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OP-ED: A lifetime of silence

  • Published at 01:36 pm September 5th, 2020

Brenton Tarrant’s sentencing is a milestone in the judicial process

“Your crimes are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die, it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment.”

These words Judge Cameron Mander in a Christchurch court convey a powerful message to all terrorists across the world. That is, the truth shall prevail, and that terrorists will be the losers. 

Australian Brenton Tarrant is the white supremacist who killed 51 people at two mosques during the Friday prayers on March 15, 2019 in New Zealand. It represented the darkest day in the country’s history. Bangladesh’s national cricket team was lucky to escape that attack by a fraction of minutes. 

Now, Tarrant will serve life in jail without parole -- the first person in the country’s history to receive the sentence. To me, the sentencing is a milestone in the judicial process, an unprecedented punishment for an unprecedented crime. 

However, a matter of profound concern -- from the United States to other European countries -- is that racist behaviour and white supremacy are taking a terrible turn.

Two positive outcomes are perceptible so far. One is banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and parts that could be used to build prohibited firearms. It took less than a month after the shootings; New Zealand’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation on reforming “The Arms Amendment Bill.” 

Upon hearing Tarrant’s sentencing, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it meant he would have “no notoriety, no platform ... and we have no cause to think about him, to see him or to hear from him again.” This, in short, testifies New Zealand’s prompt response against extremism. Remember, the country does not have the death penalty as part of its justice system.

Now the question comes: Is this signaling the end of white extremist attacks? The simple and straightforward answer is no.

First of all, one needs to keep in mind that there are other like-minded people such as Tarrant still out there. He was part of a community that both had a physical and online presence. Despite New Zealand’s harmonious image, refugees have long battled racism. 

The country has experienced mass shootings in the past, and murders based on racial hatred, but nothing of this scale.

The incident has raised several issues that will control world politics soon. A new kind of racist behaviour is being noticed all over the world. The birth of a far-right organization is trying to establish white supremacy by giving birth to various hate politics. 

For instance the “Black Sun” symbol, which is widely associated with neo-fascism and neo-Nazism, is utilized by far-right neo-Nazis and white nationalists as stated by Alec Luhn in an article published in Foreign Policy magazine. 

According to Newsweek, many far-right groups and individuals have used the symbol in their propaganda, including the Christchurch mosque shooter, Australian neo-Nazi group Antipodean Resistance, and Ukrainian far-right National Guard regiment Azov Battalion.

Lastly, in the Western world, racism and white nationalism can serve those in power’s political interests. In 2016, Donald Trump used “white nationalism” as in his election agenda. 

Tarrant, in his so-called manifesto, praised US President Donald Trump and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011. 

He hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” 

The latest examples in the US include the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer and recently the shooting of Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old black man who was shot several times by police. 

Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor Mosque, said that “no punishment would bring our loved ones back,” but was proud of New Zealand’s response to extremism. Although extremism means to create division, it can unite people as well. 

There is no ready-made cure to hate politics and hate crime based on white supremacy. 

In the words of Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen, “The fact that schools can actually be a major factor in cementing the world is a factor that’s worth considering, the fact that we all have a shared human identity in addition to many other identities.” 

Indeed, we need to work together to prevent the contagion of racism from spreading as profusely as the coronavirus. 

Md Jahid Hashan is a post-graduate student at the Department of Political Science, the University of Dhaka.

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