What happened in New Zealand was no isolated incident. Without a doubt, this phenomenon is an expression of islamophobia taken to the extreme, and the result of a terrifying massacre that left 50 dead and another 50 injured.
The attack in New Zealand is the worst terrorist attack perpetrated by an ultra-right wing militant in the history of the country.
This act of violence forces us to critically analyse the future of hate speech, and it makes us reflect on how ideological radicalisation leads to incomprehensible phenomena, where racism and xenophobia equate to physical violence that tears societies apart.
For the author of the attack, the motive of the crime is clear: avenge the death of thousands of people seemingly killed by ‘foreign invaders’. Theories that circulate within extreme right groups such as the “Great Replacement”, a racist pamphlet that signals that European populations are being replaced by non-European migrants, are an indication of how dangerous this propaganda and legitimation of hate speech is.
These massacres are perpetrated in the name of a white supremacy ideology that continues to penetrate weak democracies unable to counteract the extreme-right wave that from Trump to Bolsonaro continues affect the most fundamental institutions of our societies.
In these moments of profound grief and solidarity, we must acknowledge that alterations in democratic structures could be shaping the scenarios which permit white supremacy to express itself in such ways.
The new right: a worldwide phenomenon
Subgroups online have spread rapidly into virtual and real communities that defend extremist postures, white supremacy included, and they spread hatred without fear regarding migrants, women, and muslims among others. Racist ideas turned into fuel for militants have filled democratic agendas and have developed an ideological axis based on ethnocentrism that allows for a hegemony to be exercised over non-whites.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern created a debate surrounding how we use language in our reporting of terrorist attacks in such a way that encourages these acts to keep happening.
Worries are ignited when attacks such as that in New Zealand are transmitted live on the internet only for YouTube and Facebook to later take down millions of videos that were reproduced at the time of the attack. These perverse techniques that attempt to legitimate hate speech on the internet are used by communities that consult hateful content in order to validate their own extremist beliefs, turning the internet into the main tool that facilitates the growth of the new ultra-right around the world.
We will not name the attacker
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern created a debate surrounding how we use language in our reporting of terrorist attacks in such a way that encourages these acts to keep happening, and claimed the attacker would not be named by her. The search for notoriety through terrorist acts is a motive that many believe encourages would-be attackers. News stories that take a sensationalist stance therefore do little to curb this phenomenon that only facilitates the repetition of similar attacks in the future.
Rather than focussing on the attacker, narratives should be centred on key issues such as the liberation of gun controls that’s occurring in many countries around the world and in particular the US and Brazil, or ways in which we can achieve justice and provide reparations to the victims.
Reflexions regarding extremism online, islamophobia, ethnocentrism, and how these tragedies do or don’t escalate, should be the true axis of the conversation right now.
Who are the actors that promote white supremacy? What are the discourses that push them towards committing such crimes, and what must we change as a response to this? What is the role of the State, the family and institutions in preventing such acts? These are just a few of the questions we must be asking ourselves in such times.
For these very reasons, reflexions regarding extremism online, islamophobia, ethnocentrism, and how these tragedies do or don’t escalate, should be the true axis of the conversation right now.