Terrorism: the painful parallels
While the ideologies espoused by terrorists representing both far-right white supremacists and radical Islam might claim to be diametrically opposed, the grim irony is that there are ugly parallels between the two.
Both have no regard for human life, as witnessed by recent events covered in this month’s issue of Asian Affairs: the March 15 murders of fifty worshippers at two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayers, and the February killing of over forty soldiers in an Indian military convoy in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, claimed by the jihadist terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed), which led to a tense stand-off between India and Pakistan. This is not to mention the countless atrocities committed over the years by so-called Islamic State (or Daesh), whose caliphate may now have been defeated, but whose brutal interpretation of Islam lives on.
Each brand of terrorist asserts a justification for its actions. Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant claimed his motivation was ‘to take a stand to ensure a future for my people’, while for Jaish-e-Mohammed, the primary motive is to separate Kashmir from India and merge it into Pakistan. Daesh justifies its brutality as fitting punishment against the West for its behaviour towards Muslims – despite so many of its victims being Muslims themselves.
Another parallel seems to be a limited understanding of the societies, history or faith they purport to defend, with many violent Islamists showing little comprehension of the true tenets of their faith, and the likes of Tarrant displaying scant knowledge of white colonial history.
The internet is a powerful tool for terrorists of every hue, used for recruitment, spreading propaganda and gathering finance. Tarrant wrote and posted online a ranting document to explain his actions and, like Daesh and other extremist groups, made use of online sources of revenue and cryptocurrency.
It is not always easy to agree on what constitutes a terrorist, especially given the old adage ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. According to international laws and principles, terrorism is distinguished from guerilla warfare by its targets, which are generally non-military. But is there ever a legitimate reason for political violence? Surely freedom fighters do not need to terrorise people, whether military or civilian, into seeing their perspective, unless they have absolutely no recourse to the law.
With the raw emotion that is aroused by acts of terrorism, whatever their goal and whoever the perpetrators or victims, mainstream politicians across the world have a duty to respond without using vicious, hate-filled rhetoric, as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan did when he threatened to fend off any hostile Antipodean visitors, ‘some in coffins’, if they threatened Turkey.
All of them could learn from the rational, compassionate and measured response of New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern. ‘They are us,’ she said of the victims whom Tarrant had tried to deny as ‘other’. She swiftly labelled the act ‘terrorism’ and mourned the dead alongside Muslim leaders and those of other faiths.
Whatever our political goals or religious beliefs, if we can all see each other as ‘us’ rather than ‘them’, we will have gone some way to weakening the power and the pain of terrorism.