There seems no respite from loathsome terrorist acts that test the patience of governments and societies. But it is essential that those responsible for the violence dont win. Countering the global trend of rising hatred, bigotry, and demonization is a crucial lesson from the Christchurch atrocity.
Finding a definition of terrorism that will satisfy everyone is a wasted exercise. Any confusion as to who the enemy only takes the focus away from the hard battle against terrorism itself. To state it bluntly, the murder and maiming of innocents is terrorism. The victims may be Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, or anyone else. It begs the question: why arent all states, communities, races and religion united against the common threat posed by extremism?
The purveyors of hate and division havent changed their insidious approach with time. For example, there is a similarity in the goals and philosophy expressed in Adolf Hitlers Mein Kampf and Brenton Tarrants manifesto, titled The Great Replacement. Tarrant, the individual with white supremacist views, carried out the carnage at the two Christchurch mosques.
Hitler demonised Jews as the personification of all evils while Tarrant vilifies immigrants as unwanted invaders. Both represented majorities, deemed long-suffering victims of conniving minorities. The same spurious argument is heard, more and more, today. It has disturbed the fragile racial, communal and religious harmony in many sensitive parts of the world. And it threatens the rights and freedoms of people of diverse religions and beliefs.
Global extremism is thriving under various causes like populism, hyper-nationalism, majoritarianism, and religious fundamentalism. Despite fair economic conditions, all parts of the world have seen a boost in extremist violence. Intimidation, incitement, and prejudice have touched many communities and faiths.
Criminals and thugs, such as neo-Nazis, Ku Klux clan, white supremacists, and other hate groups target racial minorities, immigrants and refugees. Islamic State (IS) has carried out horrific acts of barbarism in its reign of terror. Although IS is facing imminent military defeat, its extremist ideology that drove its fanatical followers may prove far more difficult to expel.
Historically, extremist groups and cults have attracted adherents who live in a collective delirium. This state of mind acts as a drug replacing thought and conscience. In this state, blind faith and folly obscure the human traits of logic, reason, and intellect. This mindset may explain the mindless barbarism perpetrated on innocents in the name of anti-immigration, nationalism, and religion.
Furthermore, wars and military action appeal to sections of the military-industrial complex. But the pursuit of military options can have unintended consequences. Peoples sentiments are whipped up to encourage demonisation and discord. Jingoist rhetoric drowns out the voices of liberalism and peace. Politicising acts of terrorism is a disservice to the many grieving families. Democratic leaders particularly should resist such inclinations.
There is an urgent need for a message of hope to reverse the slide into divisiveness and hatred in which extremism prospers. The message must articulate that humanity rejects acts of violence and intolerance perpetrated in the name of race or religion. It ought to communicate that extremists, of all stripes and areas of operation, share common goals: the degradation of democratic values, the overturn of freedom of speech, religion and hard-won gains in civil rights by women and minorities.
Curbing violent extremism will require strong commitment and resolve. We have seen when state institutions fail, terrorist groups and warlords, fill the gap. Of course, the military, security, and intelligence tools will continue to play an integral part in identifying and stopping extremist plots. A lethal weapons ban would limit the capabilities of extremists. Sensitising and humanising state institutions will play a part. But, there are limits to what states can do alone to combat extremism.
Ultimately, it is tolerant societies that are the bulwark against extremism. They can help to regulate hate speech and inflammatory literature that incites violence. Making democracy successful through participation and inclusion also helps. Extremists tend to overpower other reasonable voices within the community debate which has to change.
Negating the twisted ideologies that fuels extremism at the root is the primary challenge. Winning the battle of ideas is the only way to dissuade young people from joining extremist ranks. It is a fact that extremism is tempting, especially for disaffected young people. People too often make the transition from non-violent extremism to violent extremism.
It is naïve to expect that eradication of extremism. But it is worth hoping that the problem is better managed. The tragic events in Christchurch serve as another wake-up call to humanity to embrace peace and tolerance.
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