At least 50 Muslims were killed and dozens injured the past week in a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. The terrorist, a white supremacist named Brenton Harrison Tarrant, posted his 74-page manifesto on social media before the attack, claiming to be inspired by mass killers like Anders Breivik, a Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people (mainly immigrants) in 2011. Like Tarrant, Breivik also left behind a detailed manifesto, expressing his visceral hatred for Muslims and immigration.
The most chilling element of the Christchurch attacks is the video of the killing that was filmed inside the mosque, on a headcam worn by the terrorist. The filming and streaming of the attacks set up a dangerous precedent that threatens to normalise the real-time sharing of extremely violent videos on Facebook. Despite the removal of 1.5 million copies of the video by Facebook, it still poses serious challenges to the social media companies in keeping violent materials off their networks.
The Christchurch attacks did not take place in isolation. They present a consistent pattern of increasing far-right terrorism in the West. With the underlying objectives of creating a racial war, the white supremacist ideologues are continuing to gain ground, from across Europe to the Americas, and from South Africa to Australia. The ultra-nationalist political forces have gained popularity based on their anti-immigration and Islamophobic narratives. The Christchurch attacker sought to highlight in his manifesto that even New Zealand, a country geographically removed from the immigration phenomenon that Europe has been experiencing, is still being affected by mass immigration.
Today, the rise of far-right extremism has shifted the debate around radicalisation and terrorism, with tens of thousands of people marching the streets of Poland and Germany, raising the slogans of ‘White Europe’, ‘Clean Blood’ and ‘Criminal Immigrants’. The discourse on radical ideology is no longer reserved for Islamist terrorists. The right-wing political parties, nourished by rising xenophobia, are benefitting from the growing prevalence of anti-immigrant supporters. This trend can be clearly observed by the rise of popularity of Marine Le Pen of Le Front National in France, and of anti-immigration political forces in Hungary and Poland.
In the UK, Brexit has contributed significantly towards xenophobic and anti-immigration sentiments. The UN special rapporteur of racism, Prof Tendayi Achiume, has said, “The environment leading up to the referendum, the environment during the referendum, and the environment after the referendum has made racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance.” Last year, the UK’s Home Office figures revealed that there has been a 36% rise of individuals flagged for risk of far-right extremism in 2017-18. On the contrary, those flagged for being at risk of Islamic extremism have declined by 14% in the same period.
In the US, the situation is even worse. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released their report, finding that from 2009 through 2018, right-wing extremists accounted for 73% of such killings compared with 23% for Islamists. These figures indicate an alarming trend concerning the dangers of far-right ideology, yet there is a distinct lack of nationwide public outrage against it, as is the case when the perpetrators are Muslims.
It is imperative that the West confront the reality of the situation, and that dismissing the growing threats of white supremacy can endanger the communities throughout the world. Just like any other form of terrorism, far-right terrorists have ideological roots, and their ideologues are increasingly opting to demonstrate their affiliation by perpetuating attacks against non-white communities. Attacks like Christchurch will keep happening until widespread xenophobia is recognised and addressed, and fear-mongering political groups take responsibility for their role in engendering support for the far-right.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2019.