On Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, around 253 innocent people, including many children, were slaughtered during attacks on churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, the largest death toll in an attack since the nearly 3,000 on September 11, 2001. Pictured: The wreckage of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on 21 April 2019, following a bomb attack earlier that day. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
The number of deaths is not always a guide to the impact of a tragedy. One of the most recent tragedies had a high, but far from record-making, toll of fatalities. First, and as a basis for comparison, it is worth noting that the November 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris slaughtered 90 people in the Bataclan Theatre and more elsewhere in the city, for a total of 130 deaths. The Islamist truck attack on a single stretch of road in Nice on 14 July 2016 took no fewer than 86 lives. On Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, around 253 innocent people, including many children, were slaughtered during radical Muslim attacks on churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, the largest death toll since the nearly 3,000 on September 11, 2001.
These all took their toll and will not soon be forgotten. Another attack recently took place that may have left a lasting impression, already changing how people think and act about our responses to these attacks and the people who perpetrate them, as we move more forcefully into a state of concerns on both sides of an increasingly dangerous stand-off between civilizations.
Most recently, 50 people were killed and another 50 were injured during an armed attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019.
The alleged killer was a 28-year-old Australian man, apparently a far-right activist named Brenton Harrison Tarrant. He was arrested while driving away from the second attack, possibly headed for another Islamic centre. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that authorities "absolutely" believe they stopped the suspect "on the way to a further attack." One target may have been the Ashburton Mosque, about an hour's drive away. According to New Zealand's News Hub:
There are several other targets within Christchurch that Tarrant may have considered while plotting his alleged crime. There are two Halal food outlets - a butchery and a supermarket - in the vicinity of the immobilised car. The most chilling possible target en route to Ashburton is the An-Nur Child Care Centre on Springs Road in Hornby in the city's far west. The Centre is described as "the only Islamic early learning service in Christchurch".
The same source said that Tarrant, in his written manifesto, identified the Ashburton Mosque as the next outlet for his hatred. He called the place a "desecration" because it had been converted from a church.
We must all be grateful that Tarrant was found and arrested before he could carry out further killings. But, as it stands, what he did in Christchurch will go down in history as the second -- but largest -- major attack in the West on Muslims peacefully at prayer in their house of worship.
When Baruch Goldstein, a far-right American-Israeli, killed 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded 125 in a 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel, he was condemned outright by the Israeli government, the Israeli population, and Jews across the diaspora.
According to the New York Times, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin "declared murderous settlers to be outcasts, alien to Israel and to Judaism." Rabin even called Goldstein a "villainous Jew," and a "Jewish Hamas member."
"I am shamed over the disgrace imposed upon us by a degenerate murderer," Rabin continued. "You are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism."
As for Australia's Brenton Tarrant, in early April, reports appeared concerning his close ties to some European anti-Muslim groups. According to the Washington Post:
The probes currently concentrate on any money trails leading back to the suspect...
But it also reflects wider examinations into a new crop of far-right groups whose rise has paralleled the increasing use of anti-immigrant fears to buoy right-wing political parties in the West.
Among the groups most adept at stitching together the various strands of nativist anger and suspicion is the French-rooted Identitarian Movement, which promotes an alarmist message that Muslim migrants will one day overrun Western culture...
The Identitarian Movement apparently echoed Tarrant's anger toward Muslim migrants, and is now at the center of international investigations as authorities try to piece together the elements that shaped Tarrant's views.
The Identitarian Movement may have seemed to many a minor and obscure political trend that came to public attention only after the revelation of Tarrant's links to its French and Austrian branches.
Jason Wilson describes it as follows, starting with its Austrian movement:
Identitäre Bewegung Österreichs (IBÖ) is part of a larger far-right Identitarian movement, with branches in most western European countries, North America and New Zealand...
Organisations that affiliate themselves with Identitarianism include Génération Identitaire in France and Generazione Identitaria in Italy. The American Identity Movement in the United States (recently renamed from Identity Evropa and banned from Facebook on Thursday) participated in the Charlottesville rally, and recently leaked chat logs showed that their ranks include serving members of the US military. Identity Australia appears little more than a grouplet for now and the Dominion Movement in New Zealand claimed on its website to have disbanded in the wake of the mass murder at Christchurch.
The Charlottesville reference draws attention to another disturbing feature of Identitarianism: it is not just anti-Muslim, but anti-Jewish. White supremacists in the Charlottesville rally chanted "Jews will not replace us":
The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like "blood and soil," a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology...."
It gets more complex: In Europe, antisemitism is most often found within socialist and Muslim groups, but while Identitarians and their affiliates hold that as part of their philosophy, their attention is mainly focussed on Muslims, in particular on refugees and immigrants: "What unites these groups ideologically is a belief that Europe is facing a 'great replacement' by Muslim and African immigrants. And they want something done about it."
These movements are mainly made up of young white men, like Tarrant. With regard to Muslims, they see themselves as modern heirs to the Christians who fought wars against Muslim invaders such as the Ottoman Turks. In 2012, French Génération Identitaire members briefly occupied a mosque in Poitiers. They did so on the anniversary of the famous 732 Battle of Poitiers (better known as the Battle of Tours), the game-changing occasion when the Frankish Prince Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, defeated a raiding force of Arab Muslims sent north from the Umayyad Caliphate that controlled the Iberian Peninsula. That battle has come to be regarded as the event that blocked the entry of Muslim invaders into the rest of Europe.
Tarrant's rifles contained the names of legendary Serbs and Montenegrins who fought against the 500-year-rule of the Muslim Ottomans in the Balkans, written in the Cyrillic alphabet used by the two Orthodox Christian nations.
Elsewhere, it is noted that:
In photographs from a now deleted Twitter account associated with the suspect that match the weaponry seen in his live-streamed video, there is a reference to "Vienna 1683", the year the Ottoman Empire suffered a defeat in its siege of the city at the Battle of Kahlenberg. "Acre 1189", a reference to the Crusades, is also written on the guns.
Four names of legendary Serbs who fought against the 500-year-rule of the Muslim Ottomans in the Balkans, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, are also seen on the gunman's rifles....
The name Charles Martel, who white supremacists are said to credit with saving Europe from invading Muslims in 734, was also on the weapons.
These are not the only names or references on the rifles and ammunition; what is striking is that Tarrant had obviously done his homework. He knew where to visit, whom to celebrate, and the historical context into which to situate his own attacks.
Not all people who worry about a replacement of civilizations are necessarily violent or even incorrect. They appear to be frightened folk, sent over the edge by matters they may feel beyond control. In Europe and the United States, they have witnessed wave upon wave of attacks by individuals and groups openly espousing violence in the name of religion. They seem to fear that their own governments are doing too little to protect them and their families from future attacks.
Political correctness, often an extreme form of denial of reality, has made it increasingly hard for even the most reasonable and careful of thinkers to say anything critical about Islam. While it is reasonable to call out overt racism or brutal hate for Muslims -- or anyone else -- efforts to block fair criticism of aspects of Islam can become unjust forms of censorship.
Many members of society might well see this censorship as a denial of their concerns on topics such as Islamist terrorism, unintegrated newcomers entering what they consider "their" territory, and their anxieties about what seems to be uncontrolled mass immigration into their native countries.
When governments dismiss these fears and do not seem to offer positive solutions to manifest problems, many people might understandably feel helpless. While many Muslims protest the violence in Islam, when presidents and priests say, "Islam is a religion of peace", events that people see around them (such as here, here, here and here), combined with indisputable facts about fundamentalist doctrine and political demands, seem to have convinced increasing members of the public that such a statement is simply not true.
Freedom of speech, the most readily available alternative to violence, is, in many places, being ruled illegal. When it is, social dislocation is likely to follow.
Many immigrants who do make efforts to fit in play vital roles to the point where many are indispensable. If, however, as some may claim, there has been failure to work hard for the full integration of Muslims, what should be done if many seem to want not to be integrated?
In 2015, on behalf of the British government, Dame Louise Casey produced a report on integration in the UK, in which she concluded that Muslims were the hardest ethnic and religious community to integrate. By 2017, she openly declared that government ministers had done absolutely nothing to advance social cohesion and integration.
Both extremist Muslims and all agitators seem to suffer from the same issue in their communities and personal lives: an unwillingness to change or to want to change.
Values considered Western -- such as democracy, which is rejected as man-made rather than divinely made; adherence to human rights, unless they align with sharia; and equal justice under the law -- simply do not seem to be among the highest priorities of many newcomers. Those who might disagree often seem unable to speak out.
Until extremists on all sides wish to adjust to life as it has developed in the past century, it seems as if both the hatred and violence will continue.
Our security services, already strained by Islamic terrorism, now face growing threats at a time when many former fighters from Islamic State, bitter from their defeat, have returned, or are trying to return, to several countries in Europe. Is it necessary to say how far this convergence of opposing views threatens Western civilization?
As Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has lived in both worlds, states:
"These efforts are well meaning, but they arise from a misguided conviction, held by many Western liberals, that retaliation against Muslims is more to be feared than Islamist violence itself.... In the process, we... marginalized dissident Muslims who were attempting to pursue real reform."
Dr. Denis MacEoin lectured in Islamic Studies at Newcastle University in the U.K. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.