Christchurch: Reckoning for the Right

A picture of three of the automatic rifle magazines used in the Christchurch massacre. They have English and Serbian writing on them, including "For Rotherham" and the names of mass shooters Alexandre Bissonette and Luca Traini.

Last Friday, in the early hours of the morning UK time but in the early afternoon local time, a far-right terrorist entered two mosques in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand, with automatic rifles emblazoned with the names of various people Muslims had wronged and various people who had committed atrocities against Muslims, and shot around 100 people in total of whom at this moment 50 have died. The dead included men, women and children though, as he targeted a Friday noon prayer, the majority of the casualties were men and boys. The attacker had discussed his plans on one of the criminal websites commonly associated with misogynist abuse, racism and website cracking; he live-streamed the massacre on various social media sites and although the sites involved took the footage down, some newspaper websites reissued extracts from it. The footage, shot from a headcam, shows him playing a tune from a pro-Karadzic propaganda video from the Bosnia genocide before walking into the mosque and shooting people dead in the corridor and in the main prayer hall; the impression is of a first-person video game. The massacre naturally drew condemnation from around the world, though just as rightly, the sincerity of some of the statements was questioned by many Muslims and our sympathisers.

The attacker published a manifesto, which can be read in full (in image form, no accessibility) here. He describes himself as an eco-fascist, though claims that the country most in keeping with his views is the People’s Republic of China (which is one of the most polluted countries on earth); in answer to what he wants, parrots the “14 Words”; he bemoans the falling birth-rates in western countries and rails against what he calls the “great replacement” of white westerners with “invaders”, principally Muslims. He claims not to hate Muslims as long as they remain in ‘their’ countries; the only Muslims he hates are converts (though most of those he killed were those he called ‘invaders’, from Asia and Africa). He professes admiration for Luca Traini (an Italian mass shooter), Dylan Roof (the racist who carried out the Charleston church massacre), Anders Breivik (the perpetrator of the Utoya massacre in Norway) and Darren Osbourne, who drove a van into a group of Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque in London in 2017. He calls Breivik “Knight Jusiticiar Breivik” and claims to have had “brief contact” with him and approval for his attack from “fellow knights”. He expects to serve 27 years, the same as Nelson Mandela, and ultimately receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

There are 46,149 Muslims in New Zealand; 1% of the population of 4.7 million. This means that more than 1 in 1,000 of the total Muslim population died in the massacres, and one in 500 is either dead or injured.

A cartoon of a boat with five levels, on all of which people are standing (some are sitting on the walls). The slogan "Migrant ferry across the Mersey" appears at the top and the name "Corbyn Cruises" is on the offside of the boat near the front.
“Migrant ferry across the Mersey”, a Times cartoon

Although the ideas expressed in the New Zealand shooter’s manifesto are mostly sourced from the far right, it has been the mainstream Right’s contribution to fostering Islamophobic attitudes that has received the most scrutiny since the massacre, and rightly so as such attitudes expressed in the mainstream media, on the front pages of tabloids, by hosts of radio phone-ins on major local and national radio stations, by columnists in magazines and newspapers who regularly get slots on TV and radio panel shows, help to generate the culture on which the far right’s grievances thrive. Some of the news coverage was downright hypocritical: the Times, for example, hit all the right buttons (calling the attacker a terrorist, for example), yet their reporting has missed no opportunity to stir hostility to Muslims, notably including the false story about a Muslim foster family where a child could not eat pork under their roof, in mid-2017 (“Flying Rodent” posted a long Twitter thread with a number of examples of their bigotry and how it was taken up by the Far Right). The Daily Mail attacked Facebook for being the means the murderer used to broadcast live footage of the massacre, yet the paper’s own website published clips of it. Politicians the world over gave the standard condemnations, yet few actually mentioned Muslims or Islamophobia and they were promptly reminded of their policies which had helped to foment hostility or which were themselves xenophobic or Islamophobic, such as Theresa May’s “go home vans” and her boast of a “really hostile environment” for people remaining in the UK illegally, which has led to people being deported having lived here most or all of their lives, in some cases wrongfully.

Sarah Joseph, the BBC radio contributor and founder of Emel magazine, tweeted:

My response was that we would see whether these narratives had some justice or not in light of the Christchurch massacres by the behaviour of politicians and media figures. Would we see a clamping down on xenophobic and intolerant attitudes in the mainstream media or a few days of condemnations followed by a return to the usual bigoted business? Sadly the people being criticised for having been repeatedly bigoted in the years before this, despite their condemnations, have been on the defensive and have in some cases accused their accusers of being the spreaders of hate rather than themselves (Melanie Phillips has done this repeatedly over the last couple of days while Julia Hartley-Brewer, the LBC presenter who had complained in her Daily Express column that the British people were “tired of having Islam thrust in our faces day in, day out”, published an image of the article these words were taken from). Nesrine Malik tweeted several hypocritical condemnations from right-wing politicians or writers, linking to statements or articles containing bigotry or claiming that Islamophobia was a fiction. One might hope that this atrocity will have discredited the current media trope that Islamophobia is a myth, or that it is an invention to muzzle “criticism of the Muslim community” or Islamist politics or terrorism, particularly when everyone accepts that anti-Semitism is real, and that those that point the finger at very mild (real or alleged) prejudice towards Jews should be held to account themselves if they are stoking bigotry against Muslims or anyone else. It must be accepted now that, much as some dislike the term, Islamophobia is just as real a prejudice as anti-Semitism and potentially just as lethal.

We also must understand that the Far Right should not be considered morally or practically equivalent at all to some of the more excitable figures on the Left, particularly the Corbynite wing of the Labour party. To take an example, a couple of weeks ago a Corbyn supporter known as Rachael Swindon had her Twitter account briefly suspended, leading Paul Bernal to write a piece in the Independent warning that people who advocate banning Nazis should beware of having their own freedom of speech jeopardised. The same rules that could be used to chase Nazis off Twitter could just as easily be used, including by Nazis, to silence anyone else and they could probably find a rule that their enemy had broken. Up to a certain point I agree, and my understanding is that people have been suspended for merely swearing at a verified user and for various other acts that could not possibly be deemed abusive. However, Rachael Swindon is not equivalent to “Tommy Robinson” (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) who is a convicted violent criminal whose demonstrations regularly ended in violence and who, although not a racist as such, whips up hostility to Muslims both through his books and his public speeches; he also intimidates his opponents by doorstepping them in the middle of the night with a bunch of his ‘mates’. In one of his videoed speeches, he pointed to a row of houses near a mosque and claimed that “enemy combatants” lived in them. It needs to be understood that people can be killed as a result of these sorts of false claims.

Finally, there must be an examination of the role of white feminism in spreading the stereotypes which feed Islamophobia: the stereotypes of Muslims as stubbornly backward and of Muslim men in particular as being sex-crazed and liable to assault a white woman in the street. These are particularly prevalent in Europe and gained momentum after the Cologne New Year incident a few years ago in which a number of women were sexually assaulted in a public square and the incident was blamed on Arabs and although this was shown to be inaccurate, the claims have been repeated again and again, including by some prominent feminists, and have become a staple of far-right agitation in Germany and elsewhere. White feminists insistently and dogmatically repeat such narratives as that the hijab worn by Muslim women are a ‘symbol’ of women’s inferiority to men, so as to justify discriminating against women who wear the hijab and to force them to remove it at work, in public places or school; they refuse to listen to what Muslim women say about their own religion and the way they dress, insisting that the “white way” of doing anything must be the rational or enlightened way. I have a term for this mentality: “enwhitenment”. The stereotypes about sex-crazed Arab men echo older stereotypes about Black men, as some readers may have already noted. The protection of white women has been a routine justification for violence against non-white people since the time of slavery; the Christchurch terrorist had “for Rotherham” and the name of a young girl killed in a terrorist attack in Sweden written in white on his rifle or his magazines.

We must not forget that his motive was hatred. A prominent British white feminist, hours after the massacres (Friday morning, UK time) tweeted: “Please let there come a time when male violence is recognised as the single biggest threat to peace and tackled accordingly”. This is not the first time I have seen a white woman try to divert discussion of a male-on-male racist murder onto “male violence” when the root of this violence is a racist ideology which white women are heavily involved in spreading, especially where Muslims are the targets; white women have also been keen participants in far right groups, notably Britain First, often using feminist justifications. When a white man sprays bullets at a group of mostly male members of a minority, some of whom defend themselves and their friends by throwing objects at him and attempting to use his discarded weapons, to leap to bemoaning “male violence” smacks of the victim blaming feminists spend much of their time railing against; the victims are lumped in with the perpetrator. I had a feminist lecture me that “it’s hugely inappropriate for men to tell women when they’re allowed to talk about male violence” but it’s more inappropriate for a white person to divert discussion of racism onto their pet issue, especially when the news of an atrocity is just breaking in most of the world.

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