Why did a white supremacist target Muslims?
The Christchurch mosque attack, which left 49 dead, was associated with the Pulwama attack by the chortling posts by some members of the Indian diaspora on news websites which seemed to see the attacks as some sort of revenge for the Pulwama attack, which had brought India and Pakistan yet again to the brink of nuclear war.
However, the Christchurch attack may have regionally neighboured Pulwama, (the former being in a neighbour of South East Asia, the latter in South Asia), but they involved militants on opposite sides of the communal divide. The Pulwama attacks were not really racial, because both attacker and victims were of the same race. On the other hand, the Christchurch attacker was white, killing brown people.
Though the attack was on a mosque, the motive was not so much religious as racial. After all, the attacker was an Australian white supremacist. White supremacism is not really an Australian phenomenon, being more American and European. It is essentially racist, and white supremacism has roots going back to the USA’s Deep South, all of which included slave states and practised Jim Crow racialist laws until a couple of generations ago. The civil rights movement resulted in a dethroning of whites from the top of a pile in which blacks were at the bottom. Apart from blacks getting at least legal equality, whites faced the challenge of increasing numbers of Asians and South Asians. Some of the South Asians were Muslim; then 9/11 happened.
Already feeling threatened, Muslims began to be seen as yet another threat. And then in 2008, a black was elected President. White supremacists got a shot in the arm. One result was the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016. Trump was seen as an Islamophobe racist, who disliked Hispanics and blacks, and who had a soft spot for white supremacists. He had condemned white supremacists after the violent rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina over a statue of a Confederate general, but the next day he said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
However, white supremacy is not an American phenomenon. European racist parties exist, and parties on the right have taken on board some planks. The rise of France’s Front National (now the Rassemblement National), Austria’s Freedom Party and Germany’s AfD are part of this phenomenon, which attempts to limit what can best be described as the Liberal Project started by the 1793 French Revolution to whites. The British Conservatives have a certain amount of racism hidden, and the success of the Leave vote in the Brexit referendum owed itself to a desire to get away from the (non-white, mainly Muslim) immigrants coming in from the Middle East’s wars. The EU recognised there was a problem, and tried to distribute refugees to member states. Enough Britons did not want them, to make them opt to leave the European Union, which is causing so many woes at the moment.
An additional aspect of white supremacism is that it is also anti-Jewish. Yet Jews are practising what amounts to white supremacism in Israel against the Palestinians most vigorously, but also against black Jews. Another complicating factor has been that Israel is on the way to Europe from Africa, and thus some non-Jewish African refugees try to use it as a transit point. Are Jews whites or not? They try to get included, as do Indians. There is the case of a South Indian migrant back in the 1960s, who got himself accepted as a Caucasian, or white, even though he was darker than most Negroes. He thus inadvertently exposed the Hinduutva brigade, who rule now through the BJP, who are intensely racist, so much so that they have based their religion on race, for the caste system is nothing if not racism, and not just a generalised racism, but an elaborate colour bar and segregation with divine sanction.
It should now be asked how far a society can go if it is dedicated to defending democracy
Islam, on the other hand, is inimical to racism. According to the Quran, ‘O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.’ (9:13). The mention of the Almighty may well indicate that race is such a minor difference that the Almighty ignores it, seeing conduct as more significant.
That explains why such a large number of nationalities were represented. There was substantial representation from South Asia, including six Pakistanis. It also provides a point of contradiction between white supremacists and Islam. The Quran tells Muslims to regard race merely as an identity marker, and says that the Almighty regards conduct as determining an individual’s nobility or value. It should not be forgotten that the first caliph of the Bani Abbas, which held office from 750 to 1517, and which was thus the dynasty with the longest tenure, As-Saffah, was three-quarters black, having a black mother and a black grandmother.
This is not really the first attack by white supremacists on mosques, with previous episodes in London and the USA. However, it should be noted that New Zealand has gun laws as liberal as the USA and Canada. This explains why someone from Australia, which has tight gun laws, came to New Zealand to perpetrate the massacre. A corollary is that the USA and Canada both have large Muslim diasporas drawn from many countries, and thus are vulnerable to white supremacist attacks.
It is not a time for triumphalism, but it certainly seems a moment when the ease with which Pakistan was condemned as a terrorist haven must at least be questioned. Perhaps a prime example is the refusal of foreign cricket teams to visit Pakistan after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. After the Bangladesh team’s narrow escape, will there be a similar refusal to tour New Zealand? Is the outrage by the USA ever since 9/11, against Islam or is it fuelled by the fact that Muslims are mostly not white, being Turk, Arab, South Asian or even African. Is the EU’s foot-dragging over admitting Turkey because its population is Muslim, or dark-skinned?
The Christchurch massacre should not be seen as crusading, even though white supremacism has links to evangelical Christianity, for the West is largely de-Christianised. More significantly, it forces questions about the Liberal Project. Apart from in India, there is no basic structures doctrine. One of the plaints of some survivors is that there is nowhere safe anymore. That is valid, and it should now be asked how far a society can go if it is dedicated to defending democracy. What if the white supremacists win an election? It could happen. There is the example of the Nazis. First, back in 1933, they were democratically elected.