Christchurch attack: A continuation of Indigenous genocide?

Three years after Christchurch, we need to talk about its roots in Indigenous genocide
5 min read

Randa Abdel-Fattah

14 March, 2022
The killing of 51 Muslims in Christchurch three years ago is rooted in New Zealand's historical genocide of Indigenous people, writes Randa Abdel-Fattah.
New Zealand's historical nation-building project is paved with indigenous genocide [GETTY]

Three years have passed since 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, gunned down 51 Muslims attending Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tarrant’s online manifesto, entitled The Great Replacement, makes clear that he imagined his actions as part of an epic historical crusade in an ongoing 'clash of civilisations’ between Christendom and Islam. “Remove the invaders, retake Europe” his manifesto exhorted, with no hint of irony over the fact that these words were written in the settler state of New Zealand by a man born in the settler state of Australia. Describing himself as European because Australia is “simply an off-shoot of the European people”, Tarrant justified committing mass murder to avert an impending “white genocide”.

Within days of the live-streamed massacre, it was one torturous debate after another: is Australia a racist country? Is far-right extremism in Australia on the rise? It was reported to be New Zealand’s “worst terrorist attack” in history. Tarrant was disavowed as an exception to the nation’s otherwise peaceful and multicultural societies, and regarded to be a deviant or lone wolf, from the margins of those communities.

However, to begin the timeline of violence from Tarrant’s actions, and not the massacres of Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand, is to persist in denying both states’ bloody nation-building projects.  

Yet this is exactly what both nations are complicit in doing. The mythologies of innocence persist. The political establishments present an opposition to white supremacy which is portrayed as a violent anomaly that is far removed from their so-called values and actions.

The question i:, should the views that the likes of Tarrant hold simply be dismissed as white supremacist far right ideologies? Surely there is little difference between his reference to a medieval Knights Templar, for example, and the invasions of Western troops across Muslim-majority lands in the name of fighting ‘evil’ in those territories?

Western governments have historically enabled and nourished the conditions for such ideologies to thrive. Just days before the Christchurch attack, for example, the Australian government had succumbed to pressure from conservative politicians and media commentators and revoked its initial decision to block a visa to British far-right, Islamophobic provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in the name of ‘free speech’. It was only following the violent shooting, and Yiannopoulos’s comments describing Islam as a "barbaric" and "alien" religion, that the Morrison government, purely as a tactical decision, reinstated its initial decision and banned Yiannopoulos from entering the country.

Some of Australia’s fringe politicians, such as former independent senator Fraser Anning, who had the year before stood up in the federal Senate and called for a “final Solution” to the “problem” of Muslim migration, blamed the attack on New Zealand’s “immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place”. Anning was swiftly condemned, and the Australian Senate subsequently passed a motion of censure against him. This was the same Senate that, in October 2018, had almost passed a bill put forward by Senator Pauline Hanson that declared “it’s OK to be white”.

What shaped the logic of a young white man who carried out a murderous rampage against Muslims in Australia’s settler colonial neighbour was not hidden in the deep dark web. Paranoia surrounding potential invasions, being overtaken or replaced by migrants, is just as comfortably expressed in the chambers of parliament, on the front pages of so-called progressive establishment media, even on the left, as it is by far-right white supremacists.

When Tarrant described immigrants as invaders in the midst of a “white genocide”, and referred to Muslims as “the most despised group of invaders in the West”, his anxiety over dispossession was a projection of his fears that white people would be oppressed and killed in the same way that settlers have oppressed and killed Indigenous, Black and brown people globally.

Three years on, we should not remember Tarrant’s act of mass murder as an isolated one, because in reality it fits into the long-standing historical violence meted out globally by Western states. Today, that violence is justified under the guise of the war on terror.

For to understand violent white supremacy on the domestic front – killing Muslims – means understanding how violent state policy on the global front – again, killing Muslims – has emboldened domestic white supremacists. After all, Tarrant grew up against a backdrop of the decimation of Iraq and Afghanistan, proxy wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya, drone warfare against Afghans and Pakistanis, the massacres of Palestinians by Israel, and the ethnic cleansing of the Uyghur. During his childhood, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram were normalised institutions, as was Australia’s complicity in torture by rendition, and the punishment and demonisation of refugees fleeing countries destroyed by imperialist wars. He was witness to Australian military exports to states accused of war crimes in Yemen (such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as training given to the Myanmar military. 

The racial logics and ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative that shaped Tarrant’s worldview are not exclusive to the far-right. East versus West. White versus non-White. Christianity vs Islam. ‘Civilised’ vs ‘non-Civilised’. ‘First World’ vs ‘Third World’. These are the foundations of global regimes of settler colonialism, racial capitalism and white supremacy from the chatrooms of Neo-Nazis, to government cabinets, to mainstream establishment media newsrooms. The Tarrants of the world are inspired, emboldened and trained from the mainstream before they emerge from the margins.    

Randa Abdel-Fattah is a DECRA Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching the generational impact of the war on terror on post 9/11 youth and the award winning author of over 11 novels. 

Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah 

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.