The lessons to take from the Christchurch mosque terrorist atrocity
While Brenton Tarrant may have acted alone in carrying out his vile attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, he is certainly not alone in the wider sense of the word. Around the world, in Western countries in particular, it is evident that a rising tide of Islamophobia is giving prominence to populist anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe and the United States.
The growing radicalization of public discourse directed towards fearful white populations in the US and Europe — by politicians such as US President Donald Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen among others, and conservative pundits who blame the “other” (usually immigrants and Muslims) for the perceived social and economic problems these countries are facing — is a mirror image of the narrative spread by extremist groups about the West’s supposed evil influence on the Islamic world.
As if to confirm the role played by radical voices in the West, Tarrant claimed in an online post that he was “radicalized” by popular American conservative pundit Candace Owens, who he said “helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness.” He went further to confirm in his manifesto the role played by politicians such as Trump in fueling his orgy of hate by describing the president as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
These waves of anti-Muslim hate sweeping the western world are serious warning signs and a clear manifestation of a number of issues.
Firstly, the spread of Islamophobia is a phenomenon, espoused by increasingly radicalized white men who see themselves as victims, that now seems to span the entire western world. This is evident from Tarrant’s affirmations that he was influenced by high-profile figures, such as Trump and Owens, on the other side of the globe.
Secondly, western countries, and even Arab countries, seem to overlook the threat posed by white-supremacist groups and individuals as a result of their biased focus on Islamic groups. Such groups and websites are not being watched closely and as a result seem to escape government security nets around the world simply because few are paying attention to them.
It is time for western countries to stop pointing fingers at the Muslim world, face their own demons at home and recognize the need to halt the spread of radical discourse by their own media organizations and politicians, which is merely adding fuel to the fires of hate and intolerance in their societies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center noted in s recent report that right-wing groups and individuals were responsible for all of the terrorist attacks on US soil in 2018. It also reported that the number of hate groups operating in the US rose by 7 percent last year to 1,020. The FBI found that the US experienced a 30 percent increase in the number of reported hate crimes between 2015 and 2017
The third issue is that it is now clear, and well documented, that hate groups are increasingly common everywhere, not only in the Islamic world. The narrative of these groups always revolves around the Nazi dichotomy of “us versus them.” Too many people consider themselves victims of “invasion and evil influences” by “the other” who is “responsible for everything bad that happens” in their societies. According to the simple and superficial logic of such people, all these problems will be solved “if only we can get rid of ‘them.’”
Fourthly, it is abundantly clear that security and military measures have failed miserably to combat this worldwide phenomenon. It is obvious that there are much deeper causes of this growing radicalism and hate beyond the tired old simplifications of economic marginalization, religion, ignorance, lack of security, or any of the other cliches that traditionally have been used to explain it all away.
The problem seems to be much deeper and rooted in a sense of alienation and victimhood. This alienation seems to manifest itself among groups who use religious, economic or racial narratives to justify their violence.
It is time for western countries to get off their moral high horses, stop pointing fingers at the Muslim world, face their own demons at home and recognize the home-grown racist and cultural terrorist groups. They need to halt the spread of radical discourse by their own media organizations and politicians, which is merely adding fuel to the fires of hate and intolerance in their societies.
Muslims can claim victimhood as a result of western colonialism and military intervention in the Islamic world. White Europeans and Christian conservatives can also claim victimhood due to the number of displaced Muslims who immigrated to their countries because of western-led wars. But such claims of victimhood and demands for redress for historical wrongs will simply breed more radicalism, hate and intolerance, unless they are defeated by an enlightened and rational narrative from those who see the good and strength of diversity, and the positive impact of all who share our crowded and increasingly linked world, rather than simply and exclusively relying on heavy handed police and military solutions that simply add to the grievances on all sides.
• Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group.