Baghdadi’s death is a huge blow to Islamic State, but history suggests it won’t guarantee a safer world



Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable, but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led.
AAP/EPA/ al Furqan ISIS media wing handout

Greg Barton, Deakin University

“A very bad man” has been killed and “the world is now a much safer place”. The sentiment behind US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is difficult to argue with. Baghdadi was certainly a very bad man. And under his decade-long leadership of the Islamic State (IS) movement, many thousands of people in the Middle East and around the world suffered terrible brutality or death.

Common sense would suggest the world is indeed now a much safer place with Baghdadi’s passing. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee this will prove to be true in practice.

The 18 year-long so-called Global War on Terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks – the international military campaign to fight al-Qaeda, and then IS – has been almost entirely reactive and tactical.

It has lacked any consistent strategic purpose, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines or anywhere else.

The strongest military coalitions the world has ever seen have fought the largest and most powerful terror networks that have ever existed. And this has led, directly and indirectly, to hundreds of thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars spent and remarkably little progress overall.




Read more:
US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life


The special forces raids targeting Baghdadi, in Idlib, and his deputy, IS spokesperson Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, in Aleppo, were undoubtedly significant achievements representing tactical victories of great consequence.

IS has been dealt an enormous blow. But just how long its impact will last is not clear. The lessons of the past two decades make it clear this will certainly not have been a fatal blow.

The IS insurgency, both on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and around the world, was rebuilding strength before these strikes and will not be stopped in its tracks by losing its two most senior public leaders.

Baghdadi as IS leader

Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led. He oversaw the rebuilding of IS from its previous low point a decade ago. He played a key role in expanding into Syria, replenishing the leadership ranks, leading a blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, conquering Mosul and declaring a caliphate. In the eyes of his support base, his credibility as an Islamic scholar and religious leader will not easily be matched.

He was not a particularly charismatic leader and was certainly, as a brutal, fundamentalist loner, not truly inspirational. But he played his role effectively, backed up by the largely unseen ranks of former Iraqi intelligence officers and military commanders who form the core of the IS leadership.

He was, in his time, the caliph the caliphate needed. In that sense, we will not see his like again.

Incredibly, 15 years after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaeda in Iraq, and almost ten years after Baghdadi took charge of the Islamic State in Iraq, there is so much about the leadership of IS we don’t understand.

What is clear is the insurgent movement benefited enormously from so-called “de-Baathification” – the ridding of Arab nationalist ideology – in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and toppling of the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The sacking of thousands of mostly Sunni senior military leaders and technocrats proved to be a windfall for the emerging insurgency.

IS has always been a hybrid movement. Publicly, it presents as a fundamentalist religious movement driven by religious conviction. Behind the scenes, however, experienced Baathist intelligence officers manipulated religious imagery to construct a police state, using religious terror to inspire, intimidate and control.

This is not to say Zarqawi and Baghdadi were unimportant as leaders. On the contrary, they were effective in mobilising religious sentiment first in the Middle East and then across the world. In the process, more than 40,000 people travelled to join the ranks of IS, inspired by the utopian ideal of religious revolution. Baghdadi was especially effective in playing his role as religious leader and caliph.

An optimistic take on Baghdadi’s denouement is that IS will be set back for many months, and perhaps even years. It will struggle to regain the momentum it had under his leadership.

Realistically, the extent to which this opportunity can be capitalised upon turns very much upon the extent to which the emerging leaders within the movement can be tracked down and dealt with before they have a chance to establish themselves.

What might happen now?

It would appear IS had identified the uncontested spaces of north-western Syria in Idlib and Aleppo, outside of the control of the Assad regime in Damascus, of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeast Syria, and beyond the reach of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, as territory in which its leadership could relocate and rebuild.

Continuing the optimistic take, there is the slim hope that the success of Sunday’s raids in which the partnership between US special forces and the SDF was so critical will lead to Trump being persuaded to reverse his decision to part ways with the SDF and pull out their special forces partners on the ground, together with accompanying air support.




Read more:
The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now


The fact Baghdadi and Muhajir were both found within five kilometres of the Turkish border suggests Turkish control of northern Syria is, to say the least, wholly unequal to the task of dealing with emerging IS leaders.

A reset to the pattern of partnership established over the past five years with the largely Kurdish SDF forces in north-eastern Syria could prove critically important in cutting down new IS leaders as they emerge. It’s believed the locations in northern Syria of the handful of leaders most likely to step into the void left by Baghdadi’s passing are well-known.

But even in the best-case scenario, all that can be realistically hoped for is slowing the rebuilding of the IS insurgency, buying time to rebuild political and social stability in northern Syria and northern Iraq.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough



The Christchurch attack is a clear signal we need to change our approach to both hateful extremism and toxic political discourse in Australia.
David Alexander/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read the rest of the series here.


Until the terror attack in Christchurch in March, the threat of far-right terrorism in Australia was one we knew was coming, but believed was well over the horizon.

The sordid story of the Christchurch attacker – “ordinary Australian” turned hateful bigot turned mass-murdering terrorist – contains some uncomfortable truths for our country, not least of which is the fact that the threat of far-right extremism has arrived in the here and now.

Just as troubling, yet even more challenging because it is so insidious, are the clear links between the Christchurch shooter’s motivations and our mainstream political discourse. Facing up to this threat requires us changing our approach both to hateful extremism and toxic political discourse.

Police and counter-terrorism officials have long been warning us of the rising threat of far-right violent extremism. Over the past decade, this has emerged as the number one terrorist threat in America and a persistent and growing threat in Europe.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It’s tempting to say that had more resources been committed to tracking and monitoring far-right groups and individuals in Australia, the Christchurch terrorist perhaps could have been stopped.

But even in hindsight, things are not so clear. The Christchurch gunman was a lone actor with no previous history of significant violence, although his involvement in hateful extremism was well-known to family and friends.

This is the particular threat that keeps counter-terrorism experts awake at night, when so-called “cleanskins” (people with ostensibly spotless records) turn into lone-actor terrorists.

We are flying blind on far-right extremism

One clear lesson from Christchurch is that we need to pay more attention to hate speech and hate crimes.

It is true that “shit-posting” is a common occurrence on social media, and among all those people spouting off, it is extremely difficult to see who might become a violent extremist.

But clearly, we don’t understand the world of far-right extremism nearly as well as we should. We need a better way of monitoring and tracking far-right forums, social networks and the links between far-right individuals through their histories of travel and extremist communications.

We also have no centralised, national database of hate incidents. Hate crimes remain under-reported, poorly documented and de-prioritised to low levels of state policing.




Read more:
Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


The result is that we are flying blind. We don’t get to see the patterns between far-right groups and internet “shit-posters” because we are not collecting the data.

If we made it a priority at the state and federal level to document hate incidents, whether crimes or not, we would at least have a sense of when and where the problem is growing and who is most significantly involved.

This wouldn’t eliminate the threat of far-right extremism, but it might help stop the next massacre and it would certainly contribute to making Australian society more healthy, welcoming and just.

Anti-immigrant protesters at a Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney in 2015.
David Moir/AAP

A disproportionate focus on Islamist terror threats

The September 11 attacks in America, and subsequent attacks by al-Qaeda in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere, triggered an enormous investment in counter-terrorism efforts in Australia.

This had barely begun to abate when the formation of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate in mid-2014 alerted us to the high rates of terror recruitment in Australia and prompted the raising of the national terrorism alert to the penultimate level in September 2014.

An intercepted phone call then triggered Australia’s largest-ever counter-terrorism operation. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State issued a call for random lone-actor attacks around the world and, within days, an 18-year-old launched a knife attack against two police officers in Melbourne.




Read more:
Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


These circumstances have led to 82 counter-terrorism laws being enacted in Australia since 2001, and 16 counter-terrorism operations since 2014, almost all of which have been responding to the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

This perception of the increased threat posed by these groups has resulted in a disproportionate investment in counter-terrorism compared with the response to the much greater threat posed by domestic violence.

At the same time, however, very little has been invested in preventative counter-terrorism measures, including countering far-right extremism.

A national discourse bound up in fear

We pride ourselves on being the world’s most successful multicultural society, yet we consistently turn a deaf ear to those who come up against hatred.

Just last month, for example, a new national survey found that 82% of Asian Australians, 81% of Australians of Middle Eastern background and 71% of Indigenous Australians had experienced some form of discrimination.

One reason why we are not yet ready to face up to this problem is that our national political discourse has for decades become bound up with the politics of fear, “othering”, and scapegoating minority communities.

When we demonise “illegal arrivals” and give license to the toxic rhetoric that we are being “swamped by Asians”, as Pauline Hanson put it in the late 1990s, or more recently “flooded by Muslims”, then we are buying into the core element of the narrative of terrorists like the Christchurch gunman.

In his manifesto, the gunman referenced the far-right extremist trope of “the great replacement” –
the fear that white Christian society is being overrun by brown-skinned, non-Christian people who are changing its culture and society irrevocably.

He picked up this idea from parts of Europe where there is strong antagonism to migrants and Muslims. But he referenced it directly from the writings of the Norwegian far-right terrorist who shot dead 69 people and blew up another eight in July 2011.

This same argument featured in the manifesto of the El Paso gunman who murdered 22 people at a Walmart store in Texas last month. In it, he praised the Christchurch shooter and warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.

These alt-right terrorists are driven in part by a fantasy of going from “zero to hero” in the alt-right internet world and becoming renowned as “warrior defenders”.

White nationalist manifestos are a recurring feature of far-right extremist attacks, like the one in El Paso this year.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Prioritising far-right extremism

Prior to Christchurch, kicking the can down the road and prioritising other threats to our national security seemed an understandable, if not ideal response.

We now need to face the reality that of 50 terrorism-related deaths in the US last year, almost all involved far-right extremism. (Only one was linked to jihadi terrorism.) This is a pattern that’s been established for decades now. In fact, nearly three-quarters of all terrorist deaths in the US over the past decade have been linked to far-right extremism.

And while there is reason to hope the problem will never become quite so serious in Australia (despite the fact an Australian far-right extremist has murdered 51 people in another country), we need to do what we can now to counter the rise of hate speech and hate crimes – not later.

There are no quick fixes or guaranteed solutions, but these steps will make society better in ways that go far beyond the immediate threat of another terrorist attack.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism



Australia has enacted 20 new anti-terror laws since 2014. Several more bills have been introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and are now before parliament.
James Ross/AAP

Nicola McGarrity, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Durham University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how this is impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In late September, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced a new bill that would give him stronger powers to strip the Australian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terror-related offences or who in engage in related activities.

In response to the prospect of foreign fighters returning from conflicts overseas, the bill proposes extending the current citizenship revocation law to any dual national who is convicted of a terrorism offence carrying at least three years imprisonment (compared to the current six).

It would also be back-dated to account for any terrorism convictions or conduct from May 2003 onwards (compared to the current cut-off date of December 2015).

To protect the rights of dual nationals, the bill proposes changing the process for revoking citizenship. Instead of it automatically ceasing when people engage in terror-related conduct, the minister would have the sole power to decide if they should be stripped of their citizenship.

This procedural change is unusual because moves to repeal or wind back
anti-terrorism laws have been few and far between.

Unfortunately, however, in all other respects, the new citizenship bill fits squarely within the pattern of overzealous Australian anti-terror law-making over the past 18 years.




Read more:
Preventing foreign fighters from returning home could be dangerous to national security


A new law every 6.7 weeks

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Australian parliament has responded to the threat of terrorism here and overseas by enacting dozens of new laws or amending existing laws.


Note: Hover on desktop to see names and links of individual acts.

In 2011, University of Toronto Professor Kent Roach famously described this response in Australia as one of “hyper-legislation”.

Another expert, UNSW Professor George Williams calculated that between the September 11 terrorist attacks and the defeat of the Howard government in November 2007, a new anti-terror law was enacted on average every 6.7 weeks.

The declaration of a caliphate by the Islamic State in mid-2014 led to another flurry of legislative activity in parliament.

This started with the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 (Cth), which controversially exempted undercover ASIO officers from criminal prosecution, expanded that organisation’s access to computer networks, and restricted the leaking of sensitive information.




Read more:
National security bills compound existing threats to media freedom


In the five years since then, 19 more anti-terrorism laws have been passed. That brings the total number of substantive anti-terrorism laws enacted by parliament to 82 since the Sept. 11 attacks, with a further six bills either currently before parliament or about to be introduced.

This is a staggering number of laws, and far exceeds the volume in the United Kingdom, Canada and even the United States in response to Sept 11.

Draconian and unworkable laws

It is not only the sheer number of laws, but also their scope, which makes Australia stand out among Western democracies.

At the core of Australia’s anti-terrorism regime is a carefully considered and, in the eyes of most commentators, balanced definition of terrorism.

However, as the years have gone by, increasingly draconian, and often unworkable, legislation has spiralled out beyond this definition. For instance, the mere act of travel to certain areas, such as Mosul in Iraq, has been criminalised, as well as advocating terrorism.

Instead of working with companies like Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, the government imposed impractical obligations on them to scrutinise the online activities of their customers (with further laws threatened in the event of non-compliance).

In addition to the stripping of the citizenship of dual nationals, another bill would prevent anyone from returning home from overseas conflicts for a considerable period of time under a Temporary Exclusion Order, even Australians who don’t hold another passport.




Read more:
There’s no clear need for Peter Dutton’s new bill excluding citizens from Australia


Another bill before parliament would require people who have previously been charged with a terrorism offence (regardless of whether they were ultimately acquitted) to prove extraordinary circumstances before being granted bail for a subsequent offence.

This demonstrates just how far lawmakers have strayed from the fundamental human rights and principles of criminal justice.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would have the power to decide on revoking citizenship for those convicted of terror offenses under a new bill before parliament.
Sam Mooy/AAP

What anti-terror laws are intended to do

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Australian lawmakers might have been excused any overreaction on the grounds the country didn’t have much historical experience with terrorism or in legislating in response to this threat.

At the time, there were no specific anti-terrorism laws at the federal level in Australia. This was undoubtedly a significant oversight which needed to be remedied.

Even today, more than 18 years on and with over 80 laws in place, it’s somewhat understandable lawmakers react to terrorist attacks by seeking to take swift action.

One of the (few) downsides of a democratic political system is that parliamentarians are hit with the full force of public hysteria about actual and perceived terrorist threats. The most obvious way for the parliament to address these fears is through the enactment of laws.

As Roger Wilkins, a former secretary of the Attorney-General’s department, said in support of proposals to strengthen the control orders laws in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks:

In a modern, liberal democracy, that’s about the only thing you can do.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, this is not just a case of political opportunism on the part of the governing party. The steps taken by lawmakers are crucial in re-establishing the community’s sense of security.

We need to acknowledge, above all, that the buck stops with our elected representatives to protect the lives of the Australian people. They bear both the personal and professional responsibility if a terrorist act occurs which could have been prevented.

It is this, as much as anything else, that explains the rapid and bipartisan passage of so many laws through the parliament.

Terrorism can’t be defeated through laws alone

Having said all this, it’s unfortunate successive Australian governments on both sides seem to have learned little over the course of the last 18 years.

Statements made in the aftermath of every terrorist attack, and, most recently in responding to concerns about foreign terrorist fighters, have identified the ultimate goal as being to “defy” and “defeat” terrorism.




Read more:
How the Australian government is failing on countering violent extremism


While statements such as this are clearly rhetorical, what underpins them is a failure to recognise the permanence of terrorism.

Terrorism in one form or another has always existed, and will always continue to exist. Neither legislation nor anything else will be able to eliminate this threat.

The idea of managing the threat of terrorism, in the sense that some degree of terrorism is acceptable or at least to be expected, might seem politically unpalatable. However, open acceptance of the permanence of terrorism means lawmakers will no longer be chasing – and the public no longer demanding – the achievement of an impossible goal.

It will also, in turn, facilitate a more proportionate response to the challenges posed by the foreign fighters phenomenon and the threat of terrorism more generally.

A better way forward

In a quest to eliminate terrorism, laws have been enacted that make ever-increasing intrusions into people’s lives and curtail human rights for diminishing returns in terms of security.

Some have even suggested these laws make us less safe. In its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the citizenship stripping laws, ASIO said these measures could:

have unintended or unforeseen adverse security outcomes – potentially including reducing one manifestation of the terrorist threat while exacerbating another.

It will never be appropriate or desirable for governments to sit back and take no action in response to the threat of terrorism. But what we need is a sharp change in approach.

Countering violent extremism programs have been used in Australia and other countries as another tool for responding to terrorism threats. Instead of treating such programs as a “backup” option, as they currently are in Australia, these should be brought to the fore.

The critical lesson of the past 18 years is that we must think creatively about how to combat the threat of terrorism, rather than continually reworking existing – and often demonstrably unsuccessful – strategies.The Conversation

Nicola McGarrity, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Assistant Professor in Public Law and Human Rights, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka terror attack. Here’s what that means


Greg Barton, Deakin University

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – about 250 dead, according to revised government figures – it feels disrespectful to the people of Sri Lanka to be dissecting what went wrong even as the dead are being buried.

But the reality is that most, if not all, of these lives need not have been taken. We owe it to them and their loved ones to make sense of what happened and work towards doing all that can be done to ensure it does not happen again.

The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. And this in a now peaceful country, which for all its history of civil war and ethno-nationalist terrorism in decades past has never had a problem with jihadi radical Islamist terrorism.

A return to deadlier, more coordinated strikes

The long-anticipated claim of responsibility for the attacks was made by the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday night. This could help explain how one local cell based around a single extended family circle of hateful extremists not previously known for terrorism could execute such a massive attack. It was larger even than IS’s previous truck-bomb attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attacks follow a familiar, if now rarely seen, IS operandi of coordinated suicide bombings. The targeting of Catholic churches, which made little sense initially in the context of the domestic social issues at the heart of the country’s recent civil war, fit an all-too-familiar pattern of IS attacks on Christians, along with fellow Muslims.




Read more:
Who are Sri Lanka’s Christians?


The fact that 40 or more Sri Lankans travelled to Syria to fight with IS could help explain how the terror network was able to build vital personal links in the very small community of Sri Lankan Islamist extremists so it could subcontract its attack plans to them. At this point, the precise involvement of returnees from Syria and foreign IS supporters in the bombings remains under investigation.

The Easter weekend attacks more resemble the al-Qaeda attacks of the 2000s than they do recent attacks of IS. Like the 2000 attack of the USS Cole in Yemen, the September attacks in New York and Washington, the 2002 bombings in Bali, the 2003 truck bombs in Istanbul, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 tube and bus bombings in London, the Sri Lanka bombings involved multiple attackers acting in concert. With the exception of September 11, all of these also involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Sri Lanka bombings exceeded all but the September 11 attacks in sophistication and deadliness, despite the fact the perpetrators were previously known only for acts of hateful vandalism.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda has been unable to carry out significant attacks outside of conflict zones. It has also become increasingly focused on “reputation management” and has tended to avoid indiscriminate mass killings, all the whilst growing its global network of affiliates.




Read more:
Out of the ashes of Afghanistan and Iraq: the rise and rise of Islamic State


The emergence of IS saw the tempo and scale of terrorist attacks transformed. Most attacks took place in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Philippines).

A number of significant attacks were conducted well beyond the battlefield. There were at least four such attacks in 2014, 16 in 2015, 22 in 2016, 18 in 2017, and 10 in 2018. The vast majority of these attacks were conducted by lone actors.

Why was it that, outside of conflict zones, not just al-Qaeda but even IS at the height of its powers focused largely on lone-actor attacks?

It is probably not for want of trying. The reason is that most larger, more ambitious plots were tripped-up by intelligence intercepts. This is especially the case in stable democracies, including our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.

Why Sri Lanka?

The other big question is how one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever was able to be executed in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka was a soft target. Having successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group a decade ago through military might, Sri Lanka has become complacent. It has not seen a pressing need to develop police and non-military intelligence capacity to counter terrorism.




Read more:
War is over, but not Sri Lanka’s climate of violence and threats


At the same time, it has struggled with good governance and political stability. Just six months ago, it faced a major constitutional crisis when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his deputy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attempted to replace him with the former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The attempt failed, but in the stand-off that ensued, Wickremesinghe, and ministers loyal to him, were excluded from intelligence briefings. In particular, they say that they were left unaware of the multiple warnings issued by the Indian intelligence service, RAW, to the authorities in Colombo about the extremist figures who played a key role in the Easter attacks.

Thus, despite several discoveries earlier this year of large amounts of explosives stored in remote rural locations on the island, and multiple warnings from the Indians, including final alerts just hours before Sunday’s attacks, the government and security community were left distracted and caught off-guard.

Between “fighting the last war” and fighting each other, they deluded themselves that there was no imminent terrorist threat.

What other countries are vulnerable?

If the massive attacks in Sri Lanka over Easter serve to remind us that IS is very far from being a spent force, the question is where this energetic and well-resourced network will strike next.

For all that it achieved in Sri Lanka, IS is unlikely to be able to build an enduring presence there. So long as the Sri Lankan government and people emerge from this trauma with renewed commitment to unity – and with elections at the end of the year, this is far from certain – the “perfect storm” conditions exploited by IS are unlikely to be repeated.

So where else is IS likely to find opportunity? India and Bangladesh continue to present opportunities, as does much of Central Asia. In our region, it is Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines that we should be most worried about.

Malaysia has emerged stronger and more stable from its swing-back to democracy but continues to be worryingly in denial about the extent to which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, downplaying the very good work done over many years by the Special Branch of the Royal National Malaysian Police.




Read more:
Defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is rebuilding in countries like Indonesia


Thailand and the Philippines remain less politically stable, and rather more brittle than they care too acknowledge. And both tend to delude themselves into thinking that the problems of their southern extremes will never manifest in a terror attack in Bangkok or Manila, respectively.

The people of Sri Lanka have paid far too high price for the lessons of the Easter weekend attacks to be ignored or forgotten.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Sri Lanka has long been subject to extremist violence. Easter Sunday’s coordinated bomb blasts, which killed almost 300 and injured hundreds more, are the latest in a long history of ethno-religious tragedies.

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, 24 people have been arrested. Three police were killed in their capture.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attacks on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a radical Islamist group known for vandalising Buddhist statues.

These attacks are different from previous ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. By fomenting generalised religious hatred, they appear to have more in common with Al-Qaeda, which has sought specific political change.




Read more:
Who are Sri Lanka’s Christians?


For many, the bomb blasts immediately recalled Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war. The war was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lanka government from 1983 until 2009.

In its final weeks, around 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians were killed, bringing the war’s total toll to more than 100,000 from a population of around 20 million.

The Tamil Tigers were completely destroyed in 2009. Many Tigers, including their leader, were summarily executed. There remains much bitterness among Tamils towards the ethnic majority Sinhalese, but there is no appetite for renewing a war that ended so disastrously.

A history of unrest

Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka were high prior to independence in 1948, and stoked by the 1956 election of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike.

Bandaranaike proclaimed himself “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture”, and oversaw the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act. The act privileged the country’s majority Sinhalese population and their religion of Buddhism over the minority Hindu and Muslim Tamils. The fallout from this legislation forced Bandaranaike to backtrack, but he was assassinated in 1959 by an extremist Buddhist monk for doing so.

Inter-ethnic tensions continued with outbursts of mob violence. In 1962, there was an attempted military coup, and in 1964, around 600,000 third and fourth generation “Indian” Tamils were forcibly removed to India.

In 1972, and again in 1987, the predominantly Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP) launched insurrections that were bloodily suppressed. Clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 led to an attack on a Sri Lankan army convoy. This sparked the “Black July” Sinhalese rampage against ethnic Tamils, leaving at least 3,000 dead and marking the start of the inter-ethnic civil war.

The war was noted for its bitterness, with the Tamil Tigers using suicide bombing as a tactical weapon, as well as for targeted political assassinations. India intervened in the war in 1987. In retribution, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.




Read more:
Violent Buddhist extremists are targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka


Extremist violence isn’t new

Sri Lanka’s Muslims are predominantly ethnic Tamils and make up about 10% of the population. They have been at the margins of these more recent conflicts – excluded as Tamil speakers, but at odds with the more numerous Hindu Tamils. However, they also have long been subject to Sinhalese persecution, with anti-Muslim riots dating back at least as far as the early 20th century.

As the Tamil Tiger war progressed, Sinhalese Buddhism became more radicalised. Some Sinhalese claimed that all of Sri Lanka should be exclusively Buddhist. With the Tamil Tigers defeated, Sri Lanka’s non-Buddhist communities were again persecuted. This culminated in 2013 with a Buddhist attack on a mosque. Anti-Muslim riots in 2014 resulted in a ten day state of emergency. Last year, there were more anti-Muslim riots. Buddhist monks have also disrupted Christian church services.




Read more:
Explainer: Why Sri Lanka is sliding into political turmoil, and what could happen next


Sri Lanka’s history of extremist violence, then, is far from new. Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism has been the driver of much of this conflict. It may be that the Colombo East bombings are a reaction to recent ethnic persecution.

But if so, this raises the question of why Christian churches and upmarket hotels were bombed, rather than symbols of the Sinhalese Buddhist community. One can speculate about the logic of radicalisation and its possible manifestations. It is possible that, if Islamist-inspired, the bombings were not a direct retaliation for last year’s anti-Muslim riots, but part of a wider jihadi agenda.

It is instructive that, when the suspected terrorists were arrested and weapons found, three police were shot dead. Clearly, whoever was responsible was well trained, and there have been suggestions of international links. This contributes to speculation of returned Islamic State fighters having joined NTJ.

The Sri Lankan government was slow to release details of those believed responsible, as it knows ethnic and religious tensions are easy to spark. Identification of responsibility could well provide fuel for another round of inter-ethnic bloodletting.

If NTJ links are proven, or if the more radical elements of the Buddhist community are persuaded by wider speculation, it is likely Sri Lanka’s Tamil Muslims will bear the brunt of their reprisals. It is in this manner that Sri Lanka’s wheel of ethno-religious conflict turns.The Conversation

Damien Kingsbury, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why NZ needs to follow weapons ban with broad review of security laws


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Within a week of the Christchurch terror attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
AAP/David Alexander, CC BY-SA

John Battersby, Massey University

Up until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of a ban on military-style weapons yesterday, New Zealand had a system of licensing firearms holders and used a process of application, vetting, reference checks and attendance at firearms safety lectures.

Knowledge of the Firearms Code was required and tested. A firearms license holder was able to then legally acquire any number of firearms. New Zealand has not set up an arms register since the Arms Act was enacted in 1983.

There is no tally of how many firearms are in New Zealand, and no log of how many firearms any individual may have. There is an estimated 1.3 million firearms legally owned in New Zealand, and nothing beyond speculation about how many illegal weapons have found their way in.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a ban on military style semi-automatic weapons and assault firearms.



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Loop holes in gun laws

With a certain class of license, military style semi-automatic weapons (in unlimited numbers) could be acquired legally. Some 14,000 of these weapons are thought to be legally owned in New Zealand.

Loop holes in current legislation abound. These make it possible to modify weapons and obtain large magazines, and even to buy armour-piercing bullets. Why, in a peaceful, democratic and open society, does anyone need a military-style automatic weapon and armour piercing ammunition?

Prime Minister Ardern has shown the decisive leadership we should see from a leader who genuinely cares about the people she leads. She has finally grasped the nettle, exploiting the current situation to drive through the changes New Zealand should have made 23 years ago following the Port Arthur massacre. She has outwitted those who might oppose her move, because there is no argument that anybody could muster now that would in any way resonate with the vast majority of New Zealanders.

Ardern has announced the ban on a number of weapons, signalled changes to the firearms licensing regime and the need to keep tabs on the national recreational arsenal. But there is a tough road ahead.




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When gun control makes a difference: 4 essential reads


Rural, recreational use of firearms

Politicians have an unquestioning faith that legislation is sufficient, but it is largely impotent without adequate resourcing for the enforcement of new rules. With only an estimate to work on, New Zealand Police (the administrators of firearms regulations) will have to identify and locate the owners of these weapons and implement the buy-back and amnesty that will be required.

Many owners will give them up. Their humanity will outdo their desire to have them, but the shocking reality of panic buying of semi-automatics since the Christchurch tragedy signals that clearly there are those who will seek to subvert the government’s intent. Police will have to investigate those who fail to cooperate, safely seize the weapons and prosecute the offenders.

Most firearms license holders in New Zealand do not own military style semi-automatic weapons. Many are rural, recreational hunters or use their weapons on ranges. They look after their weapons responsibly, secure them safely, own them legally and use them at no risk to the general public.

Most who own semi-automatic weapons are no different. We should not demonise a section of society simply because of the horrific, obscene and brutally inhuman actions of one lonely individual who no more represents gun owners than he does any other group of New Zealanders.

Illegal weapon imports

But this is not the issue. The issue is that the privilege of owning a certain class of weapons is not worth the terrible cost of 50 people being gunned down in prayer. New Zealand is already seeing the steady illegal importation of firearms, often tied to the increasing movement of illicit narcotics. Banning semi-automatics will increase the demand for the importation of these weapons illegally, adding extra pressure on law enforcement agencies.




Read more:
Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks


For a ban on military style semi-automatics to have meaning, New Zealand’s long coast line, its airports and sea ports, through which illegal commodities are moving, will need resources that allow fit-for-purpose enforcement powers, people and tactics.

The changes New Zealand will now make will not guarantee it will be free of terrorism in the future. Other countries have much stricter firearms regulations, having taken far stronger measures years ago, but they have still suffered terrorist attacks. Firearms reform is one small step for a country that will need to address a plethora of gaps in its security approach.

New Zealand’s terrorism legislation is inadequate. It was found wanting when police attempted to apply it in 2007 during the “Urewera raids”, but charges could not be laid then. New Zealand’s then Solicitor General David Collins described the Terrorism Suppression Act then as incoherent and unworkable. How New Zealand manages social media needs review, and the traditional minimalist approach to national security will no longer suffice.

New Zealand has faced security crises before during the Russian scare in the 1880s and the second world war in the 1940s. It has often been caught out doing “too little, too late” to be saved only by its distance from any potential threat. The internet has extinguished that distance. It has brought the ills of the rest of the world to us. It is already too late. We must ensure that what we do now, is not too little.The Conversation

John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Parkland’s experience tells us about the limits of a ‘security’ response to Christchurch


Amanda Tattersall, University of Sydney

In the days before the mass shootings in Christchurch I was visiting Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018. I was recording a story about how those survivors and their allies built a global movement against gun violence. I met students, teachers and supporters.

These American students knew all about Australia’s gun laws. “How did you get such strong laws?” they would ask. And I would tell them about the Port Arthur massacre and how our conservative prime minister acted. “We haven’t had a gun massacre since,” I proclaimed. Days later, I felt shame at my hubris – an Australian has been charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.




Read more:
Parkland shooting: One year later, Congress still avoids action on gun control


Lessons from a ‘high-security’ suburb

We have so much to learn from Parkland. And it’s not simply how they built a remarkable social movement. Some lessons become visible only when you actually see the place.

Parkland is a suburb close to the Everglades, 30 minutes from the beach and an hour north of Miami. It is a wealthy, majority-white neighbourhood. But the thing that overwhelmed me when I was driving around is that it is a gated community.

The entire suburb is broken up into large blocks, and at the centre of each block is a single entrance for cars. The road has a security hut, large barriers stretching across and there is a large gate. You need a PIN code to go inside.

When you go through, the homes and streets are beautiful. Green grass, and every home has one of those white mailboxes with a red flag that turns up when the mail arrives.

These gated communities tell you something. Parents choose to live behind walls to create a nice way to live and keep their family safe.

But in Parkland all that security didn’t keep them safe. Darkness found a new way in – and everyone is still feeling the murderous pain.

The limits of security and walls offer a profound lesson for us in Australia as we work out how to respond to the terrorism in Christchurch. Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to lock up our places of worship – particularly mosques. He wants police with guns and security checks. It’s like he wants to build religious gated communities.




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Morrison announces $55 million for security at religious premises and warns against “tribalism”


This approach is consistent with his other policies – use the navy to stop boats, use cages to stop refugees. Our prime minister has only one register – security.

But if Parkland showed anything, it’s that gated communities don’t stop violence. The violence just moves and shifts. An aggressive security response might make you “feel” safer, but it doesn’t make you safe.

At the same time, security heightens the tension. And it does nothing to deal with the causes of the violence.

So how do we respond to the causes of the violence? In Parkland, the main issue was access to guns. The March for Our Lives students called this out quickly. They gained traction because they bravely and forcefully condemned the National Rifle Association for creating the context for mass shootings – easy access to guns.




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We must not punish content creators in our rush to regulate social platforms


It started with the demonisation of others

Our context is different. The issue in Christchurch was about guns, yes, but equally it was about motive. As Australians, one of our citizens “radicalised” themselves to such a point that they massacred other people. How did this happen?

White supremacy. OK, but how do we unpack white supremacy? Who emboldened this? Who made it OK to demonise Muslims – to say they don’t belong?

First, people looked to Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning. The social movement around #EggBoy shows people’s anger at extremism.

But it’s more than that. Murdoch news media have been running a crusade against Muslims for years. The Coalition has brutalised Muslims and refugees for votes since September 11 2001. And the Labor Party has given bipartisan support to the offshore detention of predominantly Muslim refugees.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Come together in love to overcome hate

But knowing who prosecutes hate is not enough. Hate can’t drive out hate. As Martin Luther King junior said, only love can do that.

How do we bring love into our work to stop race being used as a divisive power? I wish I had the answer. But I do know that building love is something that can happen everywhere all the time – not just at vigils or special services.

Can we build a movement that would amplify love at work, in our community, in our schools, where we have intentional conversations to talk about what Christchurch meant and why the Muslim community was targeted?

The Muslim community are in pain. We – especially white people like me and some of you – have to do the heavy lifting on this one. We can take the lead on doing something about white supremacy and dividing people by race and religion.

Imagine if we could take the pain of this moment and turn it into a real reckoning for our country. For as long as white people have stood in Australia we have caused harm to others. But too often we shrug off responsibility through phrases like “the most successful multicultural country in the world”. Or we get scared off the conversation by phrases like the “history wars”.

Yes, the shock jocks will berate and the trolls will yell. But let’s have them yell at white people taking on white supremacy instead of Muslim and other leaders of colour.

It’s time to act. The election is one place – we need to vote for leaders who stand with Muslims because “they are us”.

But this is more than just electoral politics. It’s about a movement committed to connection, understanding, listening, respect and love. And that’s love as a verb, love as action.

A year after the mass shooting, Parkland is still a torn community. Many are still deeply active in social movements pushing for gun law reform. And many others are still healing.

In Parkland the lesson is that they were forever changed, not because of the hate that was inflicted, but because of the love they cultivated in response.The Conversation

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Finding dignity and grace in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack


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Victims are responding to the Christchurch mosque shooting with bravery and compassion, not anger and hate.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mohamad Abdalla, University of South Australia

Following the tragic attack in Christchurch that killed 50 people as they prayed, I felt compelled to visit the injured in hospital, and meet their family and friends.

I also visited others in their homes, alongside an elder and pioneer of the New Zealand Islamic community, the man who helped establish Al Noor Mosque where most of the victims were killed.

Their stories of survival are moving, sometimes remarkable and often deeply sad.




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But the common thread in their response to the horrific events of March 15 is profound bravery, deep consideration and thoughtfulness, and a complete lack of desire for vengeance.

At the hospital, I met Ahmad, a middle-aged man from an Afghani background. He said he survived because he was buried under the dead bodies that piled up in the mosque. Although he was shot twice in the back and was lucky to survive, he was not angry or resentful.

When asked about his abiding thoughts now he said:

terrorism must not scare us. Racism must not divide us.

I then visited Fuad, another middle-aged man originally from Afghanistan who also escaped death. He had been struck by a bullet in the back and another just missing the back of his head.

His wounds were visible. He told me, with four children, he was just grateful to be alive. Not resentful or vengeful, he was full of praise for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her deep expression of humanity.

Mustafa, a young university student of Turkish heritage, was shot in the legs. One of the bullets exploded in his leg and it is difficult to know the long-term impacts – but he smiles and is cheerful, kind and respectful to the nurses who care for him.

Like the other two, he was not hateful. He said:

We trust in God. Don’t be scared to go to Mosques and schools.

He was quick to point out terrorism would serve its purpose if it made people afraid – our fear is their victory.

Still in shock from seeing the events at Al Noor mosque unfold, Burhan, a Sudanese man in his 60s, stood in the hospital corridor. That Friday at the mosque, he heard the shooting but was not sure if it was real.

He then saw two men shot dead, one on his right and the other behind him.

He ran outside and hid behind a car but could see the shoes of the terrorist as he continued to fire. He watched as a father ran out with his three-year-old daughter in his arms calling out “my daughter!”.

Both had been shot multiple times and both remain in critical care.

A young man in his 20s whom I had met when we completed the hajj pilgrimage last year, witnessed the gunman as he shot that young father and child.

Not unscathed, he too was shot in the hip and shoulder and his father only survived by pretending to be dead.

Without anger and strong in his faith he said:

the Prophets of God were tested more severely.

Down every corridor the message was the same – the survivors urged unity and the strength to resist hatred, racism and vengeance.

At the community centre later that day I met Adnan Ibrahim the father of the youngest of the 50 victims killed at the two mosques. His son, Mucad Ibrahim, was only three years old.

Before he was killed, he had run toward the gunman thinking it was a game.

As Adnan retold the events, everyone became very silent. In deep pain and sorrow, he showed grace and dignity.

Verily we belong to God and to Him we shall return.

His most present thoughts were about the sad condition of humanity, that such things could happen.




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On my way to the carpark, I met Matiullah, a young man under 20 years old. I greeted him and asked if he lost anyone. He told me his father was killed while standing in prayer at the mosque. I embraced him and was struck by his gentleness and calmness.

The community elder Dr Hanif Quazi took me to see Ambreen Nadeem, who lost both her husband and her 21-year-old son, Talha.

Talha was completing an engineering degree. The entire family were planning to visit Pakistan in June and the tickets were booked.

As I met her with her two remaining sons, 17 and seven years old, I was filled with sadness.

Grief lined her dignified face.

And she said:

I pity the killer because his heart was filled with hate, not love.

“Pray for us,” she added quietly. I did.

At a time when we could expect that anger, vengeance and resentment could take hold in a community so demolished by violence, I found the exact opposite.

They were compassionate. They were forgiving. They were humane. And this is what we need right now.The Conversation

Mohamad Abdalla, Founding Director of the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Anxieties over livestreams can help us design better Facebook and YouTube content moderation



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Livestream on Facebook isn’t just a tool for sharing violence – it has many popular social and political uses.
glen carrie / unsplash, CC BY

Andrew Quodling, Queensland University of Technology

As families in Christchurch bury their loved ones following Friday’s terrorist attack, global attention now turns to preventing such a thing ever happening again.

In particular, the role social media played in broadcasting live footage and amplifying its reach is under the microscope. Facebook and YouTube face intense scrutiny.




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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reportedly been in contact with Facebook executives to press the case that the footage should not available for viewing. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a moratorium on amateur livestreaming services.

But beyond these immediate responses, this terrible incident presents an opportunity for longer term reform. It’s time for social media platforms to be more open about how livestreaming works, how it is moderated, and what should happen if or when the rules break down.

Increasing scrutiny

With the alleged perpetrator apparently flying under the radar prior to this incident in Christchurch, our collective focus is now turned to the online radicalisation of young men.

As part of that, online platforms face increased scrutiny and Facebook and Youtube have drawn criticism.

After dissemination of the original livestream occurred on Facebook, YouTube became a venue for the re-upload and propagation of the recorded footage.

Both platforms have made public statements about their efforts at moderation.

YouTube noted the challenges of dealing with an “unprecedented volume” of uploads.

Although it’s been reported less than 4000 people saw the initial stream on Facebook, Facebook said:

In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload […]

Focusing chiefly on live-streaming is somewhat reductive. Although the shooter initially streamed his own footage, the greater challenge of controlling the video largely relates to two issues:

  1. the length of time it was available on Facebook’s platform before it was removed
  2. the moderation of “mirror” video publication by people who had chosen to download, edit, and re-upload the video for their own purposes.

These issues illustrate the weaknesses of existing content moderation policies and practices.

Not an easy task

Content moderation is a complex and unenviable responsibility. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube are expected to balance the virtues of free expression and newsworthiness with socio-cultural norms and personal desires, as well as the local regulatory regimes of the countries they operate in.

When platforms perform this responsibility poorly (or, utterly abdicate it) they pass on the task to others — like the New Zealand Internet Service Providers that blocked access to websites that were re-distributing the shooter’s footage.

People might reasonably expect platforms like Facebook and YouTube to have thorough controls over what is uploaded on their sites. However, the companies’ huge user bases mean they often must balance the application of automated, algorithmic systems for content moderation (like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, and YouTube’s ContentID) with teams of human moderators.




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A guide for parents and teachers: what to do if your teenager watches violent footage


We know from investigative reporting that the moderation teams at platforms like Facebook and YouTube are tasked with particularly challenging work. They seem to have a relatively high turnover of staff who are quickly burnt-out by severe workloads while moderating the worst content on the internet. They are supported with only meagre wages, and what could be viewed as inadequate mental healthcare.

And while some algorithmic systems can be effective at scale, they can also be subverted by competent users who understand aspects of their methodology. If you’ve ever found a video on YouTube where the colours are distorted, the audio playback is slightly out of sync, or the image is heavily zoomed and cropped, you’ve likely seen someone’s attempt to get around ContentID algorithms.

For online platforms, the response to terror attacks is further complicated by the difficult balance they must strike between their desire to protect users from gratuitous or appalling footage with their commitment to inform people seeking news through their platform.

We must also acknowledge the other ways livestreaming features in modern life. Livestreaming is a lucrative niche entertainment industry, with thousands of innocent users broadcasting hobbies with friends from board games to mukbang (social eating), to video games. Livestreaming is important for activists in authoritarian countries, allowing them to share eyewitness footage of crimes, and shift power relationships. A ban on livestreaming would prevent a lot of this activity.

We need a new approach

Facebook and YouTube’s challenges in addressing the issue of livestreamed hate crimes tells us something important. We need a more open, transparent approach to moderation. Platforms must talk openly about how this work is done, and be prepared to incorporate feedback from our governments and society more broadly.




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Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


A good place to start is the Santa Clara principles, generated initially from a content moderation conference held in February 2018 and updated in May 2018. These offer a solid foundation for reform, stating:

  1. companies should publish the numbers of posts removed and accounts permanently or temporarily suspended due to violations of their content guidelines
  2. companies should provide notice to each user whose content is taken down or account is suspended about the reason for the removal or suspension
  3. companies should provide a meaningful opportunity for timely appeal of any content removal or account suspension.

A more socially responsible approach to platforms’ roles as moderators of public discourse necessitates a move away from the black-box secrecy platforms are accustomed to — and a move towards more thorough public discussions about content moderation.

In the end, greater transparency may facilitate a less reactive policy landscape, where both public policy and opinion have a greater understanding around the complexities of managing new and innovative communications technologies.The Conversation

Andrew Quodling, PhD candidate researching governance of social media platforms, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Four lessons we must take away from the Christchurch terror attack



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Across the world, marches took place during a UN anti-racism day, condemning the attacks on muslims in New Zealand this week.
EPA/Andy Rain, CC BY-SA

Joe Burton, University of Waikato

In the aftermath of the tragic loss of life in Christchurch on Friday, the focus needs to be on supporting those who have lost their loved ones and on fostering a sense of national unity in the face of an heinous act of terrorism.

At this early stage we know the perpetrator of the most devastating terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history was a white supremacist. We know he accessed and stockpiled firearms over a long period of time, and that his racist beliefs motivated his actions.

But there are other lessons and important points to make about the attack. These should shape the longer-term response by the New Zealand government.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


1. Muslims the biggest victims of terror across the globe

The first is a more sustained governmental and societal focus on right-wing extremism. It may turn out that the extremist who committed this attack acted alone, but the ideology that motivated him has spread around the globe and is infecting our politics and discourse.

We know right-wing radicals have committed atrocities before. The most notable perhaps was an extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. But this is part of a long history of extremist violence on the right.

According to research by the Anti-Defamation League, over the last decade, 73.3% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US could be linked to domestic right-wing extremists, while 23.4% were attributable to Islamist extremists. We should pay attention to these statistics in New Zealand. The fear that jihadist terrorism will occur sometime in New Zealand is real, but we haven’t adequately recognised the threat from neofascist ideology.

It is a tragic footnote to this story that globally Muslims have been by far the most victimised group by terrorism in the post-9/11 era. In a 2011 report, the US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), said:

In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82% and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.

Clearly, we need to do more to protect Muslim communities from acts of violence and to focus more tightly on the ideology of fascism, which underpins both right-wing groups and those who commit violence in the name of Islam.

In cities across New Zealand and the world, people have gathered at prayer services and vigils to honour victims of the Christchurch mosque terror attack.
(AAP/Jono Searle, CC BY-SA

2. Extremists share a lot in common

A second lesson relates to the process of radicalisation. We need to better understand why people who commit mass murder fall into a set of hateful beliefs. This is clearly a serious social problem caused by many variables, including demographic change, inequality, poverty and lack of education.

The latest research on radicalisation suggests many of those responsible for “lone wolf” acts are socially illiterate and have fallen out of the mainstream of society. They often indicate these beliefs via social media, suggesting we could do more to report these viewpoints to authorities.

Radicals also tend to share a set of psychological or cognitive traits that underpin their actions. According to recent reports by the European Institute for Peace these include grievances that are galvanised by a unifying ideology, a process of cognitive “de-pluralisation”, in which they tend to focus on a very limited set of ideas to interpret the world, and confirmation bias, where events are re-packaged into existing beliefs and assumptions.

Other research shows radicals climb a “staircase” to violent acts involving a series of incremental steps over a period of years. This suggests earlier intervention will be the key to having people back away from violence.

The social and cognitive alienation of young people in contemporary society is a growing problem. Radicalisation expert Scott Atran says:

Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalisation.

3. The dark web is a breeding ground for hatred

A third lesson is that global communications technology is providing a breeding ground for extremism and hatred. In this sense “lone wolves” aren’t acting alone. They are connected to a structured and well-financed global neo-Nazi ideology that uses the internet to propagate its beliefs.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


According to a recent report by the Data & Society Research Institute, far-right actors are regularly spreading white supremacist thought, Islamophobia and misogyny on the internet through sites such as 4chan and 8chan.

Right-wing groups have regularly circulated propaganda within social media channels and have sown racial and ethnically charged divisions within society through memes and disinformation. This was a tactic of the far right in the US elections in 2016, and has been used regularly since, including in the Brexit debates.

These websites aren’t easy to take down. As recent efforts by Google show, neo-Nazi sites that are blocked or banned “go dark” behind encrypted platforms that are out of reach of tech companies and security services.

Timothy Snyder, a renowned holocaust historian, notes this form of “mass manipulation” is based on appealing to emotions rather than reason. The spread of fake news and propaganda on the internet creates a perfect platform to increase fear, anger and anxiety. These are the psychological conditions from which acts of violence are committed.

4. New Zealand does have a right-wing problem

The final lesson is a wider, political one for New Zealand. There has undoubtedly been a tendency in some quarters of New Zealand politics to assume we are living in a largely benign international environment. This is part of a troubling isolationist tendency in New Zealand politics that contributes to us not taking security seriously and investing in it accordingly. The Christchurch attacks have shattered these illusions.

The right-wing problem in New Zealand has historical roots. White pride marches have taken place in Christchurch on numerous occasions. A far-right candidate who was convicted of firebombing a marae (Māori meeting place) stood for mayor three times in recent years, most recently in 2013 when he received a small but significant number of votes.




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Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


On the international stage we need to stand up against the beliefs that underpin right-wing extremism. Jacinda Ardern’s call to Donald Trump to be compassionate to Muslims was a good start and reminds us racism at the top of society can create a permissive environment for extremism.

We also need to reorient our foreign and security policy towards de-radicalisation processes both domestically and internationally. The UK’s Prevent programme, which has seen a big increase in efforts to prevent right-wing extremism, may be a good model to follow.

New Zealanders now know the fear and chaos that follows terrorism. But the goal of terrorism is to use that fear to undermine our democracy and way of life. So we need to channel our response in a way that protects our values.

We must be aware of the perils of over-reacting, but nevertheless need to redouble our efforts to create multi-level, evidence-led strategies to target radicalism, recognising global and local drivers of extremism.The Conversation

Joe Burton, Senior Lecturer, New Zealand Institute for Security and Crime Science, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.