It is another murderous step down a well-lit and well-trodden path. Each step was enabled by sickening modes of behaviour and discourse that exist in polite society as much as on the fringes.
We should not pathologies the killer. We should rather look at the culture that created him, the support network that enabled him, and the ways of speaking about white men killing Muslims that will lead to the next monster like him.
In America, white supremacist terrorist plots outnumber so-called “radical Islamic” terrorist plots and by a substantial margin. In Britain, they are growing at an alarming rate.
In a 78-page manifesto, the Christchurch killer describes studying the manifesto of white Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik (“Knight Justiciar”, as the killer calls him), as well as name-checking Dylann Roof, perpetrator of the Charleston church shooting in 2015 in which nine African Americans were killed.
It is certainly true that white supremacist terrorism is an international network, and that its constituent cells are loose knit and difficult to track. It is also true that online media companies, somehow, manage to police Islamic State (IS) propaganda far better than they do white supremacist propaganda. This is probably because the latter, in its softer and harder forms, is ubiquitous.
The West’s dominant culture leads naturally and clearly to the slaughter of Muslim people.
This massacre has its prehistory in the mainstream newspapers of the establishment class in Europe, America and the Commonwealth; in the “othering” of Muslims in headlines of The Times of London and The New York Times; in the anti-Islamic framings of CNN and the BBC as well as Fox News bulletins; in politicians on both sides of the Atlantic “listening to the concerns” of voters for racist parties in an attempt to win their votes rather than rejecting their racism as racism.
It has its root in decades of American foreign policy (aided and abetted by Britain, France, Australia and others) that treated white lives as more important than black lives.
It is a natural endpoint of treating Islamophobia as something to be at most lightly condemned, often allowed to pass by with a nod and a wink, while hatred of those of other religions is treated as abhorrent.
The suspicion of all Muslims, completely normalised in Western media and politics, has again born bloody fruit. Yes, again: far more innocent Muslims have been killed as “collateral damage” in American drone strikes, which themselves are extrajudicial killings, than occurred that one day in Christchurch.
And if I talk in terms of numbers here, this is not to minimise the absoluteness of the horror that has occurred, but rather to accurately represent how people of colour are treated as statistics, while white people – even white killers – have names.
It is trite, but true, to observe that if this was a Muslim killer we would be blaming the ecosystem that produced this killer. In this case, the ecosystem is that of white culture.
Not “radical white culture” but mainstream white culture, which contains in it (still) the roots of white supremacy. To say that ethno-nationalism is everywhere and always a bad thing, that there are and can be no exceptions to this, should be easy.
Instead, whites have been bred by decades of politics and media to think of themselves as the exception. This is the result.
Not all white people should hang their heads in shame. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who appeared in a hijab to attend a prayer service and mourn the victims, is a shining example of what it means to be a genuine ally in the struggle against white supremacy. But she is a rare exception.
White culture produced this killer. Let it not shirk responsibility.
Michael Donen SC is a member of the Cape Bar and listed counsel of the International Criminal Court