Kiwis might’ve just set an example while dealing with the white supremacy driven terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand which left 50 dead. But the world still needs to come out of its pre-conceived notions and learn to call Islamophobia what it actually is.
In early 2018, the brutal abduction, gang-rape and murder of an eight-year old Muslim girl belonging to the Bakkarwal (nomadic) community in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir shook everyone. The case triggered an intense wave of campaigns and protests demanding justice to be served and for the perpetrators to be penalized. The region’s Crime Branch Investigation Report underlined the horrifying incident as a ploy to drive out members of the victim’s community from Rasana, with the felony being attributed to local revenue (retd.) officer, Sanji Ram, considered the main ‘mastermind’ behind it.
Almost three years before that, on the night of 28 September 2015, the first lynching of a Muslim man took place in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. 52-year old Mohammad Akhlaq was accused of stealing and slaughtering a cow calf and was killed in the attack while his son sustained critical injuries. An FIR was registered against Akhlaq on the orders from a court, after it had found ‘prima facie evidence’ of meat. Shortly after, the family, who had been living there for the past 70 years, left the village.
Now, the rape victim’s family, currently residing in Rasana, while waiting for justice and ‘trusting the law’, have been socially excluded from the folds of the society, with their household being the sole residence without electrification, a claim that the region’s government has denied. Meanwhile, in Bisara village, a sense of hostility exists toward Akhlaq, with the residents, upon being interviewed, claiming that before his death, Akhlaq had become an ‘Islamic fanatic’ due to ‘continuous visits to his aunt in Pakistan’.
According to data compiled by the Home Ministry of India, the country recorded 822 communal flare-ups in 2017, the highest for a year and a 27 per cent rise from 2014. Citing sources from the Ministry, Telegraph India reported that the highest number of such flare-ups over the course of three years took place in UP: 195 in 2017 compared with 162 in 2016 and 155 in 2015.
The onslaught of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in May led Dan Coats, Director of US Intelligence, to say in a statement made on January 30 that, “Parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if BJP stresses nationalist themes.”
The statement had been part of US intelligence community’s assessment of worldwide threats in the year 2019. “BJP policies during Modi’s first term have deepened communal tensions in some BJP-governed states, and Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters,” Coats told the committee, as per a report by Economic Times.
Coats had further warned against “alienation of Indian Muslims” due to increasing communal clashes which would “allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence”.
His concern toward Indian Muslims being alienated in the country leaves much room for thought, even more so after the rise of ‘Islamophobia’ following the 9/11 attack on the twin Trade towers in the United States in 2001. The attack evoked earlier dormant emotions of hatred and fear towards Muslims in the West, rapidly spreading to other continents, and in turn fueling massive support for right-wing conservative parties spearheading an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism stance.
Experts have assiduously argued and observed the social fabric before 9/11, believing that the presence of Islamophobia predates before the defining attack. The shifting nature of such discussions have led many to re-analyse the origins of targeted hate.
A. Before 9/11: Origins of ‘contemporary Islamophobia’
Dr. Chris Allen, a British sociologist, Associate Professor at the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester, and named by the Deutsche Welle as an expert on the topic of contemporary Islamophobia, in his research paper, ‘Contemporary Islamophobia before 9/11: A Brief History’, writes: “Routinely derided and far from being given the credence and seriousness of concern such a dangerous phenomenon clearly demands, Islamophobia is sometimes mistaken as consequential: consequential of events such as 9/11 and other terrorist activities.”
The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, in its report on Islamophobia across fifteen European states in the aftermath of the attack, states, “Much of what occurred post-September 11 drew heavily upon pre-existent manifestations of widespread Islamophobic and xenophobic attitudes.”
Defining the term ‘contemporary Islamophobia’ as a phenomenon directed at Muslims by non-Muslims in the late 20th century ‘as it appeared and became understood and acknowledged in the European—primarily, British—political spaces’, Dr. Allen notes how the term functioned similar to anti-Semitism.
Specialist in Muslim thought and London-based award-winning scholar, Ziauddin Sardar, in his book, ‘Muslim Minorities in the West’, states how contemporary manifestations of Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims ‘has a long memory and still thrives’ residing ‘so deeply in [the Western] historical consciousness’.
In his paper, Dr. Allen attributes the first usage of the term to Etienne Dinet and Silman Ibrahim in France, 1925, who were writing about the Last Prophet of Islam in the book, ‘L’Orient vu de l’Occident’. He observes that the term’s initial definition referred to Muslims frightened of Islam, later, being re-contextualized by Al-Muhajiroun and the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to define the fear that non-Muslims had toward Islam and Muslims.
A distinct anti-Muslim prejudice was simultaneously identified with the evolution of a ‘British Muslim’ identity, in the late 1980s in the London Borough of Brent, Allen writes in his book, ‘Islamophobia’.
Stating that the initial migrants would identify themselves on the basis of their heritage, collectively known as the ‘Asian community’, he states that a striking shift evolved with the increase in social demographics. The off-springs of the migrants would now refer to themselves in accordance with their religious identity.
Bhikhu Parekh, a political theorist and Labour member of the House of Lords, in his paper, ‘Europe, liberalism and the ‘Muslim question’ published in the book ‘Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach’ echoes Dr. Allen’s words, stating: “While the parents would have said that they were Muslims, their offspring say that they have a Muslim or Islamic identity…the difference is deep and striking.”
With the subsequent failure of legislation defining racial identities and laws specifically toward the Muslim community in London, Muslims began to see themselves differently from ‘black’ and ‘Asian’ communities, Dr. Allen states, believing the legislation to be a loophole leading to sexploitation by far-right political groups post 9/11.
The emergence of ‘new racism’ further targeted the community by ‘exaggerating difference and the identification of difference in much less explicit ways’, Dr. Allen notes.
“Indeed, this demarcation of difference was firmly established on the basis it had to be understood to be either unacceptable or incompatible with the ‘norms’ of society. That is, norms relating to ‘us’ and definitely not ‘them’ and so reinforcing somewhat necessary demarcation.”
In 1994, the distinct presence of Islamophobia was acknowledged in a British, non-Muslim way in the Runnymede Trust report. Titled, ‘A Very Light Sleeper: The Persistence and Dangers of anti-Semitism’, the report, in one of its sections, ‘Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism’, focused solely on Islamophobia and firmly defining it as the ‘shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam- and therefore, to fear or dislike all or most Muslims’.
Dr. Allen says that the report, ‘without a doubt’, established the reality of Islamophobia in the political and public spheres.
In due time, the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) was established in 2001 with the specific directive to tackle Islamophobia. The forum had been set up to reflect the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) but with greater emphasis on the phenomenon rather than the relations.
“…Days before 9/11, both FAIR and IHRC joined numerous other groups and non-governmental organisations in Durban at an event that has since become somewhat ‘lost’ in recent history. This ‘lost’ event included the formal recognition accredited to Islamophobia by the United Nations (UN), acknowledging it as a global phenomenon alongside racism and anti-Semitism not least because of its rapid proliferation in different parts of the world. As the conference proceedings noted, Islamophobia was becoming increasingly normal…”
However, during that event, the UN did not accord any definition or meaning to Islamophobia, thus keeping the term once more open for interpretation and contestation.
Interestingly enough, in the context of contemporary cinema, the realm of the Islamophobia phenomenon dates six decades back to 1918, in which the first major glimpse of a ‘reel bad Arab’ in the movie, ‘Tarzan of the Apes’, was shown to American movie audiences.
The first of the six series films that vilified Arabs, the movie showcased barbaric caricatures of Arab slave masters whipping African slaves and torturing kidnapped Englishmen for ten years because of ‘their fight against slave trade’.
A box office hit, The Sheik, released in 1921, showcased a lecherous and animalistic main protagonist, who, when seeing a woman he wants, ‘takes her’ to his home in the Saharan Desert.
The movie immediately starts with an Islamic call for prayer, providing a narrow-eyed lens through which the viewer can discern and stereotype the contents of the movie.
In contrast to The Sheik’s ‘burning love’, the main male character in ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ is reproached by the female character upon his advances towards the end of movie, in the words: “Tarzan is a man and men do not force the love of women.”
Jack Shaheen, a lecturer and writer specializing in addressing racial and ethnic stereotypes and author of Reel Bad Arabs, The TV Arab and Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture, who has been tracking such depictions of Arabs in cinema for over four decades, observes, in an article, ‘How the Media created the Muslim Monster Myth’, that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes ‘have a long and powerful history in American popular culture.’
Constantly repeated, these damaging portraits have manipulated viewers’ thoughts and feelings, conditioning them to ratchet up the forces of rage and unreason. Make no mistake: fictional narratives have the capacity to alter reality. As the Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli reminds us, “The great majority of mankind are…more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
In 1977, a special program of ’60 Minutes’, titled ‘The Arabs are Coming’, host Morley Safer warned against the ‘invasion’ of Arabs through buying of US businesses and farmland. In 1990, The National Review published a cover story, ‘The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!’ with similar content.
In contrast, Shaheen notes, today’s media ‘drape their Muslims in shredded American flags and shriek, “The Muslims have arrived and are about to destroy us!”’
B. After 9/11: From ‘Religion of Peace’ to ‘Religion of Terror’
The aftermath of the 9/11 attack witnessed a shift in the narrative of the media towards Muslims and Islam. In June 2003, Newsweek published an exclusive story, titled: “Al Qaeda in America: How the Terrorists Are Recruiting—and Plotting—Here.”
As Shaheen states: “This change happened overnight, or so it seemed, as scores of programs began displaying Muslim Americans and Americans with Arab roots as “terrorists,” falling into the stale trap of “seen one, seen ‘em all.” These “terrorists” waged holy wars against their fellow Americans from sleeper cells in Los Angeles and mosques in Washington.”
A study done by the Middle Eastern North African (MENA) Arts Advocacy Coalition, titled “Terrorists and Tyrants: Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Actors in Prime Time and Streaming Television”, in which the 2017 landscape of television was examined, showed a major gap in representation of MENA actors.
When an actor who is Middle Eastern of North African portrays a character that’s of MENA heritage, which happens only about half the time, 78% are playing either dictators or what the study called “trained terrorists/agents/soldiers.”
In 67% of MENA roles, the character speaks with an accent, while an overwhelmingly 92% of scripted shows do not have any MENA actors.
The co-author of the study, Nancy Wang Yuen, while speaking to Deadline, says, “Such stereotypes can have harmful effects on audience perceptions. More complex and relatable MENA characters can counter anti-Muslim and anti-MENA sentiment and policies.”
Founder of the Coalition, Azita Ghanizada, who is also an actress, said: “I discovered that MENA performers were counted as Caucasian and unable to fill diverse hiring quotas. This hole in Hollywood’s inclusion practices led to devolving portrayals for many MENA performers. If we weren’t willing to be marginalized and reinforce dangerous stereotypes, our ability to work dramatically decreased.”
An exclusive story by GQ magazine on seven different Muslim-American actors portraying themselves as terrorists on cinema further highlights the consistency of such degrading tropes.
“I die in Iron Man,” one of the actors, an Egyptian says in the story. “I die in Executive Decision. I get shot at by—what’s his name?—Kurt Russell. I get shot by everyone. George Clooney kills me in Three Kings. Arnold blows me up in True Lies…”
The predictability of the characters and a one-dimensional aspect added to the mix provide a shallow and misrepresentative narrative on the culture that exists in Muslim countries, specifically Arabs. The most defining movie that perhaps bred such a mix, sprinkled with satire to mock and simultaneously expose the ‘nomadic culture’ that Arabs cultivated, is The Dictator.
Considered an American parody film with copious amounts of ‘toilet humor’, critics have severely hit at the movie’s plot as unnecessarily attributing attention to its Islamophobic themes.
As listed in the website‘Islamophobia in film’:
“The Dictator…is particularly susceptible to producing Islamophobia since it departs from the dramatic genre of the movies previously explored on this site in favor of the comedic genre. Laughing at Islamophobic jests that Sacha Baron Cohen and his cast make seems to serve, on the whole, to increase negative perceptions of Muslims rather than alleviate or detract from them.”
In 2016, an audience reception study on the movie conducted by Simon Weaver and Lindsey Bradley, titled ‘“I haven’t heard anything about religion whatsoever”: Audience perceptions of anti-Muslim racism in Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator”, evolved into four major discourses in its content, one of which included that its plot be considered as Islamophobic and anti-Muslim.
“Although it is impossible to identify the existence of anti-Muslim racism in the minds of the participants, or equally, to identify if claims of offense are genuine to strategic, it is possible to identify the textual and rhetorical properties that are used to explain the relationship between the comedy and anti-Muslim racism. As stated above, there are signifiers or stereotypes of Muslims, Islam and orientalism in much of Baron Cohen’s comedy in general and in The Dictator in particular (Moss 2015). All texts are polysemic but comedy, specifically, is prone to multiple meanings because it is built on structural incongruity and because it is ‘not serious’ (Weaver, 23 2011b). Comedy might reproduce or resist stereotypes, or if it is layered or ‘liquid’ in construction, contain the potential to be read in many ways.”
Following the rise of Islamophobia in contemporary political, social discourses as well as in blockbuster plots, an increase in hate crimes toward the Muslim community were recorded across different continents. In November 2018, Statistics Canada reported a steep rise in hate crimes in 2017, majorly aimed towards Muslims, Jews, and blacks.
Attacks targeting Muslims doubled over in 2017 over the previous year. Canadian police reported 2,073 hate crimes as an overall estimate, considered to be the highest number since data became available in 2009.
Elsewhere, in the US, hate crimes rose by nearly a fifth (17 percent) in 2017, according to data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last year. The surge has been regarded as the highest post 9/11.
59.6 percent of the victims in 2017 were targeted based on their race, ethnicity or ancestry, the data shows. Upto 20 percent of victims were targeted because of their religion whereas 15 percent were victimized based on their sexual-orientation.
Anti-black bias was included in roughly half of all race-based hate crimes, followed by 17 percent of incidents that were motivated by anti-white bias and 11 percent that were motivated by anti-Latino bias.
Overall, 2017 saw a 58.1 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents and an 18.6 increase in Islamophobic attacks.
Over the past few years, political discourses aiming against immigration, diversity, ethnicity and Muslims has evolved, with many of its leaders entering the main stage and garnering increasing support from civil and social organisations. These years have simultaneously witnessed high-intensity targeted hate crimes against Hispanics, blacks and the Muslim community, evoking fear and alienation from the victims and the survivors.
Some of the most shocking incidents of hate crimes against Muslims in the West are:
- A religious cleric of a mosque in New York City and his associate were shot dead in August of 2016 in Queens while walking together after afternoon prayers. Police ruled it to be a hate crime and the arrested was charged with murder.
- A man burst into a mosque in Central Zurich city in Switzerland in December 2016 and fired at a handful of men who had been drinking tea after the evening prayer. Three were reportedly wounded. Earlier on the same day, another victim was killed. The suspect, who escaped, was later found dead near a river close to the mosque.
- Six Muslim worshippers were killed and nineteen injured in an attack in Quebec city mosque during evening prayers in January 2017. Among the killed, one of the victims had tried to tackle the gunman. The gunman, Alexandre Bissonette, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- Two men were stabbed to death and a third sustained critical injuries while trying to intervene after a man yelled racial slurs at two women of Muslim appearance on a train in north-Western state of Oregon in May 2017. The attacker was identified to be a 35 year-old and booked into jail on two counts of aggravated murder and additional charges of attempted murder, intimidation in the second degree and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.
- A Muslim worshipper was killed and nine others injured after a man drove a van into them after they exited the mosque following a late-night prayer in London in May 2017. The man was sentenced to 43 years in jail on terrorism-related charges.
- Two separate vehicle attacks in Spain, claimed by the ISIS, led the desecration and firebombing of mosques in in the cities of Granada, Fuenlabrada, Logrono and Seville are desecrated and firebombed. Three Moroccans are brutally assaulted in Navarre, while a Muslim woman is injured from in attack in front of a Madrid metro.
The attacks, while covered on mainstream platforms, did not maintain an identical discourse of condemnation and sorrow as opposed to hate crimes on ethnicities which did not constitute any of the three above.
As Roweda Abdelaziz, in her article for HuffPost US, ‘These Are The Types Of Islamophobia Fox News Is Okay With’, observes:
“After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in France, [Fox News Host] Pirro’s show promoted bigoted inaccuracies — among many during Fox News’ coverage. The network was forced to issue not one but four corrections in a single day for wildly inaccurate reporting about Muslims in Europe.
That year, she went on a seven-minute Islamophobia-riddled tirade in which she said a “reverse Crusade” was in progress against white Christians. In another instance, she called for the mass murder of Islamists — a label used to describe politicians who run on political platforms influenced by the Islamic faith.”
The director of External Affairs of the center, Rebecca Lenn, while speaking to HuffPost US, says that Islamophobic content is not just isolated to her show. “Fox News has definitely been a leading driver of the anti-Muslim fervor in the media landscape for a long time. There is no doubt, taking a step back, that bigotry and extremism are at the very heart of the network, and that’s becoming even more of a reality since the network has positioned itself as Trump’s go-to propaganda network.”
C. New Zealand Terror Attack: An Analysis
50 people were gunned down in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019 by an Australian named Brenton Tarrant. Appearing unrepentant and all the while smirking at journalists in his court trial, he was charged with murder and remanded without a plea.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the incident as a ‘terrorist attack’, the first time any hate crime directed toward Muslims has been designated so by a politician.
During his trial, Tarrant flashed an upside-down “OK” signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe.
The victims of the attack hailed from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. The dead included women and children.
Before the attack, Tarrant had posted a 74-page manifesto on social media and called himself a white supremacist out to avenge attacks perpetrated by Muslims in Europe. He sent the manifesto to PM Ardern nine minutes before he carried out the attack.
Furthermore, he live-streamed the attack at Al-Noor Mosque and left one of his guns behind with racist and white supremacist messages written across it.
The Australian Police, on Monday, raided two homes linked to Tarrant, while Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that Tarrant had spent only 45 days in Australia over the past three years and was not on any terrorism watch lists.
He rejected the “disgraceful” criticism that Australia’s counter-terrorism agencies had neglected the threat of right-wing “extremists” such as Tarrant because of their focus on combatting groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS).
“These extremist groups – neo-nazis, or white supremacists, extreme right-wing groups, whatever term you want to apply to them – they’ve been squarely on their radar,” he said in a televised interview. “They are well and truly looking at this threat, they are dealing with the threat and to think that they’ve just discovered it or they are coming late to the party is complete rubbish.”
According to Tarrant’s family, he ‘changed completely from the boy we knew’ after extensively travelling abroad, Al Jazeera reported. In 2016, Tarrant visited Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, where he stopped by historic battle sites, before travelling in Western Europe in 2017, according to the report. He also visited Turkey, Bulgaria and Israel.
There are a number of reasons as to how this attack garnered a unique response and highlighted increasing hate crimes and the context in which they are carried out.
I. Live-streaming the attack
The terrorist, Trenton Barrant, live-streamed the attack at Al-Noor mosque for 17 minutes on Facebook on March 15, 2019. New channels and analysts described the footage as filmed in a ‘first person shooter video-game style’, sparking debates and discussions over social media’s ineptitude to remove harrowing footage of the attack that killed 50 people in Christchurch.
“In fact, the entire attack seemed orchestrated for the social media age. Before it took place, a post on the anonymous message board 8chan — a particularly lawless forum that often features racist and extremist posts — seemed to preview the horror,” write Jenni Marsh and Tara Mulholland for CNN. “It linked out to an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideas, and directed users to a Facebook page that hosted the live stream. Posts on Twitter also appeared to herald the attack.”
Calling the attack about ‘the rise of white supremacy online and the power of social media in spreading it’, the article notes how “gaming culture was certainly present in the undertaking and stylization of Friday’s murders-the gun visible in the shot was visually reminiscent of first-person shoot ‘em up games.”
“Terrorism is political violence, so the terrorists have always needed to find publicity to affect political change,” the article quotes Adam Hadley, director of the Tech Against Terrorism, a group that works on behalf of the UN to support the global tech industry in tackling terrorist exploitation of their technologies. “They want an audience — they’ll always go where the biggest audience is. That could be traditional media. Or it could be large-scale social media platforms.”
Some of the instances could be when Al-Shabaab militants live-tweeted the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, therefore creating their own narrative of events that were not first-handedly reported by traditional media.
II. New Zealanders’ response during the attack
“Hello, brother,” were the words of one of the first victims of the attack, according to the livestream footage filmed by Tarrant himself. As Tarrant approached the entry towards the Al-Noor mosque, an unidentified man could be overheard greeting him with these words.
The phrase garnered widespread social media attention, with users praising the ‘peaceful words’ of the Muslim man who greeted his attacker before his death.
“‘Hello, Brother’ were the last words of the first New Zealand victim. As he faced a rifle, his last words were peaceful words of unconditional love. DO NOT tell me that nonviolence is weak or pacifism is cowardice,” one Twitter user said.
“‘Hello brother’ a word came out of a pure soul filled with a peaceful faith. ‘Hello brother’ was said to a killer with a rifle pointed to this greeting. ‘Hello brother’ he said thinking that he is talking to a human with soul and feelings. ‘Hello brother’ was shot dead,” another wrote.
“Hello brother and the reply was three bullets – Bi-ayyi thanbin qutilat (For what crime. She was killed) [Quran: 81, v9],” said another.
Apart from him, Naeem Rashid, originally from Abbottabad in Pakistan, was “badly wounded” at the Al Noor mosque after he tried “overpowering the shooter”, the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis said in a series of Twitter posts. He was rushed to the hospital, but lost his life “due to indiscriminate firing”, the ministry added.
Stuff, a local news website, said Rashid was being hailed as a hero, and would be given a national award by the Pakistani government, The Washington Post reported.
His sister-in-law, Naema Khan, told the website that video footage of the shooting showed Rashid trying to stop the attacker. Describing Rashid as a kind and humble man, Khan said family members were calling from around the world to say; “He will be our hero.”
Saleem Khan, Rashid’s maternal uncle, said his nephew was a “bold and brave man”.
Furthermore, Afghanistan’s embassy in Canberra, the Australian capital, confirmed Haji Daoud Nabi’s death in a Facebook post on Saturday. The 71-year-old grandfather was among the first victims to be identified.
Earlier in the day, Nabi’s 43-year-old son told reporters in Christchurch that his father was killed after “he jumped in the firing line to save somebody else’s life”.
Yama Nabi, Omar’s brother, told reporters that his father was “a very humble man who has helped a lot of people.”
A friend repeatedly told him, “Your father saved my life,” Yama Nabi said.
Hosne Ara Parvin, originally from northeastern Sylhet district in northeastern Bangladesh, was killed while trying to shield her wheelchair-bound husband, according to her nephew, Mahfuj Chowdhury, AJ reported.
Citing witnesses, Chowdhury told AJ: “Like other Fridays, Parvin took her husband to the mosque and left him in the men’s section which is separate from the women’s section. Immediately after hearing the sounds of shooting, she rushed towards the men’s section and tried to save her husband. Then she was hit by a bullet.”
In another mosque, called the Linwood Mosque, which witnessed another shooting five minutes later, Lateef Alabi, the imam leading prayers on the second floor of the Linwood building, said he heard a voice outside at about 1:55 p.m. so he stopped and looked out a window, The New York Times reported.
He saw a man in military gear, wearing a helmet and holding a gun, the report said. He then saw two bodies on the ground and immediately shouted to the congregation of about 80 people to get down. The gunman turned and fired through a window. He kept firing.
A resident, Abdul Aziz was praying with his four sons when he heard the gunshots. He ran towards it and flung a credit card machine at Tarrant, The New York Times reported.
“He took five, six, shots at me,” Aziz told NYT. “I dove between the cars.”
He followed the attacker, found the shotgun, picked it up and tried to fire it at him, but it was empty.
Aziz said his children were screaming for him to come back, and the gunman seemed agitated, swearing and talking about “killing you all”, the report said.
After Aziz threw the shotgun at the vehicle — “like an arrow,” he said — the attacker drove away, the report stated.
“It was like my mind wasn’t working,” Aziz was quoted as having said. “It was automatic reaction, like anybody. I was prepared to give my life to save another life.”
III. How the New Zealand government responded after the attack
On Friday, while addressing the public, PM Ardern called the mass shooting, ‘a terrorist attack’, and ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days’.Hours later, she announced that the country’s gun laws would be changed.
To express her solidarity with the victims, she donned a black headscarf while visiting the Muslim community at the Canterbury Refugee Centre in Christchurch.
According to a report by the FCB News, she paid tributes to the dead by wearing a black scarf over her head as she consoled those present at the Refugee Centre. Arden said she was feeling the exact same emotions that every New Zealander was facing.
As Rick Noack and Siobhan O’Grady write in The Washington Post, “The quick response marked a stark contrast to reactions by other leaders in countries where mass shootings have occurred, who often respond far more cautiously to demands to reform gun ownership laws.”
Furthermore, the attack marks the first time a politician has referred to a hate crime against Muslims as a ‘terrorist’ attack, thereby redefining the definition of a terrorist in international politics.
“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it,” she told reporters on Friday.
“You may have chosen us,” she said of the gunman, “but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
IV. How New Zealanders responded after the attack
Twitter hashtag #TheyAreUs to express solidarity with the Muslim community, inspired by Arden’s words at the Friday press conference, was used while thousands attended vigils and memorials across the country.
As TRT World digital producer, Mohamed Hasan, said in a video on the attack, “All of us are trying to figure out if we know someone in that mosque. New Zealand is a small place and the Muslim community in New Zealand is even smaller so chances are I am going to recognize one of the names that comes out.”
“We still love this country,” Ibrahim Abdul Halim, the Imam of Linwood mosque told BBC. “We still worship our God, we still practice our faith in this country without any problems.”
A relative of one of the victims in the mosque attack said that it was important to come and pay respects to provide some closure.
Members of a New Zealand biker gang performed the haka to honour the victims of terror attack, The Guardian reported. Before doing so, the gang’s spokesperson thanked the New Zealand police for their work, the report said.
Mosques in New Zealand have been inundated with floral tributes and messages of support after the massacre, in which 50 people were killed.
V. How the World Responded
Expressing revulsion, sadness and anger at the attack, countries all over the world condemnedthe incident, calling for justice and greater vigilance over such suspects.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a press conference, said, “We stand here and condemn, absolutely, the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”
He confirmed media reports that the gunman who mowed down worshippers in the main mosque in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch was an Australian-born citizen.
In Sydney, many mourners attended mosques to pray for the victims. New South Wales parliamentarian representing Lakemba Jihad Dib said, “When hatred rears its head, we must stand together to ensure that humanity always wins out.”
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has sent a message to Ardern, expressing her “deep shock” and condemnation of the attacks. Hasina’s press wing said the prime minister reached out to Ardern on Friday. An international cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh has been cancelled after players from the visiting team narrowly avoided the mass shooting at one of the mosques. Bangladesh’s cricket board president says the team is safe in a locked hotel in Christchurch.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians are appalled by the attack and said they remember all too well the sorrow after a Canadian man shot dead six Muslim men in a Quebec mosque in 2017.
“Far too often, Muslims suffer unimaginable loss and pain in the places where they should feel safest,” Trudeau said in a statement. “To move forward as a world, we need to recognise diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat.”
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said, “Extremism has again shown its ugly face.” Denmark’s Jewish community, which was targeted in a February 2015 attack where a guard was shot and killed, expressed “shock” at the news of the New Zealand attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron, also in a tweet, denounced the “odious crimes against the mosques in New Zealand” and said that France will work with international partners to fight terrorism.
Germany’s foreign minister says the attacks were a “brutal crime” that touches people of all religions around the world.
In two tweets, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany’s sympathies were with the friends and families of the victims of the attack. “The horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch targeted peacefully praying Muslims – if people are murdered solely because of their religion, that is an attack on all of us.”
Maas added, “We stand at the side of the victims. Stay strong New Zealand!”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also expressed solidarity with the people of New Zealand following the attacks on worshippers. Khan said the news was “heartbreaking.”
He says, “London stands with the people of Christchurch in the face of this horrific terror attack. London will always celebrate the diversity that some seek to destroy.”
Khan sought to reassure Muslim communities in London following the attacks, saying that the Metropolitan Police would be visible outside mosques.
Iran’s foreign minister says bigotry in Western countries has led to the attacks on Muslims in New Zealand. In a Friday tweet, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “Impunity in Western ‘democracies’ to promote bigotry leads to this.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the terrorist attack, saying “terrorism does not have a religion.”
“I strongly condemn the terror attack against the Al Noor Mosque in #NewZealand and Muslim worshippers,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a tweet.
In another tweet, Erdogan said, “On behalf of my country, I offer my condolences to the Islamic world and the people of New Zealand, who have been targeted by this deplorable act.”
He described the attacks as “the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”
US President Donald Trump sent “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand.
VI. How the World Media reported the attack
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) called the attacks ‘Christchurch mosque shootings”, in stark contrast to its reporting on the 2017 Westminster attack by Khalid Masood which killed four people, in which the organization had called it ‘Westminster Terror Attack’.
British daily newspaper Daily Mirror published a childhood photo of Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist who carried out the attacks, calling him “an angelic boy.”
“Boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer as 49 murdered at prayers,” Daily Mirror wrote.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) March 15, 2019
VII. White Supremacy and Meme culture: The 74-page manifesto
As CNN’s Jenni Marsh and Tara Mulholland write, “At first glance, the shooter’s “manifesto” seems to recall those of previous white nationalist killers such as Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who committed the 2011 Norway attacks. Indeed, the writer references Breivik.But this document is distinctive in being riddled with sarcastic language, deliberate red herrings and allusions to online meme culture, suggesting an internet-driven evolution of nationalist hatred.”
Journalist Robert Evans, in an article on the Bellingcat website Friday, says how the manifesto contains many white supremacist reference points that are likely accurate representations of the shooter’s views.
“But this manifesto is a trap itself, laid for journalists searching for the meaning behind this horrific crime,” Evans adds. “There is truth in there, and valuable clues to the shooter’s radicalization, but it is buried beneath a great deal of, for lack of a better word, ‘shitposting’.”
The CNN article calls it ‘one big exercise in murderous trolling’.
Interestingly enough, Tarrant told his viewers before carrying out the attack to ‘Subscribe to PewDiePie’, a phrase that has gained popular internet traction in context to the Swedish gaming YouTuber’s ongoing war with Indian YouTube channel, T-Series over the most held subscriber spot.
The reference to PewDiePie had a dual effect, according to Elizabeth Lopatto in her article on The Verge. He had little choice but to disown the attacks. “Just heard news of the devastating reports from New Zealand Christchurch. I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person. My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected by this tragedy,” he posted on Twitter to his 17 million followers.
Therefore, in deflecting potential criticism for inspiring the atrocity, he is forced to draw attention to it, Lopatto says. If any of his 17 million followers had missed the shootings before his post, they were very much aware of them after it, she writes.
Lee Jarvis, co-editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, says, in the CNN article, that the internet has provided people with minority-held beliefs a space to connect with other like-minded people in a way that can normalize their world view.
“There are fears that if you have a small number of people with same ideas, the ideas feel more legitimate and widespread than they actually are,” Jarvis says, according to the article.
“The fact that the document is laced with internet in-jokes, references and memes underlines that many white supremacists are radicalized by socializing with each other online.”
VIII. Islamophobia: Analyzing the words on Tarrant’s gun
A point-by-point analysis of the gun by TRT World that Tarrant left behind, showcasing his right-wing, neo-Nazi and Islamophobic ideologies which led him to attack two mosques in New Zealand.
- Serbian Milos Obilic, who assassinated Ottoman Sultan Murad I at the end of the Kosovo War in 1389. The terrorist had written Obilic’s name on his gun in Cyrillic letters.
- Marco Antonio Bragadin, a Venetian commander who fought against the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus in 1571. He was captured by the Ottoman forces soon after he had killed Turkish hostages with different torture methods such as cutting their ears and noses. Bragadin was hanged to death for his crimes.
- Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, a military commander of Vienna who fought against the Ottoman troops in the Second Siege of Vienna.
- Feliks Kazimiers Potocki, a Polish soldier who also fight against the Ottoman Turks in the Siege of Vienna.
- Skanderberg, an Albanian leader who was responsible for an uprising against the Ottoman Empire.
- Charles Martel, a Frankish statesman and military leader who stopped the Islamic Caliphate from conquering a significant part of Europe, forcing it back to Spain in 732.
- Josue Estebanez, a Spanish neo-Nazi who became a ‘hero’ for neo-Nazis for killing 16-year-old leftist activist Carlos Palomino, by stabbing him in Madrid in 2007.
- Alexandre Bissonnette, a white supremacist who also attacked a mosque in Canada and killed six worshippers in January 2017.
- Anton Lundin Pettersson, who killed two migrant students in October 2015, in Sweden.
- A ‘Remove Kebab’ meme was also printed on the gun. It’s a racist slur based on a propaganda song produced by Serb nationalist militants during the Bosnian genocide in the 1990s, referring to the ethnic cleansing of Balkan Muslims.
- The white terrorist also played the Remove Kebab song in his car, with the racist music blaring in the background.
- The song was created to commemorate Radovan Karadzic, a convicted war criminal who led Serb militias during the Bosnian genocide.
Cannot confirm this bc I refuse to watch the video but colleagues noting music heard in portion of footage is from “Remove Kebab” video meme, known in original as “Bog je Srbin i on će nas čuvati” (“God is a Serb & he will protect us”). Clear familiarity w/ Bosnian Genocide.
— Jasmin Mujanović (@JasminMuj) March 15, 2019
In retrospect, while understanding the mindset that drove attackers to commit hate crimes against Muslims, it is important to delve deep and provide a platform to hold sections of the society that shape our ideological consciousness accountable.
While New Zealand’s attack was swiftly provided a befitting response by the politicians in the multi-cultural country, the same cannot be stated for remote and un-administered parts of India. Fortunately, the implications of backlash through social media and international pressure has played much of its part in pushing for justice.
The origins of Islamophobia and its overwhelming rise as a phenomenon has led many to abandon denial and realize that harmless stereotypes can turn into harmful crimes committed against innocents who have no correlation with the aforementioned stereotype.
Extremists do not define any religion, nor do they represent it. Their actions should not be a direct consequence on the believers of the religion the extremists claim they are representing. To represent a religion, one must follow it– such groups or organizations glaringly skip, skew its fundamentals and misrepresent its faith.
Hereafter, the everlasting message of peace and tolerance preached and practiced across time finds its way in the reactions of the residents of New Zealand. The people of world must learn from such altruistic societies and do their best to provide the right that everyone, regardless of race, religion, or caste deserve.
Because, even a Muslim can be a victim of terror.
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