GAITHERSBURG, MD: Last week, the world witnessed a rare terrorism outrage. This happened in far-off New Zealand, a country long associated with natural beauty and tranquility. It took the form of a horrific massacre in two Christchurch mosques last Friday by a 28-year old white Australian shooter that left 50 dead and over 30 injured in hospitals.
The perpetrator, who had the gall to live-stream the attack on Facebook, has willy-nilly drawn attention to the growing menace of white supremacist terrorism.
While in the past this warped mentality has generally been associated with hate-crimes against Jews, it has more recently been targeting Muslims, even as Islamic radicals have themselves engaged in gory jihads that have taken an unspeakably high toll in innocent human lives.
To come back to the present case, a few observations are in order. Perhaps the most important is the manner in which the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acted.
Not only did she condemn the heinous assault in the strongest terms, but showed her sympathy for the victims by visiting them in the capital city of Wellington, wearing a black hijab, hugging members of the community and laying flowers on the steps of the mosque there.
Symbolism apart, the New Zealand government has publicly committed to tighten existing gun laws, even while Ardern promptly criticized American President Donald Trump’s post-shooting comment that seemed to downplay hate crimes perpetrated by white supremacists.
Not surprisingly, Muslim Americans have renewed calls for action against bigotry in the United States with the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, imploring Trump to “condemn this not only as a hate crime, but as a white supremacist terrorist attack.”
As National Public Radio (NPR) reports, experts who monitor hate groups say the Christchurch attacks follow a sharp rise in violent white extremism around the world, and especially in the United States.
Against that disconcerting backdrop, it may be recalled that Trump, speaking to reporters after the New Zealand attacks, said he didn’t believe white nationalism is on the rise. Experts in white extremism, however, assert that the hard numbers prove the opposite, while some critics claim that, whether intentional or not, Trump spoke in the language of white supremacists.
It hardly requires the brains of a political maestro to conclude that the 2020 presidential election season – which has plainly begun even if unannounced – will peal with all manner of claims and accusations around the above themes, and the related one of immigration, among miscellaneous hot-button topics.
For the time being, understandably, not a little attention is also being directed to Trump’s use Friday of his veto pen for the first time, after Congress attempted to overturn his national emergency declaration and rein in spending on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump declared, “Today I am vetoing this resolution. Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution and I have the duty to veto it.”
Since Congressional critics do not have the votes to override Trump’s veto, as a practical matter the administration can continue to spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than lawmakers authorized – unless the courts intervene.
Yet, as twelve Republican senators had joined Democrats to reject the president’s emergency declaration, this leaves wide open the question of whether, over the next few months, the number of dissidents in the Republican party will expand so that there could – in theory at least – be a challenger to Trump as the Republican presidential candidate, unlikely as that appears at this juncture.
With so many unknown quantities floating around at this time it is extremely foolhardy to even hazard a guess. Yet, given the high American stakes around the world, clearly not inconsiderable impact could be made on the electoral scene by developments outside the United States, including by how the Trump administration (mis) handles the ticklish North Korean nuclearization question.
Since going by a North Korean government official statement, Pyongyang is considering breaking off negotiations with the U.S. and resuming nuclear and missile tests, it is anybody’s guess what is in store on this fluid, combustible front.
Judging from miscellaneous news reports from back home, things seem to be going gloriously off-kilter. Thus, one is informed about Prachanda’s trip to the United States, in fact to Baltimore (not far from where I pen this) – apparently for the medical treatment of his ailing wife.
What enhances the interest level of this news story is that not only was it postponed twice because of Prachanda’s virulently anti-American outburst on the Venezuelan crisis (which is an on going affair) but that he should choose the very mecca of capitalism – or imperialism in Communist jargon – for treating his wife’s serious medical condition!
One wonders why Prachanda did not, instead, head for President Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela or perhaps even to Raul Castro’s Cuba – both of which are in the Americas?
Some reports say he is “invited” by the United States; I personally doubt it. I would suspect that Washington decided to issue travel visas to Prachanda and his entourage on purely humanitarian grounds. If not, we will know, by and by.
What is odd-ball, too, is that Prachanda should be enveloped in a humungous personal security blanket inside Nepal – not to mention a reported serious tiff with Prime Minister Oli over how an agreement was reached with separatist C.K. Raut to give up his independent Madesh agenda.
The ambiguity over details of the Raut deal – particularly how it was reached and why – incidentally, was given a somewhat sinister coloration by a report in lokaantar.com that revealed a clandestine meeting in Lahan between Raut and an unknown U.N. representative. If everything is open and above board, why the secrecy?
To me, thousands of miles from home, things seem decidedly peculiar, even ominous. Will the simmering pot boil over during Prachanda’s absence?