On Oct. 22, 2014, sitting in his car in Ottawa, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau recorded a video manifesto. The Canadian-born-and-raised petty criminal, drug addict and drifter told the camera that he was a member of the “mujahedin of the world” who was “retaliating." By sending troops to Afghanistan, “Canada’s officially become one of our enemies.”
“Just aiming to hit some soldiers just to show that you’re not even safe in your own land,” he added. Moments later, he began his attack, killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.
This was not the first terrorist incident inspired by such ideas, nor is it likely to be the last.
Last Saturday, a man believed to be Patrick Crusius posted his manifesto online. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he wrote. “They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country.”
A 21-year-old loner whose profile on the career-networking site LinkedIn declared, “I’m not really motivated to do anything more than what’s necessary to get by.” His manifesto said that he was “against race mixing” and “honoured to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”
Minutes after the text was posted, a lone gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso, Tex., killing 22 and injuring 24. Not long after that, Mr. Crusius surrendered to police.
It was not the first terrorist incident inspired by such ideas, nor is it likely to be the last.
The parallels between domestic Islamist terrorism and home-grown white supremacist terrorism are hard to miss. And they can both be fought with a single vaccine. The inoculation against violent ethnic separatism is liberalism.
Behind Islamist terrorism and white supremacist terrorism are a remarkably similar collection of resentments, fears and fantasies. Neither has much institutional architecture; both are more like a software virus, or an airborne disease. They are easy to find, especially for those looking for them. Yet few people contract them. Both tend to affect only those with the weakest immune systems: Resentful and wounded young men looking for some cosmic explanation for their failure and unhappiness.
Both ideologies are obsessively identitarian. They are all about drawing hard lines between “us” and “them.” Both are obsessed with categories of who is clean and who is unclean and abhor mixing between the two groups. Both believe that the community has been defiled by “them,” but that all can be redeemed through the purifying power of genocide. Both see their group as under attack and want to victimize others as revenge for their own sense of victimization. Both have a nostalgia for an invented past – a time before The Fall. Both are warped attempts at community. Both ideologies are vague and confused, but nevertheless real.
In thinking about how to fight back, however, it’s important to put the scale of the danger into perspective.
The man who in 2017 attacked the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City had no supporters outside of the deepest basements and darkest reaches of the internet. He has not sparked a race war in Canada. There is good reason to believe that the El Paso massacre will yield the same non-result. Its violence is the violence of the weak and outnumbered. There have been white supremacist terrorist attacks before, and no doubt there will be again. But adherents to these beliefs, like those of radical Islamism, are few.
Unfortunately, the current president of the United States is a man who winks and nods at white supremacy, and sometimes goes further. He threatens to make the problem worse, by poisoning Western society’s stock of an extremely effective antidote.
A shot of liberalism is the best protection against the spread of a genocidal religious or racial separatism cult.
Liberalism, the foundation of our society, is the insistence that all Canadians are equal citizens and equal in respect before the law, regardless of the colour of their skin or their faith. It’s often said that “diversity makes us strong,” but that’s not quite right. Our strength is that our diversity, in the form of our many differences of belief and practice, is capped by an overriding unity – that of our common citizenship. We share something above that which differentiates us.
We are all equal partners in the Canadian project. That’s what government words and deeds must emphasize. Our diversity is a fact. Our unity is a practice and an act.