While there can often be disagreement as to what constitutes terrorism or a terrorist attack, the Criminal Code of Canada’s definition is as good as any other you’ll find.
A terrorist attack is defined in the code as an intentional act of violence that is committed “for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and (…) with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public.”
That certainly applies to the horrific attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand that saw 49 Muslim worshippers massacred at two mosques in the city. The victims were targeted because of who they are and what they believe and the attack was carried out in the name of and the advancement of a very specific cause.
This was indeed an act of terrorism. And the ideologies of white nationalism and white supremacy that motivated it should be treated as a security threat, much as we treat the underlying ideologies of jihadism and Islamic extremism. If we look to Muslims to make clear that they reject the ideology of extremist jihad then it’s reasonable and fair to expect the same of those for whom these violent white nationalists claim to be acting for.
This might be the most deadly manifestation of this terrorist ideology but it is not the first. Canada, of course, has been victimized by this under very similar circumstances. It’s been just over two years since Alexander Bissonnette murdered six Muslims and injured nearly 20 more in a Quebec City mosque. As it turns out, Bissonnette’s name was among the names of several other notorious white supremacists that were painted on the guns used in the Christchurch attack.
WATCH: Global News coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attacks
Just a few weeks ago we learned of a disrupted mass murder plot in the U.S. involving a Coast Guard lieutenant who identified himself as a “long-time white nationalist” who believed in “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland.”
The gunman who murdered 11 people last fall at a synagogue in Pittsburgh seemed to have very similar views to the Christchurch gunman, even though their chosen targets were of different faiths. The Pittsburgh attacker believed that Muslims and Jews were to blame for “Western Civilization” being “headed towards certain extinction.” He also accused the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of “(bringing) invaders in that kill our people.”
“Invaders” was the same word used repeatedly in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. It’s a telling example of how this ideology can spiral into hatred and violence. Once you’ve framed the “other” as an enemy, as less than human, then it becomes much easier to justify and rationalize acts of violence.
So we need to recognize the ideology for what it is and we can no longer turn a blind eye to the security threat that it poses. The mosque shootings in Canada and New Zealand have claimed far more lives in those two countries than Islamist terrorism has.
While white nationalists may still enjoy free speech rights (as do Islamic radicals, for that matter), that doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to a platform or legitimacy. Politicians and political parties and groups need to be very careful about pandering to this movement or giving it any sort of oxygen.
Mainstream conservatives shouldn’t be smeared as being white nationalists or even as being friendly to white nationalists, but by the same token, conservatives have a vested interest in denouncing this movement. At times, there seems to be a reluctance.
As author Ali Rizvi put it: “If you were ever (rightly) concerned that the left is in denial about the ideological motivation behind Islamic terrorism, you should be just as concerned about the right being in denial about ethno-nationalist ideological motivation behind right-wing terrorism.”
We still have rational debates about religion and immigration — reasonable people can disagree on such matters. But if your views on immigration are shaped by a desire to prevent “white genocide” or to keep out non-white “invaders,” then you are part of the problem.
Canada is an open, tolerant, pluralistic society. Extremism — be it in the form of Islamic radicalism or violent white nationalism — represents a threat to that way of life. We must be aware and vigilant.