IT was a shockingly gruesome attack in a country hitherto untouched by such events. Within hours of the brutal massacre of Muslim congregations gathered for Friday prayers at two mosques in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that “it is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack”, a charge that echoed in the statements of condemnation that have since poured in from many Western leaders.
Yet many observers — including people of colour, and immigrant and religious minority communities in the West — needed no official designation of the barbaric event to recognise it as an act of terror. It is only further confirmation of the pernicious spread of Islamophobia and other forms of racism, emboldened by the ascent of far-right parties across the developed world and the activation of the (only barely latent) ideology of white supremacy embedded in the history and body politic of these nations.
Whether in the form of ‘lone-wolf’ or coordinated attacks, in yesterday’s shooting we see analogues not only in the terrorism against Muslims in the Quebec and Finsbury Park mosque attacks, but in the terrorism against Jews in Pittsburgh, against African-Americans in Charleston, and even against the concept of multiculturalism itself in the 2011 Norway attacks.
The violent hatred undergirding such mass murders have all been linked to a process of ultra-right radicalisation that Western political and intellectual leaderships have done little to address, and in many cases have, knowingly or inadvertently, mainstreamed by demonising groups and pitting communities against each other. The antipathy towards Muslims, anti-immigration rhetoric and permissiveness towards hate speech (furthered by an absolutist interpretation of free speech and expression) has not only in several instances been codified in legislation but has also informed counter violent extremism policies.
Investigative authorities, with their eyes trained elsewhere, are thus entirely in the dark about these networks that actively inspire and recruit individuals to carry out such attacks. Many, such as the alt-right, are hidden in plain sight, with their proponents given a platform on social media websites — including Facebook, on which one of the terrorists in New Zealand live-streamed his rampage — as well as mainstream Western news outlets.
But for how long must non-white victims be the proverbial canary in the coal mine before Western governments commit to a serious interrogation of how Islamophobia and other forms of racism are being perpetuated? The inverse of this phenomenon is, of course, that it gives oxygen to the propaganda machine of radical fringe elements spreading hatred against the West and religious minorities in Muslim countries, thus perpetuating an unending cycle of hate.
These nihilist, clash-of-civilisations narratives — whichever ideologies inform them — leave all nations more vulnerable to extremist violence. Regardless of whether terrorist attacks are perpetrated by white or Islamist extremists, their narratives must not be enabled through whataboutery.
Terrorism of every stripe, in every nation, must be collectively rejected using the same language of unequivocal condemnation.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019