“Christchurch Shooting: The Need to Tackle all Forms of Extremism” by Norshahril Saat

2019/28, 19 March 2019

50 innocent lives were lost during the mass shooting on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,  last Friday. The victims were performing their Friday prayers when Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28 year-old Australian, carried out the attack. This is the first time a terrorist attack of such scale happened in New Zealand, a country known for respecting diversity and multiculturalism and adopting an open immigration policy.

There are many lessons that one can take from the attack. Among them are that extremism is not confined to any one religion, political class or society; and that there is the need to tackle all forms of extremism, violent and non-violent.  Key suspect Brenton Tarrant was believed to have been radicalised with White supremacist ideology. In a way, such an intolerant ideology is no different from other rightist movements, including Islamist ones Singaporeans are familiar with in more recent times, such as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and Jemaah Islamiah (JI). Others include fascism, and one is reminded of Nazism in Germany and Japanese ultra- nationalism during the Second World War.  A more recent case showcasing White supremacist ideology occurred in 2011, when Ander Behring Breivik killed 77 individuals majority of them attending a summer camp in Oslo, Norway. Breivik, who is now in jail, is also anti-Islam and immigration.
The Christchurch incident serves as a reminder of the fragility of multicultural societies. Such attacks are meant to cause uncertainty, and undermine social cohesion. New Zealanders have defied what the terrorists had hoped for by remaining calm and staying united.
There is a need to look at extremism as a spectrum. Extremism can also be divided into two forms: violent and non-violent. An example of   violent extremism   is the Christchurch incident, and other terrorist acts. Nevertheless, society should also be mindful of non-violent extremism, such as engaging in hate speeches. Violent and non-violent extremism should be seen as part placed on a spectrum, and the latter could potentially lead to the former if not carefully managed.
Tackling extremism requires a two-prong approach. First is the security approach which is handled by government agencies. In Singapore, the authorities nip any form of intolerant ideas in the bud. A recent example is the banning of Swedish “black metal” band Watain from performing in Singapore because it can threaten social harmony. Similarly, a number of foreign Muslim clerics, such as Ismail Menk, were also not allowed to preach in Singapore because of insensitive remarks made previously which are not suitable for Singapore’s multicultural society. The government’s approach is to treat every religion with respect and impartiality.
The second is to foster strong community spirit, as shown by New Zealanders after the attacks. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern touched many lives as she held constant dialogues with families of victims and the Muslim community there. Many also came forward to protect families affected by the tragedy and assure Muslims that they can practise their faith in peace.  In Singapore, this spirit is to be found among religious groups including the Inter-religious Organisation (IRO). Terrorism transcends religious boundaries, and community leaders should be ready to show solidarity whenever a tragedy hits another religious community. Society and the authorities should continue working together to ensure all forms of extremism are eradicated.
Dr Norshahril Saat is Fellow and Co-coordinator of Indonesian Studies Program (ISP) at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the Principal Investigator for Islamic Studies Graduates in Singapore project funded under the SSRTG (Social Science Research Thematic Grant).

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.