‘Welcome, brother.’

Breaks your heart to think they were the last words he spoke – this man who apparently fled war-torn Afghanistan, survived and found a home in New Zealand, only to be cut down by a violent, deranged terrorist who could not tolerate anyone holding beliefs other than those in his own scrambled mind.

Welcome, brother.

There are no words for this horrendous event that have not already been spoken. But there is a need to say something, because 49 (perhaps more) people are dead for no other reason than that they prayed in a mosque.

Welcome, brother.

I’m not sure of the exact source of these oft used words, but every conflict, every act of intolerance and cruelty can be framed in this way: I have seen the enemy, and he is one of us. (A variation of the phrase used by Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo).

Far right extremism dominates the world news. Religious extremists, anti-immigration extremists, Islamaphobes – all on opposing sides yet they share so much: hatred, intolerance, self-righteousness, desire for violence. This is not all-out war, countries siding against other countries World War style. They don’t seek oil, diamonds, spices, or to redress a perceived wrong, avenge an assassination, or claim land for expansion. These are skirmishes from the fringes of madness where the intent is on nothing other than holding their own belief space.

The once fermenting, yet still shapeless, ideologies of white supremacists have now been given shape, emboldened by the far right under the guise of free speech, PC gone mad, conspiracy theories. It seems an enemy always needs to be created. Even if they are one of us. The creation of Muslim invaders, illegal boat people, Muslim terrorists must have seemed a neat opportunity to create an aura of fear, of them and us, before an election. Just as it was prior to the Victorian State election when African immigrants were scapegoated for so called out of control crime in Victoria. The backlash for that cheap trick was massive electoral embarrassment. The backlash now is far greater, far more horrendous than mere electoral loss.

Years of slow fermentation began when it seemed Hansen could take votes from the LNP and Howard’s response was to push further right to reclaim any potential straying voters. The fact that it seemed to work as an electoral strategy, meant that the blueprint was followed by successive conservative governments – the current government honing that ‘skill’ to the sharpest most dangerous weapon possible. We are all bearing the consequence of that now. The constant and deliberate use of language to demonise refugees (some of whom were Muslim) insidiously crept up on us until the lid flew off and racism and intolerance were unleashed. Now tolerated as some sort of normal and valid belief or sentiment. It’s okay to be white is a small step to It’s okay to hate. Followed by, and to act on that hate.

Welcome, brother.

The enemy is indeed one of us. But how easily could tolerance, humanity and compassion be the current ethos, had the government of the day said, ‘Welcome brothers and sisters,’ instead of shamelessly manipulating lies and deliberate misconceptions to create fear and distrust for short term electoral success.

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