It was indeed “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” in the words of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as terrorist attacks against two mosques in Christchurch killed 50 and left the world in a state of both shock and anger.
The Christchurch attacks are a sad reminder of a number of things. Firstly, nowhere — not even the otherwise famously peaceful New Zealand — is immune to the acts of mad, evil men and women who choose to go down the dark path of terrorism.
Secondly, terror has no color; it also has no gender or faith. In other words, the non-Muslim Australian who was arrested in relation to the New Zealand mosque attacks is as much a terrorist as Osama bin Laden was. He is also as much a terrorist as Timothy McVeigh, the American behind the 1995 Oklahoma bombings that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 of various faiths and backgrounds.
Thirdly, what happened has proven — to those who doubted it — that killing in the name of religion, race or belief is universally unacceptable and condemnable. Throughout recent years, there have been some pundits who criticized politicians and a number of Western media outlets for failing to label an attack an act of terror if the perpetrator was non-Muslim, or if the victims were Muslim. However, Ardern’s quick condemnation of what happened in Christchurch as a terror attack reassured both her citizens and watchers worldwide.
“The Australian arrested in relation to the New Zealand mosque attacks is as much a terrorist as Osama bin Laden was.”
Faisal J. Abbas
It was extremely positive to see a similar tone coming from Pope Francis, US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and many others. Naturally Muslim countries, led by Saudi Arabia, were also quick to condemn.
Of course, you will always have hatemongers such as Australian Sen. Fraser Anning who, in a tweet, blamed what has happened on allowing Muslim immigration. But his views were quickly criticized by high-profile figures such as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Last but not least — and this, I am afraid, is the most alarming point — we can no longer deny the clear and present danger of social media. The mere fact that portions of these ghastly attacks were broadcast live on social media, by a man who police confirmed had also released a manifesto railing against Muslims and immigrants, is terribly alarming.
Of course, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were quick to react. They are also right to argue that with so many users, it is extremely difficult to monitor each and every post. However, the damage has been done and is being done every day.
It is about time to apply a gun-control approach to regulating social media. In other words, extremists like the Christchurch attacker should not be allowed to have a platform to preach their hate or document their crimes. This can be done through background checks, and this can also be used to prevent child predators, for example, from benefiting from technology to commit their crimes.
This suggestion may or may not be the solution, but the reality is, it is about time social media got regulated.
Faisal J. Abbas is the editor-in-chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas