Yesterday, I awoke to the news of the horrific attack against two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. The apparent killer posted a manifesto online before commencing his murderous assault on innocent Muslim worshippers.
The attack is a salutary reminder that all terrorists, by definition, believed in something and have a cause. Mass murder driven simply by a personal desire to kill, without any ideological underpinning, is not terrorism as the word is defined.
For example, other Muslims often complain that the 2017 Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was not labelled as a terrorist while the 2013 Boston Marathon bombrers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were, implying that only Muslims get labelled as terrorists. The labelling here is accurate, because the Boston Marathon killers had an ideology they were promoting, while the Las Vegas killer did not.
Violent Islamist extremism
Sadly, a long line of major terrorist attacks around the world mean that violent Islamist extremism is “front of brain” for almost everybody. If you want to understand this ideology, I recommend reading “The Genealogy of Terror: How to distinguish between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism” by Matthew L.N. Wilkinson which I review at this link.
The frequency of violent Islamist extremism leads some people to make inaccurate and massively hurtful statements such as “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” Depending on who it is, anyone who says that is either ignorant or being deceitful.
Other ideological motivations
At the non-geographical ideological level, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was motivated by anti-government beliefs. His beliefs were not the same as the white racism that motivated Dylann Roof to kill black worshippers in a Charlotte church in 2015. Roof’s views may however overlap to some extent with those of Robert Gregory Bowers who has been charged with the 2018 attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue.
The New Zealand killer appears to have anti-Muslim beliefs very similar to those of Anders Behring Breivik, the 2011 killer of young socialists in Norway.
What is to be done?
As with violent Islamist extremism, the most immediate requirement is for more physical security and greater intelligence enabling plots to be intercepted and foiled.
However, that is not enough.
The ideological beliefs that are circulating need to be analysed and understood, with de-radicalisation programs being developed that are tailored to the individual ideologies involved. It is superficial to simply label all of them as “far right” without looking at the distinctions between them.
The 1500-page manifesto of Breivik or the 74-page manifesto issued by the apparent New Zealand killer can easily be dismissed as nonsense. They are. However, to prevent people being radicalised by these ideas, we must understand the twisted logic that underlies them.
One needs to also deal with those who promote the ideas which are absorbed by people and lead people to become terrorists. That is what he meant by dealing with non-violent extremism, a concept often mocked by the extremists and their fellow travellers, but which is explained very precisely in Dr Wilkinson’s book.
What happens next?
The Muslim extremists who contend that Muslims will never be accepted in, for example, Europe exist in a symbiotic relationship with those non-Muslim extremists who contend that Islam is an alien religion that does not belong in Europe. Such Muslims will already be pointing towards the New Zealand attack in order to convince impressionable young Muslims that they will never be accepted here.
The outpouring of support and sympathy that we have seen from political and religious leaders is therefore vital.
Going forward, all politicians and media outlets should reflect on their language. Are they using words that unite people or divide them?
Sadly, all too often in Britain, North America, Australia, and continental Europe one finds politicians promoting divisions within society for electoral gain. They need to be ostracised as Fraser Anning, the Australian Senator, has been for his comments immediately after the shooting.