Hotel Mumbai, currently screening in Australia, tells the harrowing story of attacks by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba across the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008. Indoctrinated to believe that non-Muslims are not human, 10 young men armed with grenades and AK-47s go on an orgy of destruction. Urged on through their earpieces by a faceless fanatic in Pakistan who promises riches for their families and paradise for them, they slaughter 160 defenceless Indians and foreigners in 24 hours, including many guests and staff at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, before all but one of them are killed by late-arriving Indian special forces from New Delhi. Their ring-master is never caught. The plot resonates with the shocking slaughter in Christchurch on 15 March 2019.
The fanaticism of extremist Muslim groups has led to a burgeoning anti-terrorist industry in many countries across the globe, including Australia. After 9/11, the initial focus was on the Saudi and Egyptian terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. This was the pretext for the United States and its allies to invade Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, and Syria in 2014. Apart from getting rid of Osama Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with the New York and Washington attacks, all the invasions produced was massive de-stabilisation of Arab societies, a huge number of refugees for other Middle Eastern countries and Europe to cope with, and a convincing narrative for extremist Islamic groups to use for attacking ‘Infidel’ countries. Western media and conservative politicians refused to accept the connection: if you invade and bomb our countries, we will attack citizens in your countries, or wherever we can find them. The dots have not yet been connected in the minds of conservative western politicians or the reactionary Murdoch press.
The slaughter of 49 Muslims on 15th March at two mosques in Christchurch by an Australian, Branton Tarrant, is doubly shocking because of the decency and hospitality of New Zealanders towards Muslim migrants and their avoidance of serious involvement in wars of vengeance in the Middle East. It is also a sharp reminder that fanaticism is not the monopoly of disaffected Muslims, but is shared by a growing number of equally fanatical white supremacists. Tarrant claims he was inspired by Anders Behring Breivik, who in July 2011 killed eight innocent people with a bomb in Oslo, and then another 69 at a summer camp of the Norwegian Workers’ League on the island of Utoya. Breivik was opposed to Islam and claimed that feminism was responsible for a ‘culture of suicide’ in Europe. He wanted all Muslims expelled from Europe. Tarrant’s manifesto, which he released before going on his own rampage, is similar to Breivik’s. Whites, he declared, must stand up before it is too late. All immigrants, refugees and migrant workers must be expelled from Australia.
I am depressingly familiar with this mind-set from another source. A school friend I grew up with, an otherwise mild and intelligent individual, now retired from his law practice, sits in front of his computer in a leafy Australian suburb obsessing about the threat he sees Muslim migrants posing to the cohesive fabric of Australian society. In our youth, he would sing Confederate battle hymns on our hiking trips, but his racist tendencies have now broadened well beyond the American Civil War into antagonism towards all non-Caucasians. I have argued with him in vain about how successive waves of migrants – from Ireland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and then China, Vietnam and other Asian countries – have initially been seen as unassimilable, only later to blend into and become useful contributors to Australian society, and how Muslims from many countries are doing the same thing. He remains unconvinced to the point of regarding Muslim migrants as a threat to his grandchildren. My friend is not a violent person, and could never contemplate assaulting a Muslim. But that’s where his innermost convictions are, and he probably sees the actions of Tarrant as justifiable.
How many others are there in our western societies, like the Australian Senators, Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning, who think the same way? And how many are confirmed in their beliefs by the racist dog whistles of President Donald Trump? He demands a ‘beautiful wall’ to fence his country off from drug dealers, rapists, murderers and criminals who he claims are flooding into the United States from Mexico. The sub-text is that they are coloured, untrustworthy, and we don’t want them. Mexicans are Catholic, not Muslim, but they are ‘Hispanic’, and Trump and his followers do not differentiate.
Nor did the National Origins Act of 1924, which excluded all Asians and non-Europeans from the United States. At about the same time, border patrols were created to police America’s southern border. It became a magnet to racist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan, to vigilantism and unchecked brutality against Mexicans attempting to enter the United States. Trump’s wall is a metaphor for racial resurgence and an encouragement for white vigilantism like that of Breivik and Tarrant. Despite restrictive gun control laws in Norway, New Zealand and Australia, both Breivik and Tarrant managed to get hold of military style semi-automatic rifles. How much easier it is in the United States with its permissive gun laws, for racist massacres to take place among any ethnically different group or religious congregation?
Some hopeful post-scripts:
President Trump may never get his wall. The border 3,145 kilometres long, only 481 kilometres of which have a vehicle barrier, and 560 kilometres a pedestrian fence. Meanwhile, obdurate Democrats and some Republicans have refused to approve the billions of dollars he needs to build the wall he claims Mexico will pay for. And there is local resistance. The Nogales City Council in Arizona ordered the removal of coils of razor wire marking the border with its southern neighbour, saying the only purpose of the wire was to maim and kill, an installation that should only be found in a military prison or a battle setting.
If the wall is not built, and Trump’s fraudulent posturing is shown for what it is, the heat may go out of the debate, and white fanatics may lose at least one of their inspirations. Meanwhile, Australian and other western authorities are beginning to see the threat of terrorism from disaffected whites as of more danger than terrorism originating from fanatical Muslim groups. If Trump succeeds in withdrawing American troops from the Middle East, and stops bombing ground targets, Islamic fanatics will lose at least one of their excuses for punishing western societies.