Reason, rational discourse and growing criticism at international level can control this rise
There is a land diverse and precious. Everyone accepts everybody else. Minor disagreements are handled in a mature way and let go, if not resolved. If people want to fight, they go to the courts, which deliver fair judgments. It doesn’t lead to conflict outright. And even if it does, conflict resolution happens and is not passed down from generation to generation. People strive for one another, no matter what background they come from. They mock as well as appreciate each other. It is all well-received. People eat and wear what they want. They love who they want to and pray to the Gods of their choice. Women and minorities are treated equally. They are in fact in charge of most things. Natural resources are nurtured and used sensitively and sensibly. Everyone has equal opportunities. This is a truly democratic land, where votes are not asked in the name of eliminating someone.
This blissful land is Utopia—out of this world. Our land is the exact opposite of this.
The World We Inhabit
Six years ago, two Muslim men stormed inside the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris and mercilessly shot dead 12 people while injuring 11 others over a controversial cartoon of Prophet Muhammad that the magazine had republished. The brutal attack, which was also an attack on freedom of expression, has led the magazine to go undercover and operate from a ‘secret’ location. Last year again, as several French media reported, ‘A man suspected of injuring two people with a meat cleaver in Paris has admitted to deliberately targeting the former offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine’. The attacker, 18, from Pakistan ‘linked his actions to the magazine’s recent republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad’. He did not know that the office of Charlie Hebdo did not exist at the same place and that it now houses a television production company.
Last year in October, another brutal case of beheading of a French middle school teacher, Samuel Paty took place in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris. The teacher had shown his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a class discussion on freedom of speech. As the word got around, the assailant launched an attack on Paty. The assailant was later shot dead after he opened fire at the police, and they returned it. The French administration labelled this attack as an ‘Islamist terrorist attack’.
Both the aforementioned incidents were instances of intolerance, led predominantly due to extremist views on religion. Today, acts of terrorism have changed their course. Even as countries, rich or poor, try to devise mechanisms to end terrorism, believed to be exported from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria among others, security establishments are fighting a new phenomenon of ‘self-radicalisation’, wherein an individual falls prey to radical views mostly based on fundamental ideals that may be against an individual, group of people or an entire community. When an individual is radicalised, s/he falls prey to idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. They start to view people belonging to different religions, ethnicities and even gender to be the ones causing harm to the individual’s and his community’s existence. The attacks, when carried out by such attackers, stem from hatred.
Only last month, in March, a 21-year-old white man allegedly opened fire at three massage parlours and spas, spots which generally have Asian staff in large numbers, leaving eight people dead, of which six were women. In the US, the attacks against Asians have increased multi-fold from the time Covid-19 virus made its way into the country. Police officials investigating the case, however, stated that the attacker told them that he was, by no means ‘racially motivated’ and claimed to have ‘sex addiction’ due to which he attacked places he thought were ‘sources of temptation’.
Statistically, hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans spiked across major cities in 2020 and the trend continued well into this year. As per VOA News portals website, there were 122 incidents of anti-Asian American hate crimes in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020. This shows an increase of a whopping 150 per cent compared to the previous year. The news portal also stated that “Asian American rights advocates attribute the unprecedented string of attacks to former US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric blaming China for the deadly coronavirus and, more broadly, the scapegoating of Asian Americans by ordinary people frustrated or angered by the economic and social impact of the pandemic.”
This is an important factor in studying how extremism can in fact be a result of politics and how it is made use of in influencing the locals, who may be struggling with resources themselves. These acts by politicians or other public figures help the citizenry to finding an enemy among themselves, giving rise to further ostracisation of communities. In 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
North America and Europe have experienced some of the deadliest mass killings and have also emerged to be hotbeds of radicalism. Even as radicalism in Islam had been the focal-point for combating these crimes, the emergence of locals in developed countries has added a new dimension to the entire narrative of rising cases of individual attackers, proving to be a major challenge to security establishment of different countries. These attacks turn into hate crimes when individuals from majority communities start to feel threatened by the presence of minorities of all kinds (religious, ethnic and sexual), adding fuel to an already existent notion that the minorities will in turn take over the societal culture at large or that they are there to cause harm to the majority.
In India, too, something to a similar tune is playing out, attracting global attention. The rise of global right wing has led to an increase in such incidents. In the US, since 1 January 2021, there have been a total of 103 mass shootings. It can only be imagined how radicalisation has taken over the psyche of individuals. Most of the times, investigations into such incidents come up with reasons such pertaining to mental illnesses in individuals who perform such extreme acts. This has given rise to debates where a section argues that it is unfair to blame such brutality on an individual’s mental health.
In 2019, incidents of attacks and killings by lone attackers took place in different countries. In the US, a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store in Texas and another gunman killed 10 people, including the assailant in Dayton. Both these incidents took place in August 2019, killing 30 people and leaving dozens injured within 13 hours of each other. In both the cases it was found that these gunmen had acted on their own. The first incident happened on August 3 in the Hispanic border city of El Paso. This attack was seen as ‘homegrown white nationalist terrorism’ by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. These attacks came months after the horrifying Christ Church attacks in New Zealand at two mosques that killed 51 people. In the US, in case of the first attack, the attacker, through an online message board had expressed support for the Christchurch gunman. According to a Reuters report, “A four-page statement posted on an online message board often used by extremists and believed to have been written by the suspect called the Walmart attack ‘a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas’”.
Even as these attackers are known to be solo operators, in almost every case they are inspired to take radical measures to prove their point through a group furthering extremist and radical agenda that direct their course of action. These groups motivate individuals to carry out attacks as they see it as furthering their divisive agendas and cause fear in the minds of common public that do not have a similar thinking. Solo perpetrators of violence often fund themselves, which helps larger groups to spread agendas in the most economic ways.
On the part of the solo attackers, one thing that needs to be looked at is that even when their execution remains solo, they perform in view of beliefs that may not be their own or unique. Hate being endemic to the human psyche, any person who carries out such an attack has groups that let them nurture thoughts that the rest of the society may not encourage. At times, such attackers may not have been directly counselled by any extremist group of organisation. The person may very well have been following their work or thoughts. A number of times it has so happened that lone attackers have pledged loyalty to the ISIS after carrying out attacks in the West. The ISIS, because of tensions with the US and other European powers in Iraq and Syria, have targeted the West, encouraging carrying of ‘the smallest action’ there.
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