The barbaric mass murder of 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is inexcusable but not inexplicable. Its roots lie in these main areas: continuing Islamophobia, revived notions of white supremacy, the resurgence of rabid nationalism, toxic masculinity, prejudice towards migrants and wilful attempts to divide people on the grounds of religion and culture. If the world does not address these, predictions that a fourth world war will be fought with sticks and stones, rocks and sharpened shafts of wood, look ever more cogent.
It is evident that the West – by which is meant, loosely, the European Union (both its western and eastern member states), the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – has much to do to counter persistent and rising Islamophobia. These nations also form the fulcrums of white supremacist thoughts and deeds, and of hostility towards migrants, refugees and those in need of asylum. Overlay those noxious factors with the surge in exclusionary nationalism that is seen markedly in Italy and France, and devastatingly in countries of the former Eastern Bloc such as Hungary and Poland, and you have a powder keg waiting only for an inciting match.
The man alleged to have killed so many in Christchurch is a 28-year-old Australian. From what has been gleaned of him so far, he would seem to embody Islamophobia, white supremacism, toxic masculinity and a seething hatred of migrants and people of a different race and religion to his. The white supremacist had posted a 74-page document online that laid out his “agenda”. He asserted that the Norwegian mass murderer and fellow white supremacist Anders Brevik had “blessed” the slaughter, the aim of which was to forge “an atmosphere of fear” regarding Muslims.
In a tirade peppered with upper case, the gunman wrote: “This Pakistani muslim [sic] invader now sits as representative of the people of London [Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London] … What better sign of the white rebirth than the removal of this invader? KILL ANGELA MERKEL, KILL ERDOGAN, KILL SADIQ KHAN.”
The justification for his actions is chilling. A “regular white man from a regular family”, he said that he had “decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people”. And he streamed that “stand” live on social media, showing not only the massacre but also the white supremacist graffiti all over the rifles he used. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter rushed to stop the rapid dissemination of the video material but found initially that users were uploading the terrible scenes more quickly than they, the social media giants, could remove them. When a reckoning of the most serious issues of this terrible deed are made, it will be time for the role of social media and lax gun laws to fall under the spotlight.
In discussions of this carnage there will be those who will seek to explain it by adducing examples of killings perpetrated by Islamists. The Bali bombing, in which dozens of Australians were killed and injured, is sure to be mentioned. So, too, the murderous attack on concertgoers in Paris and the vehicle-inflicted killings on London Bridge, in Germany, Stockholm and Nice, among others.
It is necessary to note and acknowledge them, with the caveat that neither those killings nor the ones in Christchurch validate each other. There can be no rationalisation for mass murder – indeed, for any single murder – by appeals to motivations based on religion, nationality, race, culture, revenge or simple prejudice. As the Industrial Workers of the World slogan puts it: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Aside from the factors above, there will be attempts to return to the idea put about by Samuel P Huntington in 1993 about the “clash of civilisations”. One must note that Huntington was not a stupid man; at the time of publishing The Clash of Civilizations?, he was the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director of the John M Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. But one must note that the essay came out of the selfsame Olin Institute’s project on The Changing Security Environment and American National Interests.
It is arguable that more than any one factor, Huntington’s article set the scene for the waves of Islamophobia, white supremacy, nationalism, discrimination against migrants and deliberate attempts to divide the world by religion and culture. But even Huntington’s most ardent opponents would have to concede that it was largely through simplistic or deliberately twisted readings of what he wrote that “the clash of civilisations?” was made to become “the clash of civilisations.”
Huntington was speculative rather than prescriptive, but the foreign policy wonks and readers of Foreign Affairs and their legions of acolytes, both knowingly and unknowingly, took up his article as an act of faith in what they saw as the coming clash with the Muslim world. (And perhaps that is exactly what the Harvard professor hoped or knew would happen.)
Here is a small sample of what Huntington had to say:
“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
It is a far cry from the leafy environs of Harvard to South Island, New Zealand, on whose eastern shores the city of Christchurch lies. But in two mosques there on Friday 15 March, an Islamophobic shooter turned words about “clash of civilisations” into deed and gunned down 50 people. No matter how the heinous act is labelled and whatever its causes are found to be, one thing is clear: this was an indefensible act of savagery against all humankind because an injury to one is an injury to all.