Breaking the cycle of violence

In the wake of the Christchurch attack, people took to the Internet to publish messages of both outrage and sympathy, as well as calls for retaliation. Where hatred prevails, reason no longer appears to have a voice. This barbaric act has unleashed destructive forces long buried beneath the surface, writes Jordanian journalist Mousa Barhouma

By Mousa Barhouma

It is paramount that we counter the ideology that motivated the terror attack in New Zealand, thus hopefully nipping new religious conflicts in the bud. After all, the Christchurch attack could prove the death knell for the idea that different religions are capable of co-existing alongside one another.

Laying the foundations for religious co-existence was no easy task for the international community. Indeed, the concept would have needed to have been set in stone to preserve the world against the horrors, atrocities and wars that have ravaged it in the name of religion in the past.

But the vision of the 28-year-old attacker paints quite a different global future. In his manifesto he alludes to the song "Remove Kebab". Initially, "Remove Kebab" was an anti-Muslim song sung by Serbian fighters in the Bosnian war. Today, it is a popular reference in the right-wing milieu to symbolise "ending the invasion of Europe by Islam". It is primarily young followers of right-wing agitators in the West who use "Remove Kebab" as a kind of doctrine, spreading Islamophobia out of ideological conviction.

This ideology is also clearly evident in the crazed manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, which he sent to media and senior figures shortly before the attack under the heading "The Great Replacement".

The manifesto is inspired by a conspiracy theory popular with right-wing extremists. It relates to the French writer Renaud Camus and his theory that "European peoples" will eventually be replaced through immigration and a higher birth rate in migrant communities.

Camus is seen as a thought pioneer of the extreme right French National Front party led by Marine Le Pen. His "great replacement" conspiracy theory has in the meantime become a popular slogan used by many radical opponents of migration.

Members of the Identitarian Movement demonstrate in Berlin in 2016 (photo: Imago)
Myth of the "great exchange": the ideology of an "exchange" is clearly shown in Brenton Tarrant's confused manifesto. The manifesto is inspired by a conspiracy theory widespread among right-wing extremists. It refers to the French journalist Renaud Camus and his idea that the "European peoples" should be exchanged by immigration and a higher birth rate among migrants

Trump – a "symbol of renewed white identity"

Tarrant, who was born in Australia, may insist that he doesn't feel affiliated with any particular organisation. But he sees himself as European and has donated to right-wing organisations as well as supported ideas and movements that resist the supposed "Muslim invasion" and in his view, aim to win back European territory. The attacker also makes no secret of his admiration for U.S. President Donald Trump, whom he perceives as a "symbol of renewed white identity".

The precise background to the terror attack has not yet been clarified in detail. We should therefore focus on what we know thus far: the attack is a product of the ideology of the extreme right in the West, symbolised by Donald Trump, but also by Marine Le Pen. Le Pen's defeat in the 2017 French presidential election was apparently a motivating factor in the attack on the two mosques.

In his manifesto, however, the attacker also refers to the Stockholm attack of April 2017. On that occasion, an Uzbek attacker drove a truck into a pedestrian zone killing five people including an 11-year-old girl. Swedish police said the attacker, Rakhmat Akilov, admitted being a member of IS.

Like Akilov, Tarrant acted as a "lone wolf", although under different auspices and in an even more brutal way. He understood his act to be one of revenge for attacks by perpetrators like Akilov. Its aim was to spread as much fear and terror as possible. On Twitter he wrote that the shock of his actions would have an impact on politics and society for years to come. It would create a climate of fear; things would change. That was his goal.

While Akilov's attack in Sweden provided the Christchurch perpetrator with a pretext for his actions, the latter is playing into the Salafist terror groupʹs hands. It couldn't have turned out any better for the movement. Islamic State could even emerge as the main beneficiary of this unexpected gift, one that it will certainly accept with gratitude.

With a quick response the terror organisation could gain a new lease of life, boost its popularity anew and improve its standing with those set on revenge: after all, the victims of the attack were treacherously murdered during prayers in a mosque. The deed is now indelibly etched on the collective consciousness of a billion Muslims.Messages of hatred on the Web

In the meantime, the hatred has reached a new intensity. Just a short time after the attack, the Australian Senator Fraser Anning responded in racist terms. Although he denounced the violence, he referred to growing fears about Muslim immigration in New Zealand and emphasised that Muslims are usually the perpetrators.

On social media users described the Christchurch attacker as a "hero who deserves to be honoured!" One Tweet read: "He didn't target innocents. He didn't attack teenagers at a pop concert or families wanting to spend a nice evening together. But he carried out a highly effective strike against an element of the political apparatus that continues to be actively involved in an attack on our people and that is busy replacing it." Another user gave this profound analysis: "Now the others are the victims, for the first time the roles are reversed."

Alongside voices that clearly denounce the attack, there are a great number of messages of sympathy like these online. Others call for retribution, expressed in statements such as "an eye for an eye". Where hatred prevails and the rights of the stronger apply, voices of reason are temporarily drowned out. The attack on the two mosques has unleashed enormously destructive forces that have lain concealed for a long time.

Muslims, the relatives of the victims and all those who expressed their sympathy all over the world – regardless of their faith and religious convictions – are in deep sorrow. They are not only grieving because on this occasion, terror struck in one of the most peaceful and safe places on earth and robbed it of its innocence forever. That they are grieving now is also due to the fact that neither Muslims nor politics in the western industrial nations have succeeded in pointing a way out of the cycle of Islamophobia and Islamic extremism.

Senior Muslim representatives, in particular in the West, have done too little to campaign for a civic identity within their own communities. Their efforts to promote integration have not gone far enough and they have done too little to try to live in harmony with host societies.

Within their own ranks they have also not done enough to tackle extremism or stem the tendency to only blame others for their grievances. They bemoan the Islamophobia that exists, but have however convinced themselves that they have under no circumstances any influence on its steady rise. Now, that Islamophobia has finally escalated.

On the other hand, however, no serious efforts have been undertaken to realise the idea of religious co-existence with a realistic political programme based on justice and equal opportunities. Accordingly, it has not been possible to safeguard societies from the excesses of ideological fanaticism, in which the destructive tendencies of the human spirit sometimes find their expression.

Reason and the confidence that all sides benefit from a culture of consensus and peaceful co-existence come to be replaced by blind faith. In the most savage and murderous manner, religious wars are evoked and the actions of extremist attackers streamed live on the Internet as though they were scenes from the popular video game "PUBG" (Player Unknown's Battlegrounds), in which players are supposed to kill as many opponents as possible on a remote island. Elsewhere, preparations are being made to seize trucks and blow up churches, theatres, night clubs and cafes.

The ardent wishes of terrorists like Akilov and the Christchurch attacker would appear to be coming true.

Mousa Barhouma

© 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Mousa Barhouma is a Jordanian writer and publicist. He writes for leading Arab newspapers and was editor-in-chief of the Amman-based daily "Al-Ghad" ("The Morning") until 2010. Barhouma is currently Associate Professor of Communication and Information Sciences at the American University in Dubai.