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shooting

In the aftermath of another shooting, will we ever win the war on hate?

In the aftermath of yet another fatal shooting on 9th October outside of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, one is left asking the question: will we ever manage to truly eradicate right-wing extremism and violence in the West?

The anti-Semitic attack, which so far has reportedly killed at least two people and injured many more, took place during a service in celebration of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the Jewish faith.

The shooting bares a horrifying resemblance with that which took place in March 2019 in New Zealand outside a mosque in Christchurch, claiming the lives of 51 people.

Much like the NZ attack, the attack was filmed from a mounted head cam and uploaded online.

Rita Katz, Director of the online watchdog responsible for the surveillance of extremist groups online, tweeted today that the shooting was “similar to the NZ attack”, and is heard in English to blame the “root of all problems [on] Jews”. But the nature of the attack nods to something far more sinister. Referring to himself as “anon” (Anonymous user), this term is used largely online on Internet “chan” forums—which are known breeding grounds and strongholds for right-wing extremists.

Although for this shooting, the shooter appeared to act alone, Katz underlined that “these were not isolated attacks by people merely holding similar beliefs”. The shooting can indeed be attributed to a larger, global network. And undoubtedly, this kind of appalling violence—which we have seen happen time and time again—will only continue to escalate. Even in a country that still lives in the shadow of the atrocities of WWII, individuals (mainly white men) are being radicalised by online hate groups and mobilised to action. From vandalism to targeted attacks and glory killings, hate crime is on the rise: a report from the OSCE published in 2018 showed that xenophobic attitudes have been on the rise, with the New York Times reporting that in Germany alone, there has been in a 20% rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes this year alone.

Last year, the European International Tolerance Centre boasted of the progress made against rises in xenophobic attitudes and hate speech; the “expansion of [ ..] powers of special services and other law enforcement agencies to control extremist groups”, more “control over the Internet and the activity of extremists in social networks”, coupled with greater efforts for legal parity and protection for vulnerable groups real efforts have been made to erase discrimination. Be it gender-based, ethnic, religious, for most the message is clear - prejudice is not acceptable in a modern, civilised society. We live in a time of great change, and the inhabitants of most Western countries are guaranteed equal statutory rights and legal protection. But clearly, laws alone are not enough.

According to the FBI, between 2000 and 2017, only nine out of the 250 active shooter incidents in the US have been female.

The rest, predominantly white men, seemingly acting alone, have committed more mass shootings than any other ethnic group. And in the age of social media, these men are celebrated online: just hours after reports of today’s shooting broke, far-right communities dubbed the assailant "Saint”. How it that so many white men are motivated to commit such heinous acts of violence?

For many centrists, liberal progress against the tyranny of toxic masculinity, white privilege and the overbearing straight male hegemony that hangs over our heads may feel like an attack on their identity. Of course, it is unlikely that they have ever experienced any systemic, institutional discrimination or prejudice. But apparently, all of a sudden, being white, straight and a guy is cancelled: it does not entitle you to the same special treatment enjoyed by the generations before you. Now, admittedly my immediate reflex is to mock the poor privileged white man, but in reality, when you live your life within a society that favours your race and gender, it’s hard to see how it benefits you… unless perhaps you aren’t a cisgender man, or white, in which case, sorry—you cannot enjoy the spoils of the patriarchy.

Reactionary counter-culture movements have consistently formed against progressive, liberal movements: the “meninists” to our “feminists”, the “All Lives Matter” to the “Black Lives Matter” movements. Of course, men do have real problems too—toxic masculinity, higher rates of suicide, how male victims of domestic abuse and rape are treated, and bias in child custody cases towards the mothers. And in this age of liberal progress, many white men feel persecuted, attacked, or ignored. Their status in society is shifting, but many seem unwilling to share power. Make no mistake – the deplorable actions of these men are not justifiable, and they are not misunderstood, but when considering the reasons why the prevalence of hate speech is on the rise, we need to understand the perspective of the perpetrator.

Feeling ignored, left behind, frustrated and forgotten, many people find solace in online communities which, simply put, tell them what they want to hear— something that society has, up until fairly recently, been telling them their whole lives: that white men are entitled to power and privilege. Very quickly, online far-right communities play on these feelings of frustration and anger, slowly coercing and radicalising young men and impressing far-right ideas upon them. In the “PC culture” of today, these individuals are celebrated for their otherwise shameful conservative views. From the “incels” that motivated Elliot Rodger to kill seven women in 2014 to punish women in general for rejecting him sexually, to the online mobilisation of white-supremacists during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the Internet is the perfect conduit for hate-groups to expand their base globally, especially to younger audiences. The online boon for these entrenched hate groups in terms of promotion, recruitment and indoctrination in recent years has seen support grow exponentially, and despite the efforts of social media companies and news outlets to actively condemn and combat these groups, and rightly so, this also incites anti-Establishment sentiments and only succeeds in further cementing their beliefs.

Arguably, thanks to the continuous campaigning, the dissemination of misinformation by hate groups, and the subsequent mobilisation of large groups, be it to harass or attack people in the street, or to turn out in full to the ballot boxes, we are seeing right-wing rhetoric be promulgated and legitimised in our political discourse, and we are seeing xenophobic violence be normalised, from Trump to Bolsonaro, to AfD in Germany, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the Le Pen dynasty in France, Sebastian Kurz in Austria… the list goes on. If we cannot find an effective way to deter hate speech and dismantle the online groups responsible, then our individual, virtual and political liberties may very well be at stake.

Featured image: Pradeep Thomas Thundiyil / Shutterstock.com

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