Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Yesterday, Muslims around the world gathered in mosques to pray as they do every day. It’s the most peaceful and calming place they would be in all day. The air is a still silence, moments before the Imam starts reciting. But in the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Brenton Tarrant walked in and shot dead 49 Muslims, injuring at least 48 more. He livestreamed the massacre to Facebook.
Amongst all the thoughts and prayers, all the condemnations and words of support, there are a few things to remember. This wasn’t surprising. Horrific, tragic and devastating, yes. But not surprising. It wasn’t surprising when Darren Osborne drove a car into Finsbury Park Mosque in London, it wasn’t surprising when Thomas Mair killed Labour MP Jo Cox shouting ‘This is for Britain’ and this latest terrorist attack isn’t surprising either.
Islamophobia isn’t just something that is contained within, it’s a systematic approach. Last year there were a record number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain, and it’s no secret why. We have a political establishment that spreads this. Boris Johnson in 2005 stated that Islamophobia was a ‘natural reaction to Islam’ and last year he compared Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’. These weren’t political gaffes or hilarious slips of the tongue, it was written and published in his Telegraph column. This is hate preaching.
Darren Osborne, the Finsbury Park terrorist, was heavily influenced by Tommy Robinson and Britain First. Yes, those posts your weird mate from school shares have real-world consequences. What’s more insidious is the “central” view of the media on the far-right. To the people who proclaim that everybody should have a platform in the name of free speech, that we should allow Tommy Robinson to be able to preach whatever he likes, that everything’s up for debate: F**k you. You’re enabling these hate preachers, who radicalise terrorists to kill.
Free speech doesn’t mean you don’t have to accept the consequences of what you say. It also doesn’t mean you deserve a platform to speak as a divine right. If you are preaching hate, you should be de-platformed, and let’s not get lost in some philosophical stuff about “Who defines hate?” – Spectator journalist Rod Liddle literally wrote that ‘there is not nearly enough Islamophobia in the Tory Party’. This is a prominent, well-respected journalist who has appeared several times on Question Time. Nigel Farage was constantly on Question Time a few years ago, and was given constant media attention, all the while he was never even elected as an MP. He even crops up now, despite not even being a member of a political party. This is the man who defended Donald Trump’s blatant hate speech warning of ‘wholly Muslim areas’.
Not to mention the rampant Islamophobia within our print media, and even many mainstream online publications:
Credit: Zach Sharif
While we can all laugh off rags like The Sun and The Daily Mail, we need to take this discrimination seriously. Firstly, organisations such as these pour hate into millions of their readers, even if you’re not one of them. Even if you don’t share these opinions, these headlines and media portrayals take effect. Constantly seeing the word ‘terrorist’ along with a brown face imprints itself onto your mind, as it’s designed to do. It takes a lot for the word to be attributed to a white face, despite the greatest threat to national security being white, far-right extremism, at least in the United States.
Institutionally, the Conservative Party has a massive problem with Islamophobia. Former party chair Baroness Warsi has been calling for an inquiry into this for 2 years. Earlier this month, without warning, the Tories suspended 14 members on these grounds. This looks like they have decisively and swiftly acted, but they’ve ignored this for 2 years, and consistently turned a blind eye. Boris Johnson faced an internal inquiry over his burka comments, and was cleared, on the grounds he was ‘respectful and tolerant’.
I’m tying all this together because it’s all the same stuff globally. Anti-Muslim preaching radicalises terrorists, in the same way that Isis propaganda radicalises young Muslims, and this is heartbreaking. Muslims are the most persecuted people in the world at the moment. Muslims are being massacred by Isis in Iraq and Syria, by US drones and other terror groups in Pakistan, West Africa, Afghanistan, the list goes on. In what is left of Palestine, the Israeli government is genocidally wiping out Muslims, and has been doing so for the last 72 years. In China, 1 million Muslims are currently held in internment camps. Remind you of anything, anyone? Across the world, this is truly frightening.
I haven’t even mentioned the rhetoric in the United States. Donald Trump is obviously a huge instigator in this, but there’s so much more. In the US, Islamophobia is rife and it dominates political discourse. What is the Muslim population in America? 1%. The message of a Muslim ban is, of course, the biggest gift Isis and terrorists globally could hope for. Their propaganda to young Muslims is that you’re not wanted and the West hates you. Trump agrees with this, and is entirely complicit in the deaths of countless Muslims as a result. But it wins votes.
The same kind of hate that fosters the drive to kill 49 innocent, defenceless worshippers sends young men to Syria, or leads them to bomb civilians. So what can we do? You have a voice, use it. Especially if you come from an environment where there aren’t many Muslims, where Britain First rhetoric goes unchecked. On social media, if you see this rhetoric – call it out. A lot of people refrain from these issues because they don’t know too much about it, aren’t Muslim and don’t want to get involved in anything political. But we need you. I appreciate everybody who is reading this – but most of you don’t need to hear this message. That’s why the conversation can’t end here. If you hear a friend going on about Muslims, ask them why they think that way. If facts and figures won arguments, nobody would be prejudiced. People change their minds through relationships with people. A 5 minute conversation with a friend is worth a thousand times more than an hour researching statistics. Encourage those friends to speak to Muslims and to find out more for themselves, and to your Muslim friends – look out for them. When something like this happens around the world, they will know about it and will be feeling the pain.
In times like this, we have to come together. Love will beat hate, but it just needs a push. We have to keep talking, and never stop.