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Posted at: Mar 18, 2019, 6:54 AM; last updated: Mar 18, 2019, 6:54 AM (IST)

Hate groups, lone wolves at it again

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
The Christchurch massacre has many aspects from which lessons need to be learnt. It commences with the fact that terrorist acts in today’s world can take place almost anywhere under the sun. It is due to the all-pervading influence of the Internet which can impact people in indeterminate ways.
Hate groups, lone wolves at it again
Apprehension: Congregation of immigrants on foreign land, even for festivals or prayers, tends to unnerve the host community.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
Former GOC, 15 Corps, Kashmir

WHEN events take place at the most unexpected places, the lessons are often unusually clear. Christchurch, in peaceful New Zealand, has one of the most stable societies, yet it was rocked by a massacre on March 15, rightly described as a terrorist act by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The attack on two mosques on Friday, when Muslims congregate in large numbers for prayers, left 49 dead. A white supremacist from Grafton (Australia), Brenton Tarrant, is the accused.

There have been many killings perpetrated by Islamic terrorists against non-Muslims all over the world; in comparison, killings of innocent Muslims by non-Muslim terrorists have been few and far between. There remains awkwardness among more developed societies to term such acts as those of terror. The effects of a backlash against trans-national migration have had much to do with the targeting of Muslims and non-Muslims. The actions of terrorists following the Islamic faith have had a major impact on creating antipathy and alienation against innocent Muslims too.

The Christchurch incident has many aspects from which lessons need to be learnt. It commences with the fact that terrorist acts in today’s world can take place almost anywhere under the sun. It is due to the all-pervading influence of the Internet which can impact people in indeterminate ways. It allows them to brood with progressive negativity and have grudges against society at large and against specific segments of people. The free availability of detailed legacy literature from previous acts of violence further helps develop all the above. In the instant case, Tarrant was largely influenced by Norwegian Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, and to an extent by the killings of Muslims in South Carolina (US) in 2015. How he networked with groups around the world bearing right-wing, white supremacist ideology will be revealed in subsequent interrogation because he has lived to tell the tale. It is known that he perceives himself as European by race and has intense hatred for people from Turkey, China and India — nations from where migration has been rife. What the Dark Web has done is the closeting of hate groups around the world to perform such acts of heinous violence, mostly acting as lone wolves. 

The second thing which stands out from this incident is the stellar leadership of the New Zealand PM. Uncomplicated by politics, she took to doing everything which was correct, thus setting a precedent and a model of behaviour for political leaders around the world. No doubt New Zealand is not a complicated nation and events there may not make such an international impact. Yet, it is dependent on migration to overcome some of the features of demographic deficit. Within the constraints, Ardern has set what must become a norm — leaders have the moral responsibility to set aside all other things and get to the moral truth. “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities. New Zealand is their home — they are us,” tweeted the PM. She also immediately promised that gun laws of New Zealand would change. All the right words and messages in the shortest possible time, and that too put out personally. It has had a major effect on inter-community bonding in that country. Australia, similarly, was quick to take ownership of the perpetrator instead of going into the denial mode and awaiting more evidence.

The live-streaming of the incident on Facebook through a helmet camera was done for a spectacular effect. Facebook, however, acted with great speed and responsibility to take down the recording. Social media can be villainous in the spread of hate. Companies will need to invest as much in monitoring web content as in creating it. Legacy content of a negative quality which can have a psychological impact must be taken down at the first instance, or forced diversion by software to other positive literature must be ensured. 

Congregation of immigrants on foreign land, even for innocuous purposes such as festivals or prayers, tends to unnerve the host community. The developed world, which hosts many communities of immigrants, has to be mindful of this. Yet, it cannot force people to forego the basic right to congregate. Physical security will have to be increasingly invested in, but more importantly, sensitisation of both the hosts and the immigrants will need to be done if alienation is to be avoided. The perception among the host communities that immigrant presence is holding them hostage to alien culture promotes such alienation. Symbols of faith such as those of Islam and Sikhism are not easily acceptable and set migrants apart distinctively. The necessity of regular interaction between communities and participation in single-community events will help. In European countries, ghettos of immigrants have prevented integration, while later-generation immigrants born and naturalised in such host countries resent their inability to afford and exploit better opportunities. These are all specific social negatives of migration worldwide which cannot be overlooked. Europe, in particular, has witnessed considerable migration in the past few years. Aggressive attempts at establishing perceived distinctive cultural rights have a cascading effect on inter-community relations. At the same time, political posturing to safeguard the host community’s rights creates a conflict of interests which manifests itself in violence of this kind. 

Extreme-right networks with terrorist ambitions span Italy, France, the US, and Russia. The phenomenon has been relatively less monitored due to the greater worldwide threat posed by Islamic terrorists. India is one of the countries from where the diaspora is based in many parts of the world. By and large, Indians have been model migrants, hardworking and untroublesome. Yet, cultural alienation in their case may not be the cause of alienation as much as their propensity to outshine their hosts in wealth creation and achieving a higher quality of life. This is a phenomenon that both Indians and Chinese have to contend with in their adopted nations.

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