The world can be a violent place. An Australian madman identified as Brenton Tarrant committed the latest atrocity when he shot dead dozens of Muslim worshippers on Friday in a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Another mosque not far away also came under attack. In total, 49 Muslims were killed and scores of others seriously injured. New Zealand is normally a quiet, unremarkable place, and the massacre has prompted deep soul-searching in the country and elsewhere in the world.
From the word go, a sharp controversy erupted in media circles when certain Western outlets seemed hesitant to call out Tarrant for what he was – a bloody terrorist. The initial reference of him as a gunman, or a mass shooter, showed a familiar double-standard which a lot of people across the world were quick to recognise. The truth of the matter is that the white Australian Islamophobe is as much a terrorist as an Islamist extremist who likewise kills indiscriminately.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was eloquent in her denunciation of the killer. She was unequivocal he was a terrorist. Speaking on TV, she emphasised that killers like Tarrant were not representative of New Zealanders or their values. But attitudes towards Islam in the Western world often follow a stereotype. As Ms Arden was addressing the world with her admirable words, a senator from Australia called Fraser Anning was spewing precisely the wrong kind of message which far right demagogues feed on. According to a statement he put out, such atrocities as happened in Christchurch were provoked by unchecked Muslim immigration. He had even more offensive words to say about Islam and its origins.
Within law enforcement circles, there were questions why Tarrant had not been previously tracked and placed on an Australian police watch-list.
That is despite evidence of his long-held and hate-filled views which he posted on social media. This was another indicator of how Western police departments are quick to profile Muslim radicals but neglect to do the same with white supremacists.
In fact on the day he went on the rampage, Tarrant posted online an 87-page manifesto which detailed his odious, fascist philosophy. He also live-streamed footage of the attack on Facebook, which seemed to have trouble pulling down the video immediately.
We live in a world where white supremacist ideology is fast taking root in America, Europe and places like Australia. The types of Tarrant have a grossly distorted view of the world where they believe the Caucasian race is being swamped by immigrants, especially Muslims and Blacks. They have plenty of role models they look up to. Tarrant was inspired by Anders Breivik, the terrorist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011. They thrive on intolerance and denying others they deem different their humanity.
Their hate is not confined to Islam. They deplore multiculturalism in general. And globalisation too. Indeed, Brexit in Britain is being driven in large measure by an isolationist impulse and a desire to keep out the “pollution” of immigrants. From across the Atlantic we hear of the new cry about “America First”.
Shockingly, these inward-looking attitudes are becoming quite mainstream in the West. Unfortunately they are breeding an extremist fringe which demonises foreigners and is sometimes prone to violence. This fringe is also prey to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about non-Caucasians like Jews. On the websites where they spew their hate, it is commonplace to read screeds about “vile” Jews such as George Soros who supposedly have evil designs to dominate the world.
It may sound bizarre, but the far right fascists and the jihadists have a lot in common in the way they disseminate their ideologies, much as these ideologies are antithetical. They rely on the internet to spread their toxic messages and radicalise sympathisers. Worryingly, these white supremacists don’t really act as lone wolves. They communicate constantly with their kind on social media, though they don’t have a clear chain of command akin to what Islamist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have. Theirs is more diffuse, but no less deadly.
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Prof George Magoha is no doubt qualified to run the Education ministry, even though his ballsy manner during his parliamentary vetting may have unsettled some MPs. I first heard of his work when he was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, where he formed a very effective team with the Chancellor at the time, Joe Wanjui. He has equally been effective at his subsequent posting, the Kenya National Examination Council.
I have a sneaking feeling any of the political camps which thinks it will use him may get disabused of the notion. But first things first: The Ministry of Education needs a tough taskmaster. There are too many vested interests that must be contained. And the teachers’ unions need taming.