A 28-year-old man, driven by extreme hatred against Muslim immigrants in Christian societies, empties his guns on people offering Friday prayers, killing 50 of them and crippling or injuring several others.
What characterised this attack was that like the Norway attacks in 2011, it happened in a generally peaceful land, and far away from theatres of war or foyers of rising social tensions. No country is safe anymore as the perpetrator demonstrated.
The mass killing in New Zealand was followed by heated polemic to pinpoint the motives of the attacker and apportion blame. Unlike other world leaders, US President Trump refused to call it a terror attack and attributed the act to a small group of extremists.
The world at large is nonetheless discovering that the accused, Brenton Tarrant travelled to many countries, most probably to draw inspiration for one of the greatest hate crimes committed by an individual. A detailed analytical piece in foreignpolicy.com after the Christchurch mayhem claims that the perpetrator was inspired by the ideas that have circulated for decades in Europe notably on the French Far Right.
Tarrant’s 74-page manifesto “appears to draw on the work of the French anti-immigration writer Renaud Camus, author of ‘The Great Replacement’” evoking a scenario of Muslims replacing white people in countries with high ratios of Muslim immigrants, such as France.
Renaud Camus, in turn, considers Enoch Powell and Jean Raspail as the prophets of the idea of a great replacement of the white race. Powell, an anti-immigrant English politician, had envisioned in the 1960s “rivers of blood” in Britain brought on by immigration. Jean Raspail, a French author, foresaw a Europe in which the refugees would threaten the white population numerically, leading to an armed resistance movement to target the ‘invaders’. According to Raspail, “without the use of force, we will never stop the invasion”.
Raspail’s work served as inspiration for Far-Right figures like French Marine Le Pen and Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon. Le Pen urged millions of her social media followers to read Raspail’s novel ‘The Camp of the Saints’ in order to stop France from being submerged by immigrants. Back in the 1980s, Marine’s father and founder of the extreme right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen had bemoaned that “when the Arabs came on horses, we had stopped them but now they are arriving in their slippers and we cannot stop them”.
At the time of writing his book in 1973, Raspail was full of praise for white nations like Australia and New Zealand for their racially-based immigration policies. According to foreignpolicy.com, Tarrant, an Australian, had visited many countries including France where he developed his conceptual frame, and Norway, to plan his operation against the Muslims.
Hate-mongering against Islam and Muslims is a thriving activity in a number of countries like France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and Hungary. It is a challenge for states as well as civil societies to curb hate speech including literature portraying doomsday scenarios and outbreak of armed conflict.
Some countries outside Europe are facing an equally or more serious challenge because rulers like Trump, Modi and Netanyahu are pursuing exclusionary policies by victimising their Muslim populations. Neither of them would publicly take credit for provoking hatred against the Muslims but their actions betray their discourse. Israel and the present rulers of India believe in treating their non-Jewish and non-Hindu communities as second-class citizens.
The coming years are likely to witness tensions among nations over issues of climate change, water resources, trading regimes, but also social disharmony in countries with a large immigrant component.
The origins of Brexit lie in resentment against immigration from the new EU members. Trump has made the wall on the US border with Mexico a personal crusade. India wants to deprive four million Muslims of voting rights in Assam and so on.
The Christchurch terror attack has shown how the purveyors of hate crime have resorted to using social media to pollute societies. Neo-Nazi groups are active on the internet and provide networking opportunities to individuals motivated by white supremacist ideologies. Social media has been an easy vehicle for anti-immigrant groups by posting material that presents a highly exaggerated picture of Muslims overtaking the white populations of Europe and North America by 2050.
It may not be possible any longer to clean the internet of hateful content. The websites involved in this activity are not easy to take down. Recent efforts by Google show that neo-Nazi sites that are blocked go ‘dark’ behind encrypted platforms that are out of reach of tech companies and security services. Young people who are weak in social skills can fall prey to exclusionist ideas being spread on the web. Radicalisation expert Scott Atran says: young people unmoored from traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. “This is the dark side of globalisation.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has led her nation in a dark moment with great wisdom and firmness, refusing to cede territory to white supremacists. Her best advice was reserved for Trump when she asked him to be compassionate to Muslims. New Zealand Professor Joe Burton writes that Ardern’s words remind us “that racism at the top of society can create a permissive environment for extremism”.
Those at the helm have the greatest responsibility to promote social cohesion rather than spreading exclusionist dogmas.