HOW does the psychopath who sought to massacre congregations at two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, differ from those who perpetrate comparable atrocities in the name of Islam?
A toxic ideology based on the misanthropic notion that only a particular type of people — based on their ethnic origin, religion, sect or skin colour — have any right to exist? Tick. Locating and interacting online with a toxically like-minded community of fanatics? Tick. Routine dehumanisation of ‘the other’? Tick. A deep-set desire to instigate some sort of ‘clash of civilisations’? Tick.
Across much of the West, though, there is a tendency to differentiate between ‘jihadist violence’ and ‘far-right violence’, with the latter likely to be designated a lesser evil, or at least a smaller problem. This could be attributed to a built-in bias: the idea that whereas the Islamists are completely alienated from the precepts of Western civilisation, the white supremacists have something useful to say that could find a place in the mainstream media, if only they didn’t go to extremes.
A deep-set desire to instigate a ‘clash of civilisations’? Tick.
The general thrust of such arguments is that while it’s perfectly acceptable to demonise Muslims and to try to restrict or diminish their numbers, murdering them directly is going too far when, in Australia’s case, Muslim refugees can be tormented by being cast away indefinitely on Manus Island or Nauru, perhaps even killed by being returned to where they fled from.
And, mate, even as we’re doing all this, let’s also send out an open invitation to white South African farmers who wish to emigrate. They would fit right in with Aussie culture, naturally, given their extended experience of fair dinkum apartheid.
Australian Senator Fraser Anning’s comment in the aftermath of the massacres that the blame lay with Muslim immigration has been roundly condemned across the political spectrum, and he is expected to face a bipartisan censure motion when parliament reconvenes. But he has also moronically been compared by the powerful home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, with the Australian Greens, who have offered the perfectly sensible suggestion that hate speech by parliamentarians should be outlawed.
Perhaps Dutton takes it personally, given his previous expressions of antipathy towards Muslims. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, wouldn’t get away scot-free either if hate speech were formally to be proscribed. Neither falls in quite the same category as Donald Trump, who followed the dispatch of his commiserations and “best wishes” to New Zealand by declaring that white supremacism is an inconsequential phenomenon with very few adherents.
If that were true, chances are Trump would not have received enough votes to become president. And as he knows, any critique of white nationalism from the White House would substantially deplete his infamous ‘base’ ahead of next year’s elections. You certainly won’t see him admit that in the past decade white supremacism has accounted for a lot more atrocities, albeit a smaller death toll, than Islamist outrages. This, after all, is the president who identified some ‘good people’ among those who were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’.
‘Replacement’ of European whites appears to have been a key concern of the Christchurch killer, according to the ‘manifesto’ he distributed online minutes before embarking on his murderous mission. It may be beside the point, but the Muslim population of New Zealand is less than two per cent, and will be less than 3pc 30 years hence, according to projections.
That hardly adds up to the ‘invasion’ that New Zealand killer Brenton Tarrant imagined. But no one should be particularly surprised. He found his way to Christchurch via a discourse disseminated not just by far-right ideologues such as former Trump aide Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, Tommy Robinson or Pauline Hanson, but normalised by the mainstream print and electronic media — not least the sections of it controlled by Rupert Murdoch in Australia, Britain and the US — as well as politicians with power or influence.
At the same time, the spontaneous outpouring of support and empathy for New Zealand’s minuscule Muslim community, especially from the nation’s admirable prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, but more broadly from New Zealanders in general who have never before been faced with an atrocity on this scale — and in fact internationally — is deeply gratifying. New Zealand’s government has also launched an effort to tighten rather lax gun laws.
In Australia, though, efforts are already afoot to preserve the scope for Islamophobia, which is an even bigger trend across Europe and in the US. Christchurch wasn’t the first manifestation of its inevitable consequences, and it won’t be the last, with retaliatory violence (as possibly seen in Utrecht) helping to keep the ugliest of flames alive. On both sides.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019