White grievance, insecurity, and an overactive sense of history
by Tom Sullivan
Twitter was buzzing Thursday night about shootings at a mosque(s) in Christchurch, New Zealand. But the headline this morning at the Washington Post took my breath away. With the caveat that early reporting tends to be incomplete and often incorrect, here is a piece of what news the Guardian has available as I write this:
Three others were arrested, and one was later released. Police found additional weapons, plus explosive devices. Those have been disarmed. Officials in Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis have increased security at mosques in response.
- Forty-nine people have been killed in shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. They included 41 people killed at the Deans Avenue mosque and seven at Linwood mosque. Another victim died later in Christchurch hospital.
- Christchurch hospital is treating 48 people, including young children, for gunshot wounds. In a statement he said injuries range from critical to minor.
- A man in his late 20s has been charged with murder and will appear in Christchurch court tomorrow. The police have not named him.
- A 28-year-old Australian who livestreamed himself attacking a mosque identified himself online before the rampage as Brenton Tarrant. Tarrant posted multiple photos of what appear to be machine gun magazines and a link to what is being described as a manifesto for his actions. New Zealand Police urged people not to share “extremely distressing footage” related to the incident.
- Tarrant outlines his motivations: including to “create an atmosphere of fear” and to “incite violence” against Muslims while offering up autobiographical details. He also cited actions of other rightwing extremists including the Finsbury Park mosque attacker Darren Osborne and Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Brevik.
Tarrant signaled in a Thursday post on the far-right online forum 8Chan he planned to live-stream an attack on "the invaders." He chose firearms for the attack hoping for extra media coverage and thereby to affect "the politics of United States and thereby the political situation of the world.” Prior to the attack, Tarrant issued a 74-page manifesto about "white genocide" espousing "anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-leftist views" in which he declared his belief in "ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order."
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Tarrant manifesto contains an assortment of references to past mass shootings and historic conflicts between Muslims and Europeans:
He also included the names of several Serbian military figures, such as Milos Obilic, an apocryphal knight featuring prominently in accounts of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the invading Ottoman Empire, the Islamic superpower of its day, who was alleged to have assassinated the Ottoman Sultan.
A far-right Australian senator, Fraser Anning, issued a statement blaming the victims of the mass shooting, “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
Other names inscribed on Tarrant's weaponry included Bajo Pivljanin and Novak Vujosevic, each of whom led uprisings against the Ottomans during later periods and were considered heroes within their communities, as well as Montenegrin general Marko Miljanov.
Also inscribed on his guns and ammunition were references to the 1683 Battle of Vienna, in which Christian forces defeated the Ottomans, and 1571, an apparent reference to the Battle of Lepanto in which the Empire suffered another defeat.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rebutted such sentiments in a press conference:
"We were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack."
Someone tweeting for the sitting president of the United States did not offer thoughts and prayers, but "warmest sympathy and best wishes" to the people of New Zealand.
It struck me during the Bosnian genocide that the flip side to some people having no sense of history was having an overactive one. They were re-fighting battles that had taken place 600 years earlier. In the American South, plenty of people still grind their teeth over a four-year conflict initiated over 150 years ago because the southern aristocracy insisted on keeping people as pets. They conned non-aristocrats into dying for their cause. The inferiority complex resulting from that loss lingers a century and a half later.
Tarrant condemns Australia as little more than a "European colony," by definition a land "invaded" by his kind. But it is not the fate of European civilization or states' rights driving the spread of right-wing ethno-nationalism. It is racism and fear. The torch-carrying, swastika-wearing morons chanting "Jews will not replace us" in Charlottesville, Virginia did so because they are startled by shadows. They fear and hate the dark like they fear and hate the dark-skinned and non-homogenous Others, the non-white, non-Christian, non-straight, non-males that threaten their entitled places at the apex of western culture.
The attackers' civilized, European response to living among people not like them is barbarism.