EDITORIALS  White Supremacy Caused the Christchurch Massacre

On March 15, a white supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand resulted in the murder of 50 people during Jummah prayers at Al Noor and Linwood mosques. Another 50 people were sent to the hospital with injuries, some of them life-threatening. On March 18, eight McGill student groups organized a vigil to honour the lives of the Christchurch victims, and to denounce the violence of Islamophobia and white supremacy.

This individual act of violence occurred within a society that has normalized the oppression and hatred of Muslims. The Christchurch massacre took place within a larger system of state-sanctioned white supremacy that manifests itself daily and perpetuates Islamophobia worldwide. Fascist leaders, such as Trump, fuel white supremacy through their constant demonization of Muslim people, both within their countries and abroad. When the US decides to drop a bomb on civilians in Syria, and when Trudeau praises this decision, they both reinforce white supremacy and create a culture in which the Christchurch terrorist attack is horrifically unsurprising.

Andrew Sandock, representing the World Islamic and Middle East Studies Student Association, said at the vigil for the Christchurch victims: “What is the difference between a white man who attacks a mosque in New Zealand with a gun, and a leader of a Western country who drops bombs on mosques in Afghanistan? Why is one called a terrorist attack on ‘peaceful’ Muslims, and the other an unfortunate but necessary event in the ‘fight for our freedom?’” Ensuring that a massacre like this never takes place again means that we must recognize the ways in which Western governments engage in white supremacist terrorism on a daily basis. The state regularly contributes to the mass dehumanization of brown people, to the point that their deaths overseas seem banal.

The Quebec City mosque shooting that occurred in 2016 is also inseparable from the policies that cultivate this hatred. Anti-immigrant sentiment and policies have been increasing across Canada, as have Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric within the government. The CAQ recently proposed banning the hijab for all public sector workers, which was treated as a matter of secularism, rather than being denounced for the racist, Islamophobic policy that it is. The fact that blatant Islamophobia is now considered a matter up for debate is indicative of the widespread suppression and marginalization of Muslim voices.

Moreover, the white supremacist ideology that motivated the Christchurch shooter cannot be separated from the spread of online fascism. From the violent manifesto the shooter published on 8chan prior to the attacks to the livestreaming of the massacre on Facebook, the Christchurch attack was made by and for the internet. White supremacist ideology is spread through Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and fascist memes on platforms such as 4chan, 8chan, and private Facebook groups. This new form of fascist recruiting hides behind the facade of irony. It infiltrates online spaces, specifically gaming communities, to spread racial panic using fascist ideology and racist rhetoric.

Further, the attacks were live-streamed, mimicking the frame of first-person shooter video games. The popularity of these violent and graphic video games, in which the massacre of brown people is not only normalized but also encouraged, cannot be separated from the global white supremacist movement. The shooter specifically referred to Pewdiepie in his livestream, a YouTuber who has a worldwide following of over 91 million. Pewdiepie regularly normalizes anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and Nazi ideology in his videos. This behaviour is then dismissed as humour. Subscribers’ refusal to condemn online content producers who mask their intent, and excuse their deadly language as “jokes,” directly contributes to the spread of white supremacist ideology. While personal responsibility in the way we consume online content is fundamental, tech and social media companies complicit in the Christchurch shooting also need to be held accountable for passively condoning this rhetoric. As demonstrated by their purge of ISIS propaganda in recent years, platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Discord have the technological and financial means to ban terrorist propaganda. However, under the guise of free speech, most of these companies allow white supremacist rhetoric to thrive and organize on their platforms. This is evidenced by the publication of the horrifying livestream on Facebook and Twitter, which is still circulating long after the shooting. Fighting white supremacy also means fighting these insidious, normalized online fascist spaces.

The recent shooting in New Zealand, as well as in Quebec City, is a violent manifestation of white supremacy. White supremacy and xenophobia do not occur in a vacuum – they are systems upheld not only by those who commit acts of violence, but also by those who remain silent about them. White people need to recognize the ways in which they are complicit in white supremacy, and use their platforms and voices to call it out when they see it occurring. Tangible ways of doing this include: reporting white supremacist content when you see it online; boycotting creators who normalize it; pushing social media companies to de-platform and demonetize these creators; calling out family members and professors when they use racist rhetoric; actively opposing racist domestic and foreign policies; and being aware of your own positionality if you are a white person. We also urge you to donate to the fund for the victims’ families and the New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups fund.