The terrorist attack in Christchurch did not take place in a vacuum and is a reflection of decades of the othering and dehumanisation of Muslims.
Following the massacre of Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch by an Islamophobic fascist, we must now begin to look at Islamophobia not simply as a global phenomenon, but as a phenomenon intimately tied to the current epoch – an epoch defined by movements against egalitarianism and liberalism. An epoch where genocide and the state-led mass murder and persecution of Muslims has become normalised.
In Brenton Tarrant, the fascist murderer responsible for the Chirstchurch massacre, we see can see Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim bigotry, for what it is – an ideology intimately attached to genocide and mass murder.
It begins with people saying they have concerns about ‘radical Islam’, but these are merely code words when applied to Muslim communities in general – code words that conceal or obfuscate the fact that the concern isn’t with the perceived ‘radicalism’ of Islam, but with the very presence of Muslims in the West.
For all the stuff that will be written about Tarrant’s perceived motivations, and many British newspapers have gone for a bizarre ‘ordinary white man went bad’ narrative, he has been nothing if not upfront about his direct aims. He calls not just Muslims, but all non-whites ‘invaders’ who threaten to ‘replace’ so-called indigenous populations. But, according to the ideology of Islamophobia, Muslims above all others are the vanguard of this conspiracy or move to usurp white people.
Muslims, in the shadow of the ‘war on terror’ and the rise of modern ‘Islamic terrorism’, are constantly depicted as ‘failing to integrate’ and ‘rejecting western values’. This isn’t just the discourse of far-right agitators, but can be found in the pages of mainstream liberal newspapers or in the speeches of mainstream centrist politicians.
In fact, these narratives are often the first line of western societies after instances of ‘Islamic terror’ – they’re always looking at the problem as a communal one that places Muslims as the Others, where, implicitly or explicitly, their ‘Islamicness’ is to blame for the very act of radicalisation.
This produces the familiar absurd calls by non-Muslims for a ‘reformation within Islam’, or for calls for Muslims to somehow dilute or reshape their Muslim identities according to the bigoted demands of Islamophobes.
Mainstreaming the fringe
Well what exactly was it that ‘radicalised’ Tarrant to mercilessly exterminate men, women and children for the sole reason that they were Muslims? It certainly wasn’t because his dad had died of a terminal illness as The Daily Mail so bizarrely implied in one of its headlines. While one can rightfully look at the ubiquity of negative stories about Muslims in the media as sources of radicalisation for the likes of Tarrant, there is a much wider aspect to this.
And it is the global aspect of Islamophobia in this epoch.
While Tarrant ranted against ‘multiculturalism’, the self-declared fascist also praised the People’s Republic of China as being the state that most aligns with his principles and as a source of emulation. It’s hardly difficult to understand why a fascist would idolise the current Chinese state.
Its persecution of mostly Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region conjures both a return to the policies of 20th century fascism and the further degradation of the already crumbling egalitarian world order. It proves very acutely and savagely that concern about ‘radical Islam’ is simply a cover for the true Islamophobic determination that Muslims are simply not wanted.
As many as 1 million Muslims are kept in ‘re-education camps’ where the entire project is designed to rid the Uighurs of their Islamic faith, while there have also been moves by China to inhibit the procreation of Muslims.
Along with this, China has been a staunch and vocal defender of the regime in Burma as it carries out genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
What links these together is in each case the ideology of Islam and Muslims is painted as an alien and destructive force that seeks to destroy an allegedly ‘civilised’ status quo.
Even in Muslim countries, the ideology of Islamophobia can be appealed to by tyrants seeking approval from western leaders who want to limit Muslim immigration – we’ve seen this used most effectively by Bashar al-Assad and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as the tyrants of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
This is precisely what is meant by the globalisation and normalisation of Islamophobia. The Arab spring saw the potential social, cultural and political emancipation of vast swathes of Muslims – the counter-revolution, steeped in the idea that Muslims aren’t fit for democracy or liberty and must be ruled by tyrant, has not only bolstered global authoritarianism, but it has justified long-held western Orientalist and racist ideas about ‘the Muslim world’ and the alleged inherent savagery of Islam, complicated by the rise of Daesh.
What we’ve seen emerging since 9/11 is a loose, though rapidly coalescent, network of Islamophobic movements concomitant with a more general rise of ethnonationalism, authoritarianism and anti-egalitarianism on the global stage.
Whether it’s his veneration of Middle Age Venetian commanders who defeated Ottoman Muslim armies or Serb warlords guilty of the crime of genocide of Muslims in the 1990s, Tarrant is steeped in the global mythos of Islamophobia.
The conclusion is that white non-Muslims have to violently annihilate Muslims or they themselves will be usurped or ‘replaced’.
This is the world order that Tarrant craves and though it would be hyperbolic to say this is just around the corner, the fact remains that around the world Muslims face increasing circumstances of genocide, cleansing and persecution. More generally, minorities find themselves under threat from ethnonationalist populists and authoritarians, from Bolsonaro to Trump.
A global wave
All around Europe, we’ve witnessed the rise of far-right movements who emphasise Islamophobia – in Poland, Hungary, Italy and Austria, they have gained state power, while they have large electoral representation in Germany, France and Spain.
In the UK, Brexit, whose triumph was inspired by fearmongering about immigration in general and the Islamophobic lies of Turkish accession to the EU and the UK being swamped by Muslim Syrian refugees, currently dominates over everything.
Though the electoral Islamophobic far-right might weakly denounce the massacre, the reality is that it not only serves but is actually a consequence of their agenda of sowing discord among the white majority against Muslims and immigrants.
This is the epoch that has birthed Brenton Tarrant – the epoch of genocide in Bosnia, Syria, Burma and the mass murder of refugees in the Mediterranean fuelled by the rising Islamophobic far-right in Europe. The epoch where an American president can implement a ‘Muslim ban’ and get away with it.
Following the massacre, Jacinda Ardern rightfully warned that the fight against racism was a global one that should know no national boundaries, but given the manner in which those who claim to support egalitarianism, human rights and liberal democracy have sought to appease and ignore fascism, one can only conclude that her warning will fall on deaf ears.
Whether it’s by airstrikes, poison gas or bullets, or whether it’s in concentration camps, besieged towns or mosques, Muslim blood has never been cheaper. Who knows to what new horrors it will lead?
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