Photo: Canterbury Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. - Photo: 2019

Time to Address Socioeconomic Issues in Terrorism Reporting

Viewpoint by Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) – The reporting of the attack in New Zealand on March 15, 2019 where a White terrorist of Christian background mowed down over 50 Muslims praying at a mosque in Christchurch has obviously focused on religion and migrants.

In a statement released following the Christchurch massacre, Australian senator Fraser Anning from Queensland blamed the New Zealand immigration program which “allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate” who promote a “violent ideology” as the cause of the attack. He was condemned widely in Australia for spreading such hate speech, but his diatribes distracted attention from the socio-economic issues that have fuelled the attack.

The terrorist Brenton Tarrant has been described as coming from a low-income middle-class family in Australia, that is struggling to make both ends meet. He has vented his anger by blaming Muslim migrants in their midst.

This clash of civilization narrative is hiding an important developing issue in global politics. In France, for over six months the “yellow vests” movement has been protesting – sometimes violently – against President Emmanuel Macron’s neo-liberal policies. Since they are not attacking migrants, unlike the protestors in neighbouring Germany, they are often described as “anarchists” and rarely get exposure, other than in Russia’s RT channel.

Germany hosts the second largest community of Muslims in Europe numbering around 5 million and last year there have been over 570 attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions in the country, injuring some 60 people.

Oliver Decker, who headed a study at the Leipzig-based Competence Center for Right-Wing Extremism and Democracy Research told Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle that one in three Germans believe that foreigners come to Germany to exploit their welfare state and this idea is particularly directed at Muslim migrants and many believe that they should be banned from Germany.

Decker argues, “not all Germans have equally benefited from the country’s overall positive economic development over the past few decades, resulting in anger and aggression among those feeling left behind. Xenophobia has proven to be the perfect outlet to direct their frustration”.

“The media, and people of low socio-economic backgrounds always blame immigrants for the problems of a nation (and) governments exploits it too” argues Rajeev Ellepola, an Australian health sector worker in his mid 30s.

Melbourne’s Deakin University’s chair in Global Islamic Politics Professor Greg Barton notes in a commentary published by Auckland’s Pacific Media Centre, that in Australia, as in Europe and America, mainstream politicians and mainstream media commentators have increasingly toyed with extremist ideas in the pursuit of popularity. He points out that “many have openly brandished outrageous ideas that in previous years would have been unsayable in mainstream political discourse or commentary.

Such political culture has “sharply accelerated” during John Howard’s premiership from 1996-2007, and he argues, “we are now beginning to see the true price that we have paid with the demonising of those arriving by boat seeking asylum, or looking too dark-skinned, or appearing too religious”.

“By creating that fear and insecurity, you instill fear into people. And then people are willing to give governments more power, ultimately stripping your rights away,” argues Ellepola.

Decker found during his research in Germany that there is a developing view, that to tackle the immigration problem “democracy can also be something akin to a dictatorship by the majority” which could have a devastating impact on western democracy, he warns.

In an interview with IDN, Ellepola, who was born in Australia to Sri Lankan immigrant parents pointed out that many Australian born young people like him find it difficult to realize the Australian dream, after three decades of neo-liberal economics have eroded the middle class.

“That middle class was once able to buy a home, hold a steady job, but governments have increasingly privatized industry, sold assets. The private sector has created a dog eats dog world,” he noted, adding that the blame for this is often put on Muslim migrants.

“It is amazing how governments around the world have let the ‘elites’ plunder a nation’s/peoples’ riches,” he laments. “Neo-liberalism is a failed system or doctrine, and now that it’s exposed as a failure, certain groups and people have to take the fall for it.” He notes that Rupert Murdochs of this world, who control the mainstream media,  “have made scare mongering an art form”.

The OtherNews founder Roberto Savio noted in a commentary on IDN in the aftermath of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris: “The Paris massacre was perpetrated not by Syrians, but by Europeans of second and third generation Arab descent whose social profile is clear – youth marginalised by society who felt humiliated by lack of dignity and employment, isolated in their ghetto. None of them were practising believers, quite the contrary. Yet they found in terrorism their redemption and dignity and revenge against a society that they felt was excluding them.”

If religion is taken out of the narrative, there could be cooperation between religions to achieve social justice as all religions preach a doctrine of compassion, generosity, non-greed and sharing.

In his first major writing since taking office, in November 2013, Pope Francis denounced neo-liberal economics as an evil. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills, he argued. Since then he has made a number of major speeches on this theme, but these have been largely ignored by the western mainstream media.

Thai Buddhist social activist Sulak Sivaraksa, for over two decades, has called upon the world’s Buddhists to address the “structural violence” of our economic systems. He told IDN that this has been to no avail, “our leaders think there is nothing wrong in our economic system”.

A report by Oxfam released in January 2019 warned that inequality around the word is so out of hand that it is putting societies at risk. The report authors firmly lay the blame at the feet of declining public services, inequality, and policies that favor the rich, arguing that “this is a direct result of inequality, and of prosperity accruing disproportionately to those at the top for decades”.

But, for the global corporate media, who set the news agenda for the rest of us, such issues are not news. After all, many of their shareholders are stakeholders in the arms industry and are beneficiaries of globalization and neo-liberal economic thinking. It is in their economic interest to let religion and migrants become the scapegoats for the world’s ills.

In a series of interviews broadcast by Russia’s RT channel this month, Noam Chomsky argues that what we are seeing today is the death of the middle class and the swansong of functioning democracy. If we do not leave religion out of reporting the socio-economic catastrophe of our times, his prophecy may well become the reality soon. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 March 2019]

Photo: Canterbury Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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