New Zealanders and Australians (two English-speaking Commonwealth nations closely knit by culture, geography and history) have been horrified by a major white extremist terrorist event in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday 15 March.
Forty-nine Muslim worshippers, at Friday prayers in two Christchurch mosques six kilometers apart, were murdered in concurrent gun attacks led by an Australian far-right nationalist extremist, Brenton Tarrant, who filmed his whole attack from a head-held video camera while he shot worshippers at random with a semi-automatic weapon. Forty people were injured, some critically. Major mainstream and social media are being asked to remove Tarrant’s deeply evil video footage, but much of it had already got out online as was his intention.
The mosques were unguarded, New Zealand having hitherto been entirely terrorism-free. Tarrant and four other unnamed persons involved, three men and a woman, who are believed at this stage to be New Zealanders, are under arrest. Tarrant’s trial is listed for April. A shaken NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed immediate government action to tighten NZ’s lax gun laws, to tighten NZ border controls, and to strengthen NZ-Australia intelligence agency information-sharing on extremist groups.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who faces an early election which has to be held by May, and which he is tipped to lose heavily, expressed sympathy and shock. He conspicuously visited Sydney’s most important mosque, in solidarity with Australian Muslim communities. But many Australians may doubt his sincerity in view of his and his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s long personal history of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim public sentiments.
Tarrant had issued a racial-hate manifesto online, minutes before his group’s attack began, calling for an end to all Muslim migration into Australia and NZ. His views are shared within a small but vocal group of white extreme nationalist extremists in Australia who hold provocative public meetings and seek out media attention. Such a meeting is still scheduled to go ahead today in Moorabin, Melbourne, at which Senator Fraser Anning from the state of Queensland will criticise Australia’s immigration policies. A counter-demonstration is planned in protest. Police will be present.
At federal political level, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views are most stridently represented by Senator Pauline Hanson’s minority One Nation Party and by Senator Anning, who was elected as a Queensland state senator on the One Nation Party ticket but subsequently broke with Senator Hanson. Queensland is a state characterised by high youth unemployment and a declining coal industry. It is a focus of far-right white nationalist extremism.
Anning, who is not expected to be re-elected, desperately seeks publicity. Just hours after the Christchurch shootings, he published a highly offensive media release blaming the shootings on Muslim immigration to Australia and NZ, alleging that the governments had created a climate of racial tension. His media release effectively endorsed much in Tarrant’s manifesto. It has been almost universally condemned in Australia.
This well-planned politically-motivated mass murder is being compared to the Anders Breivik mass murder of young Norwegians in 2011. It is also being compared to recent targeted terrorist attacks, in US and elsewhere, on people at prayer in mosques and synagogues.
Questions are being asked about context and coincidence.
How was it possible for an Australian with known links to white supremacist extremist organisations in Australia to fly to New Zealand without NZ Security agencies being alerted to monitor him? How was it possible for his group to buy guns and ammunition in New Zealand without security agencies being alerted? Are Australian and New Zealand security agencies too focused on monitoring alleged threats from Islamist extremist groups, to the neglect of even more dangerous far-right white nationalist extremists?
Also: the attack coincided with a day of major ‘school strikes’ and street demonstrations by many thousands of young people in all major cities around Australia, protesting at Australian federal and state governments’ inadequate climate change policies, including their failure to ban opening of new coal mines. Similar demonstrations were taking place in New Zealand, supported by PM Ardern. Australian PM Morrison had criticised the demonstrations as inappropriate on a school day. In any event, the NZ shooting tragedy totally eclipsed media attention to the young people’s climate change and anti-coalmines demonstrations. Was this planned by the perpetrators, and who might have advised them?
Some critics claim, I believe correctly, that right-wing politicians who now dominate the governing party coalition, and right-wing mainstream media, have over recent years fostered and helped to generate a supportive climate for an anti-immigrant extremist movement in Australia, helping it to gain respectability and take root among economically depressed and politically alienated white Australian youth. These critics say that these politicians and media must now accept shared responsibility for fostering a political climate that encourages such terrible acts as the massacre of innocents in Christchurch.
Senior police leaders in Australia have appealed to politicians and media to consider the impact of their words. I hope they will do so.
Though this terrorist event has visibly shocked decent mainstream opinion in Australia and New Zealand, it may push race relations and immigration issues into greater prominence in the forthcoming Australian federal election. There is a danger of polarisation under Scott Morrison’s clumsy leadership: he could as in past Australian elections try to talk up racial fears to his party’s presumed advantage.
Australia’s and New Zealand’s foreign policies are also coming under scrutiny in the wake of this attack. Both countries are members of the ‘Five Eyes’ Intelligence-sharing network. Their military forces are deeply enmeshed in US-led past and present military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Sophisticated US-Australian joint defence facilities at Pine Gap, Central Australia are believed to be in current use to assist US military targeting in Syria. The Australian arms industry is selling weapons technology to Saudi Arabia that is being used by the Saudi Air Force in lethal bombing operations against Yemeni civilians.
The danger is that, after the initial public shock and horror at this attack has passed, the desperate and failing Morrison government may be tempted to exploit it to try to create a ‘national security’ and anti-immigration pre-election climate. The Labor Party Opposition and its leader Bill Shorten will need to watch its own words and policies in coming weeks. So will Australia’s mainstream and social media.
I believe the lessons for all responsible governments and politicians are: firstly, to consider the impact of their policies and words on disaffected youth, and always to uphold inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony; secondly, to task national security agencies to monitor equally extremist elements of all persuasions. I believe by both these yardsticks the Russian Federation has a very good record. I wish I could currently say the same of Australia.
First published in our partner RIAC
Post-Pulwama False Flag Operation: Prediction and Reality
Since the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, the region has become a major component of international security and stability. The recent military escalation and de-escalation of February-March 2019 between the nuclear armed rivals of South Asia i.e. Pakistan and India, more than a month has passed but the world is still concerned about the situation in this volatile region. There is an ongoing debate in Pakistan about the Pulwama attack of 14th February 2019 as a ‘False Flag Operation’ in the realm of hybrid warfare which India has launched against Pakistan. The false flag operations are based on deception with pre-determined outcomes to achieve some political or strategic objective.
India has a history of such false flag operations starting from 1971 till now for achieving the predetermined strategic and political goals (whether successful or unsuccessful). The 2016 Uri attack, the PathanKot Air Base attack, the Mumbai attacks 2008are candid examples of the false flag operations which India has carried out. These operations which are now part of history were aimed to divert international attention from Kashmir issue while blaming Pakistan without any evidence. These operations have remained focused of achieving political goals in elections. The most recent example is the Pulwama suicide attack of February 2019, in which 44personnel of Indian Central Police Reserve Force (CPRF) were killed. The BJP election campaign based on hatred against Pakistan to get popular support whereas the timing of attacks i.e. just two months before the elections make it one of the most controversial false flag operations. Within few minutes after the attack India claimed that about 350 kilograms Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was used. There are above 700,000 Indian troops present in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and most of the times curfew is applicable which makes it impossible for any group to navigate carrying such a huge volume of explosives. As an election stunt the Indian leaders and media blamed Pakistan for backing the attacks without any investigation and evidence.
Pakistan’s ‘appropriate response’ in the after math of February 2019 events is part of history now. On 7th April 2019 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has predicted that another ‘Pulwama like attack’ in IOK may happen in coming days between 16th to 20th April. India could stage another Pulwama like attack in IOK to justify its military escalation and to increase diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. He further said that Pakistan has authentic intelligence regarding Indian preparations for such attack. In this regard Pakistan has conveyed formally to the diplomatic representatives of the permanent members of UNSC in Islamabad. A meeting of India’s ‘Cabinet Committee on Defence’ was held recently in which Modi gave free hand to the services chiefs to act against Pakistan in upcoming days. The chiefs responded that they have already selected military targets that go beyond Line of Control (LoC).
India under Modi’s leadership is intentionally increasing the war hysteria against Pakistan without realizing the reality that any escalation beyond a certain point a may lead to a first ever nuclear exchange between the two countries. The Pulwama attack was no doubt a false flag operation carried out by India with two politico-military objectives. First, to project the freedom fighting movement in Kashmir as ‘terrorism’ which is at its peak since Modi is in power and second is to gain maximum popular support in context of 2019 elections by spreading hatred against Pakistan. The aftermath of Pulwama has re-assured Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence at conventional level and proved it a dominant factor over escalation ladder.
In case of a ‘new false flag operation’ or any February 2019 like escalation from India, Pakistan though lacking in number of conventional forces and weapons will remain with no choice but to respond un-conventionally by using the tactical nuclear weapons i.e. ‘NASR’ and subsequently short and medium range missiles capable of delivering nuclear war heads. The recent military standoff has proved to be a matter of failure for India vis-à-vis the credibility of the claims. The international media as well as the Indian media and opposition parties have questioned Modi’s government for the evidence of targeting militant training camp (killing 350 militants) and proof of Pakistan’s jet plane crashed during 27th February dogfight (claimed by India).According to Foreign Policy Magazine US officials have verified that Pakistan’s F-16 fleet is complete in numbers and not a single jet is missing.
The February 2019 military crisis and its aftermath didn’t prove to be a politico-military success for BJP. Pakistan has proved that it can respond to any Indian aggression appropriately and thus gained a moral and psychological edge over India in the crisis. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has served as a dominating factor against the Indian conventional maneuvers. Pakistan needs to be well prepared against a new false flag Pulwama like operation in coming days realizing the political hype in India. In case of breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty by India in the name of a limited conflict or a surgical strike, this time the response might be a ‘nuclear’ staying below the nuclear threshold.
Is Designating IRGC a Terrorist Organization a Right Decision?
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), otherwise known in Iran as the so-called ‘Islamic’ Revolutionary Guard Corps, is designated as a terrorist organization on Monday (April 8, 2019). What followed is a heated-up debate on broadcast-media across the world as well as on various social-media platforms.
Whether the decision was right and whether it is a sensible one — needs no further consideration. Yet the debate that followed on mainstream broadcast-media and various social-media platforms need to be addressed. For this, a bunch of incidents and happenings that have been taking place in Middle East have to consider along with their connection to IRGC. Syria seems the appropriate conflict zone to start with.
In Syria, a 13-year-old boy’s penis was cut off by the brutal mukhabarat (which is the secret police of Syrian dictator Bashar-al-Assad) in 2011. The boy, named Hamza Al-Khateeb, was returned to his family with his body mutilated. His head was swollen, purple and disfigured, body was a mess of welts, cigarette burns and wounds from bullets fired to injure, not kill. Kneecaps smashed, neck broken, jaw shattered. The most brutal part of the torture was that, as mentioned earlier, his penis was cut off. After a video of his tortured-body was posted on YouTube, thousands of Syrians rallied and chanted “We Are All Hamza!”.
The boy was among hundreds of children and teenagers who faced the same fate in the hands of Assad’s police and army, though it was the boy’s story that attracted more coverage during the time from the mainstream media.
As Iran’s leaders always try to portray themselves as the symbol of moral values against, what the Iranian leaders call, ‘imperialism’, many in Iran and elsewhere expected them to act — or at least speak — for the splayed victims and against the heinous activities of Bashar-al-Assad and his loyalists. Iranian leadership instead chose to side with the longtime ally Assad, who was already named — by the people from his own country, the region and world — as the “Butcher”.
What followed was horror, terror and death. First, Iranian leadership’s military arm, the IRGC, had led the campaign of killing the Sunnis and non-twelver Shias in thousands to depopulate many areas from Sunnis and non-twelver Shias — something which is no less than a genocide.
This fear of being killed for their sectarian identities had compelled a portion of the remaining Sunni and non-twelver Shia population to leave their homeland and seek refuge in other countries (particularly neighbouring countries and Europe) so that they could escape the genocide — something which is no less than an ethnic cleansing.
In Syria, the IRGC had carried out the campaign with the help from Assad’s army and Iran-backed Lebanese militant group named Hezbollah. In Iraq, the IRGC had carried out the campaign with the help of sectarian elements in Iraqi army, Iran-backed twelver-militias in Iraq and Hezbollah.
Everyone with the slightest interest in Middle East affairs is well-informed about the sectarian cleasing that happened in Iraq’s Fallujah with the backing of the Iranian leadership and IRGC. The Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militias killed thousands of innocent Sunnis and non-twelver-Shias in the cover of “liberating” the area from ISIS.
All of the above said killing campaigns had been monitored, aided and managed in the ground-zero by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a ‘terrorist’ organization just the other day.
The IRGC-members themselves had engaged in the killings of innocent Sunnis in these two countries, particularly in Syria. For years, the IRGC has been training the terrorist proxies inside both Iraq and Syria as well as in other regional countries.
IRGC had also helped Bashar-al-Assad to carryout gas/chemical-bomb attacks on innocent civilians in rebel-held areas in Syria. Every mainstream global media had either published articles or broadcasted the footages of the aftermath of these repeated gas/chemical attacks on civilians. The broadcasted-footages clearly show how civilians, especially the children, died from these attacks. The worst part is that these children had to go through enormous sufferings and pain before ultimately losing their lives.
All the atrocities committed directly or indirectly by the IRGC suggests that if it is wrong to designate the IRGC as ‘terrorist’ organization, it would also be wrong to designate any other atrocious group as ‘terrorist’. If it is right to designate any atrocious group (including ISIS) as ‘terrorist’, it should equally be right to designate IRGC as ‘terrorist’.
If one poses the question “What we should call a terrorist?”, the obvious answer would be “a terrorist”, and so is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its leadership.
The Christchurch Shooting and Definitional Problem of Terrorism
On Friday, March 15, 2019, the world was shocked by the news of shooting attack in two different mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed, while thirty-nine others were injured in the shooting and are currently receiving care in hospitals. The attack was unpredicted since it occurred in a relatively peaceful and stable country. After the incident, the suspect, a 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, appeared in court with a charge of murder. A debate arises on whether the Christchurch shooting should be categorized as terrorism.
Indeed, defining whether an attack can be categorized as “terrorism” remains a complex task for scholars and counterterrorism agencies. The definition of terrorism is critical since our perception is heavily influenced by how the concept is elaborated. It also affects our communication and responses to the issue which potentially affects states’ politics and social dynamics.
One reason for the lack of clarity is because terrorism is difficult to measure. Unlike conventional war between states, terrorism always shows inconsistent metrics because it exploits the position of weaknesses. Some questions that are frequently asked to define terrorism include: when can violence be justified as an act of terror? How does terrorism distinguish itself from regular assault and other violent or criminal act? Also, how can we differentiate morally culpable terrorists from legitimate insurgents and freedom fighters?
Currently, scholars on terrorism studies have written several definitions of terrorism that emphasize the use of violence, politics, sociology, and psychology. There are common traits that are found in every definition. First, terrorism is defined as an act of “extranormal” violence that generates widespread disproportionate emotional reactions from its audiences such as fear and anxiety that influence their attitude and behavior. Second, the violence is systematic, unpredictable, and usually directed on a symbolic target. Third, the violence conveys political messages and threats to communicate their demands and gain social control.
Based on the definitions above, we can categorize the Christchurch shooting as an act of terror as it adheres to most of the criteria. Some prominent actors even have adopted this term to describe the incident. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, for example, called the shooting as “the worst case of terrorism in the Pacific Islands”, followed by her refusal to mention the perpetrator’s name and proposal to ban semi-automatic weapon in New Zealand. However, this label is not yet adopted by the wider public, since many government officials and media still regard the Christchurch shooting as a mere hate crime.
The semantical difference of the Christchurch shooting perhaps can be traced from two main arguments: First; because there are differences in how terrorism is securitized in every state, what terrorizes a particular population may vary depending on their historical and cultural values. In most societies, the definition of terrorism is still associated with the US’s “War on Terror” after the 9/11, which resulted in affiliation between terrorism and Islamic Extremism. The term “terrorism” was suddenly over-generalized as a product of extreme Islamic ideology; the opposition against the West; and a global multi-faceted threat that should be contained. That is why the idea of “right-wing terrorism” feels strange to most society since it does not fit the description of modern day terrorism.
Second, labeling the Christchurch shooting as terrorism might contradict governments’ effort in securitizing terrorism. The term “terrorism” is generally pejorative and implies a moral judgment which indirectly persuaded others to perceive the labeled party as the common enemy.
For some governments, it is difficult to admit that some of the right-wing terrorism occurred from the backlash of states’ counterterrorism narratives. Individuals might have different interpretations on the subject, and some might understand it as dissension against one particular community—such as what happened in the case of the Christchurch shooting. Expanding the image of terrorism to the very own part of states’ main audience in securitization process, can hurt states’ further efforts in defining the adversaries.
It is apparent that the decision to address the Christchurch shooting as terrorism is very complex, especially because the concept itself is highly subjective, emotionally, and politically driven term where it has a relative meaning to different actors. Nevertheless, looking at recent developments, it is important for us to change how we define terrorism beyond the image of Islamist extremism.
For governments and law enforcers, the outdated understanding leaves them hampered by an inability to define terror acts and criminalize terrorists from outside the Islamist extremist groups. Meanwhile, for the public, redefining the concept of terrorism will help them build a stronger resilience against terrorism narratives and give a more proportional response aftermath a violent attack.
Jacinda Arden’s remarkable response to the Christchurch shooting has shown us that it is possible to label the incident as terrorism. Her actions had created a sense that the Christchurch shooting—and other similar right-wing terrorism—pose an existential threat that requires an emergency measure. By the public’s reaction, it is clear that her response is well received and it could be the first step to redefine the public’s understanding of terrorism.
In the future, we would require more agent of change like Arden, who is able to convey strong narrations and gather a significant number of audiences that accept the designation. Redefining terrorism will not be an easy process, and it should be done with social cohesion, tolerance, and mutual respect. Only after we share the same sense of peril and the need for extraordinary measures, then we can challenge the subjective nature of terrorism.
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