The barbaric attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand by a far-right fascist terrorist—indiscriminately shooting men, women and children, killing 50 and injuring many more, live streaming his bloody actions as he carried them out—comes at a time of deepening economic crisis and heightened social and political tensions around the world. All decent human beings are rightly condemning the attack, but we have to ask ourselves: why are such acts of terrorism taking place, and what can be done to end this barbarism?
The terrorist who carried out the attack, Brenton Tarrant, is a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist fascist. Just before the attack, he uploaded a delirious 73-page manifesto on Twitter in which he claimed to be fighting for the future of white people and expressed his intention to “create an atmosphere of fear” to “incite violence” against Muslims in general. The whole attack was designed as promotion for far-right, white-supremacist ideology. There is in fact a small, but growing minority fascist fringe, which is becoming more active. These are the people applauding the attack in Christchurch.
Who is influencing the thinking of these crazed fascists? In response to his own question, “Is there a particular person that radicalized you the most?”, Tarrant replies, “Yes, the person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens [a very right-wing reactionary US ‘commentator’].” He added that, “Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness.” Owens made a name for herself recently when she said, “You know, he [Hitler] was a national socialist, but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine . . . The problem is that he wanted—he had dreams outside of Germany.” Owens has a leading position in a conservative advocacy group, Turning Point USA (TPUSA), which promotes an openly reactionary agenda.
Tarrant had, in fact, a history of posting far-right propaganda on social media and was strongly influenced by politicians and bourgeois commentators who have been pushing the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic line. He admires Trump, referring to him as “symbol of renewed white identity.” Trump has complained that some have been blaming him for the attack. It would be ridiculous, of course, to claim that Trump is directly responsible, but it is true that, with his anti-immigration rhetoric, his talk of needing a wall to protect the US, his measures to stop arrivals from a series of Muslim countries, etc., has helped to stoke Islamophobic prejudice. It is in this environment that the likes of Tarrant feel encouraged to act.
In fact, many Western politicians and the mass media have been raising a hue and cry over Islamic fundamentalism, while white supremacist terror has in fact been on the rise. In the US in 2017 for instance, out of 65 terrorist attacks, 36 were right-wing related, 10 were left-wing related and 7 related to Islamist terrorism. But while this in no way indicates the rise of a mass fascist movement, it does reveal a process that is taking place throughout the West, with right-wing politicians, helped by the media, increasingly blaming Muslims for the declining living conditions of the working class.
Brenton Tarrant is from Australia, where a hostile environment towards immigrants has been fomented over the recent period. As the Guardian pointed out last year, commenting on the situation in Australia:
Publicly, the debate about migration rarely remains within the narrow confines of the number or origin of new people seeking to come to Australia to live. Rather it spills, with increasing vituperativeness, into all areas of public debate: to arguments about road congestion and house prices, to the availability of resources such as land and water, to social debates about integration, religion, and English as Australia’s primary spoken language. (Guardian, 23 March 2018)
Thus, everything is blamed on immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular. Immigrants are treated with contempt by the authorities. Asylum seekers are shipped off to live on islands without access to basic necessities. At each stage, they are harassed, kept in bad living conditions and pushed into low-paying and often casualized jobs. Sanctions are imposed on them and justified by their own supposed lack of “willingness” to integrate, etc. Such behavior is not confined to Australia, but can be seen all around the world, where there are large influxes of immigrants. The newcomers can be easily scapegoated for the shortages suffered by the longer-standing population as a result of the crisis of capitalism and the policies of austerity imposed by the ruling class. All the better, when the newcomers can be more easily identified because of the color of their skin, by the style of clothes they wear or by the religion they profess.
An example of this is Australian senator, Fraser Anning, demanding a referendum last year “to allow the Australian people to decide whether they want a wholesale ban on non-English-speaking immigrants from the third world, and particularly whether they want any Muslims.” He has made many speeches saying that migrants should be sent back to their countries of origin, claiming that they live off benefits, and cost Australian taxpayers a lot of money. Anning used to be a member of the far-right One Nation party, after which he joined Katter’s Australia Party, from which he was later expelled. Earlier this year, he attended a St. Kilda rally, which saw the participation of neo-Nazi sympathizers. He was clearly associating himself with extreme right-wing and openly racist views.
It is in this environment that openly fascist and Nazi groups are getting an echo. They feel encouraged and emboldened by the fact that high-ranking politicians—from Trump in the USA, to the right-wing Brexiteers in the UK, to Salvini in Italy and Le Pen in France—are expressing racist and xenophobic points of view. Thus, they carry out attacks on immigrants, feeling they have the backing of these politicians. They are like wild dogs being unleashed by their masters.
What is particularly disgusting about Fraser Anning is what he said shortly after last week’s attack: “what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence,” then adding, “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.” And as if this were not enough, he also claimed that while Muslims “may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators.” This amounts to an apology for a barbaric crime and is an open invitation for far-right fanatics to carry out similar attacks.
At the same time, the mass media acts as a faithful amplifier of these poisonous ideas. While they carry all the racist propaganda more or less uncritically, they hypocritically censor and mute anyone speaking against on the grounds of the right wing’s right to “freedom of speech.”
The far right, and the bourgeois politicians who echo their thinking, shift the blame for the present crisis away from the capitalist system—which is based on profit for the few and poverty for the many—and point the finger at immigrants. In this context, Islamic fundamentalism is being used as a means of fomenting Islamophobia, with some—see Anning in Australia—going as far as even blaming Muslims for the attacks like the Christchurch massacre last week. It goes without saying that Islamic fundamentalism is reactionary, but we should not forget who sponsored and promoted it these past few decades.
We have written on this question in far more detail in other articles. Suffice it to say that the Taliban in Afghanistan emerged from the reactionary forces that the US backed in their effort to pull that country away from the Soviet sphere of influence. Groups like Hamas were promoted when the state of Israel and US imperialism saw in the PLO the main threat.
Thus, while in the countries where Islam is the dominant religion, fundamentalists are being used in the present crisis to cut across working-class militancy and offer their reactionary alternative, in the advanced capitalist countries, far-right politicians are using the fundamentalists to whip up a mood of Islamophobia. What we have here are two equally reactionary ideologies, fascism and Islamic fundamentalism, both at the service of the ruling classes.
The danger exists of tit-for-tat killings that will be used in an attempt to whip up anti-Muslim feelings. The far-right racists and fascist neo-Nazis use Islamic fundamentalist terrorism to depict all Muslims as potential terrorists. On this basis, attacks such as that on a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017, where six people were killed and 19 others injured, or this latest attack in Christchurch are presented as being part of a just war to defend “white” culture.
The way the media reports such events also contributes to whipping up Islamophobic hysteria. When an attack is carried out by Muslims it is immediately reported as terrorism, which of course it is. However, when an attack such as the one in Christchurch takes place there is a reluctance by the media to use the word “terrorism.” This reveals there is an agenda to portray terrorism as always being Islamic, thus helping to foment Islamophobia.
What we have here is barbarism on both sides, and those that suffer are ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims, Christian workers, Jewish workers, Hindu workers and so on, all trying to go about their daily lives. On this road there is no solution for the workers of all countries. The working class must rise above these divisions and realize itself as a class. It must fight against any alien forces that try to foment divisions among working people. The mottoes “divided we fall, united we stand” and “an injury to one is an injury to all” must be emblazoned on the banners of the labor movement.
The capitalist class has an interest in using any means necessary to keep the workers divided. If this means scenes of mayhem and bloodshed, they will not flinch from promoting, or at least tolerating, such developments. The workers of the world, of all colors and all creeds, on the other hand, desire a world where they can bring their children up in a healthy and safe environment.
How is this to be achieved? Certainly not with these barbaric methods! Such methods will only benefit the ruling class by creating divisions among workers. And when workers are divided they are weakened and rendered powerless in the face of attacks on their living standards by the bosses. The capitalist class always benefits from such divisions. What is required is a society that caters for the basic needs of all with decent housing, clothing, food, education and healthcare for all. This can only be achieved through the socialist transformation of society, where the workers who produce the wealth will have control over the resources and how they are to be used. When poverty and want are eradicated, so too will be the material basis for ethnic and religious conflicts.
Only on this basis can these conflicts be brought to an end. It is not Muslim workers, Muslim peasants or Muslim youth who are to blame for declining living standards. They, like all other workers, are simply struggling to make a living, to earn enough money to feed themselves and their children. In turn, it is not the workers and youth of Britain, or the United States, or Australia or New Zealand, that are to blame for the suffering of the peoples of the Middle East. Those who must take the blame for this are the capitalists of these countries, who exploit their own workers at home, while carrying out an imperialist policy abroad.
In their quest for profits, they scour the world for markets and spheres of influence. To promote their interests, they foment divisions; they invade and bomb countries with the ultimate aim of guaranteeing trade routes and sources of raw materials. They talk about democracy, but where revolution raises its head they don’t hesitate to unleash barbarism. This was evident in Syria and Libya. In Yemen they allow their friends in the Saudi regime to proceed to starve a whole people into submission, while in Somalia they have promoted utter barbarism. Meanwhile, at home in the advanced capitalist countries, they whip up racism as a useful tool to cut across the rising class struggle.
In the past, when faced with a severe economic crisis in Germany, anti-Semitism was whipped up as a useful tool to distract attention away from the real culprits, the capitalists. Today they have found in Islamophobia an equally useful tool. It is a means by which they hope to remain in power as they proceed to attack the working class, cutting back on wages, education, healthcare… Thus all workers suffer, Muslim and non-Muslim.
The only force that can really put an end to all this is the organized working class. Workers of different countries and ethnic roots discover they have a common interest in the process of fighting back against the onslaught on their living conditions. Events like last week’s massacre also bring out the natural solidarity among ordinary working people. In New Zealand, we have seen an outpouring of such solidarity across all communities with the victims of the massacre, while more than NZ$6m has been raised on appeal websites. School pupils gathered in large numbers across Christchurch to perform the Haka in tribute to those killed in the attacks. These examples reveal the genuine solidarity of ordinary working people.
The fact is that resources to provide jobs, houses, decent wages, hospitals and education for all already exist. The problem is that those same resources are in the hands of a small minority of super-rich capitalists, who use their wealth for the few and not the many. To be able to use those resources requires the removal of the capitalist class, the class that is destroying the very basis of the civilization we have and pushing us towards barbarism.
Unity of the working class means unity against the real enemy: the capitalist ruling classes of all countries who profit while those below are pitted against each other. It means unity of all workers, irrespective of their religious beliefs, of their language, of their color of skin, against the system that is based on maximizing profit for the few.