When the suspected terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 50 defenceless Muslims at mosques during Friday prayers last week, it was widely understood that the attack was a culmination of ‘alt-right’, white supremacist ideology and policies that have proliferated in Western states. It is therefore important to study the Christchurch attack in its full context.
The attack appears carefully planned and executed, fuelled by a level of irrational hatred that most people find impossible to fathom. This was no spontaneous, reactive violent outburst. Rather the alleged perpetrator appears to have been deeply entrenched in many-layered extreme white supremacist ideology and hatred.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, was quick to point out that the perpetrator is “not us” while unequivocally identifying the victims as New Zealanders. In her words, Ardern reflected the views of the majority. However, the minority far right view is increasingly emboldened. This was expressed by Australian senator, Fraser Anning, who Tweeted the following message in the hours after the attack: “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?”
Statements like Anning’s are a stark reminders that alongside the outpourings of love and support for the bereaved in Christchurch, there is a growing mainstream tolerance of Islamophobia and victimisation of minorities. This tolerance at the highest levels of politics and media comes despite a growing list of deadly attacks by white supremacists: from the murders committed by Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011 to the murder of British MP Jo Cox in 2016, the attack on the Finsbury Park mosque in London in 2017 and the Pittsburgh synagogue attack in 2018.
The media often focuses on the isolation and troubled personal lives of white supremacist perpetrators, lending credence to the idea of a ‘lone wolf’ attack. But extreme far right violence is emerging from a global trend rather than as isolated incidents.
Islamophobia, when voiced and tolerated, leads to terrorism. When prominent European, American and Antipodean politicians invoke Islamophobia, they are knowingly provoking hate, fear or ridicule of the ‘other’ and this always serves to embolden the far right.
Social media, a prominent feature of the Christchurch attack, cuts out the middle man so that news editors can no longer veto what footage is consumed. Facebook and other social media provide a platform for marginalised, alienated people seeking to broadcast their hate. The internet is also fertile ground for recruiting vulnerable people to extreme causes by promising them identity and purpose in life.
In the UK, the government’s Prevent strategy has long focused on the danger presented by the far right, and MI5 is taking a lead in confronting the threat. It is incumbent on all people involved in public life to take their responsibilities very seriously and refrain from any utterances or decisions that promote the marginalisation of Muslims or any other sectors of our multicultural societies.