The horrible terrorist attack that killed fifty Muslim worshippers in the two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand on the 15th of March has brought to the fore the underbellies in even the societies and places considered safest in the world.
The episode has revealed that national boundaries aren’t impervious to hatred and bigotry. The spine chilling incident has amply borne out that extremism and terrorism is a phenomenon not specifically attributable to a particular religion, race or culture.
Indeed, terrorist attacks in which the attackers are purportedly said to have driven their inspiration from Islam are more common, there have been many terrorist attacks in Europe unquestionably attributable to right-wing extremism.
Ghastly episodes like 2011 Norway attacks in which a far right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breviek killed 79 people, 2015 Charleston church shooting in which Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans, Killing of eleven Jewish congregants in a synagogue in Pittsburgh by Robert D. Bowers are still fresh in our memories.
There is a long list of such attacks and we don’t even need statistics to prove it.. Terrorists may perpetrate violence for varying reasons but they do have much in common.
The first and foremost among many similarities that we must recognise though unpleasant is that terrorists are not alone, they are on the fringes of a broader movement which is somewhat diffused in the mainstream society. They hold extreme views of a somewhat a legitimate mainstream movement.
That is the reason there is a distinction between “crime” and “terrorism”. Whereas ‘crime’ means any act punishable under law, terrorism means use of calculated violence in order to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological.
It is precisely the human sentiments and vulnerabilities around these political, religious and ideological identities that extremist demagogues understand well and channelise into violent radicalism. Every culture holds within it a xenophobic element. We all harbour stereotypes about other people in some way.
Extremists whether Muslim or white supremacist perceive other communities as existential treats to them and it their moral obligation to fight it. All extremists are masters in inventing conspiracy theories and use propaganda to crystalise hem.
Whereas Islamist militants blame west for all chaos in their lands, it is very clear from the Facebook text of Brenton Terrant the man accused in the Christchurch mosque attack wherein he refers to Muslim immigrants to Europe as invaders predicting a doom of the European white race if nothing is done about it.
Both Islamist militants and right-wing Christian Extremists are somehow captives to their respective pasts and derive inspiration and zeal from distorted version of history. Muslim extremists invoke wars of early Muslim generations, glorify fighters and attach a sense of heroism to it. The Brenton Terrant in his propounded theory in social media invokes battle of tours, defeat of Muslim army in 732 and siege of Vienna and calls for revenge on Muslims for the number of European people they killed.
Both Islamist militants and right-wing Christians derive sanction for violence against government from religion. Whereas Islamist militants consider democracy as anti-islamic, right-wing terrorist groups see government as oppressor of their imagined community defined by religion and race. The terrorist groups such as Army of God have cited Christian beliefs and interpretations of the Bible as motivation for anti-abortionist violence.
The bottom line is that terrorists of all hues are in essence merely the embodiment of ideological ambitions the banner of which can be taken anywhere by anyone so long as they are not fought over.
The long term answer lies in understanding and winning the struggle of ideas.
(The author is a teacher by profession)