Far proper agitators and conspiracy theorists have seized on Monday’s horrific hearth on the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, utilizing the tragedy to push baseless conspiracies concerning the finish of “western civilization.”
Leaders across the globe have referred to the fireplace, which seemingly started as an accident, as a major loss to world tradition and French historical past. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the constructing as a “treasure,” whereas different world leaders — together with the Pope — mourned its partial destruction.
“[Notre Dame is] an architectural jewel of a collective reminiscence,” he stated, noting its significance to Catholics around the globe.
Some on the far proper, nevertheless, are utilizing the incident to push baseless conspiracies, together with claims that the fireplace was the results of arson, and that it additional represented the decline of “western civilization.”
The latter is a recurring theme on the far proper, and one in all its least correct, traditionally talking.
Within the quick aftermath of the fireplace, for instance, white supremacist Richard Spencer tweeted that the tragedy could have been price it if it spurred “the White man into motion — to grab energy in his nations, in Europe, on this planet.” Far-right Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a white nationalist himself, tweeted that the cathedral was “priceless to all of Christianity and all the West.”
As The Each day Beast famous, two separate Fox Information company on Monday speculated that the fireplace might need been brought about on objective, although each company had been instantly shut down by hosts Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto.
And on the virulently Islamophobic web site Jihad Watch, one columnist wrote that police in Paris had foiled a terror plot involving a younger Muslim lady close to the cathedral. The incident within the article, which rapidly gained traction on Fb, was truly from 2016. A disclaimer stating “this submit shouldn’t be concerning the hearth at Notre Dame” was solely obtainable after customers clicked via the hyperlink to the story. Different Islamophobes started broadly circulating a video of the fireplace at Notre Dame overlaid with unrelated audio of individuals shouting “Allahu Akbar,” earlier than YouTube, Twitter, and different platforms eliminated it from their platforms.
Key to every of these examples is the concept “western civilization,” represented by the enduring Notre Dame, is beneath assault from non-“western” people or forces and echoes many conspiracies propagated by white nationalists.
Earlier this 12 months, King was stripped of his Home committee assignments for asking in a New York Occasions interview when phrases like “white nationalist, white supremacist, [and] western civilization” turned offensive. The far-right Proud Boys gang requires members to state of their initiation that they’re a “Western Chauvinist and … refuse to apologize for creating the trendy world.”
There isn’t any proof, after all, to recommend that the Notre Dame hearth was something greater than a tragic accident. Specialists additionally say the notion that Notre Dame’s destruction represents some form of assault on western civilization ignores France’s numerous historical past, presenting it as a substitute as homogenous, Christian, and white.
“[The far-right emphasis on ‘western culture’] shouldn’t be utilizing the previous for the previous’s sake,” stated Matt Gabrielle, professor of Medieval Research and chair of the Faith and Tradition division at Virginia Tech. “It’s utilizing the previous to mobilize a political argument that doesn’t care about historic accuracy however about what the emotional response is and the evocation that generates.”
“Europe has by no means been homogeneously white, we’ve got architectural and contextual proof of individuals from all over in Europe for the Center Ages, the late Roman interval and repeatedly via them,” he added. “The concept that Europe was a homogeneously white house is weaponized nostalgia.”
Suleiman Mourad, a faith professor at Smith School, particularly referred to as out the far proper’s baseless fear-mongering concerning the cathedral hearth on Tuesday. “They wish to legitimize their discourse by referring to the previous, to make their political claims extra convincing.”
Mourad additionally famous that the the concept of “western tradition” as a single, monolithic entity didn’t exist till properly into the 18th and 19th centuries, when academia began utilizing it as justification for colonization and colonial growth.
Twine J. Whitaker, an English professor at Wellesley School specializing in Medieval literature, added that lots of the enhancements in Medieval European structure which helped create Notre Dame wouldn’t have been potential with out exchanges between European architects and Islamic architects. The racist and Islamophobic discourse surrounding the far-right’s dialogue of Notre Dame, he stated, misses the purpose.
“Many individuals see that constructing as a logo of care and sanctuary for all folks, no matter religion or tradition,” he stated. “To that extent I do suppose it ought to be a world undertaking to maintain it — we run into issues when it turns into considered solely as an indication of western tradition or European tradition, [language] that feeds this fear-mongering discourse.”