The New Zealand Shootings, a Microcosm of Imperialism

Julia Kassem

March 19, 2019

Christchurch mosque attack memorial (Adam Dean for The New York Times)

We who live in the East always speak about Western colonization, but I would like to explain that this does not mean that Western colonization only colonizes or exploits the East. It is a world-wide power representing a class of people that exploit and colonize both the East and the West. If I had the opportunity, I would explain that this power has alienated the European masses even more than the Eastern masses. The European has been overtaken by colonialism’s legacy of unemployment and misery and will continue to be in the future.
-Ali Shariati (November 23, 1933 – June 18, 1977, Iranian sociologist and socialist)

Just hours before the Christchurch shooter live-streamed his murders, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) live-tweeted its audience on its latest Gaza bombing campaign. “We have just started striking terror sites in Gaza,” the Tweet read. “Details to follow.” The dehumanization of the victims was evident in both communications.

Xenophobic rhetoric is a staple of far-right terror attacks in Western countries. In Norway in 2011 Anders Behring Breivik detonated a van bomb, killing eight, before shooting and killing 69 people at a Workers Youth League summer camp on the island of Utoya. In Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday Brenton Terrant opened fire on two mosques, killing 50 people. Both killers were driven by a deep-seated hatred and fear of Muslims and immigrants, evident in Breivik’s 1500-page “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” and Tarrant’s 73-page diatribe.

Yet what was carried out individually by the two killers is regularly carried out by Western governments on a large scale. The nations represented by the victims — Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq — are the target of bombing campaigns and warfare by Israel and the U.S. and other Western powers.

The vicious hate-kill-repeat cycle of Islamophobia provides the justification to bomb, occupy, and destroy Muslim and Arab lands and to target, attack and kill immigrants who seek refuge from the conditions which have, for them, rendered their home countries uninhabitable.

In the US, Israel, New Zealand and other settler colonies, histories of occupation and genocide have allowed the rulers to profit greatly through colonization in the country itself.

In A Dying Colonialism Frantz Fanon wrote that it is not just the land that’s occupied, but the people. The colonized themselves undertake an “expulsion of self” or “rationally pursued mutilation.” In the colony or semicolony, colonialism often becomes internalized into the consciousness of the colonized. In migration, where immigrants become subject of campaigns targeting their existence, the same phenomenon can occur.

To say Senator Fraser Anning of Queensland was candidly racist in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath would be an understatement. In a statement published the Saturday after the mass murder he wrote, “Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale.” He ended by citing the Bible passage “all they that take the sword, shall perish by the sword,” borrowing the passage to refer to Muslims, with the implication that Islam is an inherently “violent” ideology that is also “fascist” in nature.

Anning himself is a descendant of land-grabbing settlers, who supplemented their forcible seizure of aboriginal lands with actively seeking out, shooting, and mass-murdering their inhabitants. This legacy, evident in his current policies in favor of further indigenous land seizures, extends into the anti-immigrant discourse that makes enemies of the victims of settler colonialism.

In settler colonial nations, the presence of immigrants is used to continue far-right discourses of warfare. Colonization is no longer relegated to the spacial dichotomies of colonized country/colonizer country. With settler colonialism the contradiction of occupation is defined by violence against an indigenous nation.

Colonization has integrated itself wherever the colonized may be, inseparable from imperialism, the global economic system reinforced by the ugly superstructure of white supremacy. And in the diaspora immigrants find themselves the target of not just racism and xenophobia, but also surveillance and carceral systems which seek to replicate the profit margins made off domination of their homelands.

It is no coincidence that the bombing of Gaza intersected with the white-supremacist shootings at New Zealand mosques that left 50 dead. Both attacks were expressions of colonialist mentality. Colonization is global, and the colonized cannot migrate their way out of its ugly effects.

Julia Kassem is a Michigan activist who is currently a graduate student at American University of Beirut. Her article on water as a means of political control from Gaza to Detroit and Flint, Michigan appeared in ATC 198.

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