Op-eds

Return to the era of racism

  • Geoff
United States President Donald Trump refers to migrants congregating at the US’s southern border with Mexico as an “invasion”. That, in a word, is what warriors for white nationalism believe, which inspires them to kill people they think are not white, or are migrants seeking entry. They perceive a conspiracy called the “great replacement theory”, in which whites will diminish in numbers and power.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Aug 08, 2019

White ethnic nationalism appears to lie at the heart of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton in America over the weekend, in which 20 and nine people respectively died. There have been other, similar attacks. The world watches, alarmed, as this movement grows.

The previous terror wave was Muslim-inspired through ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Now, domestic terror increasingly originates from what is called the alt-right. It’s as if a previous era has returned which is racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, anti-Hispanic, homophobic, and so on, encouraged by the attitudes of people such as Trump since 2016, and ethnic nationalists elsewhere.

The internet is its major pathway, such as the website 8chan, a far-right bastion carrying messages promoting hatred and violence. It’s difficult to stop. There are many hiding places on the internet.

There is rising apprehension about the resurgence of these attitudes, how to prevent atrocities such as El Paso and Dayton, and how to counter the attitudes motivating them. But white nationalism has potent tools such as the internet and social media which it didn’t have before, and powerful adherents.

Previous incidents are a warning. The suspect in the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March allegedly posted a white nationalist text and link to his Facebook feed on 8chan. The suspect at a synagogue in Poway, California, who killed one and injured three, allegedly posted an anti-Semitic letter on 8chan. The website is also believed to have been used by the El Paso suspect to post a white nationalist rant. Platforms for such material are difficult to shut down.

8chan’s internet infrastructure was until this week hosted by a US-based company, Cloudflare. Its chief executive, responding to demands to remove the site after the Christchurch massacre, said there were many competitors to Cloudflare, and “the minute that someone isn’t on our network, they’re going to be on someone else’s network …”

Will white nationalism run out of steam against the liberal, multi-ethnic world? Racial, ethnic conflict is as old as time. In history, other long-standing conflicts have become so embedded in peoples’ consciousness, they seem endless. The Cold War, an ideological standoff between the west and the Soviet Union, lasted 45 years, threatening a nuclear war.

Another entrenched conflict, between Arabs and Israelis, has lasted more than a century, including pre and post Israel’s establishment. There have been minor successes at resolving it, but the core is firmly in place, and unlikely to dissipate soon. Meanwhile, ordinary Arabs and Jews try to lead normal lives.

Over centuries, writers and artists have expressed the absurdity of this ongoing human reality of living in the imperfect present, while believing in a perfect future. For Judaism, the idea of the moshiach finds implied expression in the play Waiting for Godot by playwright Samuel Beckett. Like the concept of total harmony between people such as Jews, Muslims, alt-Right warriors, and so on, Godot is indefinable. Everyone waits, but will it ever come? Meanwhile, the struggle against the mentality fostering alt-right terrorism is here and now.

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