After the Christchurch massacre - page two

ALARMING FIGURES: Tell Mama, a charity organisation monitoring hate crimes, has already declared that attacks on Muslims in Britain increased by 593 per cent the week following the Christchurch massacre.

According to figures published by the Guardian, “95 incidents were reported to the charity between 15 March, the day of the New Zealand mass shooting, and midnight on 21 March. “Of those, 85 incidents — 89 per cent of the total — contained direct references to the New Zealand attacks and featured gestures such as mimicking firearms being fired at Muslims,” it wrote.

In its annual report, the group noted a surge in Islamophobic attacks, with 1,201 verified reports submitted in 2017, a rise of 26 per cent on the year before and the highest number since it began recording incidents.

In the same vein, a Pew Research Centre analysis of hate crimes statistics from the FBI in the US revealed that “the number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, easily surpassing the modern peak reached in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks.”

In another Pew survey conducted in early 2017, three-quarters of Muslim American adults (75 per cent) said there was “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the US, a view shared by nearly seven-in-10 adults in the general public (69 per cent).

In the holy month of Ramadan, many “American Muslims fear attacks like the Christchurch Mosque massacre” could happen again, according to Ghazali. He referred to an incident when a mosque in the Southern California city of Escondido was set on fire a few days after the Christchurch tragedy.

“The blaze was extinguished by the worshippers, and no one was injured,” Ghazali said. “However, the police said that a note was found in the mosque’s parking lot that referenced the recent Christchurch mass shootings.”

Even more tolerant societies like in Canada have not been immune to hate crimes, which reportedly “increased by 47 per cent in 2017, primarily targeting Muslims, Jews and black people,” according to figures released by the country’s statistical agency. But, according to the agency, “the biggest increase was in crimes targeting Muslims.”

The Christchurch terror attack also conjured up images of Canada’s deadliest ever shooting, killing six Muslim worshippers at the hands of a white supremacist after evening prayers in the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.

The worshippers, all immigrants, had hardly finished their evening prayers when suddenly Alexandre Bissonnette, a white supremacist now sentenced to 40 years in prison, stormed the mosque and opened fire, killing them all.

Christchurch has also awakened poignant memories of the deadly 2015 Chapel Hill hate crime that claimed the lives of 23-year-old American-Syrian Muslim Deah Shaddy, his veiled bride 21-year-old Yusor Mohamed Abu Salha, and her veiled sister 19-year-old Razan. The once joyously happy couple had hardly posted their beautiful wedding photographs on line when others took their place showing them bathed in blood. The three were shot dead in a “dispute over parking”, but their family has insisted that the murder was a hate crime motivated by the religious identity of the victims.

In Ramadan of 2016, veiled 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of northern Virginia in the US was assaulted and killed as she walked home after prayers at a mosque near Washington, and police charged 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres with her murder. Her pictures immediately conjured up images of veiled martyr Marwa Al-Sherbini, an Egyptian pharmacist who was fatally stabbed in front of her husband and three-year-old son in a court in Dresden, Germany, for nothing other than her religious identity.

In another incident, 51-year-old Makram Ali was hit by a van driven into a crowd of worshippers as they were leaving Ramadan prayers on a Monday night in the streets of Finsbury Park in north London. “He died in his daughter’s arms, and 11 other Muslims were injured in what is being treated as a terrorist incident by British police,” according to Willy Fautre of the NGO Human Rights Without Borders (HRWF).

THE RISE OF THE EXTREME RIGHT: Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League in the US, a NGO, reported that 2018 was the worst year for far-right killings in the United States since 1995 when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City.

“Far-right terrorism has a history of promoting anti-Muslim sentiments,” noted Fautre.

Extreme right-wing politicians, however, seem to be gaining more popularity across the US and Europe. “They [the far-right advocates] are emboldened by the rise of populist parties and rhetoric,” Bleich lamented. “They feel that they have more permission to express their views openly, which gives some extremists the feeling that carrying out attacks fits with the general trend.”

The Christchurch murderer has confessed that he was inspired by mass killer Andres Behring Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. Breivik was “anti-Muslim” but ironically his terror attack was not targeting Muslims.

“These groups, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and white supremacist, are emboldened by a president who normalises hatred and weaponises racism,” Safi said. ”The phenomenon cannot be reduced to Trump, but we have to acknowledge how Trump and the system that brought Trump to power is emboldening and empowering these global white supremacist networks.”

Ghazali would similarly insist that “Trump’s presidency has energised the white supremacists.” The Christchurch murderer also described Trump in his manifesto as “a symbol of renewed white identity”.

“It has become a pattern with President Donald Trump to downplay the seriousness of violence associated with the white supremacists,” Ghazali lamented.

The SPLC in its 2019 report about hate and extremism in the US lamented that “President Trump has opened the White House doors to extremism, not only consulting with hate groups on policies that erode our country’s civil rights protections, but also enabling the infiltration of extremist ideas into the administration’s rhetoric and agenda.”

Many also agree that the Western media has tended to focus on terror attacks in order to portray Muslims as the “enemy”. In a video published on the network SBS, TV presenter Jane Fran highlighted that “the descriptions of Muslim and non-Muslim perpetrators are significantly different even if they commit the same crimes”.

“It’s easy for us to say that Muslim terrorists come from an inferior culture, a violent religion, a broken society that they’re full of hate. But we can’t really say that about the white ones,” Fran lamented.

This time, though, the Western media “rightly highlighted the compassionate response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Muslim community,” noted Safi.

According to Bleich’s Media Portrayals of Minorities Project, an investigative survey, “the media reaction that stood out was the immediate willingness to call the Christchurch attacks terrorism,” something which was not the case in many previous incidents.

“It is much more common for the media to label attacks by Muslims as terrorism, and to label attacks against Muslims as racist or anti-immigrant, or perhaps even to focus on the mental health of the attacker,” Bleich pointed out.

According to a paper by Bleich’s assistant Emily Stabler, “57 per cent of articles mentioning Muslims compared to only 14 per cent of articles related to whites contain these words [terrorism and terror].”

However, Stabler pointed out that the words “terrorism and terrorist” were surfacing more frequently in articles published about Christchurch attacks. “The newspapers’ unexpected willingness to label the Christchurch attacks terrorism” could be seen as “a shift in media framing” incurred by criticism of its biased coverage, she said. But more likely it is just that “the words used are a function of the New Zealand prime minister’s decision to publicly designate the shooting as terrorism,” she added.

“If this is the case,” Stabler concluded, “Christchurch may be more of an exception to the rule than a harbinger of change in the US media coverage of mass shootings.” 

FUTURE SCENARIOS: Could such hate crimes reduce the growing extreme right-wing in Europe and elsewhere and end hate crime in the same way that the Holocaust in Europe led to effective laws against anti-Semitism on the continent?

“Unfortunately not,” Bleich said. “There would have to be a bigger, perhaps global, attack on Muslims for there to be parallels with the reaction to the Holocaust.”

In the meantime, he added, “some new survey data suggests certain kinds of respondents, namely liberals and the non-religious, feel more positively toward Muslims than we expected. This might be a result of the view that Muslims are unfairly targeted.”

In the short run, Bleich expects that the voices of “the populists and right-wing extremists will be louder. The work of fighting back is a longer process, and it involves patience and planning,” Bleich speculated. “I believe it is possible, and that it will carry the day. But it may take some time.”

Ghazali was less optimistic, speculating that “the Christchurch mosque massacre is unlikely to affect the popularity of the extreme right-wing.”

“I am not optimistic that the voices of those who are against hate crimes and white supremacy will be heard louder than the extreme right-wing extremists,” he noted. “The reason is that the major electronic and print media is against Muslims. It is the Western media, as well as some politicians, that has a very negative attitude against Muslims and their faith. Anti-hate crime legislation is not possible in the US, as we are witnessing a well-funded lobby busy initiating so-called ‘anti-Sharia’ legislation in several US states.”

Bleich, however, thought that perhaps “more public pronouncements on the dangers of Islamophobia by leading politicians could help raise awareness and build sympathy.”

“Let’s hope those are forthcoming,” he concluded.

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Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali


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