Belmont Club

New Zealand Attack Shows Us That Tribal Score-Settling Has Infected the West

New Zealand Attack Shows Us That Tribal Score-Settling Has Infected the West
(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

The attack on the mosques, like Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage in idyllic Norway, happened in New Zealand, ironically rated in 2017 the safest country in the world after Iceland.  It’s a sad reminder that no place is exempt from ethnic conflict. Et in Arcadia ego sum, whether Arcadia is Africa, Burma, or Western China. Wherever populations mix under pressure there’s the potential for volatility.  As a New York Times article reminded its readers in 2014, the Rwandan massacre had its roots in the population policies of European governments.

In 1884, 130 years ago, European powers gathered in Berlin for a conference under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck that historians depict as setting the rules for the scramble for Africa among outside powers that soon fractured it into a jigsaw of new nations.

… the impact of this colonial cartography lingers in profound sensitivities at the legacy of the outsiders’ incursions into a continent that did not invite them to define its frontiers or impose their definitions of nationhood.

If tribal patchworks were the legacy of 19th-century European imperialism, then multicultural populations are the consequence of the global world.  Economic advantage demands them but there are dangers lurking in those arrangements.

For example, the inclusion of the Muslim parts of Mindanao into the predominantly Christian Philippines under the Treaty of Paris caused mischief beginning with the U.S. vs Moro Wars that continues to this day.  After the Muslim insurrection in the early 1970s, the mayhem became chronic, with gangs shooting up mosques, rebels kidnapping school children, and warlords killing journalists en masse.  The latest chapter, the Battle of Marawi, had hardly ended before the NYT was warning that Mindanao may be the next stronghold of ISIS.  It’s now a conflict whose end no one knows.

But ethnic conflict in the Third World is a dog-bites-man story.  What is new about the New Zealand attack is that the terrible plague of tribal score-settling and grievance mongering is now in the West.  Not that the West is a stranger to ethnic conflict:  the Holocaust, Generalplan Ost, Holodomor, and Polish and Armenian genocides are bywords in themselves.  But it was widely assumed that WW2 had seen these off (until Bosnia) and the risks of multiculturalism and mass immigration could be mitigated by immunosuppressive strategies like political correctness and demographic replacement, of which the EU project is a textbook example.

Yet events since 2016 indicate that this strategy is failing despite the suppressants.  Pressure from the root causes — whether European colonialism, Islamic slave trading, 9/11, the War on Terror, multiculturalism, populism — are burning through the medication.  The old devils are on the loose and the problem is what to do now. One option is to deliver even higher doses of political correctness and demographic replacement. But perhaps the absolute worst thing politicians can do is respond by collecting guns, imposing hate speech restrictions, and announcing open borders.  In the current atmosphere of distrust toward authority, such actions can destroy the only asset a state faced with ethnic conflict has: the public belief that it is above the fray and won’t sell anyone out. That quantity can itself run out and therein lies the danger.

All public policy can do is buy the time necessary for the human magic — or poison — to run its course. There is no quick media fix — and no internet patch for human networks that need to come to consensus personally, not virtually. The decisive terrain in the looming clash will be a human landscape that changes but slowly. Demography and immigration will become hotly contested areas of public policy and even success will take generations. But success, while possible, is by no means guaranteed.  Sometimes events take on a life of their own.

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