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"By Morgan Godfery
| Contributing writer March 13, 2020 A proper reckoning with March 15 2019 demands that we take up a generations-long struggle to destroy all the exclusions that make up our society and produce the conditions we know as racism. An essay by Morgan Godfery. This work is made possible by Spinoff Members.
I was cleaning out the garage the other day and found an old Crusaders jersey. If I remember right it’s their team kit from 2005, the white knight sewn into the chest and the old Ford logo printed in the centre. The jersey itself is still as fresh as new paint, a novelty purchase from when we were passing through Christchurch on our way to Christmas in Oamaru. I was a year 9 in school and a Super 12 jersey was the kind of item you had, just so you could say you had one. This is about the same time it was still acceptable to whisper things like how the white players in the Crusaders were responsible for their team’s championship success, playing their footy with brains, and the problem with mid-table finishers like the Blues were too many brown boys who only knew how to throw their weight around.
I’m not quite white-passing, but my upper middle-class accent, generally preppy affect, and not-quite-pasty-not-quite-brown skin makes me ethnically ambiguous enough that people are happy to share their thoughts about big Polynesian units, Asian immigrants, Muslim terrorists, and the Jews. The first time I remember running into entirely casual racism was in Christchurch, on the way back from that Christmas in Oamaru, when a retail worker caught up with me on the street apologising for short-changing me in store. I didn’t realise or particularly care, but years later I thought about his apology. “Sorry, I just Jew-ed you”.
At the time it was nothing to me. In high school and later in my flat at Victoria that was just what people said. “Jewing” someone was a verb for ripping them off, taking an advantage, or just a way to give someone a bit of stick. In my experience it was especially popular with the Christ’s College boys, which probably has something to do with the city’s private schools inheriting their culture from Britain’s public schools. “A Jewish boy at a public school almost invariably had a bad time,” wrote Orwell in 1945. Things probably aren’t that much better in 2020. The other day I read an old mate – a private schooler too – on Facebook joking about how Jews are useless at sport.
I suspect for good liberals this is probably shocking. This isn’t language that ever sneaks through our circles. But outside of our cosy hermetic world words like coconut, boonga, fob, wog, gook, curry muncher, towelhead, the hundred variations on the N word, and “Jew” as more than a noun are common currency. The stains from that vocabulary seep into every part of the culture and society, and nothing much has ever been done to wash it out. The first time I remember encountering deliberate, menacing racism is on the rugby paddock when a white coach was yelling at my mate on the wing “run you BLACK bastard”. I thought about that moment when spectators in Christchurch were caught vilifying Fijian player Sake Aca
in 2015, screaming from the stands “black cunt”.
Fandoms like to imagine their sports, multicultural rugby especially, as pure and independent realms (“a level playing field”) absent race, politics, or any disadvantage other than skill. It’s a seductive argument, I’ll concede that much, but it’s so self-evidently false it still surprises me every time someone insists on it earnestly. Sport? Not racist? In 2012 talkback callers and trolls went after then Blues coach Pat Lam and his family
for the great crime of simply being Polynesian. In 2010 former All Black Andy Haden was put through the wringer
for telling media the Crusaders only recruit a maximum three “darkies”, presumably to preserve the team’s famous brain-brawn balance.
Even in the laudatory histories New Zealand rugby was, and probably remains, a notorious nexus for down home conservatives, know-nothing administrators, and out and out racists. In 1960 the rugby union sent the All Blacks on tour to Apartheid South Africa, waving the team off without any Māori players or officials in a remarkable sop to the country’s colour bar. In 1976 the national team were sent back, this time defying international calls to cut sporting ties with the racist state. In protest at the tour more than twenty African countries led a boycott at that year’s Olympics, a moral stand that should perpetually shame New Zealand Rugby. Not racist? As if.
In an ideal world the Canterbury Crusaders would study this history, carefully considering whether their decision to retain the team name is another brick in rugby’s wall of shame. The managers might consider how “deus vult”, meaning God wills it, a battle cry from the first Crusade, and “Acre 1189”, a reference to a siege in the third Crusade, are URL shorthands and postscripts for white supremacist users constructing a historiography for their neo-fascist movement. The managers might also reflect on how real-life white supremacists
in countries like Brazil, Norway, and Australia are adopting the Knights Templar, the Christian warrior monks who made up the crusading hordes, and the literal white knight that was formerly the Canterbury team’s logo, as their saints.
CRUSADERS MASCOTS AT AMI STADIUM IN CHRISTCHURCH IN 2019. PHOTO: DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES. FEATURE IMAGE: FRIDAY PRAYERS AT AL NOOR MOSQUE ON MARCH 22, 2019. PHOTO BY SANKA VIDANAGAMA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
As it happens the team’s managers, after kicking the issue to a “market research” firm shortly after March 15, made the call to save the name. It’s an unconscionable decision, for obvious reasons, but the team bosses seem cognitively incapable of reasoning through the issue and its implications beyond mere “branding”. In a statement announcing the name-stay the team’s PR people wrote
“for us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community,” as if it’s possible to just reframe the holy war using a press release. It’s a cretinous thing to do when not even a year earlier an alleged shooter undertook a massacre at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques as part of his own “crusade”.
A28-year-old man is before the High Court facing 52 murder charges relating to the events of March 15. What we know about his life is little, save the things he was curating about himself online, which in this essay I treat with caution and scepticism. But it seems clear enough the Australian citizen was an obsessive for the Crusades, scribbling references to the religious war for the Holy Land across the weapon police accuse the man of using to carry out the massacre. Investigative reports
note in his pilgrimage to Europe the 28-year-old – who pleaded not guilty to all charges – made particular visits to Christian-Muslim battlegrounds in the former Ottoman Empire, apparently as a tribute to the crusading warmongers he was so keen to match.
To outsiders the obsession with this particular historical episode is probably bizarre, if not creepy. But in the nether world this man and his neo-fascist comrades inhabit they imagine they’re acting out the thesis and title in Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations
. In his 1993 essay the American political scientist argues that in the immediate past global conflicts were between warring ideological factions – capitalism and communism – but post-Cold War conflict will centre between clashing civilisations. The West vs the rest. Christianity vs Islam. The Crusades II.
In Huntington’s telling, and in the alleged shooter’s head, the West and the Islamic world are fated to compete. Yet that competition won’t centre over economic issues like stable oil supply lines, or even political issues like the territorial integrity of Western allies in the Middle East, instead the clash is meant to happen over Islam’s apparently regressive values and the West’s progressive tradition. It’s a striking thesis, especially for the generals and politicians who were hunting for cover for their military adventures in the Middle East and East Africa in the late 80s and early 90s. But it was always a notion that was impossible to apply, reducing the Islamic world to a series of stereotypes (it never had its enlightenment) and setting it against an equally reductive West (it did have its enlightenment).
The late Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar, cut right to the heart of Huntington’s argument in identifying it wasn’t an argument at all – rather, he was “a partisan, an advocate of one so-called civilisation over all others” who maps billions of people into “vague” and “manipulable” abstractions and then presents it as a true account of the world. “Thus to build a conceptual framework around the notion of us-versus-them is in effect to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural – our civilisation is now and accepted, theirs is different and strange – whereas in fact the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational.”
In other words, the thing separating the Christian us from the Islamic them, to the extent a clean separation is possible at all, is history – of colonialism, of Cold War power politics – and not immutable categories like “the West” or “the East”. That the categories exist at all are a function of history and political convenience, not a universal law stipulating conflict as the only end. Yet for the neo-fascists like the alleged shooter every thought they cherish orbits this particular rock: that the entire Islamic world is one dirty blob of terrorism, rape, and invasion, and that all its more than one billion members act with a single purpose and co-ordination unknown in the entire history of humanity.
But why commit to a dichotomy so obviously stupid at all? The 28-year-old grew up in Grafton, a waterway town in northern New South Wales, and in his time on the Eastern seaboard it seems unlikely he ever actually met many Muslim people at all. In his own family’s account they were just ordinary Aussies. It’s impossible to interrogate the claim – every family thinks itself the norm and we can’t penetrate their private lives to investigate how true it is – yet the family were probably ordinary in one sense. They were unremarkable. Just another white family. The alleged shooter’s parents were in traditional jobs. Mum a teacher. Dad a rubbish man.
The people who were closest to him – cousins, old school mates – pinpoint his OE to Europe as “the moment”. As RNZ reports
in his manifesto the alleged shooter recounts his trip through North Korea and Pakistan, paying tribute to the locals’ kindness and hospitality (noticing the contradiction he explains he doesn’t hate the yellows and blacks who stay in their own “homelands”). Eventually he lands in Europe, road tripping France. In one passage he despairs that he can’t seem to find an all-white town
or city. In another passage his travels take him, quite conveniently, to a cemetery for the European dead of the world wars. “I broke into tears, sobbing alone in the car,” he writes, mourning the apparent Islamification of Europe. “Why were we allowing these soldiers deaths to be in vain?”
He didn’t realise that the dead he mourned died trying to kill people like him. In 2018 I wrote
(presciently, without claiming too much credit for an insight this awful) that “white nationalism is, for the basement dwelling 4chaners, mouth breathing Redditors, and Youtube philosopher kings, nothing more than a desperate search for an alternative fatherland”. That search is what drove the alleged shooter from his Australian home. “The origin of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European… most importantly, my blood is European”. To the alleged shooter his actual home was irredeemable. “What is an Australian but a drunk European?”
In each claim is a desperate narcissism, reaching for an imaginary identity when your existing accomplishments don’t match your personal ambitions. It’s tempting to extend that psychoanalysis. The alleged shooter’s fetish for imaginary “whites” is a cover for the trauma of being a nothing, disembodied. Or maybe the urge to order and rank the world into competing civilisations is a neurosis, like stacking your knives and forks in a row. Perhaps the pleasure he takes in trolling is jouissance, a momentary transgression in the service of briefly feeling. Yet those readings are weightless if they stand alone. The alleged shooter’s interior life is relevant, certainly so for a conviction on murder, but studying the actually existing politics that shaped his positions and actions seems more important than base speculation.
In The Invention of Tradition
the historians Terence Ranger and Eric Hobsbawm argue that traditions, far from the ancient wisdoms of old, are often nothing more than recent beliefs that help foster a common identity when – to borrow from Said – “organic solidarities” like the family or village break down. The inventions are easy to spot in the courts and parliament where British ritual connects the two institutions to a pedigree and past that their move half away across the world broke. In the neo-fascist movement the inventions are slightly more subtle, taking actual historical happenings like the Crusades and pick-and-mixing the symbols (Knights Templar), battles (Acre 1189), and language (deus vult) that they can contort around the various anti-Muslim bigotries.
The idea that traditions are a kind of stand-in where old connections break down seems especially apt in settler colonies where the relationship to the past and a present community often amounts to nothing more than a shopping list of shared habits and references. Gumboots as culture. I appreciate that description could come across as banal, or even malicious, but it gets close to the impulses apparently guiding the alleged shooter: the search for meaningful political connections and political community. As he saw it Australia had no identity to offer. Instead he found his connection in an “imagined community
” – in violent European nationalisms – and online.
“I am a racist”, the man writes in his manifesto
. His neo-fascists comrades were too.
2 One of the first inspirations he cites is Luca Traini
, a 28-year-old Italian neo-Nazi who, with a 9mm glock, went on a drive-by shooting injuring six African migrants in Macarata in 2018. The racist rampage lit a fuse under that year’s Italian general election. The left went after Matteo Salvini, the League Party leader, the same party in which Traini stood as a mayoral list candidate, for inspiring his violent work. In an ordinary election a political leader would make an immediate climb down, condemning Traini and his crimes. But Salvini, best known in the English-speaking world for closing harbours to refugees crossing the Med, was surprisingly consistent. He said the left had “blood on its hands” for packing the country with “illegal migrants”. The unspoken implication: Traini was doing his patriotic duty.
The alleged shooter, watching on from another hemisphere, found a brother in arms. The two men had built their identities around all the same hatreds and had clothed their boogeymen in all the same threads. One stitch for migrant “invaders”. Two stiches for liberals and Marxists, and a needle for the “race traitors” among them. But where the twin gunmen’s hatred really met, transforming from online big noting to a real-life passion, was in protecting “their” women. Traini undertook his crime as an apparent act of revenge against the three Nigerian refugees in court for killing 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro.
In his manifesto the alleged shooter offers a similar provocation
, taking 11-year-old Ebba Akerlund’s death as his red pill. In his self-mythologising, the Stockholm truck attack, a deadly terrorist attack that took Akerlund’s and four other lives, was his waking moment. “It was another terror attack in the seemingly never-ending attacks that had been occurring on a regular basis throughout my adult life,” he wrote
. “But for some reason this was different”. What was that difference? Akerlund. An innocent. It’s a vile misuse – he doesn’t care for anyone or anything beyond himself – but the narrative demands an affect, the shooter turning in his coward’s rags for a knight’s armour.
For neo-fascists it’s essential to tell their origin stories through the opposite sex. For aspiring movement leaders like the alleged shooter it’s the fight to protect the “virtue” of “our women” against “Muslim rapists” that forces their hand. For lurkers, shitposters, and like-avores it’s the feminists and “Staceys” who never recognise the genius and vigour of their own race (plain meaning: “women don’t want me”) who lead them into fascism. Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger, a martyr for beta males, undertook his crimes and suicide as an apparent act of “retribution” against women for denying him the sex and love he thought of as his by right.
This, not the customary declarations of love for the race, or even the thrill of sharing the same enemies, is usually the heart of online fascism – it’s a reaction against women.
In Male Fantasies
the German sociologist Klaus Theweleit argues the fascist men who fought against the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933, and who went on to prominent positions and a political home in the Nazi regime, were in their heads and hearts afraid of women. For the “Freikorps” there were two womanly classes: White Women, “the nurses” representing order and servitude to men and country; and Red Women, “the communists” representing disorder, whoring, and the end of patriotic men. The latter were the women the paramilitary movement were under an obligation to kill. In one speech a general complains that when “a few old girls get blown up the whole world starts screaming about bloodthirsty soldiers”.
“As if women were always innocent,” he said.
This is why every fascist movement purges women first – metaphorically and actually. In Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema
the American historian describes how films under the Duce’s regime “remove the Italian woman from the colonial space”, portraying the colonies as where men might find purpose through trans-national thuggery, and attacking women’s emancipation at home as a “corrupting” force and a check on the people’s success. The alleged shooter undertook his killings with similar illusions. That he could forge a new identity in gun fire and blood, and that liberated women (and Jews) were responsible for his personal and racial decline. In his manifesto the opening line is “it’s the birth rates
”, repeated three times.
THE WELLINGTON 15/3 VIGIL HELD AT THE BASIN RESERVE (PHOTO BY ELIAS RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IMAGES)
It’s easy to diagnose the same pathologies in his comrades. Game developers Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu and media critic Anita Sarkeesian – the victims in 2014’s Gamergate troll – were made targets for harassment for no other reason than they were women crossing the border between a man’s stuff (the spacies) and a woman’s role (sex and housework). In New Zealand the death threats against Golriz Ghahraman, our first MP who arrived in New Zealand as a refugee, are so frequent Parliamentary Services ensures special protection for the Green MP. The critics go after Ghahraman for everything from fakery (her “CV” is a lie, she isn’t a “real refugee”) to acting as part of a globalist conspiracy to wipe out the white race. It’s impressively stupid, of course, but the point isn’t the truth in the charges. It’s that an Iranian-born woman sits in our parliament.
The same trolls go for the prime minister on Twitter’s #TurnArdern hashtag too, condemning Jacinda as a lazy woman (#parttimePM) who coasts along on nothing more than her femininity (“she’s a pretty communist”). That’s hardly out of the ordinary, of course. In the 2000s print commentators were comfortable enough to throw equally chauvinist slurs at Helen Clark, using “Helengrad” for Clark as the controlling woman and “political dominatrix” for ball-breaking the men around her. The difference is today’s trolls serve their sexism with Islamophobia on top. Last year activist Rangi Kemara found a telling correlation between tweeters of Turn Ardern and tweeters of Islamophobia. The Christchurch man selling MAGA hats – “Make Ardern Go Away” – on TradeMe once wrote he would destroy “mosque after mosque till I am taken out”.
Give me the misogynist, to corrupt an old saying, and I’ll show you the Islamophobe.
Simone Weil, the French philosopher, would recognise in the turn to Europe – and the turn against
women – a classic “uprooting”. In almost every country material comfort and security often rely on cutting the cord between a person, the past, and a present community: removing Indigenous people from their land; separating citizens from their homes and families in one place for work in another; and reducing people to their supposedly “innate” categories (race, gender, etc). These uprootings, in Weil’s words, are a “sickness of the soul” that leave men especially vulnerable to demagoguery. In their search for past and present connections they turn to “false conceptions” like patriotism and national greatness, and at the core of each in 2020: hatred for and fear of women.
What’s notable about this neo-fascist movement isn’t necessarily its reach but its mode. Online, yes, but more importantly: politically free. Other than finance, the alleged shooter had no political or bureaucratic restraints. He could post all the tell-tale things he apparently did, and it seemed neither the police nor the spy agencies would ever flag it. He could acquire the semi-automatic weapon the Crown charge him with using with nothing more than a gun licence – and the seller was under no obligation to log the purchase. And he could move between Australia and New Zealand’s practically open borders with only a passport and a straight face for the eGate.
I hope you register the irony in this. Borders were the very thing the alleged shooter was desperate to enforce against the Muslim hordes. After moving to New Zealand, ostensibly to plan an attack back home, the 28-year-old found instead that “the invaders were in all of our lands
”. Even at the bottom of the world in formerly lily-white Christchurch. “Nowhere was safe”, he wrote. The alleged shooter, in a bonfire of pomposity and self-regard, actually did think himself at the centre of a civilisational struggle between the out-bred West and Islam. In the mind of the manifesto writer, massacring Muslims would enforce the borders the supposed sell outs in government wouldn’t.
But in allegedly killing the innocent people he did he wasn’t taking on a powerful soon-to-be majority. Rather, on one side is the 28-year-old with all his political and social freedoms, and on the other are the shooting’s victims who were living their lives under significant political and social restraints. The spy agencies were dedicating their resources to “Islamic terrorism”, not the alleged shooter’s terrorism. Police commit more resources to “street gangs” – that is, Māori – and barely even bother with the alleged shooter’s brothers and sisters in white power. The immigration department, as any anecdote can confirm, focuses disproportionate attention on non-white entries, and the only people who move freely between borders are people like the 28-year-old.
In short: non-white people live their lives under scrutiny and surveillance.
The government’s official response to the Christchurch shooting is to extend that scrutiny and surveillance to, well, white people. Jacinda Ardern is leading reforms to gun laws and the rules governing how online users share violent, racist, and other objectionable material. Last month the country’s top spies told a parliamentary select committee that they’re keeping watch on dozens of suspect characters. Police, even a year on, are still making home visits to destroy illegal weapons and otherwise interview lurkers and posters. The changes, taken together, rightly remove the freedom and options the alleged shooter had, and make it almost impossible for his comrades to organise.
Yet as good and necessary as those changes are some of the structural conditions that produce the racial distinctions the alleged shooter holds so dear are left intact.
In organised debating one of the famous moots is the “balloon debate”. In it each speaker, usually arguing on behalf of someone famous, proposes why the others shouldn’t toss him or her over the side of a hot air balloon in order to save the others. It’s a riveting hypothetical, placing six people in disaster’s mouth and exercising the collective choice to doom one and rescue the others. But for anyone who understands how it feels to have their apparent merits and demerits subject to “debate”, with someone else drawing up a balance sheet in red and black, it’s horrendous. The idea is we’re born equal, but after that all bets are off. This is what women, takatāpui, Māori, Muslims, and other deviations from the “norm” deal with most days.
Are we worthy?
It’s the same principle that organises immigration to New Zealand: who’s worthy? In our system the government literally attaches “points” to the world’s hopeful according to their potential for improving the lives of the hosts. Good English? Points. A tertiary qualification? Add to the tally. Assets? You’re basically in. The system’s political champions admire this approach for its rationality. Unlike the US where immigration sometimes relies on a lottery – eg the American Diversity Immigrant Visa – or just keen racism – i.e. the Muslim travel ban – New Zealand immigration is hassle-free and non-discriminatory.
It’s a self-serving argument, of course, because an immigration system where the purpose and function is defining inclusions and exclusions (who’s in and who’s out) is never neutral. When Winston Peters calls for tighter English language requirements
, for example, that’s really an argument for conferring an advantage on applicants from the Anglosphere over people with equivalent skills or greater need from other parts of the world. This isn’t explicitly discriminatory, at least in the sense the exclusionary threshold doesn’t depend on a person’s race, but the impact is racist in that one group of people (mostly white) enjoy an advantage over another group (mostly non-white) thanks to nothing more than the great good fortune of being born an English speaker.
It’s a perversity. Yet this is what border systems, including our points system, do: they force you to think about inners and outers. The threshold between the worthy and the unworthy. This is one reason the refugee-led campaign to end
the “family link policy” was so important. In removing the rule barring African and Middle Eastern refugees from settling in New Zealand (unless their family were already here) the campaigners saw to one of the worst racial exclusions our border system made. If you’re an optimist you might hope the other racist exclusions in our border laws – like The Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act, the legislation stripping Samoans of their Privy Council-confirmed New Zealand citizenship – are but a campaign away from abolition.
I’m a pessimist.
I suspect most people imagine borders as objects, a line in the ground demarcating our country from theirs. Yet the American southern border, as one example, is notable more for “the Wall’s” absence than its presence. The northern border is even less dramatic, a largely wide-open space with fences here and there to pen in the farm animals. In New Zealand airlines usually enforce the country’s borders thousands of kilometres from our actual line on the map. Under the Advance Passenger Screening programme carriers only board passengers with the appropriate documentation.
A POLICE OFFICER DEMONSTRATES ILLEGAL GUN MODIFICATIONS. (PHOTO: RNZ / ANA TOVEY)
It’s another marvellous technocratic achievement, appointing airline staff as de facto border patrol agents. But like the points system the screening programme’s impacts can end up perverse and racial making it almost impossible for refugees and asylum seekers from “non-visa waiver countries” (i.e. the developing world) from ever making it far enough to lodge a claim for protection in New Zealand. The programme, more than anything else, exposes borders for what they really are – a list of biased inclusions and exclusions – and the structural violence borders perform are in whom they include (the English-speaking, the educated, the wealthy) and who they exclude (the desperate, the poor, the mostly brown and black).
The alleged shooter and the neo-fascist movement understand a struggle is happening over the nature and function of borders. This man recognised new borders – the “balkanisation of the US” – as the only way to guarantee
“the future of the White race on the North American continent”. His comrades, like the neo-Nazi who went on a stabbing riot on a train in Oregon, claim their end goal is smashing the US into competing ethno-states. For them – and their king in President Trump – reconfiguring the borders, whether as policy changes to the inclusions and exclusions or new border lines entirely, is the best way to guarantee their political supremacy this century.
Are borders by their very nature racist?
I took my last trip to Christchurch a month and a half after March 15. I had a speaking engagement with Network Waitangi Otautahi, the local tauiwi Treaty group. I thought about putting it off. Post-March 15 the only conversations that seem urgent and necessary are about March 15. Taking up space felt wrong, and even stepping off the plane felt intrusive. The city was grieving. Even the affect was off. People were unusually quiet in public spaces. In private one person I spoke to was literally in tears. We weren’t talking about March 15 at all but she was thinking about it every day. Even that felt like I was taking up space. Am I here to grieve too? I thought about Sam Neill breaking down in a taxi when the news broke, openly weeping, and how he took comfort from his Muslim driver.
I spoke, in the end. Not entirely comfortably, but an intervention of one kind or another felt right after the racism debate went from “individual hate” to “firearms access” to “the internet”. Each is its own valid connection, sure, but it felt as if all the most important connections were missing. In the English-speaking world it’s fashionable to name private, individual acts as “racist”. The intolerant, unfair, or simply racial things that fall out of people’s mouths. Like “cheeky darkies” on the 7pm telly. But it’s unfashionable, of course, to name racist systems. Instead bureaucrats and opinion-makers opt for euphemisms like “unconscious bias”, reducing racism to a state of mind and not a systemic design.
This is why I thought it important to issue a reminder, in the very small way that I could: racism is a social relation. It’s the principle governing the relationship between coloniser – the people who took this land and built the institutions to control and profit from it – and colonised, the people from whom the land was taken and the institutions built to protect and exploit the founding theft. The same principle shapes the relationship between citizens – people who enjoy all the rights the state confers – and non-citizens, outsiders who must prove their worth through their contribution to citizens.
These are the systemic conditions that produce racism – unequal power relations – and it’s what makes it so easy to condemn the Māoris or the immigrants or whoever else. When one people are up and the other are down, and the scales are apparently resistant to any remedial attempts to balance them with Treaty settlements or an increase in the refugee and asylum seeker quota, it makes it seem as if their disadvantage is a state of nature and not a centuries-long project to exclude certain people from prosperity. To the alleged shooter his victims were by their very nature irredeemable, abusing the West’s generosity, and he understood himself as enacting the same permanent exclusions his ancestors made, from the Crusades to the war on terror.
In this sense, the alleged shooter was an individual racist. Of course he was. But in another sense he was taking our exclusionary systems to their logical end.
Is there any response to savagery like this? The government’s reforms are one. I entirely support them. And yet they fall so short. People will still define their identity in different nationalisms, just like the alleged shooter did, so long as there are racist border system to enforce them. Neo-fascists will still define their identities against women as long as there is an unequal “domestic sphere”, an unequal workplace, and a society where one group – men – accumulate and exercise disproportionate power over another – women, trans people, non-binary people. That makes the struggle against the alleged shooter’s politics longer than his trial, his probable conviction, and his probable imprisonment. It’s a generations-long struggle to destroy all the exclusions that make up our society and produce the conditions we know as racism.
On my read Simone Weil’s original, vital insight is that as people and communities we find our identities in the obligations we owe – and in the obligations owed to us. In those reciprocal relationships we find meaning and purpose. In the give and take, in its delights and frustrations, and in the everyday work of making a home in these islands. This is where we find our roots, connecting to each other in different ways – whether as Māori or women or Muslims – but never excluding. “They are us” is an inclusion. They are us is an affirmation. They are us is also an urgent and uncomfortable call to action. As New Zealanders, it’s our responsibility to take on every exclusionary system, whether it’s racist borders or enduring gender roles. The memory of those who lost their lives on March 15 demands no less."
T S Eliot was wrong. Not about most things, arguably, but in one particular instance in 2016 CE, a bang nearly ended the world. A multitude of bangs, technically, but the first bang was the most important of all.
North Korea, drunk on power from developing a hydrogen bomb alongside an effective ICBM delivery system, did something most would regard as foolhardy at the best of times. With the initial missile strike, Seoul ceased to exist. China attempted to step in and control the situation, primarily in an attempt to not have radiation spread wide across their lands from United States retaliatory strikes. They declared that any further aggression would be met by equal force. With the public outcry against North Korea globally, however, it was not enough of a deterrent. Retribution from the United States was swift--molten glass where mountains once stood. Chinese leadership, already feeling the effects of the radiation and understanding that if they didn't act in desperation that they would lose everything they've worked decades to achieve, launched their own nuclear warheads. Soon, NATO was involved. Russia jumped in on the side of China, hoping to at least curb the American aggression. Even Israel got caught up in the mix.
By 2017, over 5 billion people were dead.
The first world power to act in the wake of such devastation was India. Before Pakistan knew what was happening, the invasion was already over. The new Indian Empire consolidated under an oppressive new regime, realigning its political process under the guise of order and democracy of the people. Administrator Agneya Singh was quickly "elected" under a new constitution, and assumed "emergency powers for this time of crisis."
In the months following the devastation, South America became a haven for refugees, especially from the former NATO countries. Normally, this influx of desperate, hopeless people would have caused instability, but through cultural, spiritual, and ethical standards, the newcomers were integrated and the bonds of a new identity, forged in the face of apocalypse, arose. It took several years, but the countries in the area banded together, forming a new federation, the South American Confederation. With a constitution based on a combination of the various nation states, and strict democracy becoming enforced heavily on a cultural level, the new nation saw massive rebuilding and development begin to occur.
The final geopolitical force to arise from the ashes of the old world was Africa. In practice, it might have been a stretch to call it a unified force. Regardless, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that despite the many warlords and generals running around claiming authority, only one woman ruled Africa. Self-declared Queen Maritjie Dippenaar, First Warlord of the Legions of Apollyon, was the lunatic in charge of the asylum. The only saving grace for the rest of the world was the corruption, fragmentation, and constant struggle for supremacy from dozens of would-be rivals and assassins. It was only a matter of time for the others though, as Africa had the biggest surviving industrial base and the largest cohesive population.
It was in South America, at the end of 2024, that the scientists interpreted the first signs of a new area of physics--materials capable of redefining the physical rules that once stood firm. Ironically enough, it took the hydrogen bombs' widespread destruction to detect these new materials, and in the newsfeeds worldwide it was heralded as the dawn of a new age of humanity, albeit shadowed in horrible tragedy. And so it was, following all too brief joyous feeling of united humanity in beginning of 2025, that the three Terran power blocs, began their race to the stars.
Initial gains were slow. The three nations, having greatly limited access to research capabilities, struggled for years to crack the secret into making the wondrous Trans-Newtonian Minerals into viable materials for mass production. Tensions continued to rise between the three, almost culminating multiple times in armed conflict, but finally, the South American Confederation cracked the secret. It was swiftly followed by the Indian Empire, and by 2033 both nations were developing as rapidly as possible new engines to explore the distant worlds of the solar system. The First Great Space Race was on.
This time, India won, launching 4 of the Nirbhik class Geological Survey Vessels out into the solar system. Pulses skyrocketed in the other nations for a few days, but they quickly became convinced that the Nirbhik was not armed, and therefore only a threat economically in the rush to find more TN minerals. The Confederation quickly responded with two Parati class Exploration Ships, slower than their Indian counterparts but more capable when it came to surveying. The two different philosophies of the nations were quickly becoming apparent, even more so when the targets of the searches are considered. Unknown to each other, the Empire and the Confederation had very different ideas about what the future looked like. The Empire's mentality focused around exploitation of minerals, especially on the vast quantity of easily accessible asteroids in the system. Serious consideration was not given to colonization yet, rather than getting more of the minerals that would certainly run out on earth.
South America, on the other hand, was feeling the pressure from the tension of the other two nations. The African Union and the Indian Empire had been at each others' throats for a decade, content to ignore the smaller, less well armed nation. The balance had stood so far, but only because all three nations knew that any aggression must be met swiftly and firmly by both of the others. Even with Africa's terrifyingly huge build up of infantry and tanks, they were not big enough to overcome the defenses of the other two nations combined.
This situation could not last, however. South America, with the smallest industrial base and population, was trying to leverage its superior research facilities, but it was still falling behind India's superior researchers in several key areas. In light of this, they focused on establishing a power base elsewhere. Their geological surveys were focused entirely on planets and moons, particularly those they could colonize. In this, they failed miserably. Despite the wealth on Earth, the rest of the solar system was almost barren. Nothing on the moon or Mars, three minerals on Mercury, with one being "high accessibility" at 0.2. Venus had four minerals, with only a single 0.6 in addition to its 0.3 and two 0.1s. Europa had only one mineral at 0.4 accessibility. There was nothing else, anywhere inhabitable. Even sorium was woefully lacking, with only two of the four gas giants having any--Saturn with 5M at 0.3, and Neptune with 99k at 0.5. Depression was heavy on everyones' hearts in the Confederation capital of Sao Paulo.
The Indian Empire was finding the same shortcomings systemwide. It quickly found the wealth of the comets and some of the asteroids, but even with the tens of thousands of tons present at many of them, it would not be enough. Tensions began to rise again, and many civilians of the world, kept in the dark by propaganda, were not even aware of why.
June 8th, 2037. The day that everything changed. An impending boronide shortfall, combined with the completed geological survey, had led the Indians to the decision to militarize space as quickly as possible for the sake of securing as many minerals as the Empire could. Two Rana class Missile Bases came online that same fateful summer day. Any doubt the other two nations had to the intentions of the Ranas was quickly put to rest by the Indian Propaganda Minister. It was made clear, in no uncertain terms, that any extraplanetary mining site claimed by India was Indian territory and would be defended with the full force of the Indian military. The other nations protested vehemently, but no attacks were launched. For the moment, India had the upper hand. To Administrator Singh's credit, they did not push that too far. He understood clearly that another extended nuclear bombardment could all too easily wipe out the remnants of humanity, so the deterrent stick was enforced with a carrot--anything not possessing Indian people or equipment was fair game for the others, if only they could get there.
The magnanimous attitude of Singh's was not mirrored by African Queen Maritjie I or South American Primeiro-ministro Luis Caldeira. For the Queen, having recently broken through to the Trans-Newtonian technology, was desperate to maintain her grasp over Africa and not allow the other nations to intimidate, coerce, or, worst of all, conquer her lands. For decades, Africa was behind the other nations, entirely due to research deficiencies. No longer. She demanded research labs built, with as much industry continuing to convert as she dared. She would not be cowed into submission. She would fight, and gods willing, she would emerge victorious over her two rivals. For the time being, she was content to keep those emotions to herself. In diplomatic discussions, she emphasized the African Union's desire to only maintain sovereignty over her continent to the others. She found open ears in South America, even if India was more skeptical. And it had to be said, for all of the vast armies she had under her warlords, not a single armed conflict had erupted on earth in over twenty years. Maybe it was possible to avoid confrontation after all. Whatever anyone thought, Queen Maritjie I quietly ordered the development of the Osiris class Battlecruiser. It would be years, almost a decade, before it would be completed with the rudimentary research available to the Africans, but their labs would be of one mind in this. Content to let the others play their games in space, distracting their efforts, the Queen was patient. Her time would come.
South America, however, did not share the Queen of Africa's patience. Despite the continued peaceful diplomatic ties between it and the other two nations, no one in the government believed that ambition would always give way to humanism or even pragmatism like it had for India. Additionally, a strong fear existed that the wrong spark could end the human species forever. Tempered by the realization that it could easily doom humanity, the Confederation started research into tech that would allow them to selectively neutralize enemies, hopefully without any of the unfortunate side effects like widespread devastation and radiation poisoning. This dream was realized two and half years after the Indian Ranas went online. As a 2039 Christmas present to themselves, the South Americans presented to the world the Tapajo class Point Defense Base. Three of them, in fact. The exact weaponry was kept a closely guarded secret from the rest of the world, but they heavily hinted at nuclear retaliation capabilities. This was a misdirection. Each Tapajo was built around four quad meson turrets, each capable of firing every 10 seconds. The nature of the material penetrating mesons, combined with the natural armor of the Andes mountains in which they were housed, led to a confident belief among defense scientists that any Indian strike anywhere in the world could be neutralized, without any unreasonable amount of civilian casualties. The Indians, seeing the small size of the Tapajos (each was only 5,400 on their active scanners, compared to the 10,300 ton Ranas), took the South Americans at their word and assumed it was just enough launchers to ensure Mutually-Assured-Destruction existed. After all, the Indian scientists had been swearing for years that missiles were superior to any of the theoretical projectile or energy weapons in every way--those couldn't even operate in atmosphere! Unfortunately the Indian grad student in charge of meson research was more interested in studying biology and anatomy than weapon physics, so any hope of catching that error was buried underneath a pile of other responsibilities. In all of this, the Africans were unusually silent. Most analysts assumed they were attempting to develop a weapons platform of their own; correct, in a fashion. In private, the Queen of Africa was a bizarre mix of livid and hopefully with the revelation of the American bases. She felt even more vulnerable to the others, but her diplomats assured her that any aggression on India's part against Africa would be met with swift retaliation from America. The balance must continue, so she was content to continue waiting for her moment.
The next year, 2040, was momentous for several reasons, all of which favored India. While India had already set up a couple mining colonies systemwide, it took another huge step for humanity in the spring of that year. It dropped infrastructure on Luna, and within what seems like weeks, "independent" ships from the Indian "public company" Athani Shipping and Trading sprang into existence. India claimed Luna with a vengeance, quickly moving population up there in droves. Shortly after that, Indian "private companies" set up several mining facilities systemwide. Most importantly, unknown in part to either of the other nations, India had secured every major source of Boronide in the system. It controlled over 90% of the remaining stock, even factoring in what was left on Earth. India, of course, did not share this with the other nations.
The most momentous occurrence of 2040, however, was the introduction of the first true military spaceship. India had long had a history of dominating spaceflight by this point. When the Acheron class Light Cruiser launched on September 30th, 2040, there were only 3 non-Indian ships in the entirety of the solar system (all South American). This was compared to the 9 official Indian ships (5 Trinkat class Cargo Ships and the 4 Nirbhik class Geological Survey Vessels), plus their various "civilian" vessels, maybe a dozen colony and freight ships. These numbers are important to put into perspective, because India launched five of the Acherons at the same time.
The Acheron class is a smaller vessel, built on the same 4000 ton frame as the Nirbhiks. Several important differences however--the more efficient engines of the survey vessels gave way to more integrated and compact military grade engines, giving plenty of room for the two missile tubes each Acheron carried. Indian doctrine called for vast numbers of ships, so each of their shipyards had multiple slipways on which to lay down hulls. While this left smaller and less capable ships, India was not concerned about their dominance in space. Even though the Acherons did not have an active sensor capability on board, any military threat would almost certainly have to come from Earth and the active sensors on the Ranas were deemed more than enough for the time being. Plans for a new sensor platform were drawn up as a medium term solution, but the Albatross class Recon Frigate was not put into production at that time in order to get more of the Acherons out of their only (heavily slipweighed) military shipyard.
The final thing to happen in 2040 was a scientist in South America putting forth a new and exciting theory about the effects of Trans-Newtonian minerals and the fabric of space-time. He proposed that there could be "jump points," areas of space weak enough from solar gravitational pressures that ships could punch through into another nearby solar system. Further research was required, of course. So began the Second Great Space Race.
With Africa once again on the sidelines watching, India and America worked tirelessly to be the first to discover and exploit the new theory. All three nations, while still comfortable from the wealth of the Earth, were well aware of the vast mineral wealth that could be uncovered across the stars. Queen Maritijie I seethed with envy over once again missing out on the initial pickings, but consoled herself with the inevitable comeuppance each of her rivals had on the way. Over the next two years, the nations struggled, each getting the much-needed research that fit their long term goals, and it was another year before the first fruits of that labor emerged--the Brahmaputra class Gravitational Survey Vessel. India once again beat America to the punch, and once again leveraged their massive shipyards to pump out ships. Four of the Brahmaputras were unleashed on the same day, spreading out through the solar system to quickly do their scans. This time, however, the Americans were right on their heels. Two of the Parati 2.0(R) class Exploration Ships launched less than two weeks later. While the Indian ships were capable of over 210 billion kilometers, much more than the 180 billion km of the Paratis, the American vessels had almost 14% more speed. The contest raced forward into the next stage, seeing who could discover the future of humanity's salvation.
The discovery of the first jump point proved to be one of the most significant events in human history. It wasn't so much the existence of jump points (very important!). It wasn't the even presence of a terrestrial planet within the jump point that was almost perfect for human habitation. It was the jump gate constructed on top of the jump point that shook the world and turned everything on its head. Proof. Definitive proof of extraterrestrial existence. And it was in the home star system of the human race
. Policymakers worldwide (the discovery was too big for India, the original discoverer, to keep quiet) had many long nights working out what to do for first contact situations, and other contingencies. Humanity would never be the same.
The race to discover new jump points continued. After they passed 3 jump points, they were starting to feel ecstatic--plenty of potential space to jump into, even if most of them didn't have jump gates yet. After 5 jump points, apprehension was building. What if Sol was some kind of interstellar hub for travel? This was confirmed in many people's minds with the discovery of the 6th jump point. This one too had a jump gate already on it--two alien constructions pre-existing in Sol! How long had they been there? Was something going to come out of them?
As it turned out, Sol had 7 jump points. Soon, both India and America had at least transited the two jump gates, into Barnard's Star and Wolf 359. Barnard's Star was a very small system with only three planets, all of which would fit inside Mercury's orbit in Sol. The farthest was only 56M kilometers from the thankfully very dim, very small red dwarf star. Of the three planets, two were gas giants, which later scans revealed to be completely devoid of TNMs. This meant the only thing of any note was Barnard's Star II, a terrestrial planet with a very faint existing oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere only a little ways below the temperature tolerance range of humanity. Fairly easy to terraform, and scans revealed that it had 12.5M tons of Duranium and 10M tons of Sorium. Unfortunately, these were both at 0.1, but given the lack of sorium in Sol, this was proof that at least there would be a decent supply if absolutely necessary, if someone should claim the planet soon. Wolf 359 is a more interesting find. Twelve planets, dozens of moons and asteroids, and eight potential sites for human inhabited colonies. Unfortunately, none of these sites were particularly good for colonization--only two could ever be human perfect, and that would take extreme effort. Still, preliminary geosurvey results have been very positive, with millions of at least middling accessibility for several key minerals, including duranium, boronide, and corundium.
In a rare win for the Americans, early January 2045 saw the unveiling of the Pampeiro class Jump Scouts. They were small and unassuming, 4500 tons with little more than a commercial engine and a commercial jump drive. But, they were cheap, quick to research, and quick to make, and they paid off vast dividends. Within four months, the jump scouts had transited all 5 unexplored jump points, and very roughly mapped out what each contained. No geosurvey information is currently available.
JP1: Lalande 21185 - Unassuming star, with one planet and 5 comets. Speculation in astrogeological circles places high mineral value on the comets, given experiences in Sol. The planet is very close to the very dim star, at only 9.1M orbital distance. With a gravity of two, atmospheric pressure of 168, and a surface temp of 772.9, it is not a very inviting planet. However, it could be a decent place to have automining facilities on the comets mass drive their minerals, and it might even have TNMs itself.
JP2: Proxima Centauri - Similary to Wolf 359, with 7 planets, and dozens of moons and asteroids. Highly interesting find: a derelict wreck drifts in the inner system, inside the orbit of planet IV. The wreck is 9000 tons, so bigger than any non-commercial vessel in Sol space. It seems too small to be a commercial vessel, although the possibility that it is a survey vessel can't be ruled out. Plans are drawn up to research salvaging ships for possible exploitation of this discovery.
JP3: Barnard's Star, above
JP4 & 5: Sirius and Alpha Centauri, much more interesting, and will be discussed soon.
JP6: Ross 128 - Seven planets, several dozen moons, one potential but difficult perfect human world, with a half dozen nonperfect terraforming targets. The real draw in this system is the 160 asteroids floating around the sun. Another small system, with the farthest object less than a billion km in orbital radius.
JP7: Wolf 359, above
When Capitao-de-Corveta Ernesto Murillo Gamez, captain of the JSC Pampeiro 001
, first jumped into Sirius, he was a little unimpressed. Binary star, the A component only has one venusian-type planet with two moons. B component has 5 planets with 69 moons between them. Almost easy to overlook, but Captain Gamez looked a bit closer and saw that 5 of the moons were terraformable to human range tolerances, and another 5 moons weren't perfectly terraformable but could definitely be the site of some genetically modified denizens. 10 potentially habitable planets within a 620M km radius...this has some fantastic potential, economically as well as astrogeologically. Unfortunately, the lack of asteroids or comets limits some of the easier mining potential, and the B component's orbit will eventually take it 9B kilometers away from the Sol jump point. Still, Sirius looks like it has some serious potential. Captain Gamez is relieved of command for making that pun.
Capitao-de-Corveta Nelson Santos, commanding officer of the JSC Pampeiro 002
, discovered Alpha Centauri. Binary star, 6 comets, over 2 dozen asteroids...these parts are fairly mundane. However, Alpha Centauri has, between the two component suns, 12 planets with 77 moons. Alpha Centauri A-II is near perfect, with a colony cost of 0.49. Additionally, Alpha Centauri B-IV-Moon 7 is only lacking oxygen to make it a perfect world. Finally, Captain Santos found something fairly unique--a terraformable asteroid. The asteroid, creatively named Asteroid #6 of the B-Component, has a surface temp of -18.6, and no atmosphere. It could be very interesting to develop that soon. Altogether, Alpha Centauri has 3 close to perfect bodies, in addition to 3 that could be made perfect with enough time. Four more bodies could be made perfect for a bioengineered race with higher cold tolerances. As the final cherry on top, a wreck is also in Alpha Centauri, with a size of 17,800 tons. This would undoubtedly reveal some very useful and interesting technology...
The date is April 22nd, 2045. In the past 4 months, the South American Confederation has gained a huge negotiating leg up on the Indian Empire. The Confederation has just under 900 million people, with 10 research labs, 638 construction factories, and 488 mines. They have 10 ships--2 freighters, 2 colony ships, 2 jump scouts, 2 gravsurvey ships, and 2 geosurvey ships--in addition to the 3 Meson bases on Earth. Diplomats and bureaucrats are already trying to come up with ways to annex Alpha Centauri, and keep the other two Solarian nations out of it. They are considering three options--1) approach India with the offer of giving them Sirius, with its serious potential for close range terraforming, and as a sweetener offering them the derelict in Proxima Centauri as free salvage, 2) calling a diplomatic summit between the 3 nations, to negotiate with a heavy hand and hopefully gain Africa's support in forcing India to bow, and 3) preemptively striking against the Indian Empire with meson fire. Military analysts believe that the ten 4000 ton warships that the Indians have been sending on blatant training missions around Earth are too small to have decent active sensors, leaving only the Rana PDCs. With the meson cannons, it should be possible to completely cripple the Indians before they can even get a shot off. That just leaves the ground forces, but Primeiro-ministro Caldeira hopes that a ceasefire can commence after the Indians realize that they've lost. This won't do much for immediate relations, but hopefully in time that can be mended. Alpha Centauri looks like too big a jewel to let out of grasp.
Africa has been biding its time carefully. The Queen, First Warlord of the Legions of Apollyon, Empress of the Savanna, Duchess of Sand and Fire, sees the options ahead with a military glint in her eye. There is little doubt that she will need to bring the others down to size at the earliest opportunity, and is thinking about making overtures to the South Americans for an offensive war against the growing military and economic might of India. Africa has yet to launch a single ship, but with 75 maintenance facilities, 950 construction factories, 490 mines, and 15 research labs, she is gearing up to conquer. She has come a long way since the 2 research labs she started with. She has the biggest armies, but they are low tech. Still, with 17 legions of armor and 14 legions of infantry, the deterrent power of that many raw people is powerful. The Osiris class Battlecruiser is almost fully complete, and the Aucamp-Erasmus Shipyard has been designed to pump them out fast, with 3 slipways of 15,000 capacity.
The Indian Empire, under the watchful eye of Administrator Agneya Singh, has keep close tabs on its neighbors. Spies have attempted to keep abreast of all the major happenings, but recently the entire Indian spy network got a shock when it discovered the Project 2401: Osiris in Africa. Singh has no doubt at all that the Africans mean to declare war when profitable to do so, and with that in mind, a military strike has to be taken into account. Singh is still not comfortable firing missiles at the Earth, given the results from almost 30 years ago, but he sees little option, as the Indians are still convinced that energy and projectile weapons cannot work in atmosphere. He is playing with the idea of a diplomatic summit to unilaterally disarm Africa, and believes that South America shares his opinion that more devastation would be a bad thing. Ultimately, Singh believes it is India's destiny to rule the Earth as one united people, and given that he has as many warships as South America has total ships, he is disinclined to be swayed from his opinions. His military advisers are warning him that he still cannot project power at all without a mobile active sensor platform, but he's unconcerned. Not even evidence of alien artifacts and ruins could sway his mind from this. India has humanity's only extraplanetary colonies. Luna is at 33M people, Mars (which India picked up sometime in the last 5 years) is at 15M people, and India has two comets as automated mining colonies. Additionally, there are 6 civilian mining colonies, with 19 civilian mines between them. India has 3 shipping lines, with a combined total of 28 ships, which are mostly colony ships. It also has 32 ships under direct control--6 colony ships, 8 cargo ships, 4 gravsurvey ships, 4 geosurvey ships, and 10 of the Acheron class Light Cruiser--as well as the 2 Rana PDCs that caused so much controversy. They are unaware of it, but they currently have the lowest amount of research labs, at 8, construction facilities, at 576, and mines at 424. To be fair, if you count CMCs, that adds an additional 190 mines, which is technically more than anyone else. It is just costing them wealth (which they have huge amounts of, thanks to trade) to extract it.
What will happen next? Will Earth survive the coming storm? Are aliens living among us? In all seriousness, I've had more fun with a multination start than I ever expected I would. It adds immediate tension, a fight for resources and a fight to get to the asteroids as soon as possible. I didn't expect some of the shortfalls that came up, but it has definitely been a learning experience! I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of Centauri Dreaming!
Part 2 is here.
Edit: Grammar and such.
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