Sunday will mark the first anniversary of the Christchurch terrorist attack, which left 51 Muslim worshippers dead at two mosques in New Zealand’s third largest city, located on the country’s picturesque South Island. It has become the “blue ribbon” event for violent right-wing extremists ever since, encouraging and inspiring copycat attacks throughout the Western world.
On March 15, Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen, burst through the doors of the Al Moor mosque in the suburb of Ricarton at 1:40pm, shooting and killing dozens of panicked and huddled men, women, and children at point-blank range shortly before Friday prayers began, laughing insanely as he live-streamed his gruesome barbarism to his Facebook account.
I was in Cambodia the day of the attack but gave a number of interviews on the rise of white nationalist terrorism to international news media outlets over the following 48 hours before writing several opinion pieces on the subject. That left me no choice but to watch footage of the attack online, a decision I instantly regretted. The memory of terrified families pleading for their lives in the seconds before their death is something that will stay with me forever.
In 2005, I witnessed the aftermath of a twin suicide bombing on Bali’s Jimbaran Beach. My friends and I essentially performed the role of first responders, but nothing I saw that night with my own eyes in real time came close to the horror and cruelty of what I witnessed online 12 months ago. A suicide bomber doesn’t see or feel anything. He doesn’t get to witness the terror and gore his violence creates. There’s just something inexplicably evil about those who take visible delight in mass murdering terrified strangers at face-to-face distance.
Tragically and alarmingly, Christchurch hasn’t become a bookmark in the history of right-wing terrorism, but rather the opening chapter, serving as a well of inspiration for the violently racist and deranged.
It can’t get worse than this, I recall thinking a year ago. Tragically and alarmingly, Christchurch hasn’t become a bookmark in the history of right-wing terrorism, but rather the opening chapter, serving as a well of inspiration for the violently racist and deranged. Indeed, it has been cited as a source of inspiration for a white nationalist who murdered a Jewish worshipper at a synagogue in San Diego four days after Tarrant’s attack in 2019. It also motivated the gunman who slaughtered 21 mostly Hispanic Americans at a mall in El Paso, Texas, on August 3 of last year; and another who attacked a mosque in Norway on August 10, 2019.
In the first seven-day period after Christchurch, the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom experienced a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, with the latter recording a 593 percent increase, translating into 95 incidents, including 85 that directly referenced Christchurch, according to Tell Mama UK.
“Attacks always spark reactions from different extremist communities, but when it comes to the far-right, there was never anything like the response to the Christchurch attack,” Rita Katz, Director of SITE Intelligence Group, told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Katz added that Tarrant’s targeting of Muslims, coupled with his “deadly execution” and live-streaming of the attack had generated an “unprecedented response.” It was “like nothing we [had] ever seen thus far from the far-right across the globe,” she said.
Last month’s terrorist attack in Hanau, Germany, left 11 mostly Turkish immigrants dead at the hands of a right-wing extremist who was driven by “racist motives.” As I wrote a year ago, it is the expression of a particular hatred for those of a “different religion and different looks” and is a deadly reminder of the “toxic combination of political polarization, anti-immigrant sentiment and modern technologies that help spread propaganda online.” It gave birth to a Brenton Tarrant and it has also bred a great many like him across all corners of the Western world.
If the persistence and growth of this threat needed a further sounding of global alarm bells, then it got one a few days ago when a right-wing extremist posted a photo of himself parked in his car outside the Christchurch mosque, threatening to carry out an attack on March 15, the anniversary of the 2019 massacre, and promising the people at the “same mosque” would be greeting each other for the “last time.”
Throughout the Western world, threats and attacks against mosques, synagogues, and black churches are occurring with increased frequency and ferocity.
Throughout the Western world, threats and attacks against mosques, synagogues, and black churches are occurring with increased frequency and ferocity, and with a notable common denominator: the gunmen are always white, male, and fueled by consumption of right-wing media.
Worryingly, there’s little sign Western governments are taking the threat seriously, despite the fact security agencies of the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom have each elevated the threat of right-wing extremism to the level of “Islamic” terrorism. Mostly because each of the said countries are governed by right-wing political parties that see little political upside in either condemning or implementing measures against far-right groups and individuals.
The Australian Senate’s ongoing inquiry into the Christchurch attack illustrates the apathy Western governments hold towards the threat, with senators describing it as a “bizarre grab-bag of issues.” Right-wing political parties and movements successfully pressured the government to include environmentalism, feminism, anti-monarchism, and atheism as posing a similar threat to right-wing extremism.
This is the inquiry meant to save Australian and New Zealand citizens from further acts of mass casualty attacks from far-right extremists, white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis, but it has been made obscure and irrelevant by a government that downplays the threat.
Whenever Australians have been killed by “Islamic” extremist groups and individuals, be it at home or abroad, the conservative government has had no trouble in mobilizing assets and resources to mitigate the threat. It even blamed imams and mosques for not being “proactive” in tackling extremism in the aftermath of the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne two years ago, which left one dead.
Western governments understand a racist political reality, one that they dare not say aloud—that there’s little gain in putting in place measures to alleviate a risk that derives from individuals who look and sound like a majority of the population.
Ultimately, Western governments understand a racist political reality, one that they dare not say aloud—that there’s little political gain in putting in place measures and resources to alleviate a risk that derives largely from individuals who look and sound a whole lot like a majority of the population, particularly when that threat is directed almost entirely against stigmatized and otherized minorities.
For this reason, there will inevitably be another tragedy that meets and exceeds the grotesque scale of the Christchurch mosque attack, and then there will be another shortly after that. The right-wing terrorism wave has come to stay. Sadly, Western governments have shown tepid interest in stopping it and even less empathy for its victims.
* The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.