It is better when a terrorist is not shot dead but arrested. So we eventually learn what is his – usually male – motivation, and governments and the courts are then able to respond rationally. But Brenton Tarrant made his motivation quite clear, documenting his crime in Christchurch with a 74-page manifesto, as well as filming his running online commentary. Few would care if police had shot him, taking to 50 the total who died on the Ides, Friday 15 March.
Revenge is consistently a prime motivation for terrorism, and is almost always mentioned by the perpetrators who survive. In recent years, Islamist terrorists have made brief statements like ‘This is for Syria’, or ‘Don’t forget Aleppo’, and invoked Allah as they attacked western targets. They cite insults and oppression of fellow Muslims, and infidel invasion of Islamic lands. But western leaders don’t usually decode that to mean that Islamists are obliged to seek revenge: instead, what they do is seen simply as terrorism.
Context matters. Condemning the attack on Muslims by a Welshman in Britain in June 2017, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was quick to assert, ‘We should all be clear about one thing. This attack was not revenge, not retribution – this was terrorism’ (‘Leaders united in condemning mosque attack’, Australian 21 June 2017: 5). He was right: white men too commit terrorist acts. But to distinguish terrorism from revenge, Shorten would have had to question what Australia and its allies were doing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and point to the vengeful consequences. He didn’t. No Australian Minister does. As Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison was proud that he ‘stopped the boats’ that were claimed to bring terrorists to our shores, but he never explained why they fled their Muslim homelands.
Back to the anti-Muslim attack in 2017. The Woolwich court found the 48 year-old Welsh perpetrator, Darren Osborne, who drove a hired van into a group outside a mosque, guilty not of terrorism but of murder. His obsession reportedly developed from watching Three Girls, a BBC drama about white girls being abused by Pakistani British men, and from internet sources including the English Defence League and far-right activist Tommy Robinson (SMH, 3 February 2018: 22. CJ Werleman, ‘Facebook hate ban is no attack on free speech’, SMH 1 March 2019, 27). He had earlier tried to drive into a pro-Palestinian march in order to kill Jeremy Corbyn and take ‘one less terrorist off our streets’, as well as eliminating London Mayor Sadiq Khan. He then drove to Finsbury Park, where an Imam intervened to prevent him being beaten up after his attack.
The Christchurch massacre was similar to Osborne’s effort, and equally vengeful. Tarrant aggrandised himself as an ‘ethno nationalist eco fascist’ who sought to preserve the ‘natural order’. As both Tarrant and Osborne made clear, they wanted to punish ‘invaders’ by killing them. We don’t yet know about Tarrant, but for members of the Incel movement, women are to blame for not falling for them, and thus failing to respect the ‘natural order’. The same seems to apply to Anders Breivik in Norway, Anton Pattersson in Sweden, Marc Bissonette in Canada, and Luca Raini in Italy, among many in the US, particularly Dylann Roof in Charleston and Robert Bowers in Pittsburgh in 2018. Roof told an African American congregation they had to go, because they ‘rape[d] our women’ and were ‘taking over our country’. Bowers’ synagogue attack was inspired by Replacement Theory – the idea that immigrants are displacing the white Christian population.
Christchurch was not New Zealand’s first mass shooting. In 1992 after a neighbourhood argument in Dunedin, a man shot 13 people dead, including a policeman. There and in Australia after 35 died in the 1995 ‘Port Arthur Massacre’, gun laws were tightened, in perhaps John Howard’s finest hour. In both countries, their effectiveness in preventing someone like Tarrant arming himself to the teeth must now be questioned. We are accustomed to pointing the finger at US gun laws: with Shooters and Fishers bidding for seats, how effective are ours?
Queenslanders Pauline Hanson (having exchanged Muslims for Asians as our invaders) and Senator Fraser Anning promote the notion that Muslims are wrecking the joint and linking Muslim immigration with violence. Bob Katter – whose father came from Lebanon – last year said he and Anning were ‘blood brothers’ (Tony Wright, ‘Anning achieves what he deserves: denunciation from the ages’, SMH, 16 August 2018: 4, 5). As for the lunatic right, ASIO Director Duncan Lewis has repeatedly said he is as concerned about extremist groups in Australia as with terrorism. In 2018, no terrorist attacks occurred in the United States, but neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist killings multiplied. In Australia, following the lead of the UK’s anti-Asian National Action group, we now have the Australian Defence League, Australia First, Australian Protectionist Party, the Dingoes, One Australia, Party for Freedom, Q Society, Rise Up Australia, Reclaim Australia, True Blue Crew, and Unite Australia. The Dingoes’ podcast, The Convict Report, airs jokes and views that are fervently white nationalist, anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, racist and homophobic. The anti-Muslim Australian Defence League’s inspiration was the English Defence League, formed in 2009. Some of its members, Australian sailors, appear in a YouTube video shooting at refugee boats, intercut with scenes from the Cronulla riot (Andy Fleming, ‘Who are the Australian Defence League?’ New Matilda, 29 January 2014). At a fund-raiser in February 2017 the Q Society reportedly auctioned a Pickering cartoon of a woman in a niqab being raped (Jacqueline Maley, ‘How anti-Muslim bias gets dressed up as feminism,’ SMH, 18-19 February 2017: 29). In late 2018, more than 20 swastikas were spray-painted on the promenade wall at Bondi Beach. Antipodean Resistance, self-described as ‘the Hitlers you’ve been waiting for’, had been active on university campuses and was placed on an ASIO watchlist (Emily Ritchie, ‘anti-Semitic vandals spark outrage with a barrage of swastikas’, Australian, 11 February 2019: 3).
New Zealand is setting an example of unanimous rejection of such behaviour, and is going to update its gun laws. Australia should do the same. But the root cause – our illegal aggression in Muslim countries – still waits to be addressed, as John Menadue has repeatedly written.
Dr Alison Broinowski AM FAIIA is writing a book on terrorism. She is Vice President of Australians for War Powers Reform