Never mind Fox News’ remarkable phrasing of the Charleston church shooting as an ‘attack on Christianity,’ or lists of mass shootings by mentally ill individuals such as this one. If ever there was a massive gun murder by a white male that cannot be explained as an ‘individual act caused by mental illness,’ this was it.
Sure: normal, mature, balanced people don’t generally go out and bomb or machinegun civilians. One would guess that most other violent extremists of the kind that guns down shoppers in a Nairobi mall, white church-goers in Cape Town, or a bunch of girls in California, also have more than one screw loose in their heads. This is probably the reason why most people, of whichever religion or background, don’t do such things. Certain extremist groups may attract such unhinged characters; certain circumstances may create them. Years of violent oppression would disturb anybody’s mind, as shown by so many incidents of criminal insanity in post-apartheid South Africa.
This was not an act of individual anger over things that happened to Dylann Roof
But, whether disturbed or not, the statement “You rape our women and you are taking over the country,” made by 21-year old Dylann Roof just before he murdered nine black church-goers in Charleston put his act squarely in the paradigm of terrorism.
This was not an act of individual anger over things that happened to Dylann Roof. It can safely be assumed that no black person has ever raped any woman owned by him; nor does Dylann Roof own a country. The notions that black people do bad things to whites (in this case rape white women), and ‘take over’ white people’s countries are not the bizarre delusions of a crazy person. One can only wish they were. In reality, as this great article points out, these notions are part and parcel of Republican political views in the US.
They are also part of (terrifyingly) growing popular views among white people in Europe. Many newer and not so new right-wing parties speak of black immigrants (and even of black citizens, including citizens who have been European for generations) in terms of flood and disease and ‘take over.’ Notions that such immigrants do bad things to ‘our’ women are also quite common in this discourse: the Dutch PVV, for example, incessantly hammers on the paranoid assumption that Muslim immigrants would end up forcing ‘our’ women to wear burkas, get circumcised and stoned publicly for wearing short skirts. (The party is, quite coherently, also fond of defending ‘white Afrikaners’ in South Africa, who are, in their eyes, suffering ‘flooding’ and ‘genocide’ from the side of South Africa’s black majority. Spoiler alert: what is happening to SA is about to happen to Europe!)
These concerns about ‘our women’ have nothing to do with general human rights principles or feminism
These concerns about ‘our women’ have nothing to do with general human rights principles or feminism. Beside the fact that there is not one recorded incident of a western woman being forced to wear a burka or get circumcised, the white right wing’s ‘women’s rights’ defense typically also doesn’t support emancipatory movements of women within traditional communities. They simply use these arguments to lump all, -typically brown-skinned- immigrant communities together to make the point that they must leave. Because they ‘take’ what is ‘ours’ until ‘we’ will have no ‘own’ woman or country left.
Of course fear of foreigners is not limited to the white community. There have always been clashes between groups of different backgrounds, be it between Kikuyu and Luo in Kenya or Chinese and ‘local’ in Indonesia. But the framing of all black and brown groups as a threat to ‘western civilisation’ is a political narrative of the white-right wing all over the world. It is the most powerful oppressive narrative that exists. It unites practically all traditionally powerful world players and is the reason why, as the same article mentioned above points out, apartheid South Africa was supported until the very end by US presidents and Margaret Thatcher as well as the Swiss banks.
That Dylann Roof had the old South African and Rhodesian flags stitched on his jacket was no sign of him being outside dominant white normality: it places him right inside it. Other white power players may not shoot people in the streets, but their views surely influenced the tormented adolescent, much like hate-speeching imams may influence a young, resentful, Muslim boy.
If the definition of terrorism is ‘the use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals,’ -which, according to several online available dictionaries, it is-, then the gunning down of nine black individuals in a church in Charleston, US, was terrorism.
And this attack was perhaps even more ‘terrorist’ than the violent attacks carried out by, for example, Islamic extremists who originate from war-torn countries. If a young boy in Somalia, grown up in a context of violent invasion, failed puppet regimes, deaths of loved ones and near-perpetual physical danger and insecurity, turns into a ‘terrorist’ and kills those he perceives to be subjects of the ‘evil empire’ that he believes to be at the root of his pain, one can –whilst still wanting him caught and convicted- accept his circumstances as mitigating.
But Dylann Roof, like the convicted grown-up white mass murderer Anders Breivik acted in the context of a dominant power and its ideology. Like in the case of Anders Breivik, he had not suffered oppression or pain at the hands of another country or community. The people he killed had never done anything to him -nor had their political leaders or representatives. He killed out of a mere fear to lose something he considered his. His space, his women, his country.
The thousands drowned in the Mediterranean attest to the deadliness of this fear
This fear may be irrational, but it is shared –either genuinely or not- by vast sections of the worlds’ present powers. The thousands who have drowned in the Mediterranean can attest to the deadliness of this fear, as can the dozens of unarmed black teenagers shot by police in the US and the victims of the many smaller and bigger incidents of racist violence that occur daily worldwide. Big and not-so-big white terrorists with guns are simply one more of its manifestations.