By Nick Kaldas,
Chairman Stratium Global,
Published in the Sydney Morning Herald
The incidents in Christchurch have brought an unprecedented horror for New Zealand and shaken the civilised world. It would be impossible for any decent person not to grieve for the innocent people killed and wounded by a mad gunman who clearly planned meticulously for his evil acts. Yet we must reflect on what happened and try to learn from it to prevent these hate crimes and protect our societies as best we can.
Some key lessons arise. First, law enforcement and the intelligence community must not lose focus on right-wing extremism in the struggle to keep up with tackling the larger threat of Islamic fundamentalist radicalisation and extremism.
The threat of right-wing extremism goes most notably back to the Oklahoma bombing. While increasing now, it has never died down. Traditionally, the intelligence community has been more engaged with right-wing extremism than police but this must change. An all-hands-on deck approach is needed. Police must dedicate resources, in proportion, to this threat as to others.
In my decades of serious engagement with multicultural communities, one of the key issues they complained about was that police did not take hate crimes seriously enough. Nazi graffiti on a synagogue or racist comments on a mosque wound communities deeply and, if allowed to go unchecked, can be the first steps someone takes towards acts like the NZ attacks.
A symptom of this blind spot is the fact that no government agency in Australia is capturing, let alone analysing, data across the country on hate crimes. Most police forces simply do not collect or differentiate this type of offence, they do not identify it as a unique offence. An assault is an assault.
The US does not have a perfect system, but the FBI gathers data from more than 15,000 police agencies across the country on hate crimes and publishes a reasonably accurate, insightful annual report.
We have eight police forces in Australia, and have not managed this. If you cannot measure it, you cannot deal with it effectively. And, by the way, the latest report from the FBI highlighted that for the past three years hate crimes were rising, significantly in some categories. Other reporting from the US has indicated that identified hate groups are at record high levels.
Second, on the issue of social media, in this incident the murderer live-streamed his dreadful acts on Facebook, and there is some reporting that the material was not pulled down for hours afterwards. If that is correct, authorities must find a way to ensure social media platforms are much more diligent, and agile.
As she faced death threats from the IRA, Margaret Thatcher remarked that media was the oxygen of terrorism. Publicity and attention is exactly why these murderers do these dreadful things. We must cut off, or at least restrict the oxygen supply, as quickly as possible.
On the gun issue, this offender appears at this stage to have had no trouble gaining possession of a number of weapons, some high-powered, all perfectly legally.
Leadership is essential to deal with an issue as hard as this, and leaving politics completely aside, the example of former prime minister John Howard making the hard decisions on restricting firearm access following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 will always stand out for moral courage.
Howard went against significant sections of his constituency, and did what he knew was right, regardless of the consequences. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already vowed to do what is right on this issue, and she should be applauded. As should the police and health workers on the ground and their leaders for their service above and beyond on Friday.
Let us remember the victims of Christchurch in our thoughts and prayers, but let us also honour their memory by reflecting on what happened and doing more to protect our communities.