Editor’s Note: Milo Comerford is an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute For Global Change. The opinions in this article are those of the author. See more opinion on CNN.com
Terrorism is an increasingly globalized phenomenon. The 28-year old terror suspect behind the shooting in cold blood of 49 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is an Australian who identifies as European, and who cites the leadership of London’s Sadiq Khan, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of his perverse justification for his violence.
His ideology is rooted in a grand narrative of Western culture in decline, a global picture of perceived Islamic conquest of Christian lands, and a belief in the genocide of the “European people” across the world.
The killer’s “manifesto,” which lays out a warped rationale for his brutal attack, encapsulates a fundamental irony, presenting a transnational version of extremist nationalism. It chimes with a modern far right that is increasingly characterized by growing internationalism and consolidation, with violent extremists framing their struggle as transcending national borders, including fighting against a common Muslim enemy in defense of a Christian West.
Where ethno-nationalism was previously characterized by petty squabbles between competing irredentist visions, the suspected Christchurch shooter, who CNN is currently not naming, calls for international solidarity between extremists in Poland, Austria, France, Argentina, Australia, Canada or even Venezuela, brought together through the online space. This has created a new hybrid of disparate extremist ideologies – in this case a mixture of eco-fascism, national socialism and white supremacy – which sits within a global framing.
It is not only the shooter’s ideology that is global, but also his roster of influences. In the manifesto, the shooter fondly references fellow extremists from around the world, including Luca Traini, who injured six migrants in a shooting in Italy; Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter who killed nine African Americans; Anton Lundin Pettersson, a Swede who attacked a school with a sword; and Darren Osbourne, who carried out the Finsbury Park mosque attack, as inspirations behind his violent radicalization. Anders Behring Breivik is singled out for adoration, and the shooter says they had the online blessing of the Knights Templar Far Right group, with which Breivik associated himself in his own manifesto eight years ago before killing 77 people.
The increasingly transnational narratives of far right extremists have strong parallels with other forms of global extremism, in particular Islamism. Like ISIS, the Christchurch attacker’s ideology claims there are no such thing as innocents in this clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, only combatants. Both worldviews emphasize transnational bonds of brotherhood. While the shooter frames his identity as part of a global white European race, ISIS emphasizes a global Islamic identity in its propaganda, which it uses to perpetuate a form of warped solidarity.
One area wherte this ideological relationship is particularly evident is in the Western Balkans region, which the shooter frames in his propaganda as a frontline in a civilizational contest between Europe and the Islamic world. Showing the long view of history feeding into this ethno-nationalist ideology, the weapons used – as seen in a video of the attack livestreamed on Facebook – have scrawled upon them references to 14th century Serbian fighters involved in defending against the Ottoman invasion. There was also the name of Frankish warlord Charles Martel, who turned back the Islamic forces of Abdul Rahman at Poitiers in the eighth century – a figure who has become a resurgent fascist symbol. He also draws on the imagery of the defense of Christendom at Vienna, the furthest point of Ottoman expansion in 1529 by Suleiman the Magnificent. It is no accident that one of the most prominent far right blogs is called “Gates of Vienna.”
Our research has shown uncanny parallels with ISIS propaganda targeting the Western Balkans region. Drawing on the same history, ISIS videos present the region as the “frontier for the Muslims,” while unofficial ISIS propaganda has included the Balkans as a “province” in its plans for expansion of its failed “Caliphate.” Those borders are based on the frontiers of Islamic conquest under the Ottomans in the 16th century. Such narratives feed into the shooter’s perceptions of inevitable conflict between Islam and the West.
In Australia, right-wing Sen. Fraser Anning issued a response that perpetuates this vicious cycle of extremism, blaming the attack on “the immigration program” and on the “violent ideology of Islam,” while failing to recognize that Muslims are the greatest victims of terrorism worldwide.
The shooter describes the British politician Oswald Mosley as the “person from history closest to my own beliefs”. Politicians should take note: inflammatory and dehumanizing political rhetoric can create an enabling atmosphere for extremist views that can manifest in horrific violence.
Politicians around the globe have a choice: Do they stop demonizing Muslims and advancing their agenda, or do they stand in total opposition to far-right terrorists? The issue of far-right extremist violence has been neglected internationally for far too long. We must recognize the scale of a growing far-right threat, which is learning from the successes of global jihadism. A global response is required for this increasingly international phenomenon.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the British politician the shooter cited as the person closest to his own beliefs.