Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Peddlers of hate must bear responsibility for the Christchurch attacks

It is impossible to separate the language of prejudice and division from real-life acts of violence, such as those witnessed in New Zealand

People pay their respects in front of floral tributes for victims of the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch. AFP / David Moir
People pay their respects in front of floral tributes for victims of the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch. AFP / David Moir

Words matter. Actions are motivated by thought. So, those who deliberately spread dangerous ideas via reckless statements which, taken to their logical conclusion, will inevitably provoke violence, are responsible for the results.

The western world, including the United States, is in the throes of a major resurgence of white-supremacist rhetoric that is inspiring a wave of terrorism.

The latest instance was the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which at least 49 Muslim worshipers were killed by a white supremacist gunman.

The suspect’s manifesto, titled “The Great Replacement”, demonstrates that he was convinced that white Christians are being systematically invaded and will eventually be replaced by non-white people. He saw himself fighting in a racial war, the main weapon of which is immigration.

This paranoid delusion is overtly promoted by fringe right-wing voices in the West to endorse discrimination, exclusion and even expulsion of non-whites.

But a slightly attenuated version, encoded in unmistakable dogwhistles, has gained vast traction in “mainstream” conservative discourse, not least in the United States.

President Donald Trump deploys precisely these tropes to denounce immigration, describe Mexicans as "rapists," impose a ban on entry for citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, and propose building a wall along the US-Mexican border.

Immigration is supposedly his signature issue, but he’s really talking about race.

When he thunders about an "invasion" and "onslaught" of migrants trying to "infest" majority-white nations, his words draw directly on and give a global platform to this "replacement theory”. Referring to the alleged dangers faced by both the US and European countries gives these ideas an added ability to travel globally.

Naturally, the Christchurch terrorist praised him as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”. Mr Trump has worked hard to foster precisely that impression, stoking apocalyptic, existential fears that easily translate into violence.

In American replacement mythology, Jews are typically cast as the funders and masterminds of a plot to destroy white societies, abetted by chaos-sowing Muslim terrorists and hordes of Central and South American migrants to perform the actual replacement. Hysteria about the recent migrant caravan conveyed exactly that narrative.

This is also what the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville – praised by Mr Trump as "very fine people", meant by their notorious chant – "Jews will not replace us."

It’s a contemporary update of Adolf Hitler's deadly delusion that Jews and "Aryans" were in a life-and-death struggle that not only justified but necessitated genocide.

The western world, including the United States, is in the throes of a major resurgence of white-supremacist rhetoric

This ideology has variously inspired massacres of worshippers at an African-American church in Virginia, Jews at a synagogue in Pennsylvania and now Muslims at a mosque in New Zealand.

The mainstreaming of this hate-filled ideology has been so devastating that the Anti-Defamation League reports that right-wing extremists committed 70 per cent of American domestic terrorism in the past 10 years and a full 100 per cent in 2018.

Words obviously have consequences.

That’s why members of the Trump-supporting wing of the American right are suddenly so defensive and alarmed. They’re terrified that the non-racist majority will finally put two and two together and realise that their rhetoric was bound to result in carnage, and that they cannot, therefore, continue to evade all responsibility for that.

As the full horror of the Christchurch attacks sunk in, almost the entire American ideological far-right suddenly started singing a most unusual song: don't pay any real attention to this crime.

“Terrorists crave attention and publicity,” they said. “Don't give them any! Don't examine, analyse or reprint his manifesto. Don't discuss his hateful opinions. Don't view his videos. Don't even say his name.”

Doing anything else, they sermonised with extraordinary unanimity, would merely feed the beast and reward terrorism.

But these were precisely the same voices who, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been angrily demanding that the term "Islamic" always be applied to any terrorist violence carried out by Muslims. Anything else, they insist, is craven political correctness and denial.

Mr Trump and his key political and media supporters harped on this incessantly, viciously condemning Barack Obama, who argued that it was unwise to cede the title "Islamic" to terrorists who distort and demean the faith.

Today, the Trumpian right seems to realise how dangerous any close examination of this pattern of racist attacks could be for it.

Mr Trump denounced the New Zealand massacre, but was careful not to acknowledge its inescapably Islamophobic character, let alone the white-supremacist ideology behind it.

When directly asked, he dismissed white supremacists as merely "a small group of people", downplaying to the point of denial the growing threat they pose.

But it’s indisputable that white supremacy is a major cause of violent extremism globally, and is currently the main inspiration of domestic terrorism in the United States.

It's also obvious that hateful rhetoric and policies aimed at Latinos, Muslims and other minorities – tragically standard fare in Mr Trump’s Republican Party – normalise and promote this ideology of hate and the violence it inspires.

Their only hope is to dodge the whole issue by dismissing white supremacy as a tiny, irrelevant, fringe and insisting that the only responsible course is to completely ignore everything that motivated the Christchurch killer.

Otherwise, many more people might connect their words with the inevitable consequences, see the blood on their hands and act accordingly.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States ­Institute in Washington

Updated: March 16, 2019 05:59 PM

SHARE

SHARE