Paddy Gibson explores some of the Australian roots of the murderous ideology of fascist terrorist Brenton Tarrant
In the wake of the horror of the massacre in Christchurch, Scott Morrison and other Liberals, who have built their political careers demonising Muslims and refugees, have been scrambling to distance themselves from the far right.
The hypocrisy has been breathtaking. In practice, the Liberals are already mounting new racist attacks, announcing a “hard cap” on migration, scapegoating migrants for transport congestion and housing shortages. And they are pushing ahead with reopening the Christmas Island detention centre.
Last Tuesday, The Australian newspaper’s national security editor Paul Maley went further—trying to distance Australian politics itself from any culpability for the actions of fascist killer Brendan Tarrant, born and raised in northern NSW. This built on Peter Dutton’s comments the previous day, emphasising that Tarrant had travelled extensively since 2010 and only been in in Australia for 45 days in the last three years.
In his article titled “Born here—but bigot’s beliefs bred in Europe”, Maley cites Tarrant’s manifesto, which includes lengthy diatribes about a Muslim invasion of Europe and fantasies of a race war, inspired by the medieval crusades, to repel the Muslim invaders.
On his own testimony, Tarrant has been heavily influenced by European fascism and developed his commitment to violent slaughter while travelling in France.
Malley says of the manifesto:
“Nowhere does it mention Pauline Hanson, Operation Sovereign Borders, Sky After Dark or any of the other right-wing villains being fitted up as accessories before the fact. The word ‘Australia’ or ‘Australian’ appears just 11 times. By contrast, ‘France’ or ‘French’ appears 22 times, the ‘United States’ or ‘America’ 16 times, while ‘Europe’ or ‘European’ gets 102 mentions.”
The ABC has since established clear online links between Tarrant and Nazi groups in Australia, with social media posts praising United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell. And the mentions of Australia along with why he picked New Zealand for his devastating terrorist attack Tarrant does make in his manifesto are telling.
Tarrant argues that, “Australia, just like the rest of the colonies of Europe, is simply an offshoot of the European people. A finger on the hand of the body of Europe.”
Both Australia and New Zealand are unequivocally said to be “European soil” and his attacks were designed to, “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own”. New Zealand in particular was chosen to demonstrate that “no-where in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands, even in the remotest areas of the world”.
The idea that Australia is an extension of Europe has been a core plank of nationalist imagination in this country. For most of Australian history, it informed the White Australia policy that sought to use immigration controls to maintain the imagined white racial purity of Australia.
It is an idea forged in the British imperialist invasion of Australia and the genocidal expansion of capitalism across the continent. It justified large-scale slaughter of Indigenous people, often unarmed and unsuspecting, in massacres that looked very similar to those suffered by Muslim worshippers in Christchurch.
This genocide still forms the basis of the property system in Australia, which relies on British common law to rationalise the theft of Indigenous lands. The people who perpetrated these massacres, such as Governor Lachlan Macquarie, are still celebrated as heroic figures.
Tarrant calls for whites to honour their ancestors who, “did not sweat, bleed and die in the name of a multicultural, egalitarian nation”.
The end of the White Australia policy and the repeal of overtly racist laws against Aboriginal people in the early 1970s were crucial breakthroughs in the struggle against racism. The Australian ruling class had also been unable to sustain “White Australia” in the face of its need for migrant labour from outside Europe and the development of increasingly important trade relationships with non-white ruling classes in Asia and the Middle East. This fundamentally transformed both the demographics of Australia and the outlook of millions of people.
But while hard biological racism gave way as an official ideology, a European identity has remained at the core of Australian nationalism. In a backlash against the gains made in the 1970s, conservative politicians, starting particularly with the efforts of John Howard in the late 1980s, ramped up the scapegoating of groups of non-white migrants—with a shifting focus on different communities—all targeted as threats to “our way of life”.
Howard fought hard to rehabilitate ideas about the superiority of “Western civilisation” and Australia as a standard bearer. This was part of the emerging “culture wars”, trying to consolidate a new conservative outlook and constituency in opposition to multiculturalism. He explicitly encouraged celebration of Australia’s white colonial past and imperialist adventures such as Gallipoli. This went alongside an increasingly aggressive imperialist strategy, mobilising troops first in East Timor, then Afghanistan, Iraq and the Solomon Islands.
Howard’s racism had an important political role in trying to shore up support amongst some sections of the working class, suffering from years of neoliberal policies and looking for someone to blame. He accommodated the explicit white nationalism of Pauline Hanson, defending her place in parliament and then adopting some of her policies, like the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas for refugees.
Similarly, recent policy initiatives from the Coalition, such as strengthening both English language and “Australian values” tests as part of the citizenship process, or Dutton signalling his preference for white South African “refugees”, have worked to legitimise the white supremacy of Fraser Anning.
The Islamophobia central to Tarrant’s murderous ideology has particularly clear roots in the Western wars and imperialism in the Middle East.
Following the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, Australia has been a key player in the US led military actions across the Middle East. Domestic attacks on Muslims and efforts to hold the Muslim community as a whole responsible for terrorism have followed.
The wars for control of the Middle East have clear economic and geopolitical motives—control of resources, trade routes and territory. This imperialism has often involved co-operation with the leaders of reactionary Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia. But the mass murder involved in the wars has required the systematic dehumanisation of Muslim people as whole and the continual construction of Muslims as a “threat”.
Reports of whole families being slaughtered at weddings, at schools and in mosques in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, are either ignored by the press or reported as mundane. Australian military forces have participated in horrific war crimes, including the mutilation of dead Muslim bodies. These state-sanctioned massacres have paved a clear road to Christchurch.
Before the start of the “War on Terror”, Howard had already begun a “war on refugees”, deploying naval force against refugee boats and demonising Muslims in the process. His famous election speech in 2001, “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, was made as troops were being sent to Afghanistan. Howard declared action against refugee boats was necessary to protect Australia from terrorism.
The fear of Muslims generated through the long “War on Terror” has been mercilessly exploited for electoral gain by both major parties, with ever intensifying persecution of refugees. This was the political environment in which Tarrant grew up.
After the massacres in Christchurch, on both sides of the Tasman, there have been anti-racist rallies organised by the left and moving displays of solidarity with Muslims by Indigenous peoples in both countries, who who have strong family memories of massacres and suffer constant racist brutality, including attacks by white supremacists.
Speaking on The Drum, Randa Abdel-Fattah said that reckoning with the fact that, “Australia was founded as a white settler-colony, based on the genocide, theft and dispossession of Indigenous peoples” remains a central task of any transformative movement that seeks to uproot racism in this country. These words have been echoed by many other Muslim speakers at the recent demonstrations.
We need to build on this unity and confront the brutal policies and oppressive structures that underpin racism—close down offshore detention and open the borders, repeal racist anti-terror laws and fight police persecution of black and brown people, fight Australian imperialism, end the NT Intervention, win the many battles for land and justice for Indigenous people. These struggles are most powerful when built into the organised working class and when our trade unions are seriously fighting for better wages, services, secure work and housing for everyone.
Tarrant was undoubtedly a product of the global rise of the far right, sweeping across Europe and the world. As imperialist rivalries have sharpened and the economic crisis has created mass misery, conservative politicians everywhere have fanned the flames of racism and emboldened the fascists. Tarrant communicated online with Nazis across the world. He cited Donald Trump’s rise to power as a, “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.
But there are roots of the Christchurch massacre planted firmly in the racist ideology propagated by the Australian ruling class and hardwired into Australian capitalism. We need to tear up these roots, globalise our resistance and fight the system head on.