#ChristChurch: To hate or not to hate?

Eid prayer at Lakemba Mosque, reported to be Australia's largest mosque, which regularly features around 40,000 people.


#ChristChurch. Fifty congregants murdered. Dozens wounded. The martyrs are Muslim worshippers and the murderer is an Australian born, white supremacist terrorist. The notion of discomfort for readers may lie in my referencing of the congregants as martyrs and the perpetrator as a terrorist. After all, Muslim terrorists has been normalised. White terrorism is an anomaly – or so it is projected. Yet, in the US, attacks from white supremacists grew by 182% in 2018 and the Anti-Defamation League report concluded that “every act of violent extremist killing which occurred in the United States in 2018 was related to far-right political ideology.” Although an act of terror, premeditated on an ideology of supremacy, the mainstream media refers to a “mass-killer”, not a terrorist, writes QURAYSHA ISMAIL SOOLIMAN

White people can never be terrorists, only Muslims are. Also, the humanity of Muslim perpetrators is never considered, but for white perpetrators, it is the first recourse. This happens by shaping and forming perceptions and responses through very deliberate mechanisms of interaction, learning or communication. Although perceptions may have a certain element of truth or verifiable detail, promoting a biased view, especially about Muslims and Islam, often excludes other perspectives. For instance, a perspective often ignored is the view that radicalisation is caused by ideology derived from an interpretation of religion, while far-right terrorism is explained as a mental health issue or caused by an individual with psychopath tendencies.

Thus, the lead line in the Daily Mirror referred to the murderer as an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer.” We are thus enjoined to think of the ‘little blonde fatherless boy’ by the Daily Mail which normally preaches ‘personal responsibility.’ Please note that Shamima, an actual child at the time she became ISIS- bride was always a monster, never a little girl.

The emotion of white perpetrators of violence is prioritised in seeking justifications. I am not seeking justifications. What I am questioning is the double standards applied to the being of the black perpetrator as opposed to that of the white perpetrator. In both instances the language is sculpted to convey two very different perceptions. This is because when the mental health of white perpetrators is invoked it serves as a euphemism for denying the effect and consequences of racialised and political/economic violence. In contrast, the invoking of religion in the discourse of the Muslim perpetrator serves as a justification for the systemic nature of racialised and political/economic violence and exploitation of the Other, cloaked in the language of liberal democratic freedoms and rights. But rights are contested. Especially for Muslims and black people.

Which brings me to the second notion of discomfort, that of referring to the murdered as martyrs. This is how Muslims give context to wasted lives. To destroyed realities. Can Muslims do that? Wait, scratch that. Are Muslims allowed to give context to their realities? It seems that such a privilege is reserved for whiteness and white fragility. Thus, issues related to Muslims are dominated in the mainstream western media by comments given “predominantly [by] white men…” where explanations are “driven by the belief that Islam itself is an area of intellectual or professional expertise that non-Muslim white men are more adept to speak on than Muslims themselves.”

Research has shown that when audiences are exposed to specific news bites and tit bits of information during a breaking news coverage, these details are more likely to persist in their understanding of the story even if later bulletins affirm the contestation of certain facts in the breaking news coverage. So it is not coincidental the way in which news stories are framed in relation to violent incidences involving perpetrators identified as Muslim as opposed to the way they are framed when the perpetrator is a white terrorist.

What is central to this is that this is not an isolated incident, perpetrated by a mentally ill person. Even the stance of naming it an act of terror hides the system of structural racism perpetuated by a political class, the media, the military, police, judicial system and think tanks specifically operating to promote the “fifth cluster of Islamophobia” which refers to the pervasive and continuous referencing of Muslims and Islam disparagingly in the public domain. Islamophobia is racism.  Additionally, Muslim deaths are not given the personal interest features that are afforded to white/non-Muslim victims. The bodies are counted but the stories of the lives lost are ignored, projecting an illusion that these lives are not grievable.

In all of this, the question innermost in the suffering of the Muslim community is, “To hate or not to hate?” To which Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim Public Intellectual, replies:

“While ‘Allahu Akbar’ has been transformed into a slogan of Muslim extremism, we see ordinary Muslims coming peacefully to the mosque and being killed by a far right white supremacist extremist… We find here the true meaning of ‘Allahu Akbar’… Allahu Akbar is never a permission to kill, but rather it is the liberating power to endure, to resist and to forgive… Which literally means ‘You will not have our hatred and, with patience and dignity, we you offer our prayers in peace. New Zealand: Allahu Akbar!’”

Dr. Quraysha Ismail Sooliman is a Postdoc research fellow, Faculty of Humanities/ Mellon Foundation Public Intellectual Project, University of Pretoria

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons