My Twitter’s morning feed on Friday, March 15, 2019, said that there was a shooting in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and my first thought was that it’s an act of terror. Horrifyingly, I had gotten used to wake up to news of shootings, not just in the United States but also in Australia, where more shootings happened over personal grudges. But no one with a personal grudge would shoot a mosque on a Friday afternoon.
I was astonished to see the level of inhumanity: the shooter broadcasted the massacre via Facebook. He had uploaded his manifesto into several places, including Scribd. As the police was hunting him, I scrolled through right-wing forums where posters were cheering him.
As I was reading his manifesto, debates had erupted on Twitter between technology journalists and politics commentators. The former believed the manifesto is full of ironies, in-jokes, and copied and pasted paragraphs. The tech journalists said they didn’t want news editors and security experts to fall for online memes, and urged commentators to read between the lines.
Political experts, meanwhile, believed that terrorists always write rambling and incoherent manifestos, but their rambles offer important clues to their worldviews and goals, and it is important to examine and discuss them.
One example of the controversies was his line just before the shooting, “Subscribe to PewDiePie”. PewDiePie is the online name for Swedish video blogger Felix Kjellberg, reputed as the most subscribed user on YouTube. Kjellberg immediately wrote that he felt upset that the shooter had to mention his name and his thought was with the victims, and Kjellberg’s fans immediately defended him, arguing that journalists and commentators had no right to link him with the terrorist.
The line shows the misanthropy of the terrorist, who saw his action as a typical video broadcast. The line itself was a meme for other white supremacists: among Kjellberg’s many fans are white supremacists, who enjoy his feud with Indian record company T-Series, his occasional sexist comments, and his conversations with controversial figures, from the entrepreneur Elon Musk to the conservative political writer Ben Shapiro.
The terrorist outlined his world view clearly both in his manifesto and, according to witnesses, in his video. He believes that immigration and decreasing birth rates will turn white people into minorities in Europe, North America, and in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian man lived in Dunedin during his stay in New Zealand, but picked Christchurch after seeing the presence of Muslims there.
His Islamophobia is linked to racism, as he sees that Muslims are not white people. He hopes with his act of terror, there will be more violence taking place between white and non-white people, and racism and division will deepen.
The people of New Zealand have proven that his mission failed. New Zealanders of all faiths demonstrated unity, from haka dances to farewell the departing, to Christian women donned head veils in solidarity to Muslim women, to the plan to ban the sales of military-grade rifles in New Zealand, something that still doesn’t happen in the United States despite the dozens of mass shootings in recent years. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to say the terrorist’s name, saying that she will not give him the notoriety he seeks.
In Indonesia, unfortunately, the video of the massacre was shared, despite the government’s warning, and despite basic ethics. Some people even wrote on social media that teachers in some private schools showed the video to pupils, so that the children “know how the infidels hate Muslims.” Hoaxes were spread that scores of Indonesians were killed in Christchurch, while in fact only one Indonesian national died and few others were wounded or escaped unhurt.
The aftermath of the shooting also turned ugly in Australia, where conservative and far-right politicians blamed social media and mass migration, while liberals and socialists blamed racist mass media and politicians for spreading fear and hate every day. Senator Fraser Anning blamed Muslim migration as the cause of the shooting, and a teenager who smashed an egg against his head became a global hero.
Some Malaysian and Indonesian commentators, however, said that people who laud the “egg boy” have to check their racism as well. Malaysia’s opposition party UMNO retains its “Malay Dominance” principal while condemning Anning, while Indonesian online comic Kostum Komik asked if racist public figures who hate Chinese-Indonesians also deserve egging (to resounding “yes” from respondents).
Netizens in China have been the worst commenters to the shooting in Christchurch, with comments supporting the terrorist upvoted by thousands and are not removed by moderators. Journalists covering the phenomenon describe heightening anti-Muslim sentiments over belief that Muslims are granted privilege on campus, a popular myth that local feminists are funded by Saudi Arabia and Hillary Clinton, and a common chorus that “China will not become France” (the shooter said his trip to France motivated him to be a mass killer). Chillingly, in his manifesto the Australian writes that China is his ideal state – homogenous, technologically advanced, and authoritarian.
Security experts worry that jihadists exploit the terror in Christchurch to justify another terror. At the moment of writing, police in the Netherlands and Italy are investigating the motivations of a mass shooter in Utrecht and a bus driver in Milan who tried to burn his bus with children inside. Mosques have received threats in Australia, and so were schools in Charlottesville, United States, site of a deadly white supremacist march in 2017.
Both jihadists and white supremacists (and Asian racists) are infected with toxic masculinity. They believe in the inferiority of women and in the inferiority of people of different faith or race. In this interconnected world, they believe in division and exclusivity.
Jacinda Ardern reacts well to one of the worst crises in New Zealand’s history, and, as Australian author Jamila Rizvi said, shows how feminine leadership can work. Hatred and bigotry will remain a big monster in our lifetime, but we can fight them with solidarity, bravery, and passion for love and justice.
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Illustration by Sarah Arifin