Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1435, (21 - 27 March 2019)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1435, (21 - 27 March 2019)

Ahram Weekly

The crazed in all shapes and sizes

After last week’s attack on two mosques in New Zealand, it is time the world came to terms with the rising tide of far-right and white-supremacist terrorism, writes Azza Sedky

The crazed in all shapes and sizes
The crazed in all shapes and sizes

The world is grieving after last Friday’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The terrorist gunned down 50 worshippers, women and children included, as 50 others were injured. It was an unprecedented but premeditated atrocity that gripped the usually peaceful nation of New Zealand, leaving it, and the world, in mourning, shock, and a state of terror.

The attack was harrowingly publicised on social media. Using a body or helmet camera strapped to his head, the terrorist live-streamed the killings in shameful arrogance and posted the footage on Facebook.

The Washington Post described the footage as showing “the gunman driving to the mosque clad in tactical gear, his car full of weapons. It shows the shooting from his perspective, a chilling record of mass violence that police have warned people not to share. The shooter fires hundreds of rounds of bullets at defenceless worshippers inside and outside the Al-Noor Mosque, where the majority of the bloodshed occurred, retreating at one point to his car for another weapon. He doubles back on injured victims to make sure they are dead. The violence lasts about six minutes.”

As their country grieves, New Zealanders are trying to make sense of what happened. The naiveté associated with the phenomenon of “it can’t possibly happen here” has been shattered as the protective bubble has burst.  

The prime minister of New Zealand called the attacker an “extremist right-wing terrorist,” describing the attack as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” She also said that those with “extremist views” had no place in her country or the wider world. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said that the atrocity was the work of an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”

The world has been inundated with similar massacres. What came as a surprise this time round was the immediate designation of terrorist of a non-Muslim attacker. The world had earlier fallen into the trap of believing that terrorism was limited to radical Islamists and that it happened in particular locations — Europe, the Middle East, and maybe the US — but this attack throws such stereotypes by the wayside. Contrary to what has been considered the norm, this was an attack by a non-Muslim against Muslims, people of peace in the midst of prayer.

In reality, Muslims have suffered as much if not more than non-Muslims as far as terrorist attacks are concerned. Simultaneously, and according to many specialists, terrorism is inflicted by fewer Muslims than others, while terrorist acts by Muslim perpetrators receive the most media coverage. In Sri Lanka and Burma, Buddhists kill Muslims with terrible frequency, and Israeli settlers commit crimes against Palestinians on a daily basis, and yet we hardly hear of such tragic events in the mainstream media.

In 2015, a bomb was set off in a mosque in Kuwait, killing at least 27 people and wounding hundreds of others. In 2017, gunmen attacked a mosque in Arish in Egypt and also set off a bomb, killing 235 people and wounding over 100 others. In 2017, an assault on a Quebec City mosque in Canada took the lives of six Muslim worshippers and injured 19 others, leaving the country reeling in shock.

There are far-right extremists who, like the attacker in Christchurch, have proven to be even more sadistic. Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist responsible for the deaths of 77 people in Norway in July 2011, was at first considered to be a terrorist. However, once he was identified as a white male, he was referred to as a “deranged extremist” instead.

One definition of the term “terrorism” is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. The definition does not specify the gender, ethnicity, colour, or religion of the doer. It specifies the act itself, and the Christchurch massacre falls into the category of a terrorist act.

One thing is certain: whether they are Muslim extremists, anti-immigrant fascists, far-right white supremacists, or Ku Klux Clan lunatics, the crazed come in different shapes and sizes. This has always been the case, and it is high time we recognised this and stopped identifying terrorism with Muslims alone.

According to journalist Dean Obeidallah in the US Daily Beast, the “media simply do not cover non-Muslim terror attacks with the same gusto. Why? Stories about scary “others” play better. It’s a story that can simply be framed as good versus evil, with Americans being the good and the brown Muslims the bad.” Muslims at large are being tarred by one incriminating brush because the media intentionally and consciously stereotypes Muslims as evil-doers and those capable of the worst of actions.

Hate speech, white supremacist jargon, and attempts to brand all Muslims as terrorists and ban some from travelling to the US are fear-mongering tactics that incite the crazed and instill Islamophobia. They create an atmosphere against Muslims, asylum-seekers, and immigrants and embolden those who seek revenge.

Yet, some still don’t appear to see this reality. After the Christchurch massacre, US President Donald Trump said that he did not see white nationalism as a rising threat around the world. Then an independent Australian MP, Fraser Anning, sparked outrage for blaming the immigration of Muslims for the Christchurch mosque shooting.

Anning said that while any form of violence could never be justified, the growing fear of the “increasing Muslim presence” was behind the massacre. “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” he said.

Yet, the vigils held around the world in memory of the victims prove that there is still empathy in the world today. Christchurch residents have been shocked to the core and been seen weeping profusely as they leave flowers in solidarity. Political leaders from around the world have denounced the massacre. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was blacked out in solidarity. As for the above-mentioned Australian MP, the country’s prime minister has moved to censure him for victim-blaming Muslims.

Let us mourn the dead, while at the same time realising that there are crazed terrorists amongst us.

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