Following the horrific white supremacist attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, there have been many calls for the media to label the attackers as terrorists. However as Basit Mahmood writes, this is only the start if we are to address structural Islamophobia
To say that I’m devastated at the news of the mosque shootings that have left 49 people dead would be an understatement. I’m devastated not only at the deaths but also that our concerns about rising Islamophobia and the effect it was having on Muslims were ignored for so long.
While many may try to seek comfort in the fact that New Zealand is so far away, for Muslim families like my own, the daily fear that the simmering hatred and animosity towards our community could one day result in a white supremacist taking our lives was always present. It was only two years ago Darren Osborne carried out an attack on Finsbury Park mosque.
Yet the most worrying aspect about the horrific terrorist attack on Muslims in New Zealand is that for so many, simply being able to label this as a terrorist attack has become the end goal and a sign of victory. “We’ve finally got them to admit terrorism can be committed by white people too”, seems to be the argument.
“Simply labelling this as the actions of a few ‘crazed white supremacists’ allows those who have mainstreamed and normalised Islamophobia off the hook”
Yet I refuse to set the bar so low. This should never be an exercise in simply being content in naming this horrific act as what it is, but also about critically reflecting on and addressing structural forms of anti-Muslim racism.
Whether it be anti-terrorism legislation that treats an entire community with suspicion, or debates about what Muslims can and can’t wear, and about making sweeping generalisations about entire cultures, everyday normalised Islamophobia won’t be resolved by simply slamming white supremacists and the far-tight.
We need to talk about what gave rise to this hatred, where it comes from, why it was ignored for so long, both here in the UK and across the world and what we can do to tackle it.
Simply labelling this as the actions of a few ‘crazed white supremacists’ allows those who have mainstreamed and normalised Islamophobia off the hook. There is a straight line that exists and begins with the rhetoric of the likes of Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins and the whipping up of anti-Muslim sentiment in the tabloid press and the violence enacted against Muslim communities.
It’s all the more hurtful for e.g. that so many in the media in the UK ignored the complaints of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, some of which included threats of violence, only to today to report on the end of result of unchecked bigotry, as though it had all occurred in a vacuum.
For whilst some were playing semantics and debating whether Islamophobia existed, for those of us on the receiving end of such abuse, the hatred and bigotry were real.
“We must address the wider issues around structural Islamophobia which has contributed so much to dehumanising Muslims since the war on terror”
While I understand the sympathies behind the ‘this is an attack on us all’, such slogans obscure the particular anti-Muslim racism and hatred that communities have had to contend with and which needs singling out and recognising.
This was an attack on Muslims for who they are.
No doubt there will be those today who say that we shouldn’t ‘politicise’ this attack, as though it wasn’t already inherently political, drawing on the hatred that politicians and so many sections of the media had whipped against Muslims, portraying us as the ‘enemy within’.
Yet we must address the wider issues around structural Islamophobia which has contributed so much to dehumanising Muslims since the ‘war on terror’. The fact that I still have to convince others, including many friends, that Islamophobia is a form of bigotry and racism, just shows how far we still have to go.
Tomorrow those who shared the characteristics of the gunmen, being white and male, won’t have to worry about the backlash against ‘their community’ or be collectively asked to say ‘not in my name’ or worry about the looks they’ll be getting on public transport.
That association of collective guilt and hatred is something only Muslims have to contend with, and it’s about time we tackled the underlying assumptions behind it rather than just seeking to blame this on a ‘white supremacist’, who was put on a diet of anti-Muslim bigotry by wider society.
Basit Mahmood is a freelance journalist and columnist for Media DiversifiedFollow @BasitMahmood91