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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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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