The attacks in Christchurch and Sri Lanka have exposed a pernicious myth of a clash between civilisations—one that's fuelling extremism on all sidesby Cécile Guerin and Julia Ebner / April 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
The series of coordinated suicide bombings that took place on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka marked the country’s deadliest violence in a decade, leaving over 350 people dead. The attack, which targeted several churches, alongside hotels and a banquet hall, have appeared to some as an illustration of Christianity under attack.
Only days after the world watched the spire of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris engulfed in flames—a tragic accident that sparked a series of conspiracy theories, including conspiracies about a possible terror attack carried out by Islamists—the targeting of Christian places of worship by ISIS has put the question of anti-Christianity at the forefront of the news agenda.
“My thoughts are once again with the persecuted Christians around the world,” Marine Le Pen, president of France’s far-right National Rally party, tweeted after the attack.
Elsewhere in Europe, members of institutional right-wing populist parties have condemned the attacks as an act of persecution against Christians.
Where fact becomes narrative
In addition to the attack on Christianity, another connected idea has made headways among the far-right: that the attack in Sri Lanka is an act of retribution for the Christchurch shooting, in which the white nationalist Breton Tarrant killed 50 people in two mosques.
The ISIS attackers in Sri Lanka did not explicitly refer to Christchurch but the idea of retribution is appealing to sections of both Islamist and far-right extremists who subscribe to the theory of a “clash of civilisations.”
The aftermath of both Sri Lanka and Christchurch have revealed a trend that the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has alerted about for many years: cumulative extremism, a process whereby Islamist and far-right extremists magnify and reinforce each other’s narrative—which hinges on a war between Islam and the West—making retaliation for attacks a logical consequence of this ideological warfare.
In recent years, jihadist attacks have become a rallying point for far-right mobilisation, in much the same way as anti-Muslim extremism has fuelled Islamist radicalisation. With the acceleration of terrorism, live media coverage and the multiplication of online chats, forums and encrypted channels, calls for copycats and revenge attacks are sometimes emerging within minutes of an attack and can disseminate ever faster.
A retribution fantasy
In the days following Christchurch, several far-right-inspired…