Why White Nationalists and Militant Islamists Are Waging War against the United States
- ISBN: 9780520360020
- Published By: University of California Press
- Published: April 2021
The title of Sara Kamali’s recent book is likely to make a variety of readers nervous, especially the white nationalists and militant Islamists who would probably not prefer to be analyzed together and also the many American politicians, anti-terrorism experts, the US justice system, and everyday voters who prefer to displace responsibility for domestic terrorism on bad apples, lone wolves, and the mentally ill. In Homegrown Hate: Why White Nationalists and Militant Islamists are Waging War against the United States, Kamali compares white nationalism, “an ideology concerned with White racial consciousness, White identity, and White cultural hegemony, in addition to the political and economic dominance of the sociopolitical and historical construct of the White race” (23) to militant Islamism, “an ideology that seeks to comprehensively order politics and society in accordance with Islamic law” via violence (26). What these movements hold in common comprises much of the book, which is divided into chapters that answer one of four questions: who they are, why they fight, what they want, and what can be done.
Kamali’s comparative approach is rich in detail yet successfully avoids creating a compendium of domestic terrorists or incidents—work that, while valuable in its own way, can cloud our ability to see patterns by keeping our focus on particularities. Despite its tragic impact on victims and its power to reshape our domestic and foreign policy, domestic terrorism is relatively rare as a crime. The relative rarity of white nationalist terrorism, compared to other crimes (though not to other forms of domestic terrorism) allows us to view each case as unique, the unfortunate combination of a vulnerable person (almost always a man) radicalized to unusual, extremist views; access to weapons; and the availability of a target. The problem especially afflicts media coverage of white nationalist violence, as the public searches for the reason why and moment when a white man turns to mass violence. And, to a certain extent, the question makes sense: why, after all, would the most privileged people in the world feel such grievance as to target for death those who have less power? Yet this is not how we ask about terrorists’ origin stories: instead, we wonder what happened to make the good boy turn bad.
In contrast, our common understanding of militant Islamist terrorism in the United States, even rarer than white nationalist terrorism, has typically erased individual actors and viewed all Muslims as suspect, justifying policies ranging from surveillance of Muslims in the US to invasions of Muslim-majority nations abroad. Americans’ knowledge of the details of the lives of white nationalists like Timothy McVeigh and Dylann Roof and their ignorance of the lives of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez or Nidal Malik Hasan suggests not a greater interest in their crimes but a greater willingness to see them as individuals. White nationalists are viewed as lone wolves, people struggling with mental illness, angry young men who are socially dislocated, or, even worse, men who committed wrong actions when politicians refused to hear their legitimate complaints about their “communal sense of racial and cultural displacement” in a demographically changing US (135).
Instead, Kamali’s insightful and incisive analysis examines the structures that drive both white nationalists and militant Islamists. She takes religion seriously but also notes that, for those she writes about, “irrespective of actual belief, religion is merely a tool to justify violence in order to achieve social and political ends” (15). Belief matters, but so does each ideology’s call to exclusivity, misogyny (4–5), culture of grievance and identity as victims (3), belief in holy war (161), political ambition to create a state (181), apocalyptic thinking (218), online practices (219), and promise of community that “shares their victimization, resentment, and anger” (232).
Kamali’s scholarship is robust, the interviews she conducts with both white nationalists and militant Islamists invaluable, and her analysis of wide-ranging media thoughtful. (The notes are 85 pages long, the bibliography another 34.) Homegrown Hate is a model of innovative scholarship informed both by Kamali’s experience with the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right in the UK and the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society and her larger commitment to holistic justice. Readers interested in a new perspective on the topic of religion and white nationalism will appreciate her work, as well those interested in media, comparative social movements, and religion and criminology. Finally, those seeking new models of scholarship will find Kamali’s approach to surfacing similarities between two groups who see themselves in a cosmic battle to be an invigorating challenge to how studies of religion are often done.
Rebecca Barrett-Fox is the director of online learning and digital pedagogy at Hesston College and a scholar of religion and hate.Rebecca Barrett-FoxDate Of Review:November 5, 2021