New Zealand has been bloodied by Islamophobic white supremacy terrorism. Muslims have been violently targeted; the nation has been violated. A mixture of Islamophobia and racial hatred, the massacre in Christchurch has been a massive blow for New Zealand’s tolerant, culturally diverse and peaceful self-image.
The 50 killed represent about 0.1 percent of the total Muslim community in New Zealand (estimated at c.52,000), and about 0.001 percent of the total population of NZ (c.4.8 million). As a point of comparison, 0.001 percent of the present population of the United States would be around 3,300. Given that 9/11 resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 American lives, the massacre of 50 in New Zealand is its equivalent. Does this mean March 15 is New Zealand’s 9/11?
Despite cursory similarities, there are massive differences. On New Zealand’s darkest day, the targets were Muslim immigrant others, not a general non-Muslim immigrant population, let alone the general population, such as occurred with the attack on New York. The New Zealand target was Muslims defined as an ‘invading other’ needing to be repelled. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the perpetrator was a lone-wolf gunman, not part of an organised extremist cadre or terrorist cell.
The killer, named as Brenton Tarrant, an Australian resident in New Zealand, is the face of an evil ideology that mixes race hate with Christian cultural history. It is not a simple case of being anti-immigrant; that is only one element. Nor is it a case only of being opposed to non-white races as such.
It is Islam that is in the frame on account of a narrow reading of European history and a radicalised reaction to Islamic extremism there and elsewhere. But there has been no event of Islamic extremism in New Zealand to react to. In that regard, this terrorist act is vicarious, echoing exculpatory tropes used by some radicalised Muslim extremists, such as in the UK and Europe, seeking to take revenge for attacks upon Muslims in other lands.
Tarrant speaks of meting out revenge for the ‘hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history’. He speaks of revenge for the millions of Europeans enslaved by Muslims, the thousands of European lives ‘lost to terror attacks’, and with a sudden shift to the present, to ‘reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders’. What has this to do with New Zealand history, let alone current context?
The ideological rantings are clear. Tarrant uses tropes that directly parallel those of the manifesto of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian extremist, also a lone-wolf gunman, who in the same fashion callously slaughtered unarmed innocents. And, as with Breivik, Tarrant’s ideological perspective is shared by many in the alt-right extremist community. Immigrant Muslims are the invaders; to be resisted at all costs, and preferably eliminated.
Tarrant’s historical ignorance is palpable and his grasp of contemporary socio-political realities utterly flawed. But this is the stuff of Islamophobia – and this is the true focus of this white supremacist’s extremism. This is not simply a racially motivated event: it is deeply religious, if only because It has one particular religious’ community in its sights. Period.
This Aussie born and raised import is no ideological Einstein: he has merely copied and pasted tropes of Eurabia fear-mongering and, as with Australian Islamophobic extremists, including some political parties there whose platform is virulently anti-Muslim, he identifies the Antipodes as inherently and rightfully European. And this is identified with the Western Christendom that once defined European identity and was arraigned against the empires of Islam.
This is the imagined form of Christianity that white supremacist ideology draws upon and references, as did Anders Breivik. For it was under the banner of Christendom that saw the battles lines between Christian Europe and its Islamic enemy. In behind this ideology is the lingering memory of the epoch of the Crusades, holding out during the siege of Vienna, and the new Christian advance through the Reconquista of Spain.
And so, just like Anders Breivik a decade ago, Brenton Tarrant fancies himself as a beacon, exemplar and goad inciting the uprising of fellow whites to resist and overthrow the Islamic interlopers. But wait, there’s more. The aim is to promote revolution; to destabilise the West; to cast Turkey as the implacable enemy of Europe; to foment civil war in the United States so as to ‘balkanise’ the United States thus enabling racial segregation and ‘ensuring the future of the White race on the North American continent’. And these aims are achieved by the slaughter of innocent Muslims in New Zealand how?
Were it not so tragic, it would be risible. But tragic it is. And while in some ways it seems like this is New Zealand’s 9/11, it reads to me as New Zealand’s Norway 2011. We have been tainted by a form of religio-cultural extremism. For make no mistake, white supremacist ideology combines race hate with religious tropes, as I have indicated. Much more can be said about that. For the moment though, a glimmer of good news, and a reminder that despite what has happened, New Zealand remains a place where peace and tolerance are advocated, affirmed, and lived. This has been tested. But it will not yield.
Indeed, within two days of the massacre, New Zealanders from all walks of life have voluntarily donated more than $5 million for the support of the victims and their families. In excess of $1 per person for the total population, this is a staggering response. It is a tangible measure of a secular society’s rallying around a minority religious group in their hour of need and suffering. It has been accompanied by an outpouring of grief and solidarity. It is a measure of the resilience of this country even as it has been shaken to its core. It gives a measure of solace, comfort, and hope to Muslims in New Zealand, and how Muslims, and others, elsewhere perceive us. Tarrant’s deadly escapade is a lost cause already.
Hon Professor Pratt is the author of Religion and Extremism: Rejecting Diversity (Bloomsbury, 2018)