Syed Zafar Mehdi
Islamophobia is not a cock and bull story or a figment of some fiction writer’s imagination. It is a disturbing reality unfolding before our eyes, almost everywhere.
Attacks against Muslims have assumed alarming proportions in recent years, especially in the Western world, mostly carried out by far-right white supremacists filled with unexplainable hatred for Muslims.
On Friday, the normally quiet and peaceful Christchurch city of New Zealand witnessed ghastly attacks at Al Noor and Linwood mosques during congregational Friday prayers.
More than 40 people were killed after an attacker carrying automatic weapons barged inside the mosques and opened indiscriminate fire at the worshippers in what is being called an unprecedented mass shooting in the Pacific country’s history.
Police immediately took some suspects in their custody and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern termed it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the suspects was an Australian national, calling him an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”.
The dastardly attack was livestreamed on Facebook by the attacker who identified himself as Brenton Tarrant. The video was later taken down, but not before it was shared widely in Whatsapp groups.
The attacker also reportedly left behind racist literature at the scene, denouncing “invaders”.
Muslims in New Zealand account for just one percent of the country’s population, according to a 2013 census. Most of them are immigrants and refugees.
While the police authorities in New Zealand stopped short of calling it an act of ‘terrorism’, the Islamic Council of Queensland spokesman Ali Kadri said “this has to be called terrorism”.
He said the incident has shaken a small minority of Muslims in the country but they will continue to go to mosques for prayers. He said if far-right extremism and radicalisation is not stopped then “these types of attacks will continue”.
Kadri said people are getting radicalized by the extreme right through an underground movement.
“They talk about Muslims being cockroaches, they talk about Muslims breeding like anything, taking over Australia and European land and the need to fight back – that’s where these people get radicalized,” he was quoted saying by Courier.
Dr. Rateb Junaid, who heads Muslims Australia – the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils –, said the massacre at Christchurch mosques is the “consequence of Islamaphobia and marginalisation of Muslims”.
A manifesto attributed to Tarrant was posted on 8Chan, an unregulated website known for hate speech and Islamophobia. It credited U.S. President Donald Trump and his ultra-conservative supporter Candace Owens as ‘inspirations’ for the mosque attacks.
“Well, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post. I will carry out an attack against the invaders, and even live stream the attack via Facebook link,” Tarrant wrote on 8Chan on Thursday, which carried links to his “writings” and his far-right extremist views.
How the counter-terrorism and law-enforcement authorities in New Zealand missed the warning is incredibly astonishing.
A day earlier, he had posted a picture of his automatic weapon on Twitter, with the words “Here’s your migration compact” written on the rifle.
In one of his posts on Facebook, he singles out Candice Owens to be the “particular person” who radicalized him the “most”.
“Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness,” he wrote.
Trump and Owens have played a key role in fueling hate crimes against Muslims in the Western world through flagrant hate speech, anti-immigration policy and travel ban on Muslims.
Trump famously told Anderson Cooper in 2016 that “Islam hates us”. This imprudent declaration has over the past few years manifested itself in blatant Islamophobia in America and elsewhere.
Anyone standing up to this powerful lobby comes under fire. The latest example is that of U.S. Congress member Ilhan Omar, who has been attacked for speaking about the influence of the Zionist lobby in U.S. politics and policy.
The American-Somalian congresswoman has been ridiculed, denigrated and threatened in recent weeks with assassination simply because she has the audacity to call spade a spade.
This vilification of Omar and many others like her is the direct result of the bogey of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been normalized in the Western societies.
Studies show that over the past few years, hate crimes and attacks against Muslims in the U.S. have skyrocketed. According to Pew Research analysis, attacks on Muslims have “easily surpassed” post 9-11 levels, and one of the factors is the rise of Trump.
However, author and commentator Khaled Beydoun says Islamophobia has “deep roots” in American history, but now it has been given a “new face”, intensified by the rhetoric of characters like Trump.
In UK, which is considered the hub of Islamophobia in Europe, a record number of anti-Muslim attacks were reported last year, according to the monitoring group Tell Mama.
In its report, the group noted a surge in Islamophobic attacks, with 1,201 cases reported in 2017, the highest number since it began recording incidents.
According to Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism charity, Islamophobia has become the driving force behind the rise of far-right movements in the UK. It says “anti-Muslim prejudice” has replaced immigration as the “key driver” of far-right groups.
A report published by the charity said 35 percent people in UK thought Islam was “generally a threat to the British way of life”.
In Canada, hate crimes against Muslims have grown sharply in last few years, with 349 documented cases in 2017 — nearly one every day. Anti-Muslim hate crimes account for 17 per cent of all crimes in Canada, according to reports.
In Netherlands, just last week a mosque was attacked by members of the far-right German group Pegida, who defaced the building with racist banners, a mosque official was quoted as saying.
But, unfortunately, Islamophobic bigotry in the West does not get the kind of media coverage as attacks carried out by ‘Muslim’ groups do. When the perpetrator is a Muslim, it is termed an “act of terrorism”, but when it’s a white supremacist, it’s smartly downplayed as an “act of extremism”.
This ‘extremism’ is the classical euphemism for white supremacist terrorism and not only talked down but even defended by deranged politicians like Fraser Anning.
This is the kind of Islamophobia peddled by the likes of Donald Trump and Candace Owens, who ‘inspired’ the Christchurch attacker, with their blatant hate speech targeting Muslim and immigrants.