. Lethal Scripts: The Far Right's narratives and the New Zealand Mosque killings | Ceasefire Magazine

Lethal Scripts: The Far Right’s narratives and the New Zealand Mosque killings Reflections

This week's terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was not an isolated act but the latest manifestation of a lethal, global ideology steeped in myth and paranoia. In his latest column, Roger Bromley examines the stories the Far Right tells itself.

New in Ceasefire, Reflections - Posted on Sunday, March 17, 2019 22:34 - 1 Comment


In the wake of the Terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand a few days ago, I shall attempt to locate the main themes and tropes of Far, or extreme, Right narratives in Europe today, especially as the gunman used terms like ‘the great replacement’ and ‘white genocide’ in his so-called ‘manifesto’. My argument will be that ideology is most effective when structured like a narrative, a convincing story. A number of these Far Right ‘stories’ will be outlined in order to trace the sources of phrases which have become the staple of European and American extremist discourses — discourses which frame Muslims as ‘invaders’ engaged in conquest.

In February 2018, Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, called for a global alliance against migration as he began campaigning for the April election: “Christianity is Europe’s last hope.” He went on to add that with mass immigration especially from Africa, “our worst nightmares can come true. The West falls as it fails to see Europe being overrun”. This speech summarises one dominant strand of what I am calling the Far Right narrative in Europe. This narrative takes almost as many forms as the Far Right itself, which is composed, broadly, of the following constituents: the electoral or parliamentary approach, the intellectual and conceptual, and the street with its varying levels of violence. These narratives are often contradictory. The New Right (Nouvelle Droite) in France, for example, especially its leading intellectual, Alain De Benoist, opposes Christianity and the Judaeo-Christian tradition and favours a 5,000 year, Indo-European, pagan legacy (see de Benoist 2016).

In the conflict of interpretation over the current crisis in Europe, which are the narratives that dominate and how can they be countered? Who is setting the agenda and claiming ownership of particular issues? How do we go about developing new constitutive stories, alternative narratives? How can we find a narrative space beyond the increasingly dominant Right frame? Edward Said, in his book Covering Islam, refers to the ways in which Islam is framed by representations in which “a handful of reckless generalizations and repeatedly deployed clichés” (1997, ii) come to constitute a public discourse of negativity. A repertoire of similar, recurring images makes up this fairly recent European narrative, shaped after 9/11 and sharpened since 2008 and 2015, against which the ‘Other’ has to seek “permission to narrate”, in Said’s phrase. In Time and the Other, the anthropologist Johannes Fabian calls this “the denial of coevals”: “a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of anthropological discourse – the ‘otherer’” (1983, 31). Islam is, in other words, seen as out of time, unchanging, fixed and backward, pre-Modern.

White genocide

In Europe there is a war on immigration, mainly (though not solely) articulated — and shared — by the Right. However, the opposition to migrants/refugees is formulated or coded, it is primarily a populist, white nationalist, or nativist, narrative, and something shared with similar groups in the USA, although with different inflections and referents. Also shared is the idea that Europe/the USA are being ‘overrun’ by migrants, specifically Muslims, and the Islamification of Europe or the threat of Eurabia is often invoked: Guillaume Faye speaks of “a massive colonisation settlement of the West by peoples from the Global South” (2016, Publisher’s blurb). Another enemy of the Right is multiculturalism, and de Benoist advocates the ‘right to difference’, by which he means the establishment of separate civilisations and cultures, what he calls ‘ethnopluralism’, in which organic, ethnic cultures/communities live independently of each other in an ‘empire of the regions’.

Richard Spencer, the USA alt-right leader, speaks of ‘operation Homeland’, the establishment of separate homelands dominated by those of white, European descent. The term ‘homelands’ is also commonly used by the Identitarian movement in Europe and the USA. Generation Identitaire was formed in France as the youth wing of the Bloc Identitaire and has spread across Europe. Identitarianism is a pan-European movement, primarily a cultural narrative – ‘our way of life’. Identitarian activists set up a “Defend Europe” campaign in 2017 and chartered a ship in order to prevent migrants coming by sea from Libya, and to disrupt NGO rescue vessels. Since that time, the new populist Italian government coalition seems to be following a similar course of action to exclude migrants.

For all their differences, what is also common to all shades of Far Right opinion is opposition to cultural homogenisation, the product, it is claimed, of elite global capitalism. In addition to this, the most frequently reiterated targets are liberalism, consumerism, Islam, the Left, feminism, political correctness and so-called cultural Marxism. The intellectuals of the Right see themselves as engaged in metapolitics – a cultural and ideological ‘war of position’, the winning of hearts and minds, the idea that cultural change needs to precede political change. This is a concept borrowed from the Italian Marxist intellectual and activist, Antonio Gramsci. de Benoist speaks of ‘Right Gramscianism’. This is part of resistance to what is perceived as the conquest of Europe by migrants, a reverse colonisation. The Right sees itself as engaged in a reconquest (Reconquista was the term used in 15th-century Spain about the Christian defeat of Islam), the defence of Europe against the diminishing of ethnic purity, its demographic and cultural decline, betrayed by Left-liberalism and globalisation. Reconquista Germania is an extreme-right channel on the gaming app Discord; ‘Make Europe Great Again’ is the official motto of the German AfD Far Right party. There is an existential fear that the political and demographic character of the West will be altered forever by the influx (‘flood’ is often used) of migrants.

The essence of this Liberal modernity, it is claimed, is the idea of conquest formulated in a phrase, and the title of a 2012 book by Renaud Camus, called ‘The Great Replacement’ (Le Grand Emplacement), orchestrated by Liberal elites, which is probably the most important narrative theme of the Right in recent times. This theme is also called The Grand Coup by Guillaume Faye, another founding, New Right intellectual who broke with the group in the 1980s. Another book of his was called The Colonisation of Europe. Together these three phrases – replacement, coup, colonisation – constitute the core ideological precepts of the nativist, Far Right narrative. In this scenario, the dispossessed majority in Europe faces the possibility of extinction – ‘white genocide’ in US Right discourse – and will be substituted by immigrant hordes: ‘global substitutionism’ (remplacisme global) is the phrase used by Renaud Camus.

This paranoid narrative, the idea of the sacred nation, brings to mind the mystical and mythical ‘blood and soil’, at the root of much white nationalist ideology. I say ‘paranoid’ because it is predicted that by 2030, the Muslim population of Europe will only comprise 7% of the continent. It is currently 4%. It is hard not to see the Muslim stereotype as a pretext, a symptom of a much deeper anxiety and uncertainty. The title of a book by Thilo Sarrazin to be published in August 2018 is Hostile Takeover: How Islam Hampers Progress and Threatens Society, which sums up one particular, and increasingly dominant, feature of the Far Right.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, the ‘Unite the Right’, white nationalist, neo-fascist rally chanted “you will not replace us” and “the Jews will not replace us,” echoing the ‘Great Replacement’ claim, with a sharper anti-Semitic edge than is currently deployed publicly in Europe. The fightback against this ‘replacement’ has its violent street manifestations, but is also articulated in Right intellectual circles through publications such as Manifesto for a European Renaissance (de Benoist and Champetier), A New European Renaissance (Faye), and The Real Right Returns: A Handbook for the True Opposition (Friberg), all published by ARKTOS, the publishing house of the Far Right, set up to circulate: “those ideas and values which were taken for granted in Europe prior to the advent of Liberalism” (Friberg 2015, ix). Ideas, one might argue, which have leaked into mainstream discourse since the recession of 2008, as well as gaining considerable exposure in social media. An American Far-Right website, the Daily Stormer, speaks of weaponising internet culture, of coordinating media disruption strategies.

The anxiety of unbelonging

There is a website called ‘European Civil War’ which articulates how this supposed conflict is seen; a conflict which many on the Far Right see as being resolved by what is called ‘EuroSiberia’ (the reunification of all peoples of European origin), or ‘EurAsia’ which is a formulation produced by looking to Putin and Russia for leadership, a federation of white ethno states. The overall framing narrative consists of a belief in order and structure, hierarchy, leadership and authoritarianism. It is anti-egalitarian. In its street manifestations it revolves around a Vitalist ethic of the body, of Nordic masculinity. Generation Identity attacks the 68ers (the 1968 generation) for taking the ‘manliness out of man’. Richard Spencer urges his followers to ‘become who you are’. So, we can add ‘masculinism’ to the Right narrative I am trying to develop, a response to what they term the emasculation and enfeeblement of the ‘white race’. Most of the groups emphasise the importance of collective narratives, rituals and symbolic repertoires, and stress the aesthetic and the affective in what is a rhetoric of belonging and the anxiety of ‘unbelonging’: the overarching narrative of displacement which comes to occupy a xenophobic polemical space:

Most importantly, right-wing populism does not only relate to the form of rhetoric, but to its specific contents: such parties […] construct fear and – related to various real or imagined dangers – propose scapegoats that are blamed for threatening or actually damaging our societies, in Europe and beyond. (Wodak 2015, 2; my italics)

The Far Right narrative is derived from ideologies of nation and concepts of national sovereignty:

The doctrine of nationalism which crystallized in 1848 gives a geographic imperative to the concept of culture itself: habit, faith, pleasure, and ritual – all depend upon enactment in a particular territory. More, the place which nourishes rituals is a place composed of people like oneself, people with whom one can share without explaining. Territory thus becomes synonymous with identity. (Sennett 2011, 58)

At a time when the ‘European’ narrative is ceasing to make sense, cohere, motivate, or hold people together at the economic, social, or political level, mainly because of neoliberalism and globalization, it is being re-assembled symbolically/discursively on a negative construction of immigration. This is true for a number of countries in Europe, where Far Right parties are gaining prominence on the basis of opposition to immigration. Golden Dawn, the explicitly neo-Nazi, ethno-nationalist party in Greece, is violently opposed to immigration and what its statutes call, the ‘demographic alteration’; the party gained 18 seats in the June 2012 Greek elections. The immigrant is mapped against an already existing, fixed, and (so the story goes) socially cohesive national culture – the symbols, stories and legends of the deeper normative notions and images that underlie the ‘social imaginary’, those once-common understandings and a widely-shared sense of legitimacy produced by the conversion and transformation processes brought about by nineteenth and twentieth century hegemony – a partly conscious, partly unconscious repertoire.

The Golden Dawn predicate their statutes upon the assumption that what they call the ‘People’ is not just an arithmetic total of individuals but the qualitative composition of humans with the same biological and cultural heritage. This ‘tribal’ definition would most probably find echoes in the majority of Far Right parties in Europe. Steve Bannon, former editor of Breitbart and Trump campaign manager, spent much of 2018 travelling all over Europe seeking to put together a network of Far Right activists called ‘The Movement’. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), jailed fraudster and founder of the English Defence League (EDL) has been hailed by Bannon as ‘the fucking backbone’ of his country. His Facebook page, had 950,000 followers when it was taken down last month, neatly paralleling the £950,000 spent on his new house in a Bedfordshire village.

A struggle for recognition is taking place which is deep, complex and, partly at the level of the unconscious. Claims of Britishness, Frenchness, or Danishness (the three countries where parties of the Right topped the polls at the EU elections of 2014) form the basis on which refugee and migrant issues are used as organising principles for the social critique of other political issues:

The originality and richness of the human heritages of this world are nourished by their differences and their deviations, which surprise and fascinate as soon as one passes from the culture of one people to another. These originalities can find protection, in turn, only in the homogeneous ethno-cultural space that is proper to them. (Krebs 1997, 8)

The title of Krebs’s book is Fighting for the Essence: Western Ethnosuicide or European Renaissance and the word ‘essence’ is crucial here, that same biological and cultural heritage just referred to. Krebs is one of the intellectuals of the ‘New Right’ and exercises considerable influence on theories of ethno-nationalism. For example, the Danish People’s Party states: “Denmark belongs to the Danes […] a multi-ethnic Denmark would mean the breaking down of our stable homogeneous society by anti-development and reactionary cultures” (Danish People’s Party Work Programme, 2007).

The Fatherland

The post-Cold War period has seen the “dismantling of ideological, political, social and identification reference points” (Laïdi 1998, 2), readily available dyadic symbolic forms and, as a consequence, the nation has come up against the limits of its being and meaningfulness, its representational currencies; what in psychoanalysis would be called its ‘narcissistic self-enclosure’, hence the preoccupation with borders and security. There is a crisis at the boundary of articulation. As de Benoist puts it: “once upon a time borders played a significant role: they guaranteed the continuation of collective identities” (2004, 37). Beppe Grillo, of The Five Star Movement (in Italy) said at one point: “The borders of the Fatherland used to be sacred, politicians desacred [sic] them” (Grillo 2007). The use of the word “Fatherland” here has sinister echoes, and blaming politicians (in Italian, la casta) is a core feature of Right populism. A coming ethnic civil war is predicted as Europe is overwhelmed through its porous borders, so the rhetoric goes.

Apart from the phrases used by the gunman in his manifesto, he also engraved on his main weapon the ‘14 words’ which have become the most popular white supremacist slogan worldwide: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”. On other weapons, he inscribed the names of other perpetrators of mass killings, as well as buzzwords from the supremacist litany. While it is not possible simply to suggest a causal relationship between the texts cited here, by intellectuals and academics, and the actions of Far Right terrorists, it is certainly true that these writers have unleashed a lethal narrative which, cherry-picked and converted into soundbites by Islamophobes, has, at the very least, provided the hate symbols, and sometimes the scripts, to justify the killings of Muslims, Jews, and people of colour.

Editor’s Note: A fully-referenced version of this article is available upon request.

Roger Bromley

Roger Bromley is an academic and author who has published widely on a range of topics and, in recent years, has written mainly on postcolonial culture and diaspora, refugee and asylum issues, particularly in relation to cinematic representations, and on post-conflict cultures. He has worked in UK higher education for 44 years until his retirement in 2010. Currently, he is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies and Honorary Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham, Visiting Professor in the Centre for Transnational Writing and Research at Lancaster University, and Associate Fellow in Politics at Rhodes University, South Africa.

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sivali Ranawana
Apr 11, 2019 17:40

It is interesting that most Western media outlets refer to the Australian killer in New Zealand as a “gunman” – no different, I guess, from a man with a shotgun out to get a few ducks! He is neither a terrorist nor even a killer or a murderer.
Shamima Begum is labelled a “terrorist”

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