27 November 2023

If everyone can be ‘far right’ then the term has lost all meaning


Last Thursday, Dublin city centre resembled a war zone. Violent mobs rioted for over three hours in what’s been described as ‘the worst disorder experienced for decades’. Vehicles, including police cars, were set on fire, and three buses and a tram were destroyed. The ‘huge destruction’ left shops badly damaged and windows broken. Looting followed. 

The violence is believed to have been triggered by a knife attack that took place in the city earlier in the day. Three children and two adults were injured, four of whom remain in hospital. Among them is a five-year-old girl, said to be in a ‘critical condition’, and a teaching assistant who ‘used her body as a shield’ to protect children from the stabbing. The suspect is reported to be ‘an Irish citizen in his late 40s who has lived in the country for 20 years.’ But beyond this, little is known about the attack. Police and politicians have warned those wanting to find out more about misinformation’.

Yet, astonishingly, amid the destruction of the riots and the violence of the knife attack, one fact has been firmly established. Police and politicians alike are, it seems, absolutely certain about the motive of the rioters. They were ‘far right’. Ireland’s police chief, Drew Harris, told reporters that a ‘lunatic, hooligan faction driven by a far-right ideology’, had been responsible for the violence. What’s more, he announced, there was an ‘element of radicalisation’ to the riot which stemmed from ‘hateful assumptions’ based on material circulating online in the wake of the stabbings. 

Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, shared this insight into the political affiliations of each of the roughly 500 rioters. The stabbing, he suggests, was being ‘abused by groups with an agenda that attacks the principle of social inclusion’. It is remarkable that, while stab victims remain in a critical condition in hospital, and with flames barely extinguished on O’Connell Street, Ireland’s leaders have found the time to complete a comprehensive analysis into the political ideology driving the rioting mob. Or, at least, this would be remarkable if ‘far right’ hadn’t become a catch-all label, wheeled out repeatedly whenever our political and cultural elite want to express their contempt for a group of people while also shutting down any further discussion.

Remember the protesters at the cenotaph, unhappy that pro-Palestine marches had been allowed to take place on remembrance weekend? ‘Far right’, we were told. They were mindlessly acting out the words of the former home secretary, Suella Braverman, who is also, apparently, ‘far right’. Before that, it was Brexit voters, gender critical feminists, and anyone who questions high levels of migration or supports Israel’s right to self-defence. All ‘far right’. This labelling is simplistic but it serves a purpose. It demarcates the virtuous from the masses while simultaneously erecting a rhetorical ‘danger’ sign to ward off the curious. 

The beauty of crying ‘far right’ is that it works on the world stage, too. The election of Javier Milei in Argentina? Far right. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands? Also far right. Likewise, Orbán in Hungary and Italy’s Georgia Meloni. Actually, Meloni, according to one Guardian columnist, is not merely ‘far right’ but ‘fascist adjacent’. And then of course there’s Donald Trump who is neither ‘far right’ nor ‘fascist adjacent’ but straight up fascist. Of course, it is not just these democratically-elected leaders who are being disparaged, but all the millions of citizens who voted them into office. 

But there are dangers to throwing ‘far right’ around with such abandon. When a term becomes so elastic it stretches to cover elected representatives, feminists, nihilistic vandals and 17.4m British citizens who voted to leave the EU, it is rendered meaningless. No doubt some of the leaders, protesters or ideas noted here are genuinely deserving of the label far right. But if they all are, then the phrase is no more than a playground slur. 

The problem with this catch-all insult is that it removes any need to examine further people’s arguments or grievances: the label is both explanation and conclusion. The way a violent mob rampaged through the centre of Dublin last night was reprehensible. But ‘far right’ does little to explain their actions. We need to know: Who were the people involved? What motivated them to come together and act in this way? Do they see themselves as protesters? Or do they have more in common with London’s Oxford Street pranksters and shoplifters? Was the riot a product of politics, fury or nihilism? Simply crying ‘far right’ prevents any of these questions from being asked. 

Meanwhile, the public are told to focus their attention on these despicable rioters and forget about the man actually responsible for knifing children and putting people in hospital. But we need to ask what motivated him, too. Much though our political leaders and police chiefs do everything in their power to squash the emotion – it is understandable that people are angry when they learn of children being stabbed. This is not, of course, to condone the violence seen in Dublin last night. But being angry about a child facing potential murder does not make someone far right.

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Joanna Williams is the director of Cieo and the author of How Woke Won.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.