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July 18, 2019

Ideology matters: Forget the Christchurch mosque murderer’s name, but understand the poisonous ideas that motivated him

March 15, 2019
Hamzah Noor Yahaya, a survivor of the shootings at Al Noor mosque, stands in front of Christchurch Hospital at the end of a lockdown and waits to be picked up by his wife on Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images)

A murderer slaughtered 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We will not here print his name. Nor will we gawk at his sickening video. We do not want to risk inspiring copycats.

But as members of the media and as people in a free and pluralistic society, we must look without flinching at the poisonous ideology that inspired this man to kill. Just as radical Islamism and anti-Semitism and other hateful creeds drive people to kill innocents, boundless fear and hatred and dehumanization of Muslims in this case drove a self-identified white European to enter houses of worship and gun down human beings who were praying to God.

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He took the lives of 49 people, he said, because “The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.” He boasted of deciding “to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”

Like the far-right terrorist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2001, he believed he was defending the West from an invasion by heathens seeking to infiltrate and pollute his precious culture.

Police console a man outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. Multiple people have died after a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.
Police console a man outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. Multiple people have died after a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. (Mark Baker / AP)

This is a virulent belief system, and a specific one. It cannot be conveniently filed away as “deranged.” It is also growing more common, including in the United States. A Washington Post analysis late last year revealed that “over the past decade, attackers motivated by right-wing political ideologies have committed dozens of shootings, bombings and other acts of violence, far more than any other category of domestic extremist.”

When a man killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016, it mattered that he was spurred to act by U.S. attacks on ISIS targets in the Middle East. It mattered that he had pledged allegiance to the terrorist group’s leader. It mattered that he had posted to Facebook, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes…Now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”

The need to understand hate is exactly the same today.

We have no hope of confronting ideas that inspire violence unless we see them plainly, understand who promotes them and who is susceptible to radicalization. If the push to erase the names of mass killers goes so far as to blur their worldview, it sanitizes their very real motives. It prevents us from defining the type of speech that social media platforms should identify and root out. It makes it harder to prevent future massacres.

Forget his name. Dare not gloss over exactly what drove him to kill.

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