Opinion | The Changing Face of Extremism

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By Ben Cohen

By the time America woke up on Friday, March 15, Google’s search engine was jammed in the wake of the mass shooting in New Zealand.

Doubtless, many people were looking for the gunman’s manifesto penned in advance of this atrocity, titled “The Great Replacement.” The text was easy to find and nauseating to read. To summarize its ideas at any length would endow it, and him, with a dignity that is unwarranted; suffice to say, this man believes that “high fertility rates” among Muslims are at the root of an Islamic war against Western civilization, and therefore justification for the mass murder of innocents worshipping at a mosque.


“I only wish I could have killed more invaders (Muslims) and more traitors (western converts to Islam) as well,” he wrote chillingly.

The manifesto provides an important snapshot of the sorts of influences and obsessions that animate racist violence and terrorism today. The picture that emerges does not sit easily with any political worldview — a fact that might, ironically, help to bridge the many divides that exist between Jewish and Muslim communities living in the West.

In both the selection of the target and the justification for the shooting, there was an unmistakable parallel. Last October, a white supremacist gunman chose to express his opposition to immigration by murdering 11 Jews worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Now, just months later, this latest gunman chose a mosque to level the same protest, fueled by conspiracy theories about “invaders.” As with the Pittsburgh shooter, the New Zealand shooter sees himself as a member of a select group of alert white citizens who perceive a critical truth that everyone else is too brainwashed to recognize.

But unlike the Pittsburgh shooter, Jews do not lie at the center of this man’s paranoid universe.

This isn’t because he likes Jews. As with most anti- Semites these days on right and left, he says in his manifesto that he is not an anti-Semite, and then adds that “a jew (sic) living in israel (sic) is no enemy of mine, as long as they do not seek to subvert or harm my people.” But subversion and harm, in the mind of the anti-Semite, is precisely what “the Jews” cannot stop themselves from doing. One can safely imagine that were our community’s “fertility rates” on the same scale as the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, such contemptuous indifference would mushroom into outright hate.

There is also the matter of the political positions that this man identifies with. What it demonstrates is the strong degree of cross-fertilization between different, even contradictory, strands of extremism on both right and left that has been enabled by the internet, particularly over the last decade. He tells us he is a fascist, and specifically an “eco-fascist.” His main political influence is Sir Oswald Mosely — the British socialist leader who evolved into a blackshirted, fascist anti-Semite during the 1930s. The New Zealand gunman doesn’t object to being called a “socialist”; he can be, he says, both right-wing and left-wing depending on the context. The country he most identifies with is the People’s Republic of China, but at the same time he quotes a cult slogan of neo-Nazi groups — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — as the basis of his worldview.

For someone who clearly exposed himself to a great deal of information about the world around him and yet properly understood almost none of it, this man underlines an awkward truth, albeit by accident.

It is this: The ideas, images, buzzwords and symbols of extremism in its present form are interchangeable. That’s why white identitarians, for whom Jewish power and influence are not the most pressing concern, have come to the fore. But it is also why you have left-wing socialists, like several of the members of the British Labour Party, who conduct social media campaigns against “the Rothschilds,” “the Zionists” and the other alleged instruments of “Jewish supremacism.” Similarly, it why two anti-Semites from France with far-right connections, Alain Soral and Dieudonne Mbala Mbala, were warmly welcomed last December in red flag-waving, Communist North Korea. These and countless similar examples explain why it’s inadvisable to assume that extremists believe what they believe with any consistency.

There is only one line from the latest gunman’s manifesto that I will quote in full, so as to make my last point. “There are no innocents in an invasion, all those who colonize other people’s lands share guilt,” he writes. Those words convey the torrent of angry emotions that drove, in Christchurch’s case, a white racist, but they can serve a Hamas suicide-bomber or an Iranian military commander just as well. It is an argument that many Islamists in the West, along with their non-Muslim fellow travelers, frequently advance to rationalize, justify and celebrate terrorist attacks against Israel or anti-Semitic violence against Jewish communities in the West.

What the massacre in New Zealand shows is that this very same argument, based on similarly warped ideology, can be deployed to justify the murder of Muslims living in a Western city. The doctrine that there are “no innocents” is not so much a political red line, therefore, as a civilizational one.

In that sense, Jews and Muslims find themselves on the same side of the line that separates civilization from barbarism. If we are to achieve greater understanding between our two minority communities, that is as good a place as any from which to start.

Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.

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