Any atrocity of the scale of the Christchurch terrorist attack is both a mirror that objectively shows us our own reflection and what needs our immediate attention, and a valuable book that teaches us how to prevent similar tragedies and the reactionary vengeance they could inspire.
The horrendous news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was on the freeway driving back home from a hospital visit when the news anchor said: two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were under attack and many Muslim worshipers were feared dead.
50 worshipers of all ages were killed in cold blood, the youngest being a 3 year old Mucad (Mu’ad) Ibrahim. Here are faces of the fallen.
A Personal Perspective
Like many Muslims around the world, I attended my local Friday prayers on that sad and traumatic day knowing very well that Fridays could never get too dark to submit one’s will to God. The mosque located in the outskirt of Columbus, Ohio was not only in full capacity, but there were also a number of children in attendance, though it was a school day. I couldn’t tell how many parents brought their kids because they wanted to keep them safely next to them and how many brought them in defiance of the terrorists’ wishes.
When the salah (prayer) began and the Imam (prayer leader) started reciting al-Fatiha (a short chapter in the Qur’an that is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in the Christian faith) the usual silence was broken by angelic voice of a child who was innocently trying to outpace the Imam’s recitation. It was a breath of solace beyond what any words could adequately describe. That feeling grew more profound when the Imam concluded with this verse:
“O you who accepted faith, seek refuge in patience and prayer. Indeed, God is with the patient.” Qur’an 2:153
The Cesspool of Supremacy
Periodical manifestation of White Supremacist terrorism in America—the fountainhead of a racial superiority complex— cannot be dismissed as random acts of insanity or weaponized hate. Terrorism has only one name.
There is no randomness in the targeting of Muslims in their mosques. True, there are Muslims who carry terrorist acts in the name of Islam, though they spare no one. Across the world, Muslims constitute the largest number of terrorism victims.
There is no randomness in targeting New Zealand as one of the safest places on earth, where the police force are not even armed, where Muslims who fled wars were welcomed to settle, find jobs and become part of this exceptionally welcoming society.
There is no randomness in the targeting of Christchurch as a city whose name clearly carries a religious meaning. The terrorist clearly indicated in his manifesto that one of his motives was to provoke a religious war.
There is no randomness in the terrorist being from Australia- a country that is nowadays more known for its rising bigotry than neighborhood roaming kangaroos. Aside from its foundational racist history, Australia has overtly racist high-ranking politicians, law-makers and media groups that are in par with Fox News and Breitbart News.
There is no randomness in those whom the terrorist glorified in his manifesto and considered inspirational heroes- Donald J. Trump, the White Supremacist In Chief, topping the list.
Ever since Donald Trump ran and won on an anti-immigrant platform that projected Muslims as a national security threat, famously said “I think Islam hates us” in an interview and promised to ban Muslims, White Supremacists and their enablers went overboard with Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and against all those whom they perceived as their defenders. They saw vigilantism receiving a Presidential seal of approval.
On March 13, two days before the Christchurch Muslim massacre, President Donald Trump gave an interview to Breitbart News. He offered this desperately ominous assertion that was apparently intended to blow the dog whistle to the radical elements within his as his presidency hangs in the balance: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
Manipulating the Masses
The most common method used by those who radicalize others is a slightly modified version of the method used to manipulate minds for marketing, absolute political loyalty, or for collective madness.
In 1929, Edward Bernays wrote his book ‘Propaganda’. He focused on how to strategically lure the masses into collective state of submissive mindlessness, and how to use selective history as a weapon. He successfully convinced the American public that Jacobo Árbenz, Guatemala’s democratically elected President was a diehard communist which eventually led to his overthrowing.
Then came Joseph Goebbels—Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda—who amended Bernays’ strategy and used it against European Jews. This would later compel Bernays to coin a new name that is widely accepted today: public relations.
We now live in a world where the leader of the most powerful nation on earth constantly tells the masses that all media are counterfeit enterprises that spread “fake news” except Fox News and Breitbart News. The former for those who are enticed visually and the latter for those who like to read.
The Manufactured Boogieman
Dehumanization of Muslims and vilification of Islam through blatant propaganda and less graphic Islamophobic rhetoric is widespread and is a seldom frowned upon in the West. Though this has been slowly improving, Muslims are seldom invited to mainstream media platforms to represent themselves and their faith. Muslims are more commonly defined by professional propagandists of all shades of malice who propagate falsehood about Islam and Muslims. They paint Muslims who are monolithic in moral extremism. An Islam that is innately and historically violent.
Recently, one of Fox News’ hosts and President Trump’s staunch supporter and unofficial adviser Jeanine Pirro’s Islamophobic tirade attempted to brand Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an extremist who could not be trusted as a law-maker because she wears hijab as prescribed by the Qur’an.
This triggered massive outrage, especially on social media. Initially, Fox News ignored the waves of public pressure to fire Pirro until White Supremacist terrorism hit Christchurch mosques. Pirro’s show scheduled the following day was suspended without any official explanation.
Of course it did not take long for Trump to intervene. The US President unabashedly took it to his Twitter feed pressuring Fox News executives and urging his base to demand her return.
These professional propagandists are part of the hate-mongering apparatus that encourages White Supremacists to show up at mosques provocatively displaying their assault weapons to harass and intimidate Muslim worshipers. Imagine if some American-born, Second Amendment enthusiast, Muslims were to show up in front of churches across US while openly carrying their legally acquired large weapons and wearing their Islamic attires.
To expose their political witch brew or debunk the disinformation spread by these Islamophobic pundits may require an unyielding army of well-informed goodwill advocates who are cool-headed social media savvy, fact-oriented, and critical thinkers who expose them in every opportunity.
Better Days Ahead
I still believe contrary to common misconception, the human-being is innately good though toxic environments and situations at home or outside could render him heartless and wicked. I am even more convinced today after reading, hearing and watching the overwhelming global support that was extended to the Muslims who were impacted by this latest White Supremacist terrorism.
It was overwhelmingly touching to see non-Muslims trying to save Muslims and showing up in mosques to offer security while people prayed inside. And who could forget Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing a black hijab as compassionately consoled grieving family members and promising them swift justice. She also declared Friday 22nd of March a day of solidarity and the Azaan (Islamic call for prayer) to be nationally broadcasting through TV New Zealand and Radio New Zealand as Muslims went back to their mosques for Friday prayer. More importantly, she successfully spearheaded a ban on semiautomatic weapons and all devices that enhance their lethal capacity.
In Christchurch, White Supremacist terrorism has not only brought Muslims and Christians much closer, but also Muslims and people of conscience of all faiths and creeds.
At the global level, however, the scope of indulgence and the magnitude of ignorance that propel Islamophobia still remain scandalously ubiquitous. It is time to break free from the intellectual and spiritual bondage of bigotry. We must grow in life not as mere living-beings, but as human-beings with thoughts, sense of empathy and conscience.
We are living in a period of history that—properly aligned—could sift and differentiate the scum from the decent; the anarchist from the transformative, the real terrorists from the real counter-terrorist forces.
Despite the pains caused by the terrorists, their objective to sow hate and violence has clearly failed. The tides started turning against the purveyors of violent hate and agents of anarchy. It is a matter of sustaining the momentum, especially in the US.