By The Nation
Friday’s deadly attacks on two New Zealand mosques caused enough of a shock that few people were prepared for the aftershock – the
realisation that they were surprised by the brutal incident despite the writing being on the wall for so long.
An Australian white supremacist outraged that immigration extended as far as New Zealand gunned down 50 people and wounded many more. Observers have been quick to blame US President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rants and seeming readiness to condone hateful intolerance, but that argument is eclipsed by the overall global problem.
The accused gunman, Brenton Tarrant, 28, distributed a manifesto of extremist hatred minutes before his rampage. Travelling in Europe, he reportedly was in contact with several white neo-Nazi and fascist groups who believe the Christian white race is being subsumed by Muslim, Jewish and African-descended “foreigners”, abetted by government leaders seeking world domination through divisive and repressive policies. This nonsense is becoming prevalent online.
Among condolences extended to the families of the dead in New Zealand were messages of support from the Jewish community in the US state of Pennsylvania where, in Pittsburgh in October, another crazed extremist slaughtered 12 people in a synagogue. In a poignant representation of our times, the Jews in the US were “passing on” to the Muslims in New Zealand the kindness they’d received from around the world.
Before Pittsburgh, Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslims in Quebec City, Dylann Roof murdered nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina – his fellow Christians – and Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 77 people in Norway. All of these killers identified themselves as nationalists and white supremacists.
An August 2017 counter-protest to a “white power” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, goaded neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr to drive his car into the crowd, killing one woman. Trump insisted there were “very fine people” on both the right and left. In the wake of the Christchurch murders, he said he doesn’t see white nationalism posing a problem.
It does cause problems, though, and they are severe. The carnage in New Zealand was a terrorist attack by a white nationalist consumed by Islamophobia and a hatred of non-white immigrants. Tarrant claimed he wanted to “incite violence, retaliation and further divide”, resulting in a race war. So confident was he that he’d be acclaimed a hero that he live-streamed the attacks via Facebook, the video feed swiftly spreading to other media platforms. By the time online administrators halted distribution, racists around the globe were cheering.
The most that ultraconservative national leaders like Trump can be blamed for is creating an atmosphere conducive to extremist hate, or at least capitalising on what already exists. The atrocities mentioned were only the big-headline events. The number of hate crimes committed on smaller scales is uncountable. A recent study found that two-thirds of terrorist attacks in the US are carried out by far-right individuals and groups steeped in the myth of white supremacy.
Western societies still aren’t taking the threat as seriously as they should. Governments have failed to adequately address the danger. The far right feeds off the common misperception that terrorism is Islamist by nature, a notion supported by disproportionate media coverage of attacks by Muslim extremists.
Not even policymakers seem willing to set aside their ingrained biases, probably for fear of a backlash from their murderously misguided constituents.