We must stop hate-spewing leaders, or there’ll be another Christchurch
The attacks in New Zealand are no surprise - they were nurtured and propagated openly by Western leaders
Who killed the 49 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, during their prayers last Friday?
The man who planned the attack, who armed himself with sophisticated gear, who cold-bloodedly shot and killed the worshippers while recording the entire horrific thing, is in police custody and has been charged with murder. Others will blame, as a UK newspaper has already done, an “angelic boy” who is just an aberration.
The truth, however, is that those worshippers were killed by politicians who spew a racist, white supremacist, anti-immigrant ideology of hate. It is an ideology that is spreading fast across the globe and which is growing among enclaves of white supremacists in SA, too.
How did the omni-shambolic Brexit vote come about in the UK? One of the most incredible – and untrue – images of the Brexit campaign was when then-UN Independence Party leader Nigel Farage unveiled a poster that read “Breaking Point” and showed a long line of refugees. The idea underpinning his campaign was that the UK was under an “invasion” by these dreaded, dirty, unwashed immigrants who were coming to “change our way of life”. His campaign of hate won that referendum.
US President Trump on Friday described the attacks in New Zealand as “a horrible disgraceful thing, a horrible act”. But when asked if he saw white nationalism as a rising threat around the world, he said: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”
Incredibly, he then turned to “crimes of all kinds coming through our southern border”. He added: “People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is.”
Trump’s words about an “invasion” echo exactly the words used by the New Zealand murderer to justify his actions. In his vile “manifesto” the Christchurch murderer cited the “invasion of France” and the West “by non-whites” as his motivation. Tellingly, he referred to Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.
Think back to last October. Back then a man called Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the US and killed 11 Jewish worshippers. He shouted: “All Jews must die!”
It turns out he believed that HIAS (a Jewish-American non-profit organisation that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees) was bringing in “invaders that kill our people” (meaning white people) and that he had no choice but to “retaliate” by killing Jews.
All these attacks are motivated by words of hate and division spewed by political leaders. In Hungary, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in 2018: “Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us. Europe is under invasion already, and they (the European Union) are watching with their hands in the air.”
All these attacks are motivated by right-wing conspiracy theories, believed by these attackers, that Jews, blacks and Muslims will “replace” white people and eventually subordinate them.
And so the attacks in New Zealand should surprise no one. They are nurtured and propagated openly by some Western leaders. In the US, law enforcement agencies say the number of hate crimes reported in the country jumped by 17% in 2017/18, the largest increase since 2001 when the terrorist hijackings on 9/11 fuelled a surge in attacks on Americans of Muslim and Arab ancestry. Jews, Muslims, Latinos, gays, immigrants and other minority groups are the targets of this hate. The question has to be asked: is it because of the language used by the president of the US and others?
Words matter. Words have consequences. When Donald Trump said he was a nationalist, many white supremacists read his message as a licence to attack. The Christchurch murderer’s praise of Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” should not be ignored. Neither should Trump’s immediate echoing of these vicious conspiracy theories about an “invasion” of “white” Europe or America.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Hate doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens because political leaders preach hate and division. And that sends a signal. And that signal is that hate is okay. It’s not.
We need action. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country’s gun laws “will change” in the wake of the mosque shootings. That’s right. Disarm these racists and make it difficult for them to buy weapons.
Secondly, this massacre was live-streamed for 17 minutes. Where were the social companies and their oversight mechanisms? These companies need to start cleaning up hate on their platforms.
Crucially, though, it is time to send a message to political leaders across the globe that their hateful language can no longer be tolerated. It is time for ordinary, decent people to tell hateful leaders to back off. Otherwise there will be another Christchurch soon.