‘Darkest day’ as world mourns mosque slaughter

United: “New Zealand is their home,” PM Jacinda Ardern said of the victims. “They are us.” © Getty

Yesterday, the death toll in New Zealand rose to 50. In the UK, a man was arrested on suspicion of a copycat terrorist attack. Is divisive rhetoric and a climate of hate feeding extremism?

“Hello, brother,” said 71-year-old Daoud Nabi moments before he was shot and killed at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was one of 50 people to die in a terror attack on two of the city’s mosques on Friday.

Friday is a special day in Islam, when Muslims gather for congregational prayers. The two mosques were full of people: the victims included men, women and children.

It was “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A suspect has been arrested and charged with murder. Today, Ardern says her cabinet agreed to change the country’s gun laws — although she did not give specifics, it may include banning semiautomatic weapons.

There were stories of heroism to be found amongst Friday’s horror. At the second target, Linwood mosque, 48-year-old Abdul Aziz chased the attacker away, dodging bullets and scaring him with an empty gun. The mosque’s imam told the Associated Press that without Aziz, “we would all probably be gone.”

Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack, strongly condemning the violence and the ideology behind it.

The suspect live-streamed the attack on Facebook, and posted a 74-page “manifesto” which included white nationalist and anti-immigration conspiracy theories. It mostly centred around the false notion that white people in Western countries are being “replaced” through immigration.

This idea has been found in the manifestos of other far-right terrorists, including Anders Breivik and Robert Bowers. The latter killed 11 Jewish people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, US, last year, and blamed “evil Jews” for bringing “evil Muslims” to America.

Many are now wrestling with the growing threat of white nationalism around the world. In America, almost all domestic terror attacks last year had links to the far-right, according to research by the Anti-Defamation League. Between 2009-18, 73% of such attacks had far-right links, as opposed to 23% associated with extremist Islam.

In the extreme

Can extremism be stopped? Since Friday, many have blamed politicians and journalists for “normalising” Islamophobia or treating it as a “free speech” issue. Others point the finger at social media. The attack seemed especially rooted in, and designed for, the online world. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack in just 24 hours. Should it be doing more?

Or do the problems go deeper? Strangely, white nationalists and jihadists are often inspired by a common belief: that Islam is somehow incompatible with Western civilisation. Daoud Nabi’s peaceful greeting towards his killer is proof that this is untrue. How can peaceful societies fight this dangerous idea? And can the hatred behind it ever truly be eradicated?

You Decide

  1. Can extremism be stopped?
  2. Who is responsible for tackling extremism: social media companies, politicians or ordinary people? Or someone else?

Activities

  1. As a class, discuss the causes of Islamophobia. Where does it come from? How does it show itself? And what can be done to prevent it?
  2. Imagine you are in charge of counterterrorism efforts in your country. Write down five things you would do to find and stop potential attacks, explaining your reasons.

Some People Say...

“Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: stop participating in it.”

Noam Chomsky

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
So far, 50 people have been confirmed dead and 48 were injured in the attack. It began at 1:39pm local time in New Zealand on Friday, at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. A second attack took place at Linwood mosque a few miles away. An Australian man has been charged with one murder, and will likely face more charges. The attack was live-streamed on Facebook for around 17 minutes, but the video and its copies have since been removed.
What do we not know?
Which charges the suspect will face next, or whether they will include terrorism offences. We also do not know whether far-right extremism will continue to spread in the way that it has for the last decade or so. (For his part, US President Donald Trump said white nationalism was not “really” a growing threat.)

Word Watch

Suspect
Named as 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant. He appeared in court on Saturday and was charged with one murder count. The judge said more charges would follow.
Semiautomatic
A weapon which reloads automatically, allowing shots to be fired quickly.
Imam
An Islamic leader, particularly at a mosque.
White nationalist
A person who believes in the superiority of white people, often including a belief in a “white-only state”. This is usually linked to preventing white people from becoming minorities in Western countries.
Anders Breivik
A far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011. He wrote a 1,500-page manifesto including many of the same themes as the Christchurch attacker’s, and was referenced as an inspiration to him.
Research
The report, “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2018”, was published in January this year.
Rooted
The suspect posted frequently on the message board 8chan, and his manifesto included references to online memes.
Jihadists
People who believe in extremist Islam, including the idea of a holy war to defend Islam.

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