it now?
The closest sensible answer is that political reasons are the real motives behind his controversial statement. It is a well-known and accepted electoral political game when leaders exaggerate a particular danger in a manner that serves their agendas, and push people to rally around them. This is what he skillfully did.
It is in President Biden's interests to make the white supremacist threat rise to a degree that outweighs all the brutalities of ISIS and the unforgettable cruel scenes of beheadings, rape of Yazidi women, and burning of captives. In this case, he wins on more than one level. He satisfies his party and constrain the nerves of its popular base through sparking fears of Trump's resurgence while carried on the shoulders of those angry fanatics who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. He also re-emphasizes the issue of racism and stirs the emotions of those who despise the so-called “institutionalized racism,” which is in fact a term, rather than a fact on the ground.
But is what he said true? It is difficult to be certain of this, and one commentator reacted by saying: “If this is true, why do we not see raids launched to arrest these white domestic terrorists?” In fact, there are other repercussions of his speech and other motives on a larger level, whose features are already starting to emerge. Racism in all its forms is a repulsive issue, and it is no longer accepted by human conscience, especially after it produced heinous practices in the past. For decades we have not witnessed racist groups active on a large scale like Nazis in Germany or Fascists in Italy. There are racist individuals who live to despise and degrade other races even in the most advanced countries, but the racist ideology itself is already debunked and unable to persuade a large number of people to follow it. It is possible to see racist pockets, but hardly armed racist organizations!
This is in contrast to the fanatical religious ideology that still attracts a large number of fanatics and sympathizers. Although the religious extremist organizations have suffered successive defeats, they are able to resurrect again in huge numbers. For this reason, the most ruthless organizations in recent decades are fundamentalist ones such as “al-Qaeda,” “ISIS,” “Jabhat al-Nusra,” “Hezbollah,” “Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq” and others. The only way to eradicate terrorism is to erase extremist religious ideology altogether. Since racism has been intellectually and morally discredited, we did not witness a racist leader after Hitler. However, after bin Laden we saw Nasrallah, al-Baghdadi, al-Julani, Kawtharani, Soleimani and a long list of violent leaders.
The urgent question is this: Do Biden's words have other domestic drivers and greater repercussions? It is possible, because the discourse of Islamic associations in the United States has largely adopted the discourse of political Islam - which intersects mainly with the ideas of violent organizations, and these associations are working to mitigate the criticism of this extremist discourse, claiming that it is a result of political restrictions and the absence of a democratic process. We have seen a rise in the influence of these extremist associations and their ability to convey some of their leaders to the Congress, and they are adopting a sharply aggressive rhetoric against moderate Arab countries that wage a war on extremist groups. They are also assuming a propaganda discourse which promotes countries that support extremists and terrorist organizations. That is why we sometimes see soft civilian touches being placed on Houthi leaders, for example, despite their adoption of a close-minded and fanatic discourse and the horrific acts committed by their militias, the latest of which was the attack on Marib.
Those leaders exploit such expressions [by Biden] to reduce the extent of extremist threat and redirect the compass towards other sides (such as white supremacists and others) in order to reshuffle the cards, although Muslims comprise the majority of the victims of these bloody groups.
Even if this issue is addressed only domestically in the US, its effects will boost the morale of extremists who are these days celebrating the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which sent a wrong message that was manifested in the successive news yesterday, the latest of which was the bombing of schools and the cold-blooded killing of aid workers on the road, leaving them all alone swimming in their blood.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.