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Christchurch To Sao Paulo: Our Age Of Nihilistic Terrorism

The white supremacist who killed 50 at New Zealand mosques is like other mass killers attached to myths of ideological identity that lack any real political horizon.

Policemen arrive at the school where a shooting occurred in Suzano city
Policemen arrive at the school where a shooting occurred in Suzano city
Mariano Turzi


BUENOS AIRES — How can we interpret a terror attack like the one perpetrated in New Zealand? The main hypothesis is that today's world is the setting of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, with roots dating back centuries. Irreconcilable differences between their values make conflict inevitable.

Sometimes it will erupt in episodes like ISIS decapitating hostages, and other times, as a gun rampage by a white supremacist at a mosque in Christchurch. And yet when we look at attacks undertaken by people who do not identify themselves as religious, we must find an alternative hypothesis to explain their terrorism. No, this wave of global terrorism is not an episode of the Crusade-versus-Jihad saga.


New Zealanders mourn victims of the Christchurch shooting — Photo: PJ Heller/Xinhua/ZUMA

The New Zealand shooting has more in common with another, recent shooting in a Sao Paulo school than with socio-political or theological differences between Christendom and Islam. We propose this explanation: in our time, terrorists can adopt any badge, from religious fervor to ethnic purity or national integrity, even if they are ultimately all just attire and fantasy. They are myths of an ideological identity that is strategically impossible and lacks any political horizon or utopian destination reachable through violence alone. These are not members of organizations or even "lone wolves' acting for an admired if distant leader. There are no institutional, ideological or tribal foundations to this terrorism.

The thing about chaos...

It is instead far more a manifestation of individual nihilism, or the conviction that the conditions of existence are so bad it merits destruction. And this, in this age of globalization where destructive capabilities have risen exponentially. Today it is easy and an inexpensive to find means of inflicting more pain, more quickly, which means violence will no longer be a means but just an end in itself. There is no political solution to this, or a deal to negotiate.

Regarding the causes of this violence, the prognosis is not good: this nihilism is a reaction to structural processes. God has died, globalization reduces millions to poverty, nation-states have lost control and polarization is tearing societies apart. There is no Divine order today, nor global powers with the authority or will to impose order, nor any grand economic model or revolutionary promises to transform the system.

The uncertainties and threats of our global (dis)order are even making the splendid option of isolation impossible. So expect more of this nihilistic violence, as a frightening if endemic response to the existential angst of our time. The Joker explains the logic in a Batman film: "Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos," the infamous villain declares. "Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair!"

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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