Words fail to capture the horror and barbarism of the terrorist attack last week by an Australian man who, armed with semi-automatic weapons, rampaged through two mosques in the city of Christchurch, killing 51 worshippers and wounding dozens more.
The terrorist live-streamed himself going room to room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range. He also published a racist “manifesto” on social media before the attack, featuring conspiracy theories about Europeans being “displaced” by immigrants and details of two years of preparation and radicalisation leading up to the shootings.
The attack shocked and outraged the whole world. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the heinous crime as one of the nation’s “darkest days”. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said: “With this attack, hostility towards Islam that the world has been idly watching and even encouraging for some time, has gone beyond the boundaries of individual harassment”. French President Emmanuel Macron also strongly condemned the “odious attack”, saying France “stands against any form of extremism”. Pope Francis too denounced the “senseless acts of violence” in the Christchurch mosques and prayed for the Muslim community and all New Zealanders. US President Donald Trump extended his “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand after the massacre in the mosques.
The fiendish brutality in two New Zealand mosques, above everything else, highlights the danger of Islamophobia and racial hatred that has spread like a plague in the western countries over the last two decades. New Zealand has never before seen the kind of terrorist violence that shook it and the entire world from Sydney to San Francisco. It was a pre-meditated, well-calculated act of massacre of innocent people praying to Allah, an act of mindless violence that drew spontaneous outpourings of condemnation and grief from world leaders. The Australian man was driven by an intense hatred of Muslims and immigrants.
Doubtless, the savagery in Christchurch comes as another proof of the deadly spread of religious and racial hatred in some western societies. Over the last decade there has been an alarming rise of ultra-right conservative and fascist parties which openly indulge in hate speech against Muslims and other immigrant groups. Racists and religious fanatics attack as lone wolves as well as in packs. The New Zealand tragedy is not the only one of its kind in recent years. One can recall here terrorist attacks on Muslims in Quebec and Finsbury Park mosques. Jews were attacked in Pittsburgh and African-Americans in Charleston. The 2011 Norway attacks were against the very concept of multi-culturalism.
Western scholars and media talk about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism but they conveniently ignore the resurgence of Christian radicalism and hate crime against Muslims in Europe and America. It is a sad fact that Western governments have done little to stem the tide of blind hatred fanned by some fringe groups. They have been let free to spout anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant venom which poisons young minds leading to physical attacks against Muslim men, women and children, living peacefully in the countries of their adoption. One cannot cite the freedom of speech and expression as an excuse to allow antipathy towards Muslims, anti-immigration rhetoric, intolerance and incitement to violence. But this a routine policy approach in Western societies which encourage and promote extremism and terrorism.
The time has come to put an end to the bugbear of Islamophobia in the name of clash of civilizations and ethno-cultural exclusivity. Sane elements in the West need to wake up to their moral and socio-political responsibilities and come up with a new narrative to de-radicalise the minds of young people misled by unchallenged and incessant hate speech of extremist groups.
This is the work required to be done at the ideological level. At the same time, security authorities and police need to keep an eye on terrorist networks that instigate and recruit individuals to carry out attacks on Muslim and other immigrants. A special watch needs to be kept on social media platforms and websites, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as mainstream news outlets which wittingly or unwittingly allow themselves to be misused to fan racial and ethnic animosities. Needless to say, the spread of hatred in the West will evoke a similar response from radical groups in Muslim lands, leading to an endless cycle of violence and posing a serious threat to the world peace.