What happened in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, was heartbreaking. The carnage attests to the fact that extremism obeys no boundaries, no borders, no region and can strike at will. While the perpetrator, Brenton Harrison Tarrant of this heinous crime is in the custody, 49 innocent people deserve justice. Prime Minister of New Zealand called the mass murder a “terrorist attack” and said the perpetrators held “extremist views” that have no place in New Zealand.
Pertinently, the US “war on terror” seems to have contributed enormously to the rise of Islamophobia. The killing of Muslims at prayer clearly shows hate and prejudice towards Islam. Islamophobia has led to disharmony among communities and between the natives and immigrants. Disharmony makes peace fragile and manifests in violence.
The Christchurch bloodshed has also exposed the fragility of peace across the world, indicating that religious intolerance has sharpened the feelings of hatred, making peace the first casualty. So long as religious intolerance is there, disharmony will intensify only to destroy all hopes and efforts of having peaceful co-existence.
There have been acts of terrorism in the past as well. In Pakistan’s Peshawar province, innocent school children were brutally massacred almost five years back. In 2011, Anders Breivik, a right-wing Norwegian extremist who was critical of immigration killed eight people in Oslo. On the same day, he killed 69 youths on nearby Utoya Island. Before this carnage, Breivik had published a 1518 page racist manifesto and had believed that the western civilization was endangered by Islam. Alexandre Bissonnette, a Canadian mass murderer, murdered six worshippers and injured 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017.
These mass killings and now the mass murder of innocent worshippers in New Zealand show that soft targets are used to achieve nefarious designs of the terrorists. At the same time, the incident shows that the anti-peace elements can seriously challenge any nation – big or small, Western or non-Western.
Most importantly, the mass murder of the worshippers has made it clear that the world has wrongly associated all extremism with Islam. The international community must understand that populists and right-wing politicians often use anti-Islamic rhetorics to manipulate their domestic electorates and to keep public opinion in favor of their military adventures.
As a result of this tendency, religious and cultural intolerance rises, leaving billions of innocent and peaceful practitioners of a religion vulnerable to the attack of radicalized elements of our society.
Interestingly, Tarrant, the 28–year old Australian white supremacist had uploaded a hate-filled manifesto before killing the innocents in Christchurch. Authorities found an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigration, anti-Muslim ideas. The perpetrator claimed that the manifesto was the cause of his rampage to save Western civilization from ‘Islamists’ and foreign invaders. His manifesto further refers to an ideology which inspired him – the ideology which seeks to recruit and radicalize young minds.
Referring to himself as a ‘regular white man,’ Brenton wrote that he was carrying out the attack to “Directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves”. Pertinently, the guns and equipment used in the mass killing of 49 Muslims in New Zealand, were decorated with the names of several violent white supremacists, including the Canadian mass murderer Bissonette.
A question arises: what can be the motives behind the New Zealand bloodbath? Two motives seem possible: one, to frighten the Muslim immigrants so that they do not migrate to the Western countries in general and in particular to the Australian continent. Two, to radicalize the Muslim youths and pit them against the non-Muslim world in order to justify action against them.
New Zealand should take effective measures to discourage Christchurch like tragedies. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated rightly that those responsible for the attack will face the law of the land. This has sent a positive message across the world, enhancing the country’s credibility and image in the international stage.
Unless religious tolerance is both preached and practiced by all communities, social harmony will not exist in a pluralist society. The resultant differences will create social fault lines and widen the gap among communities, leading to hate and violence. The massacre at Christchurch has taught us the importance of religious harmony across the globe. If the victims of the Christchurch bloodbath get justice, we will have made a good beginning.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
The author is an Indian (Kashmir) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He extensively writes on South Asia. He can be reached at Sheikhshabir518@gmail.com.