The Two Internal Threats to Western Democracies, Hiding in Plain Sight

The Two Internal Threats to Western Democracies, Hiding in Plain Sight
Candles are placed to commemorate victims of last week’s shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 18, 2019 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

The mass shooting last Friday at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a self-avowed white supremacist, and the violence in Paris on Saturday by the last vestiges of the Yellow Vest movement, have nothing substantively in common. But despite being discrete phenomena, they illustrate two of the greatest emerging threats to the internal cohesiveness of Western liberal democracies: the normalization of ethno-sectarian violence, and the legitimization of political violence.

Both threats have been hiding in plain sight for many years now. The Department of Homeland Security signaled the growing danger of far-right and white nationalist terrorist groups in the U.S. back in a 2009 report, but its conclusions were somehow considered too politically inflammatory and then promptly retracted. The subsequent massacres in 2015 at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., and last October at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn., make clear the cost paid for not heeding that earlier warning.

In the meantime, Anders Breivik, the extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, had become a hero to a shadowy transnational movement inspired by a theory popularized by French pseudo-intellectual Renaud Camus known as the “great replacement.” In what amounts to a mirror image of the narrative of colonial invasion used to great effect by al-Qaida to justify the use of terrorist violence against the West, the so-called great replacement portrays immigration, particularly by Muslims, as a conspiracy between political elites and the populations of the non-European world to demographically replace the white race.

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