From Christchurch to the White House
- March 15, 2019
The disgusting murders of 49 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch are further evidence of a growing threat of far-right extremism that has rarely received the same level of media and political attention as its jihadist counterpart.
It’s become a cliché in far-right and conservative circles to claim that ‘Islam is not a race’, that Islamophobia is a ‘fiction’, and that hostility towards Muslims may even have some kind of spurious legitimacy. At best these arguments are a product of confusion and ignorance, and at worst a deliberate obfuscation intended to avoid accusations of racism and provide a Trojan horse for its new manifestations.
Either way they are extremely useful to the ‘new’ far-right and ‘’hard conservatives’ who have placed Islam and Muslims at the centre of their 21st century ‘clash of civilisations.’
The idea that ‘Islam is not a race’ enables the right to say all the things it used to say about people of colour while all the time maintaining that it isn’t their ‘race’ they’re concerned about, it’s just their ‘religion’ or their ‘culture’. Such arguments make it possible to depict Muslims as terrorists or terrorist supporters, barbarians, rapists, and invaders without ever having to mention race or racism overtly.
It’s possible to make these arguments if you assume that racism is only racism when it’s based on biology or skin colour or the size of one’s skull. But the usefulness of Islamophobia is the way it fuses religion, culture and race while seeming to erase race altogether.
The focus on Islam and Muslims has a powerful political salience, echoing older confrontations between Islam and Christendom in which Islam was identified as the antithesis of Christian/European civilisation. It becomes possible for barely-educated psychopathic killers and Oxford graduates alike to trace grand historical trajectories that supposedly connect the Battle of Tours/Poitiers and Charles Martel to the Siege of Vienna in 1688 all the way to the 21st century ‘Muslim invasion of Europe’ by immigrants and refugees.
In this way mainstream pundits like Douglas Murray and knuckledragging nazis and white supremacists have been able to propagate paranoid narratives about the Islamicisation of Europe and the ‘end of Europe’ that reach from the pages of the Spectator to the fringes of social media, where violent dreams of murderous ‘resistance’ are gaining traction.
The manifesto produced by the murderer who calls himself ‘Brenton Tarrant’ makes it clear that he was an out-and-out racist, bigot and ethnonationalist. No one will be surprised that he cited ‘Justiciar Knight Breivik’ as an inspiration for the massacres he perpetrated today, and said that he had ‘received a blessing for my mission after contacting his brother knights.’
Tarrant also listed a number of white supremacist murderers including Dylan Roof and the Finsbury Park Mosque killer Darren Osbourne.
Like his hero Breivik, Tarrant’s manifesto was steeped in paranoid and explicitly racist narratives of ‘white genocide’ and ‘the ‘great replacement’, which identify migrants, refugees and Muslims as a common threat to Europe, and he made it clear that his murders were intended ‘ to directly reduce immigration rates to Europe by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.’
In killing Muslims in Christchurch in order to ‘save Europe’, Tarrant’s savage atrocities demonstrate how the white supremacist movement that he belongs to has become ‘borderless’ in the age of social media, in much the same way that the transnational terrorist jihad has become borderless.
It’s tempting – and convenient – to depict Tarrant as just another lone psychopath who has been nurtured in the danker corners of the Internet, but the attitudes that led him to kill yesterday belong to a wider spectrum that reaches above and below the media radar. In his manifesto Tarrant praised the pro-Trump conservative Candace Owens, who only recently launched the Turning Point UK chapter with the observation that Hitler was ‘ok’ until ‘ he became too ‘globalist.’ Tarrant also hailed Donald Trump as a ‘symbol of white identity and common purpose.’
It is clear that the election of Donald Trump has coincided with an increase in far-right extremism. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre 2018 report,at least 40 people in the U.S. and Canada were killed last year by individuals ‘motivated by or attracted to far-right ideologies, embracing ideas and philosophies that are cornerstones of the alt-right.’ The SLPC linked the growth of alt-right groups and ‘fight clubs’ to the election of Trump, which ‘ has opened the White House doors to extremism, not only consulting with hate groups on policies that erode our country’s civil rights protections, but also enabling the infiltration of extremist ideas into the administration’s rhetoric and agenda.
Once relegated to the fringes, the radical right now has a toehold in the White House.’
This ‘toehold’ is reflected, among other things, in Trump’s policies at the border, in his ‘Muslim ban’ and his depictions of Muslims and migrants in general, in his tacit support for white supremacists such as the demonstrators at Charlottesville, in the incitement to violence that characterised his election campaign. Only two days ago Trump told Breitbart News ‘ I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.’
Today the Christchurch murderer ‘went bad.’ And there will almost certainly be others like him, who will take encouragement from a US president who has legitmised their obsessions and explicitly threatened his political opponents with violence.
They will take inspiration from the fear and loathing of immigrants in general and Muslims in particular that have become the cornerstones of the far-right resurgence.
According to a 2018 Europol report ‘The violent right-wing extremist spectrum is expanding, partly fuelled by fears of a perceived Islamisation of society and anxiety over migration.’
These ‘fears’ produced the murderous hatred that we saw yesterday. It’s time to call out those who propagate them – some of whom are now shedding crocodile tears over Christchurch.
It’s time for politicians to show some real courage and stop pandering to the vicious anti-immigrant hostility that is becoming a seedbed for fascism. It’s time for the security services to treat the far-right threat with the seriousness it deserves.
It’s time to recognise that Islamophobia is real – and it can be deadly. And even as we mourn the dead of Christchurch, we should reject the rampant racist ethnonationalism that was unleashed today, and stand up for the diverse, open societies that Brenton Tarrant and his cohorts would like to destroy.