White nationalism is a global problem


A nation in grief. Floral tributes to those who were gunned down at the two mosques are seen against a wall bordering the Botanical Garden in Christchurch, March 19. (AFP)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the world’s response to the terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques should not be “in terms of boundaries… I would make that a global call.”

She is right. Ethno-nationalist terrorism is as global a problem as jihadism. Militant white nationalism and militant Islamism affect people across the planet — just look at the list of countries to which the 50 Christchurch victims originally belonged. In no particular order, they are Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Fiji, Indonesia. A white New Zealand female convert to Islam was also among the dead.

Over the years, jihadist attacks too have knit the world in sorrow, creating a United Nations of grief. Citizens of at least 15 countries were among the 129 dead in the November 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris and the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. The victims were from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Burkina Faso, among other places.

In an increasingly interconnected world, “so it goes,” to use the straight-talking phrase coined by Kurt Vonnegut and repeated each time a death is recorded in his most celebrated novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

So it goes that US President Donald Trump doesn’t condemn white nationalist terrorism and refuses to see it as a big and worrying global problem.

So it goes that the man charged in the attack on the two New Zealand mosques was an Australian man who expressed a fanatical commitment to preventing the “replacement” of white people by Muslims.

So it goes that the day before the New Zealand attack, Marion Marechal, granddaughter of France’s right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was quoted by the Economist praising the “great replacement” theory. It claims white French people will be demographically swamped by Muslim migrants.

So it goes that Marechal, the next aspirational leader of French nationalism, declared: “I don’t want France to become a land of Islam.”

So it goes that a mass murderer and a millennial politician half-a-world away should quote the same non-scientific 2011 theory advanced by former academic Renaud Camus in his book “The Great Replacement.”

The idea of replacement is said to be rooted in debunked racial science from the 1930s and Nazi anti-Semitic writing but the notion of an existential threat to Christians by Muslim overbreeding has already been challenged, not least by the late Swedish statistician Hans Rosling. In “Factfulness,” the 2018 bestseller he co-wrote, Rosling said: “Today, Muslim women have on average 3.1 children. Christian women have 2.7. There is no major difference between the birth rates of the great world religions.”

And, so it goes, I suppose, that the New Zealand attack suspect, like many white supremacists, was obsessed with mediaeval religious wars. Last November, he reportedly visited Bulgarian sites connected to Christian Orthodox battles against the Ottoman Turks.

What is this leading to? Ghassan Hage, an ethnic Lebanese professor of anthropology at the University of Melbourne, has a worrying explanation for one of the prevailing patterns in white nationalist thought. He says that in the Christchurch suspect’s native country, Australia, and in some other parts of the Western world, a “culture of exterminability” is being prepared for the Muslim community.

Hage, who spends a lot of time clarifying to Western interlocutors that he’s not Muslim but Christian, has warned about this for more than a decade.

In Australia, the original focus was Asians but later moved to Arabs and Muslims. He laments that Australian politicians and the media have normalised the idea that white nationalism expresses some “legitimate” grievances or concerns about Arabs and Muslims.

Hage’s “culture of exterminability” uses Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the Nazi treatment of Jews. He argues that a society must arrive at a particular state of mind to be able to designate a certain group of people “exterminable.” He cautions that “exterminability and extermination are not the same.”

Clearly, logic would lead one to conclude the first is a precursor to the second. Hage says by creating insensitivity to the deaths of Muslims — by drone strikes, drowning in the seas, caged for requesting asylum — there is a measure of “desensitisation” achieved and this brings us to a culture of exterminability. Irrationality, says Hage, works very “efficiently” in racism.

As in all types of violent ideological hatreds, jihadism or white nationalism.