Like Anders Breivik before him, Phillip Galea believes (or at least claims to believe) that Muslims pose an existential threat to Western civilisation. And according to the charges laid against him after his arrest by Special Operations Group police in Melbourne last week, Galea was preparing to follow in Breivik’s footsteps by undertaking a terrorist act against those he regarded as his enemies.

According to reports in The Saturday Paper and the Fairfax papers, Brevik and Galea have at least one more thing in common: despite their vitriolic verbal attacks on Muslims, when they crossed the line from hate speech to physical violence (or planned violence, in Galea’s case), their chosen targets were left-wing members of their own tribe rather than Muslim members of the enemy tribe. The Muslim teenagers who died at Utoya (several of them after having survived war and displacement in their countries of origin) were collateral damage in Breivik’s payback against “cultural Marxists”. In the United Kingdom, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a white nationalist who shouted “Britain first!” as he stabbed and shot her. On a less extreme but still frightening level, a little gang of Pauline Hanson fans and members of the Party for Freedom chose to storm the Sunday church service at Gosford Anglican Church rather than a mosque in order to broadcast their anti-Muslim racism. If Anders Breivik and others like him illustrate that it’s a mistake to reflexively assume that the perpetrators of terrorist incidents are Muslim, they should also remind us not to assume that the victims of racist violence will not include white people.

This should come as no surprise. White people who have been designated as “race traitors” have always been targeted for punishment by those determined to maintain racial purity. However, in the years since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing committed by white supremacist Timothy McVeigh, our thinking has become so dominated by the supposed fracture between “the West” and “Islam” that we superimpose a clash-of-civilisations template over long-standing internal fissures. Even when Muslims are not the perpetrators of a violent incident, our presence in “the West” and the actions of our co-religionists around the globe is regarded as the disruptive element. Racism against us is therefore “our” problem to solve.

However, the pattern of far-right attacks against other white people raises the question of the extent to which Muslims and other racialised minorities serve as substitute rather than primary targets. This does not mean that far-right activists do not pose a serious threat to the safety of the Muslims and people of colour, whom they vilify, abuse, assault and occasionally murder. But it does underline the fact that while we may stand on the front line, we have only ever been proxies in this increasingly fraught clash within what used to be described as Western civilisation.

Peter Fray

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