These shared beliefs around the inevitability of replacement are grounded in a mythology that civilisations are racially and culturally distinct and fixed in time. It rejects the historical view that different cultures coexist at specific junctures in time. Instead, it relies on a historical imagination that people and places are defined by sameness instead of otherness. When everyday struggles become linked to a civilisational threat, emotions such as anger, hatred, but also hope for a metaphor messiah, are mobilised around an identifiable culprit. When Brenton Tarrant killed 51 Muslims in 2019 in New Zealand, he targeted the immediate visible threat to white, European civilisation. When brothers Gareth and Nathaniel Train killed two police officers in Queensland, they targeted the enablers. Not unlike the hijackers of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon considered those buildings symbols of a system that enables the demise of civilisation, albeit ‘another’ civilisation.
In a time of growing complexities, such a broad, whole-system, opposition is appealing to people being exposed to it. It provides a simple answer to a complex world, namely that there is one social or political group to blame for real and perceived loss (e.g., culture, religion, political power). And while a rigid opposition as such is not naturally bad – in times of oppression it is the force that can bring about emancipatory social change – it is when innocent people become the projection of hatred and violence. What far right and islamist extremists have in common today is a reliance on polarised thinking that distinguishes civilisational identities and carries them throughout time into the future. It takes a cherry-picking approach to the truths that inform social and political realities, which in the Wieambilla case appears evident in the relatedness to a religious belief to construe a simple narrative to explain our collective suffering.
Turning to fundamentalist civilisational beliefs can be considered a response to the so-called relativist thinking of the political left. This relativist position is what makes the liberal left, according to islamists and far right extremist alike, reluctant to make normative claims. A reluctance that will inevitably lead to to a world where everything goes and nothing is impossible (hence the push-back to LGBTQI+ rights). The antithesis to relativism is firm truths about the essence of civilisation and these can be found in different mythologies.
It is therefore difficult, and arguably counterproductive, to pigeonhole instances of aggression and violence according to classifications that are neat and narrow. It will make us lose sight of the connections between ideas that function to produce a much larger political platform. Rather than seeing the actions of Brenton Tarrant and the Train family in isolation and fragmentation – with one being an act of Islamophobia and the other an instance of presumed premillennialism, respectively – it seems important to find the commonalities in the way they function together. After all, the success of the far right globally is in their ability to create linkages between ideas, interests and identities that tend to be incoherent and incompatible.