Although the policies of racial and cultural superiority might have been removed, the ideology remains.
What exactly is white supremacy? What are white supremacists? Are they racist? Imperialist? Ethnocentric primitives? Are they all of the above or none at all? Personally, I believe white supremacy is not about colour but about race and culture. It is about a moment that is determined to revitalize a world view and world order that at least, in theory, now lies in the rubbish bin of history.
Until white supremacy is not identified and considered a legitimate global movement that is determined to bring down western liberal democracies and drag Europe and its offspring settler nations in North America and Australia back to their imperialist roots, there will be no coordinated concrete measure to attack this menace.
But unlike Nazism, communism or fascism, that were mostly political movements, the roots of white supremacy lie in race and culture, the idea being that it was the cultural superiority (values) of the Europeans that allowed them to colonize and subjugate most of the known world. Millions of people today still bear the brunt of this ideology.
But what has the European imperialism of the past got to do with the ethnocentric primitives that hide behind the banner of the alt-right or white supremacy of today?
To answer this complex question, a historical context is required.
In order to deconstruct this question, a starting point is required. For the purpose of this piece, the initiating point is a set of events that happened almost a millennium earlier. These events would subsequently drive the discourse between Europeans Christian kingdoms and Muslims. Those events were the Crusades ( 1095-1291). Many historians, however, now say that the Crusades ended in 1492 with the Spanish Reconquista.
The Crusades were the first time that Western Europe was ever united in the face of what it perceived to be a common enemy. One can also argue that the birth of a unified Europe happened because of the Crusades. To this day, the basic discourse is that the Crusades were a holy endeavour. This thought pretty much unifies the majority of Europeans’ political opinion.
The theme of the Crusades was summed up in one sentence by the person who ordered their launch at the Council of Clermont in France. The individual was Pope Urban II. Pope Urban said it was important to exterminate the “vile race” from the homeland of the Church’s eastern brethren. So the crusades not only had a religious undertone, they also had a racial and cultural one.
Europeans would lose the crusades, but that defeat would set into motion events that, two centuries later, would result in mass expulsion, forced conversions and murder of hundred of thousands under the banner of the Reconquista in Spain (1492). The Iberian peninsula had been purified. Christianity had won.
In the same year, Christopher Columbus, with the blessing of both the nobility and the Church, would start the voyage that would lead him to the discovery of the New World. Columbus himself spoke about his biblical convictions.
The model of the Spanish Reconquista would now be applied on a much larger scale and to greater effect. The aim and discourse was simple: These Indigenous peoples of the New World, who did not believe in Christianity, were sub-humans. They either had to be civilized (i.e., preferably turned into Christians) or expelled and, if required, exterminated. Between 1493 and 1820, Spain sent some 15,585 missionaries to the Americas.
However, the Church, which formed an unholy alliance with European nobility, was also extremely repressive at home. The frustration finally boiled over in the form of the French Revolution, which was not only against the mosque but also the church.
The hatred for the Church and for religion, in general, has reached its peak in France and resulted in the dechristianization of France. The French Revolution altered the narrative, not the course of European repression.
In historical literature, over time more emphasis was then given to culture, values and beliefs. France’s mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission) or British Enlightenment were based on the imperialist belief of “assimilating” savage, backward people into the European way of life.
Most of European literature still speaks with nostalgic pride about the achievements of their empires. The colonization and the genocide of the Indigenous populations of the Americas or the systematic extermination of Aboriginals in Australia was driven by the bigoted ideology based on the cultural superiority of the white race.
Australia’s immigration and restriction act of 1901, commonly known as The White Australia policy (1901-1945), the banning of black immigrants under domestic pressure to Canada in 1911, apartheid in South Africa (1948- 1994), the German genocide in Namibia (1904-1908), the plunder of the Congo by the Belgians (1908-1960) and the massacres by the Dutch in the East Indies (Indonesia), are all examples of a culture that, for the past five centuries, has thought itself of not being simply better but superior to everyone else.
For example, a YouGov study conducted in the U.K. in 2016 found that 43 per cent of the British thought that the British Empire was a good thing, while 44 per cent were proud of Britain’s history of colonialism. Is that something really to be proud of?
This is where the root of all problems lies. The so-called Islamophobes or alt-right are actually people who believe in the glory of their now-dead and dismantled empires. They want the colonial and imperial mindset revitalized. One other historical figure who wanted to recapture the past glory of his country was Adolf Hitler.
In the western world’s primary schools and elite intelligentsia, there is an uneasy and almost discomforting collection of sensitivities when talking about the European colonial projects. In the schools, children are taught about empire, and how great and grand they were, but instruction glosses over the historical injustices done to the Indigenous population and the benefits that have been extracted for the European races.
The Canadian residential school system was a byproduct of this school of thought. Its main aim, after all, was to “integrate” and “assimilate” Indigenous children into the “mainstream” Euro-Canadian culture. The fact that the last of these schools only closed in 1996 speaks volumes about the mindset of some section of Canadian society and its politics.
If western societies do not amend this public discourse, by first admitting and then apologizing, not through word and token gestures, but rather visible steps to own up to the past and admit the systemic privileges that their white populations enjoy, can we even begin to unpack the complex phenomenon of white terror?