The shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, where 50 people were killed by 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, may just deliver the wake-up call the world, and notably the West, needs.
For years, the growth of white supremacist movements and the dangers they present have been ignored, even as Islamic and left-wing terrorism continues to be vilified and labelled as a major threat to humankind. But figures do not lie. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based organisation, right-wing extremists in that country have been responsible for at least 70 percent of the 427 extremist-related killings carried out over the last 10 years. This by far outnumbers those carried out by extremists from other groups.
According to the ADL, between 2009 and 2018, over 73 percent of all domestic extremist related killings were carried out by right-wing extremists. In contrast, just over 23 percent were carried out by those following radical Islamic ideologies, and 3.2 percent by left wing groups.
These figures should make us think. So too should the language used when white people kill. Tarrant, an obviously imbalanced young man, has been described in the Western press as an ‘angelic, blue-eyed boy’, who through some aberration chose to kill. We assume that brown-eyed men or women who kill were never sweet little children. The colour of their skin and the shade of their eyes in itself determine this. It is for these blatantly racist reasons that the threat of rising white supremacy in the West is being ignored.
There is a long list of such killings. In 2018, twelve worshippers were killed in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh. In 2017 in Quebec City, six Muslims were killed at a mosque.
Nine black Christians were killed in a church at Charleston, South Carolina in 2016 and of course in 2011 mass killer Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 77 persons in Norway, most of them on the island of Utoya where a left-wing labour camp for young people was being held. Tragically, most of those who died were in their teens or twenties.
The threat continues. In response to increased demands in the US to take down confederate statues, including those of confederate leader Robert E Lee, still visible in many southern states, white supremacist groups and extreme right-wing protesters gathered at Charlottesville in August 2017 with flags depicting the Nazi swastika and other symbols including those associated with the Ku Klux Klan. One counter-protester was mowed down by a truck driven by an individual siding with the white supremacists who demanded the statues not be removed.
For many African-Americans and others, who in 2015 after the Charleston church shooting moved courts seeking that these symbols of racism and slavery be removed, the presence of the statues represents the continued upholding of the values which led to confederate states taking on the Unionists from 1861 to 1865. The Robert E Lee Foundation still stands as an operational organisation in the US, headquartered in New York, and though any racist content in its message is heavily disguised, it upholds the right to what it calls independent thought and nationalist ideals.
Nationalism is a dangerous word. It has been repeatedly used by white supremacists to defend their actions. Donald Trump frequently utilises the term as he did when insisting that there were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people on both sides during the Charlottesville rally, intended to bring together as many Far-Right activists as possible. Other terms including ‘homeland’ and ‘invasion’ have been used by both Tarrant and previously by Breivik in documents handed out by them.
The 74-page manifesto left by Tarrant suggests an irrational fear of being overtaken by immigrants. The language indicates a unity among right-wing white supremacists and dangerously, this agenda has been pushed forward by the White House under Trump, who is openly backed by some Republican senators. Trump has lashed out against prominent Jews such as the liberal Hungarian billionaire George Soros for hatching conspiracies in the US, including unleashing criminal gangs on the unsuspecting nation.
Too few have challenged Trump’s anti-black and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Yes, there has been increasing doubt about Trump, with Democratic representatives and also some from within Trump’s own conservative party taking him on. But in many ways, the damage has been done. Trump’s language has opened up the doors for white supremacists and all those who are in one way or the other racist or bigoted to speak more openly or more vehemently.
The impact of this has been visible in US schools, where teachers report more verbal, net-based and physical attacks on Muslim and black students than ever before. The same is true of American universities, where students from minority racial or religious groups have felt hounded. This is a dangerous change in a country where the Statue of Liberty stands as a symbol to welcome all those who come to visit it from around the world. Clearly, they are no longer so welcome. This is now echoed by official US policy put forward by Trump.
The real question, as we absorb the tragedy at Christchurch, is why white supremacist violence is not addressed with greater strength in the West. The Islamophobia we are seeing is very real. Yet it is the symbols of Nazism, fascism, anti-Semitism and the attacks on Islam which present the biggest threat of all to nations around the world which are now multicultural and to which immigrants from other cultures have brought enormous wealth. It is obviously impossible to even picture an America without its black or Hispanic heritage. The focus on Islamic extremism is then clearly a result of hysteria built up by the media and by powerful persons in key positions.
According to crime watchdogs in the US, white supremacists over the past decade have been apprehended by law enforcers for plots under which up to 30,000 people would have been killed. This year, a coastguard was apprehended by the FBI for plotting terrorist attacks against black and liberal politicians and media personalities in what we hear is the ‘land of the free’.
But the US is not isolated. In Britain, Far-Right extremists twice attacked the quiet grave of Karl Marx in the cemetery in Highgate where he has lain buried since his death in 1883. The persons behind the attempt to hammer down the name of Marx, his bust and spray-paint over the grave have not been discovered, but police appear certain they are associated with the Far Right. Similar organisations operate in other European countries, and their symbols, flags and banners represent the biggest threat of all to the West.
Tarrant’s ruthless slaughter at a mosque should act as a reminder of this and of the language we use to describe non-white terrorism as a threat while largely ignoring the reality of the hatred that is born and bred within European countries and taken forward by the blonde, blue-eyed persons who are traditionally upheld as the ideal in Nazi philosophy and in other white supremacist doctrines.
If the threat is not recognised and tackled, it will claim more and more lives even as leaders watch in silence or possibly sympathy.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor