Christchurch is the largest city in the Canterbury region in the South Island of New Zealand. Its population is a little over 400 000 making it the third-most populous city after Wellington and Auckland respectively in whole of New Zealand.
In this city in the suburb of Riccarton lies the Al Noor Mosque. The mosque was built between 1984 and 1985 with Saudi Arabian government donated funds. The mosque is managed by Muslim Association of Canterbury (MAC) founded in 1977 by Muslims of South Asian origin and has around 600 members.
On Friday 15 March this mosque along with Linwood Islamic Centre which is in proximity to the Al Noor Mosque were attacked by a twenty-eight year old Australian born right-wing white supremacist violent extremist.
Indoctrinated with white supremacist ideology of violent extremism and intrinsically motivated by delusion of grandeur and extrinsically motivated by criminal racism, the white supremacist violent extremist went on a wicked shooting orgy killing a total of fifty prayer-goers (forty-six men and four women) who were attending the juma prayer (a Friday congregational prayer for the adherents of Islamic faith). From the total dead, forty-two died at the Al Noor Mosque, seven at the Linwood Islamic Centre, and one died in the Christchurch Hospital sometime later.
The youngest victim was only three years old and the oldest was seventy-seven years old. Apart from these victims there were others who sustained serious gunshot injuries but survived. The gunman used two semi-automatic rifles to cause the carnage and plunge New Zealand into a lockdown as the New Zealand Prime Minister was quoted saying that New Zealanders “to remain indoors and “remain in lockdown”” (ABC News 15 March 2019). It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern New Zealand history and the country’s saddest day.
This was obviously a cowardly act of terrorism – a product of an ideology of violent extremism. The gunman had no relationship with any of his victims or with the broader mosque community. If this was the case then why did he choose to inflict such heinous destruction on them? Why injure and even kill innocent people with whom he had no connection? To answer these questions we have to examine the “killer’s” action in the context of terrorism with a focus on the ideology of violent extremism. Did the ideology of violent extremism of right-wing white supremacism deliver on its promises or fail miserably?
Terrorism is difficult to define because it derives its meaning from a broader philosophy to which an individual or a group subscribes. The meaning of terrorism changes frequently that there is no way of holding onto one meaning forever. It is an ideological and political concept and there is not one but many different terrorisms; for one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.
Terrorism doesn’t occur in a vacuum and is always intimately and in a very complex manner deeply rooted in the social environment. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, terrorism became the trademark of numerous social, religious, and political movements. Some of the most extreme groups involved in terrorism have had an innovative ideology, for example, the right-wing white supremacist movement.
Some of these groups espoused the method of mass shooting, bombing, and suicide terrorism, in which the perpetrator or perpetrators would attempt to cause destruction to an important economic, military, political, religious, or iconic object. For right-wing white supremacist movement the proclivity to commit acts of terrorism originated from new ideology and worldview.
In social science generally and in political science in particular a long tradition exists that claim that the ideological factor is an important determinant of violent mobilization (Gurr 1970; Lichbach 1989; Muller and Seligson 1987). The ideology of right-wing white supremacist movement is rooted in the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should exercise dominance and power over them.
The term white supremacy is employed by academics and social scientists to describe white racial power. It is a system of structural or societal racism which puts white people over other non-white groups. The attitude of white superiority exists at both individual and group levels. Founded upon this ideology, right-wing white supremacy or white supremacism can be discerned to be political in nature or political terrorism.
Right-wing white supremacy always manifests in public acts. White supremacists who work with each other in groups must also be motivated to achieve a collective goal, thereby engaging in or fulfilling a cause that is much larger and higher than the individual.
Evidence such as the Christchurch shooter’s seventy-three-page manifesto entitled “The Great Replacement”, a reference to the “Great Replacement” and “white genocide” conspiracy theories reveal what they might consider “noble” motivation behind their attacks. In his manifesto the shooter expresses several anti-immigrant sentiments, including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and describes himself as an ethno-nationalist prove that a vast majority of acts of terrorism are either in part or in full motivated by a shared purpose, and are not merely a reflection of personal grievance and sorrow (Pape 2005; Dabbagh 2005).
In the case of the Christchurch shooter, his indoctrination and motivation was borne out of “The Great Replacement” – a book written in 2011 by the right-wing French thinker, Renaud Camus – which makes claim that mass migration of Muslims to France was replacing French white population (Burley and Ross 2019).
This “replacement theory” or the theory of “white genocide” is deeply embedded in antisemitic literature of the Nazi era which has been used by the contemporary far right supremacist violent extremists including the Christchurch shooter to target Muslims behind the claim that their biological, cultural and political strength is paving the way of a takeover of the western civilization.
Based on this misguided understanding the Christchurch shooter went into action on 15th March believing that his attacks will act as a precursor to a race war in New Zealand and by extension in the West between Muslims and non-Muslim white population, which will intensify into an offensive to stop Muslim migration to the West and drive Muslims out of the West.
However, as the evidence shows that a total opposite occurred. It took a strong, farsighted, inspiring, committed, accountable, and a compassionate national leader to make the opposite possible. The Christchurch shooter’s ideology, intentions, and objectives were blown to pieces in the face of the collective response of the people of New Zealand and for that matter of the people of the entire world.
Instead of censuring Muslims and conflating Islam with terrorism as many world leaders having been doing since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the New Zealand Prime Minister – Jacinda Ardern – eloquently stated, in contrast to the usual expectation of far right supremacist violent extremists, that what took place was an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence. Many victims were migrants to New Zealand who chosen to make New Zealand their home, they are us and we are one, the Prime Minister was quoted saying (ABC News 15 March 2019).
New Zealand’s response to the Christchurch shooting tragedy is a good example of how ideology of violent extremism can be dismantled and terrorism can be combated with the collective will of “good” people. People need to coalesce and confront evil directly with charity, compassion, integrity, and humanity. The power to change the world can originate from grassroots level only if people are clearly able to distinguish “good” from “evil”.
The Christchurch tragedy is a rare instance of a white supremacist ideology of violent extremism failing miserably. Contrary to its plan and objectives the tragedy galvanised Muslims in such a way that even a Muslim leader hasn’t been able to achieve in recent memory. Based on ideology of violent extremism the Christchurch shooter embarked on the mission to break up a Muslim community, shore up white popular support for the purpose of stopping Muslim migration to the West and relegating them to barbaric uncivilised “Other”, and undermine the nation’s will, but instead the following happened:
• Muslims in New Zealand and around the world were galvanised for once,
• the entire New Zealand population came together to mourn including the police, white New Zealanders, and the bike gang members,
• Muslims were normally called terrorists but on this occasion the terrorist was a non-Muslim white man,
• millions of dollars were raised to support the families of the victims,
• the New Zealand government foot all the funeral bills,
• the spreading of hate news became a criminal offence attracting a jail term of fourteen years,
• legislation to ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles to be considered in the parliament,
• adhan (a call to Muslim prayer) was played, for the first time, on national television and radio and the khutbah (sermon) was aired on television,
• many non-Muslim women wore headscarves during the candlelight vigils over several days,
• for the first time New Zealand parliament started a session with an Islamic prayer,
• the hadith was read by the New Zealand Prime Minister,
• flags flew at half-mast across New Zealand for days, and
• some non-Muslims have embraced Islam.
So, did the right-wing white supremacist violent extremism fail? Because the right-wing white supremacist violent extremism failed in Christchurch, New Zealand doesn’t mean that the ideology has failed “forever”. It has received a significant unexpected blow but can easily recover. What, we as members of humanity must do, is to keep the pressure on and that is to be united regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, focus on justice, and make our leaders and politicians represent humanity not their vested and political interests.
ABC NEWS, Christchurch shootings mark ‘unprecedented act of violence’, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-15/christchurch-shootings-unprecedented-pm-jacinda-ardern-says/10904950 (Accessed 27 March 2019).
Burley, Shane and Ross, Alexander 2019 ‘How to defeat the cretinous ‘great replacement’ theory at the heart of the Christchurch mosque attack’, London: The Independent.
Dabbagh, N. 2005 Suicide in Palestine: Narratives of Despair, Northampton: Olive Branch Press.
Gurr, Ted 1970 Why Men Rebel, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lichbach, Mark 1989 “An Evaluation of ‘Does Economic Inequality Breed Political Conflict?’ Studies”, World Politics 41(4):431–70.
Muller, Edward and Seligson, Mitchell 1987 “Inequality and Insurgency”, American Political Science Review 81(2):425–52.
Pape, R. 2005 Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, New York: Random House.