(First published on March 23, 2019)
The terrorist who attacked worshippers in Christchurch released a 74-page manifesto titled ‘the great replacement’. The title is borrowed from a conspiracy theory popularised in France by French writer Renaud Camus.
The term can be traced back to the 1973 novel titled Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints) by Jean Raspail. This novel has often been referred to by Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist of President Donald Trump and executive chairman of far-right Breitbart News.
The concept is fairly simple. There is a conspiracy to bring down the western civilisation by systematically replacing the white Christian population with the people of Middle Eastern, African and other non-white origins. Raspail is a proponent of the restoration of Catholic monarchy. Camus has been accused of indulging in anti-Semitism in the past. All of this is very relevant and therefore needs your attention.
Another theory in vogue among such circles is called white genocide. Like the great replacement, the idea here too is painfully simple. There is a conspiracy to murder the West through several methods including abortions, declining birthrates, mass immigration, racial integration, miscegenation, land confiscation and the list goes on.
This theory is particularly popular among what we now call the alt-right. The alt-right movement, a mix of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, neo-fascists, neo-confederalists and other such fringe groups, grew from message and image boards like 4chan and reddit. 4chan is particularly important because this is where participants could interact anonymously and in fact was a hub for cyber trolls. Make a mental note here but don’t stop.
The manifesto of the above-mentioned terrorist was also uploaded on a website called 8chan which is modelled after 4chan. With me so far? It gets easier from here.
While the alt-right subculture is claimed to be mainly secular, its biggest allies and a huge component, are far right Christian groups. That is precisely why you see visibly contradictory positions on Jews and Israel. A huge number of alt-right members are anti-Semitic but still big supporters of a stronger Israel. Steve Bannon calls himself a Christian Zionist.
For the sake of disambiguation let it be known that unlike Jewish Zionists, Christian Zionists want a strong Israel because it would accelerate the march towards the end of times. Israel then is merely a sacrificial lamb to be destroyed upon the second coming.
That is precisely why at the ceremony marking the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem controversial American pastors like John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, and Robert Jeffress were invited to deliver benediction and offer prayer.
In 2008, an audio recording of Hagee’s sermon delivered in 1990s surfaced in which he had implied that Hitler was doing God’s work by fomenting the desire among Jews to return to Israel in accordance with… wait for it…. Biblical prophecies.
Now many of alt-right’s beliefs can be attributed to what Alvin Toffler decades ago called the future shock. In changing times, many people cannot come to terms with change. Paranoia then is the normal outcome.
Clinging to a past that has long been lost becomes a natural desire. A past that the young proponents of xenophobia never even properly experienced then might be driving the alt-right. Right? Not really. Richard B Spencer, the self-appointed head of American alt-right, speaks of a peaceful ethnic cleansing in which non-white people are to be dispatched back to the countries of their origin. It is no more a healthy paranoia then, but a desire to alter the landscape per force.
Now, I have already mentioned in a few previous pieces that many of today’s woes right from Islamist extremism to the ethnocentrism in the West can be traced back to one man’s two works. Samuel Huntington’s ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘Who are we?’ are two important works that simultaneously framed the problems and worked as the bait. In 1993 Huntington wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs, then being edited by Fareed Zakaria, the prominent American intellectual of Indian origin, in which he claimed that the Islamic civilisation was bound to clash with the West.
Another challenge might come from what he called the Confucius civilisation. Huntington at the time was formalising and weaponising three important identities. The definition of civilisation was borrowed from Arnold Toynbee and the term clash of civilisations from Bernard Lewis’ work published in the Atlantic’s September 1990 issue titled ‘Roots of Muslim Rage’.
If Muslims and China were the biggest threat, then the west and India were most likely allies. But Huntington did not stop at that. In his other work mentioned above, he reminded the American people that their identity was based on White Anglo Saxon Protestant legacy, and Mexicans and foreigners threatened to change that.
This then is the start of identity politics between the West and the rest and within West of the post-Cold War race politics. Muslims and China, already with somewhat depressed identities during the Cold War, inhaled the propaganda and fashioned their identities accordingly.
But when in 1993, Huntington presented his thesis it was very a tumultuous time for two countries. Israel had faced the first ‘Intifada’. And India was facing a militant separatist movement in Kashmir. Both these countries are prominent in the use of the term ‘terrorism’ much before 9/11. In 1992, India opened its embassy in Tel Aviv and the relationship flourished.
Before this, if George Crile’s version of Charlie Wilson’s war is to be believed, Israel was Pakistan’s silent partner. Nations do crazy things to protect their interests and this fits neatly into the idea of state rationality. Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First is remarkable in chronicling Israel’s pursuit of its state rationality.
But the collective hostility towards Muslims borne out of interface militancy seems to have damaged India and Israel a lot. BJP and Likud’s rise and rise in mid-1990s seems to have propelled them into regressive culture which gave rise to leaders like Netanyahu and Modi who enable hate and intolerance in West to survive. While Netanyahu cuts deals with the West’s far right to strengthen himself and his idea of Israel, western Jewry goes through hell.
As Modi’s minions support similar groups to enhance support for the RSS/BJP, his own rule and his idea of mother India, the rising intolerance of non-whites in the West backfires against the Indian diaspora. Loose cannons usually backfire. A kleptomaniac political and business culture spreads in these two countries.
Cyber trolls poison the cyberspace and make it possible for hostile forces to exploit the situation. As elections approach in these countries, the antics of these ruling elite are easily discernable. There seems to be an alliance between the hard-right Muslim and non-Muslim elements who will all benefit from a clash.
While the Christchurch terrorist is being referred to as a collapsitarian by the alt-right who wanted to accelerate the inevitable crash, most of the genuine concerns in the West can be addressed through what Toffler once called a theory of adaptation. But that is only possible when the temperature declines from the current boiling point. That can happen only if enablers of hate lose control of public office. The final decision of course rests with the states in question.