Friday, March 22, 2019

Frank Newman: Extremism

I had intended to write about the proposed capital gains tax. That topic seems a little trivial following the recent events in Christchurch.

It seems more appropriate to address ‘extremism’. It's ugly and destructive and can sometimes be tragic, as we have witnessed on World News over the years, but now more closely in our own back yard. Last week it was others around the world who were watching our tragedy on their TVs.

I applaud and admire the manner in which our Prime Minister has led the country during this time of crisis and grieving. And I applaud the nation for supporting those directly affected by the actions of what appears on the face of it to be a lone extremist.

I’m not sure that I fully agree with the PM describing the actions of this individual as "terrorism", simply because I am no longer sure how to define it. Terrifying yes, but this nutcase does not appear to be part of an organisation. 

I see the events more in the context of an unstable and impressionable individual being influenced by a "community" of other equally demented individuals into committing an extreme act - in this case one causing the incalculable suffering of innocent people posing no threat whatsoever to anyone. Gunning down children; shooting people in the back as they flee. There’s no understanding of that. Part of me says bring back the death penalty for shocking acts like this, but then I have to reconcile that response against a more principled view that no one should take the life of another, no matter how heinous their crime.

My simple observation is that extremism has many guises. It's not specific to any race, skin colour, culture, gender, religion, or political view. It exists within every community, but rarely does it express itself in physical violence. It's usually only reveals itself in language, social media more so because of its accessibility and anonymous. That extremism is usually built around promoting stereotypes and creating "villains" based on differences like race, religion, or wealth. All too often I see it in the politics of division, which has no purpose other than building a constituency and a pathway to power and influence.

What is remarkable is the speed at which the government has moved to tighten up the gun laws. It's remarkable because in politics the timeframes around decision making is usually expressed in years rather than days. In this case our central government politicians appear to have come to a position on gun control within a week. That haste appears to be more about perception than protecting society against an immediate threat and it would be naive to think changing the gun laws will prevent tragic acts of extremism from happening again. 

A more challenging and far reaching issue will be dealing with some complex questions: Should this individual have appeared on the police radar earlier and if he had, could the tragedy have been prevented? That will be a difficult one for our politicians in Wellington to deal with; more so given some have built a political platform on civil liberties.

It is also appropriate that issues like the funding of police surveillance and spending priorities be reviewed. New Zealanders need to be assured that dangerous individuals living in our neighbourhoods will not go unnoticed.

For these reasons the inquiry into the tragedy should be a Royal Commission of Inquiry that reports to the Governor General, rather than a Parliamentary Inquiry that reports to a Minister. Surely the highest level of rigor and independence is required, as it was for the Erebus inquiry when Air New Zealand Flight 90 crashed in Antarctica in 1979, killing all on 257 board. In that case Justice Peter Mahon’s Royal Commission of Inquiry disagreed with an earlier finding of pilot error and placed the blame on the state owned Air New Zealand and its systems.

It would also be of value to inquire into the influences that lead individuals to commit acts of extremism. That goes to the heart of the problem. Solving that will require much more thought and wisdom than simply changing gun laws.

Frank Newman is a political commentator, an investment analyst, and former local body councillor.


Russell said...
Reply To This Comment

When the Aussie murderer is convicted, he should be sentenced to 30 days imprisonment with no right of appeal, released and immediately deported to Australia.

Graeme said...
Reply To This Comment


Quite agree that the Aussie murderer should be deported to Australia which is only right and fair as our law breakers in Australia are deported back to NZ after their sentences.