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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Christchurch shooting: Far-right hunt for views to create hatred

Radicalised individuals find a narrative that feeds a spiral of violence

Anders Behring Breivik supposedly influenced the shooter who killed at least 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch. AP.
Anders Behring Breivik supposedly influenced the shooter who killed at least 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch. AP.

“God please, let this guy run out of bullets”. Those were the agonising prayers of one Christchurch Muslim as his prayer hall was shot at by a far-right terrorist. As bullet after bullet flew over his head, he turned to God and sought relief from the heavens. A reaction that any of us would have felt in the circumstances.

The plea came amid another – now all too frequent – terrorist attack inspired by far-right hatred. The attack in Christchurch has claimed the life of 49 New Zealander Muslims going about their daily business and keeping the precepts of their faith. It is often easy to forget that Muslims are by far the most numerically common victims of terrorism around the world, even if such acts are principally launched by those who claim religious vindication.

The butcher who perpetrated this particular atrocity was, it appears, delusional in his political beliefs and an assessment of his mental health will now surely follow. It is not enough, however, to dismiss this act as the work of a madman. It was a co-ordinated, carefully orchestrated assault by a convinced radical who had spent two years plotting this operation. Rather, we must see this terrorist like any other – a murderous hate-bringer.

That the shooter was not known to the authorities should come as little surprise. Henry Jackson Society research has revealed that various authorities were aware of just 4 per cent of far-right attackers before they struck, compared to almost half of Islamist terrorists. This intelligence gap means attacks are less regularly halted. It’s not simply a consequence of misplaced focus from the security services but also a reflection of the comparatively self-radicalised route that far-right terrorists take.

Often searching out material online, far-right extremists know few hate-preachers in person. Rather they pursue violent rhetoric in a hunt-like chase around the darkest recesses of the internet. Over time, walking further and further down the path of hatred they get to a point of logic that would seem impossible for anyone to hold. But there is a growing band of people committed to these views.

The manifesto of the apparent shooter runs to some 71 pages and is as complex as it is crazed. The text shows evidence of an author who has spent great lengths researching material. It will rightly be pored over by investigators and researchers in order to understand the individual, how he came to commit such an atrocity and how the warning signs were missed.

What jumps out immediately though is how similar the diatribe was to that left by Anders Breivik. Breivik, who murdered 69 young Norwegians, dispatched a 1,518-page compendium on his views 90 minutes prior to launching his own murderous rampage. There appears to be a good deal of common ground between the positions of Breivik and this latest assailant. In fact, the assailant cites Breivik as his inspiration for his attack. It seems – as in Islamist terrorism – one attack can inspire others. Rightly, we must now concern ourselves with preventing a copycat of the copycat.

Yet, we must also put this attack into its proper context. Islamist terrorism is still far more deadly than its far-right equivalent and will – in all likelihood – continue to be. Far-right terrorism is the fastest growing form of terrorism and must be tackled but we must recognise its symbiotic nature with the growth of the Islamist variety: put simply, the two extremes feed off each others’ narratives. Nor must we allow precious resources to be directed away from pre-existing threats. New challenges will require new investment.

In all this though, as we face this threat’s new peculiarities, many of the challenges of counter-terrorism remain constant. The individuals are the same lost, lonely individuals radicalised by rhetoric designed to teach them to hate. The victims are the same innocent bystanders in imagined conflicts in which they have not participated. And the tragedy when things go wrong will, just as today, be heart-wrenching.

What can bring us together in the aftermath of this New Zealand attack is action against a common threat to our societies.

Updated: March 15, 2019 09:58 PM

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