The attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during congregational Friday prayers on March 15 massacred 50 people. The shock of this monstrosity, half a world away, became even more alarming because the killer took pride in broadcasting the act on social media. He also wrote a rambling white supremacist manifesto.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has called it the darkest day. She has called for a “global fight to root out racist right-wing ideology, and make sure that we never create an environment where it can flourish.”
Unfortunately, within a few weeks, most people will forget it — until the next mass shooting. President Trump even dismissed it as an aberration, a crime committed by a deranged lone wolf, but the “lone wolf” theory becomes untenable in the face of statistical data. In a 2017 intelligence bulletin, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that “white supremacist groups had carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years” and “they are likely to carry out more.”
Just since 2016, a female counter-protestor in Charlottesville, Virginia, was struck and killed by a car driven by an avowed white nationalist; 11 people were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white nationalist; and the FBI arrested a Coast Guard officer with white nationalist beliefs and an elaborate plan to murder liberal civilians and government officials.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the vast majority of extremist groups adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology.
The horrors of World War II, almost 75 years ago, awoke the world to establish a liberal idea, that people in all nations in the world have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. No nation should subjugate another nation. This brought a new dawn; old empires crumbled, giving life to fledgling democracies. Unfortunately, understanding the norms of democracy was difficult and many new countries deteriorated into dictatorships. It took more than half a century for many of these countries to throw off the yoke of dictatorship and gradually return to the fold of democracy.
Meanwhile, within the old democracies such as the United States, people who were denied equality based on color or religion gradually gained equality through the power of elections. Civil rights laws and better education enabled many of the oppressed, mostly African Americans and Latin Americans, to obtain better jobs and, because they started with almost nothing, a steep rise in income that helped them move into the middle class.
In the same period, the incomes of the existing white middle class also rose, but not by as much of a percentage, because they were reasonably better off to start with. Thus, a perception took root that the liberal government favored others and neglected whites.
All societies have fringe elements with grievances based on class, color, religion or ethnicity. They consider themselves superior to others, especially the emigrants or plebeians. With the advent of instant communication through the internet and social media, like-minded people can connect across the continents. It has become easy for prejudiced people to bond in hate, against whatever their definition of “the other” is.
As the world is becoming more egalitarian, irrespective of old class divisions, people can rise based on education and merit. Misplaced grievances have contributed to the rise of white supremacists in the western world.
In the last few years, the peddling of fear and hate of others has brought populist, narrow-minded governments to power in many countries. The good news is that fear-mongering does not sustain commerce and growth. They cannot last more than an election cycle or two. The expanding supremacist fringe will be checked by better understanding, and sanity will return.
Mirza Beg is a Tuscaloosa resident. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org