One of New Zeland’s darkest days, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it – the day when a far-right Christian extremist took 49 lives of Muslims praying in two mosques in the city of Christchurch. But while struggling with the shock and pain, Ardern and her countrymen and women seem able to draw strength and resilience from the horrible tragedy that hit them. Strength to defend their free and tolerant society. And strength to take on the gun industry’s lobby, which has paralyzed gun control in the country for decades. Western countries should follow suit and prove that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
Days have been dark too outside of New Zealand for a while now – for tolerance, democracy and human rights. The unity of the Western world around values of human dignity, equality and respect for human and minority rights appears shaken. It is targeted by a toxic mix of greed, racism, intolerance, misogyny and outright hatred for anything and anyone who stands on the way of easy and quick profit. Opportunistic politicians, greedy media communicators, corporate lobbyists and revanchist conservative and religious movements are riding the wave, under the cheering of inherently anti-Western and anti-democratic regimes.
Muslims are a popular target of hatred fueled by mediated Islamic extremism and terror. But other minorities are targeted too – women, gender, refugees, Roma, you name it. And most of all – anyone who tries to represent or defend their rights. Inflicting hatred against them has become an everyday reality for many media channels and politicians across Europe, and has arguably won political victories for Brexit in the UK and President Donald Trump in the USA.
Some of the amunition, used by the Christchurch shooter, was marked with names of famous battles against Islam in the Balkans, including Bulgaria. He has admitted to taking inspiration by fellow-nationalists in the Balkans – the region once named Europe’s “powder keg” for its explosive nationalist politics. Donald Trump has also been named by the mosque attacker as an inspiring figure for his monstrous crime. But he is not the only one. The so called “manifesto” of the killer is a compilation of racist white/Christian supremacist clichés which bombard us daily – from the TV screens, and – increasingly – online. It seems that popular everyday anti-Muslim hate speech has provided a motive for a brutal crime again. This should ring an alarm: we have all seen this kind of murderous communication on Facebook, Twitter and the likes, but neither we, nor our security agencies and governments have tackled it effectively.
Religious extremism, nationalism and racism kill – and those who inflict them are accomplices to murder
Today we were reminded that there is no “good” religious extremism, nationalism or racism. They all kill – and those who inflict them through mass media, political and social networks are accomplices to murder. The Christchurch shooter simply turned words into action. Which, in turn, he net-casted live, embarrassing all efforts and algorithms, put in place by tech giants to prevent violence online. And then greedy news channels multiplied its effect by re-broadcasting it, in spite of New Zealand police’s calls not to do that, revealing again the corrupting role of contemporary mass media for society.
Just like any other extremism, ultra right Christian extremism is abusing the internet for its purposes. And the only thing that its governments have been able to do so far is beg the global IT giants to control and neutralize hate speech online. Blindly worshiping market transactions and removing regulatory and democratic “obstacles” for decades, Western governments have rendered themselves toothless and unable to protect citizens from intoxicating hateful propaganda.
This is why Prime Minister Ardern deserves admiration for stating boldly after the attack: “we — New Zealand — we were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not, and cannot, be shaken by this attack.” (Video statement above courtesy of One News New Zealand under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license).
Every government, which claims to uphold democracy, human rights and freedoms, should follow suit decisively. Hate speech, racism, denial of human rights, should become unacceptable in democratic societies once more. Freedom of expression can by no means justify hatred, aggression, misogyny, racism, xenophobia or denial of others’ rights. Political retorics promoting religious or racial supremacy (includinh Christian and white) and hatred to refugees, Roma, liberals, gays or other minorities, need to be curbed immediately and effectively. Otherwise today’s darkest day will not be the last.