Illustration image – SIPA

  • Two mosque attacks killed at least 49 people this Friday in ChristChurch, New Zealand.
  • The main suspect in these attacks, Brenton T., is described as an "Australian extremist, violent extremist terrorist."
  • Barthélemy Courmont, IRIS expert on the Pacific zone, explains to 20 minutes the feeling of identity in Australia.

There is the European imagination: the beaches of madness, the Uluru (also called "you know the big red rock"), the sun and therefore the idea of ​​a cool society, beautiful to live and inclusive. But behind these clichés, Australia has been going through a deep identity crisis for decades, which has shown its worst face
the attack in Christchurch, where 49 Muslim victims are to be deplored. 20 minutes interviewed Barthélemy Courmont, expert at
IRIS (Institute of International and Strategic Relations) of the Pacific Zone.

In France, there is little thought of Australia as a country where the far right and racism find their place. Is it a truncated and reductive vision?

We must stop this idealized vision that we have in Europe of an Australian land of welcome. This is much more the case of New Zealand, for example. But in Australia, there is a higher crime rate than New Zealand for example, even if it is lower than in Europe or the United States, which is a source of tension. The question of immigrants is sensitive to this. For decades, the island-continent has been a land of massive waves of immigration, but this is increasingly frowned upon.

Above all, while New Zealand is predominantly European and from the Pacific islands, Australia is more global and diverse. There is very strong immigration from neighboring Asian countries, including Indonesia (largely Muslim) and Afghanistan. In fact, in the early 2000s, the Conservative Prime Minister of the day passed laws to restrict immigration. In August 2001, an Afghan refugee boat was denied berthing on the Australian coast, and was abandoned in the ocean until New Zealand came to rescue her.

As in France, are there theses like that of the big replacement circulating?

The fear of a big replacement exists. It is not exactly like Western Europe, where the big replacement is aimed at a very specific community, but there is this fear of replacement by anything non-Western. The tension is high, including many cases of racial hatred. The population changed dramatically in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s with waves of less and less European immigration and more and more Asian. And inevitably, this echoes the history of the country, where a Western population has "suddenly" replaced a population of well-established locals. In this past, not yet consumed, the fear of a great replacement is much more alive, because it has actually happened centuries ago, and there is fear that it starts again.

In 2008, Australia had its own big national debate on the issue of the country's identity. The question asked was: are we a great Asian power? This can be understood both by the geographical proximity, trade in view of the many exchanges and by the Australian society itself more and more composed of Asians. Australia has not yet done its job of introspection identity, it is still difficult to define who she is. A European power? Asian? Oceanic? To take again the example of New Zealand, they have settled the question of their identity since independence. Maori are the local people, all the rest (white, Asian, etc.) are immigrants. Moreover, the fact that the attack, the fruit of the fear of the great replacement, is going on in a country other than that of the terrorist, shows the deep malaise of this question.

What is the place of the extreme right in Australia?

There is no big media hate or extremist party, it is more a climate that can sometimes be nauseating with an identity question still very poorly defined and assumed. The society is very Americanized, it advocates communitarianism as in the United States. This has its virtues and its inconveniences, including sometimes hatred between different communities. The Australian society is still very peaceful anyway, and this morning's event is deeply destabilizing for a country unaccustomed to this kind of news. But it can be seen that, for example, New Zealand, even more shocked than Australia, immediately resolved any attempt at identity controversy, stating by the Prime Minister herself that the victims were New Zealanders because they had chose this country. After the time of the excitement, it will be interesting to observe the answers of Australia on this question.

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