Last week's horrifying terror attack on Muslims gathered at two mosques in New Zealand was deeply tragic not only because of the innocent lives lost, but because it was conducted with an unambiguouspolitical agenda. The terrorist authored a lengthy manifesto describing his perverse "justifications." This made matters all the more shocking because it was not novel. Many other people may actually think the way he did. The only difference is that this particular individual decided to act out his agenda at the point of a gun, while for the time being, most others restrain their threats to unarmed provocations.
The number of westerners who have come to embrace elements of the terrorist's ideology could be much more than one expects. Across Europe right-wing parties are gaining more power; and according to research by the University of Alabama's George Hawley, there are roughly 11 million white American share beliefs consistent with the alt-right. When one then considers that many more such extremists are not specifically affiliated with a particular organization but instead spread their dangerous ideas throughout multiple websites, it becomes clear just how deep and wide the problem is.
The rise of "white nationalist" extremism in the west is the by-product of three long term and ongoing developments. First of all, the neoliberal economic system of most western countries has allowed certain young men to feel socially alienated from anything resembling a cohesive relationship with fellow human beings. Where those who once had an economic future begin to feel that they have been deprived of opportunities for worldly enrichment, extremist ideologies become a welcoming place for such people.
Secondly, the hyper-individualism of the west has tragically combined a lack of economic opportunity for those born into ordinary backgrounds, with a total lack of psychological enlightenment. The western idea that one can "be whatever one wants to be" fails to offer proper guidance to those who then grow into young adults who cannot differentiate constructive from destructive behavior.
If every man is a law unto himself, some will choose to act lawlessly. Public education in countries like the U.S. and Australia has failed to communicate social values to the young whilst likewise failing to teach such people real-world skills that can help to advance one's material sustainability throughout the years. Making matters all the more worrisome is that hyper-individualistic cultures tend to lead to the normalization of narcotic usage which itself often leads to violent behavior and anti-social attitudes.
Finally, the imbalance in many western justice systems has created an environment where extremists believe that they can attain fame from committing acts of brutality. In a country like New Zealand that does not punish terrorists with death, the terrorist in question will be able to use the courthouse as a platform from which to spew his dangerous political agenda.
As reports on what the individual says proliferate throughout the western world, there is a danger that he will inspire others to commit similar acts. The same happened when a notorious Norwegian terrorist was able to use his court appearances to spread a fascist ideology in front of multiple cameras and journalists.
Fair trials are always important, but speedy trials are also important because they assure that the victims' relations will at least know that the criminal will not be able to act out again nor enjoy the fruits of life that have been deprived to those who were killed. As the terrorist in New Zealand authored a written confession and videoed his ghastly acts, there is no reason why a guilty verdict could not have already been delivered, to a man who committed his life to the killing of multiple innocent people.
Western countries tend to pride themselves on a self-declared record of superiority in matters of human rights. But for the innocent dead in New Zealand, the government has allowed violence to proliferate without practical measures taken. The combination of economic inequality, hyper-individualism and an unbalanced justice system has led to an increased number of fanatics becoming even more intimidating in their methods.
The ideology of the terrorist from Australia was homegrown and because of this, it is up to western countries themselves to exercise humility when speaking to others. At the same time, such countries must engage in acts of self-reflection and self-criticism in order to try and build a more peaceful future for their own people.