“Here’s what I think”: Christchurch and Society

Tom Cleaver

Thoughtfulness, in the aftermath of a vicious attack such as the one that happened in Christchurch last week, can be quite hard to come by. As human beings seeing other human beings being slaughtered simply for being themselves, our natural reaction is revenge. I could probably treble my readership by writing “hang him from the nearest lamppost” in all caps and sending it for publishing, because we all feel that. Briefly, it would be cathartic for almost all of us to see such a punishment doled out, and probably almost as cathartic for us to read it here.

Equally, and unfortunately, I am sure there are people willing to commend and congratulate the terrorist for his actions. There’s a sliding scale on this side; from people willing to side with the terrorist completely, openly nailing their colours to the mast, all the way down to people who may feel that the victims “had it coming” in one way or another, or that the attack was “revenge”. I’m not going to waste time explaining why an attack on innocent people isn’t revenge, or why the same innocent people in no way had it coming, I don’t have the will to do that.

However, one thing I notice more and more in the aftermath of these sorts of events is that one question that we never seem to ask is “why”. We are always interested in who did it, what he did, what he did it with, and where he did it, but we never get deep into the question of why. I don’t mean the basic reason, either. “Because he hates Muslims, Tom” is not what I’m after here. I want to know why he arrived at the conclusion that he hates Muslims, and why he decided that he needed to kill.

“Blaming each and every individual as a sick-minded lone wolf is a cop-out”

Blaming each and every individual as a sick-minded lone wolf is easy. It means that you can place responsibility onto that one person and sleep easy. It’s a cop out. Further, while gun control reduces the number of deaths in any one given attack, it doesn’t do an awful lot to reduce people’s intent. Anyone who remembers the period of time when people were driving vehicles into crowds can tell you that.

The “why” I’m looking for doesn’t come simply from the event. It’s more general. I want to know why people are arriving at the conclusion that the best thing they can do with their lives is to commit mass murder in the name of a cause. Why has extremism, no matter of what shade because it all has the same result, taken hold of them and made them believe that terrorism is the right thing to do?

“Somewhere along the line there is a deficit in their feeling of society”

The answer is far from simple, I’m sure. I would imagine, however, that for the majority of terrorists in the western world the root cause is largely the same. Somewhere along the line there is a deficit in their feeling of society, that they for some reason don’t feel a part of it. Whether it’s a fifteen year old girl who believes her best shot at a better life is in a caliphate in Syria, or a man going into a Mosque and killing almost fifty people, the root cause is this, in my opinion.

Our problem, as a general rule in a society, is complacency. We believe that it is almost a given that people will buy into society as it exists, will few to no questions asked. However, without being made to feel included in a society, no one has any reason to want to believe in it, to take part in it, or at least to believe that it works for them. Society, therefore, must sell itself better.

“The most effective weapon against extremism is education”

To be clear, I’m not asking us all to go and “hug a terrorist”. By the time an allegiance has been pledged to an extremist group of any flavour it’s often far too late to try to make them feel a part of society at large. Sure, it’s not impossible, but we should be preventing that move being made in the first place. The most effective weapon that can be used against extremism is education. By that I don’t mean maths, literacy and science (although the grammar on an ΕΛΑΜ leaflet I was given last week was questionable), but education about what modern society is, what acceptance should mean, and knowledge of what other people groups may exist.

“There’s a reason there’s not much gang violence in Beverly Hills”

The second factor is economic. People nowadays feel left out of society because they feel that society is unfair, and economics plays a large role in this. Sure, not every terrorist is working class, but one’s economic situation can lead to a feeling of being left out of society. In most of the western world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are not, in terms of purchasing power. People are, in general, much more likely to value a society if it benefits them personally, especially if that personal gain is financial. There’s a reason there’s not much gang violence in Beverly Hills, for example. This isn’t to say that everyone should be handed a mansion in Beverly Hills, a society can only function with aspiration, and it’s natural that some people are going to have skills that a society values more at a given time. “Writing this hasn’t made me feel goo

However, should society be more compassionate? Of course. The current situation of people feeling left behind is not conducive to a good society, and barely sustainable. At the moment it feels like less and less people feel a part of society at large, and more and more sub-groups are being formed and being radicalised. Radical solutions are being sought across the globe, and that means that society, at least to an extent, is failing. Terrorism, as I’ve explained, also shows that society needs to improve, and until society becomes more inclusive, and more compassionate, these sorts of things will unfortunately keep happening.

“Writing this hasn’t made me feel good”

To summarise, therefore, in order to try to prevent acts of terror being inflicted upon our societies, we must first look at ourselves. Sure, what I’ve written isn’t as cathartic as “hang him from the nearest lamppost”; I’m sure reading this hasn’t made you feel good. I can tell you now that writing this hasn’t made me feel good. It’s not a quick fix, either. Educating people, and teaching them what our society is while at the same time trying to make it more compassionate and more inclusive will take time. At the same time, however, there is no quick fix to all of this. If there was, someone would have thought of it already.