When the news initially broke, it didn’t take me that long to figure out the killer was exactly who I suspected him to be — a right-wing online troll who was sick of confining their hatred to virtual spaces, so they took it to real ones. It serves as a great reminder that what 8chan and other online discussion forums in that vein want us to do, is indulge in the story on their own terms and lose control of the narrative as it makes its transition into the wider cultural consciousness. Henceforth, the statements made by the perpetrator will not be shared, and I will instead focus on the most useful action moving forward — Muslim allyship.
I’ve broached the topic of islamophobia in small increments previously, but it it’s important to emphasize why is it such an important topic to get into — most people’s exposure to islamophobia is through its most heinous manifestations; the image of a white supremacist donning the mask of white identity and chanting slogans of fascist provenance is deeply ingrained in our collective mind, but it’s not all that islamophobia encompasses. Islamophobia can entail the most subtle derogatory acts towards practicing and non-practicing Muslims, as well as people of Arab descent.
That last part might look a little hazy in hindsight. “Wait, I thought you were talking about islamophobia, not xenophobia?”. The intersection of the two is merely cosmetic to a bigot, much to our chagrin.
What hatred against Muslims ultimately boils down to is a common shared hatred of people of color — it is within that framework, deemed sacrilegious, that a white person would mix their blood with a Muslim for the simple reason that so many of them are non-white-passing. It is also doubly embarrassing that Muslims are less traditionally thought of as a religious group, and more as a race. That distinction might look innocent at first, but it’s fundamentally the root of so many current issues facing the Muslim community today.
Like any natural mixture of races and ethnicities that do practice a religion, Muslims are comprised a diverse set of skin colors, cultural heritage, and a place they call “home” as wildly unpredictable as one could possibly be. There’s no simple answer for displacing Muslims away to the betterment of the “white race” because there’s no common home to speak of. The present time-line for majority-Muslim nations is even murkier in large parts due to Europe’s colonization campaign in the early 19th century — so when white supremacists talk about bringing forth retribution to those deemed of inferior blood and tenure, they should do more to examine the bloody history Britain, France, and their enablers, have brought upon large parts of Africa and Asia. This legacy of colonization not only established an inseverable historical link between the nation colonized and the one colonizing it, but it also sunk entire emerging economies who’d had to recover fully from shambles after more than a century of colonial rule.
Dissociating the context of colonialism from the plight of the Muslim community is crucial to understanding white anger — white supremacists are so used to blame-shift, and absolve themselves of responsibility, that it’s not that much harder for them to look fondly upon days of colonial rule as a desirable state to be in, not the crime against humanity that it was. So when the history of a Europe once — and arguably still is — bloody is looked at as sacred, it’s very easy to see why wouldn’t the wires short in a white supremacist’s head when discussing why do Muslims want to leave their host countries at all. They’re demonized as “economic refugees”, seeking to usurp the spoils of Western civilization all for themselves — but they’re just normal human beings like you and me. They’ve left corrupt democracies whose failures can almost always be traced back to who they were invaded be, for their own individual betterment. No one leaves a place they call home out of their own volition — there are external societal factors completely out of immigrants’ control that motivate such a decision.
Attitudes more subtle however, can prove to be equally as destructive to the cause of equality and inclusivity. Speech on part of radical right-wing extremists isn’t only encouraged due to internet’s natural inertia to just let ideological currents maintain their flow, but it’s also enabled by the many people who sit idly, watching by, co-signing hatred against people of faith as a blanket statement, or disguising their bigoted views as the more innocuous “anti-theism” denomination.
I’ve seen this unfold before me numerous times. The old “I hate Islam, but I don’t hate Muslims” trope is tired at this point, and it needs to be called out for the bullshit that it is — a covert justification for islamophobic attitudes. I see it used a lot when coupled with criticism of Evangelicals, but that strikes me still as odd… Why do people think it’s okay to take their deep-seated frustration with the Church, not only on Christians, but on all religious people regardless of provenance or background? Doesn’t that just spell the verbatim definition of bigotry, or am I just too sensitive?
It pains me to see us already get screwed sideways with the media’s coverage of our struggles. We’re painted as a protected class that does nothing but sit on its ass all day, and assume the benefits of a society we didn’t strive to build. But our contributions are important as anyone else’s — we pay our dues just like everyone does, so why should we be sidelined when discussions of marginalization are afoot? Is it that we just don’t killed enough? It is a sorry state of political capital — the most important one to have — when marginalization is measured by how many of your next to kin were killed. I do not wish to see more pain, I do not wish to see more tears. What’s happened is torture enough, and there’s ought to be a global conversation about the merits of our fear in modern society — wherein you run the risk of being killed by a right-wing extremist if you’re too much of a Muslim, or be otherwise sent to the Lord by a religious fanatic if you’re deemed not Muslim enough. We’re caught between two blunt ends and it looks like there’s very little we can do aside from hoping it doesn’t occur again. There’s valuable legislation to be passed in order to combat trolls. There’s a lot that can be done, but none of it is within logistical reach. The United States still holds a firm grip over many social media platforms, and online chat boards, that it’s nigh-on impossible to regulate any of it from outside the borders. We’re all at the mercy of a staunchly islamophobic president to do the right thing and hold online platforms to account — something I’m very sure he won’t be able to do unless it hurts his beloved base of midwestern hillbillies.
While that gets sorted out, the best course of change we can all enact will have to reside on an individual level. That means taking part in an active campaign to discourage islamophobic attitudes from running unshackled. It also means you must have to ditch whatever general hateful attitudes towards religious people you once thought were acceptable. It happened in Pittsburgh to Jews as it happened to Muslims in Christchurch. There’s absolutely no telling whether white supremacists will get more sophisticated in their tactics and start not to only target religious minorities, but also, the wider spectrum of left-leaning Nazi ideology dissenters.
It’s a common trope in the discourse around tragedies that the dominant group — white people in this case — wouldn’t have to care unless it happens to one of their own. We’ve seen that with police brutality against African Americans, and we’ve seen it once again with marginalized religious minorities. But what’s becoming less of a mystery as of late, and more of a ticking time bomb, is that online trolls won’t have to limit themselves to whom they consider Western society’s terminal demise— it’s very likely they’ll extend the tally to our allies, and that’s where everyone should come out in droves to support us. By lending us a hand, you make it so much harder for white supremacists to target us, and it starts to put tighter pressure on elected officials to enact tighter gun policy, and not give in to an immoral laissez-faire philosophy of approaching mass shootings, and gun violence at the whole.
Processing grief will definitely be the hardest part about this tragedy. As a Muslim, I’m so used to the sight of my brethren’s blood shed all around the world — either through racial tensions, government-imposed segregation tactics, or outright murder in cold blood. America, and its allies have been complicit in it as much. And while I don’t endorse any violent retaliation against their count, I’m starting to wonder whether a perpetuity of violence is still tenable for all parties involved. Afghanistan and Iraq most notably have been unmitigated disasters, and it’s starting to become a much more saleable question whether protecting American interest, while not providing any useful foreign aid, is doing much more to hurt America and its allies, or is it counter-intuitively reaching into a back-handed by-proxy justification for why shouldn’t Muslims leave their homes and come for places where the quality of life is undeniably better. I think there’s an intersectional case to be made where not only Muslims are allowed vacancy into the West with no strings attached, but also, they’re bringing along some of what descendants of Europe have stolen from them — knowledge, training, and the very chests they’ve pillaged in their misguided quest to prevail.
I realized that I’d spent the majority of this piece expounding on the legacy of colonialism in majority-Muslim countries, but it’s brutally obvious what disadvantages ignoring this narrative has caused. The perpetrators of these acts will not only have to answer before justice for their crimes, but the court of historical irony will have to hash out a day with them too — how could they be so oblivious as to see that their very actions are the ones feeding into extremists groups’ trope of the “evil westerner”, which then in turn fuels America to make immigrants’ host countries even worse off, and thus, defeating the whole purpose of embarking on a holy crusade in the first place.
Do I have faith any of this will change? It’s hard to tell when Democrats’ sole current preoccupation is whose establishment big donor’s boots to lick first, but that’s policy. There’s a lot we can all individually do to ensure we’re well ahead of this the next time an angry gamer decides to transition from using guns in virtual experiences, to unloading a clip on innocent civilians.
It starts with not coddling bigots when they make a grandstanding about the values of the west being under peril of a Muslim invasion — confront them on their bullshit, and do not let it stand. What should also be pretty useful is to not treat this as an issue purely born out of fascistic desire — it would be all too easy to blame this on the back of neo-Nazi rhetoric, but the fact is, most victims of such an assault have always been disproportionately hated more than your average Joe or Linda. Most crucially too, what could be of really valuable use, is if Americans choose to elect politicians who represent their views on religious minorities and don’t just shrug it off as a second-rate issue. The fact is, what happened in New Zealand, has seen its roots watered in America, and if that toxic environment where extremist behavior is encouraged — if not rewarded — is still standard by the time we’re to reckon with its long-lasting consequences, we’re going to reach a point of no-return. There’s a certain threshold at which we cannot roll back the course of social regression, and if far-right online trolls keep pushing the goalpost farther until it meets their nefarious needs, we’ll be stuck in a situation where no matter what we do, it’ll be impossible to tame their vengeful beasts and construct any sort of tenable stability where Muslims can live in Western society without the constant worry of succumbing to bullet fire, or bomb shrapnel.
If the objective was to deter me from ever frequenting a place of worship again — mission accomplished. I’d already abstained from fulfilling my religious duties at our local mosque because it might just be the errant target of a terrorist attack at any point. It might just be that I’m present that day for a Friday prayer, or Maghreb when I’ve got enough time on my hands to make the necessary commute, and it’d be the last day I see mom or my most-treasured siblings. I’m personally not afraid to die — death in and of itself doesn’t scare me as much as it seems to do for the majority of people, but what I fear would happen if I die at the hands of a vengeful spirit, is my family not being able to move on. Even scarier, is the prospect of a close relative, or a friend, getting the wrong message and setting sail to Syria to fight alongside dangerous demagogues, having had their fears against Westerners just confirmed.
The immediate result of us Muslims dying is of utmost cruciality to the families of victims, but it has continuous ripple effects on the entire Muslim community — the worries radical islamists voice about the corrupt state of Western society suddenly become more real, and the burden of proof is shifted upon Western governments to react with rigor, and not succumb to the framing of a false dichotomy between radical right-wing extremists, and ardent militant islamists. Those two while superficially similar, warrant different approaches when their malicious influence is to be discussed. My only hope is that this leads to an ever-accelerating pace of change — anything shy of it, could see another tragedy of similar proportions in its wake. The world is bad a place as it already is, we don’t need an even worse score on Yelp as the shittiest planet to live in.