At Charlottesville, they chanted, torches in hand, "Jews will not replace us!" Those "very fine people" didn’t literally mean Jews would expel and replace white Americans (there is some basic common-sense to their madness). They meant, rather, that "the Jews" were promoting mass immigration as a means of diluting the white population.
In its most extreme iterations, it’s called a white genocide: The far right’s theory of the gradual but intentional elimination of white people, beginning with the subversive importation of (grossly exaggerated) numbers of brown and black immigrants. This rhetoric of rootless Jewish cosmopolitan and invading Islamic hordes reveals the increasing fusion of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across the West.
It also can, and does, lead to violence.
A New Zealand terrorist massacred 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques, claiming he was acting to avert a white genocide by immigrant "invaders." Anders Breivik went after young Norwegian liberals because he believed them to be responsible for the surrender of his country’s sovereignty to foreigners.
In their manifestos, the two American far right shooters who attacked congregants in synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway both referenced the so-called "great replacement" theory: the Poway shooter declared: "Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race."
The common response to the rhetoric fueling these mass murders is to point to facts: Yes, some white populations are in relative decline.
But a genocide? The claim sounds ridiculous, after all.
Except it’s not entirely.
Within my own lifetime, there has been a white genocide. It’s just not one the far right finds convenient to acknowledge, let alone recall or commemorate.
On July 11, the world will mark the 24th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, synecdochally representing the larger conflict in and over Bosnia.
In the mid-1990's, tens of thousands of white Europeans were ethnically cleansed, raped and wholesale exterminated, in a deliberate attempt to create a greater Serbian homeland, free of inconvenient Muslim (and Croat) populations. It was not the color of their skin which saw them targeted, however. It was their religious affiliation and ancestry. The Bosnian massacres constituted the first genocide in Europe since the Holocaust.
Peace only and finally came to Bosnia when the United States pushed NATO to militarily intervene against expansionist Serb militants. And it was NATO troops and the distant, albeit plausible, promise of EU membership that has maintained a shaky peace.
White supremacists not only refuse to acknowledge the genocide in Bosnia, they deny it happened at all - or, worse, cheer it (and support its resumption). The Serbian aggressors are reframed as victims, hailed as the valiant defenders of Europe against a historic Ottoman onslaught. Somehow, in this, that the majority of victims were civilians, or that mass rape became a weapon of war, becomes secondary.
(Grotesquely, denial of the Bosnian genocide is a significant current among the hard left too - for different but equally morally deficient reasons.)
If white nationalists can frame an indigenous Muslim population as a foreign force - Bosnian Muslims are not "Turks"; they are locals who voluntarily converted to Islam during Ottoman times - deserving of mass extermination, how different would their attitude be to new immigrants, people of color, or the Jews who allegedly invite them into the West? It is worse than that, though.
The theme of white genocide attracts a fringe, but it is an ever more emboldened fringe: Everywhere you look, it seems, hate crimes against minorities are rising.
They are motivated by the increased impotency of liberal Western institutions, even as they are complicit in their enervation. The same radical right-wing that long accused Muslims of being treasonous has become the actual fifth column, not only besotted by Russia but in bed with Vladimir Putin, actively working with a longstanding geopolitical rival to galvanize the greatest threat to the West and liberal democracy in our lifetimes. That’s far greater a threat to the West than any jihadist terrorism.
On several trips to Bosnia, over and over I’d hear local Muslims describe the present-day - a time of ostensible peace - as "1491." They were referring to Spain, on the eve of the 1492 expulsion of its Jews, a date which also marked the beginning of the end of its likewise indigenous Muslim population. In their view it is only a matter of time before Bosnia goes the way of Muslim (and Jewish) Spain.
How plausible is that fear?
Present trends threaten to catapult the Balkans back into conflict, not least because the EU is mired in its own crises - the idea of EU expansion seems unimaginable now - and because NATO is caught between its traditional opposition to Russian ambitions and Washington’s practical surrender to Russian interference.
This gradual realignment of Western politics is undermining the security architecture that protected Bosnia and ensured Europe would not return to an age of genocide once more.
July 11th is not only a warning from history, but a warning of a darker future, ever more plausible – and not only for Europe. To fail to see what happened in Bosnia then, and what is underway there today, is not just to look away from the possibility of genocide in a supposedly enlightened age. It is to acquiesce in the death of the West, which is one of the greatest political achievements in human history.
A resumption of violence in Bosnia would mean NATO has lost its deterrent capacity, and the EU no longer holds out the ability to heal the once-savage divides that ravaged Europe and were exported violently across the planet.
There’s a simpler way of putting it. There has already been a white genocide, and there may be one again.
The forces most keen to warn you of a white genocide, however, want the white genocide that actually happened to happen again. To get there, they must undermine the liberal Western order that keeps minorities much safer than any alternative; only in the absence of a strong West, rooted in liberal values, can there be an eliminationist campaign against those who do not fit within the white supremacist worldview. People of color. Jews. Muslims. Even the white ones.
If Charlottesville’s anti-Jewish hate was a harbinger for the rise in white supremacist violence against minorities in America, Bosnia was, and is, a harbinger for how xenophobic, exclusionary hypernationalism turns genocidal - and both depend on the enfeeblement of liberalism and pluralism.
If there is no future for Muslims in the West, then the future of the West itself looks bleak indeed.
Haroon Moghul is a commentator, public speaker and fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. His most recent book is "How to Be a Muslim: An American Story" (Beacon Press, 2017)
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