Post Christchurch, many Muslims fear threats of physical and verbal abuse

Several British political parties have reported incidents of Islamophobia. EPA
Several British political parties have reported incidents of Islamophobia. EPA

Barely hours after the horrific massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, a Muslim man in east London was called “terrorist” and attacked with a hammer, leaving him with head injuries. In Berlin, a pregnant woman was punched in the belly by a man who abused her for wearing a headscarf. Three mosques were attacked with sledgehammers in Birmingham, a British city with a large Muslim population. The imam heralded a hero after the Finsbury Park mosque attack in London in 2017, who stood over the perpetrator until police arrived, has been spat at.

Less headline-grabbing but just as disturbing, one mother told me how parents in her child’s school playground were openly discussing how the New Zealand killings were “payback” for Muslims. Facebook groups have had comments along the lines of “the best thing about the Christchurch shootings is that Muslim kids were killed. This means they can never grow up to kill us.”

For those following Islam around the world, simply being Muslim means physical and verbal abuse has become a frightening staple of daily life. Islamophobic attacks have been rising at an alarming rate in every corner of the world.

In the UK where I live, religiously motivated hate-crime rose 40 per cent last year, of which half was directed at Muslims.

The occurrence of such incidents immediately after Friday’s shootings makes them particularly chilling.

As many Muslims wrote, it could have been any one of us – at a mosque, on a Friday, at prayer time. Going to the mosque on Fridays is part of the fabric of life for Muslims, wherever you are in the world. The massacre was designed to create maximum carnage among people at their most peaceful and vulnerable. The message was loud and clear: we are coming for you. It’s a message that has been broadcast to the planet – literally. Facebook has revealed that just under 200 people watched the massacre live for 17 minutes. It was another 12 minutes before the video was reported. Altogether, it was viewed by about 4,000 people before it was taken down but is still being shared on sites on the dark web.

Like many of my peers, I have felt shocked and numb in a way that I never have before, really frightened to my core. On the streets, I wonder about those walking past me: who bears me ill-will? Who wants me dead?

I don’t want to have these thoughts. I feel distraught that I am looking at people this way. And what makes me even more upset is that is what the perpetrators want.

I’m fighting it by working my way towards anger and determination instead. This event was so unequivocal that there is a clarity for Muslims: that it is time, once and for all, to confront and end all the obfuscation, denials and dismissal of Islamophobia.

It is real. It exists. Muslims are not making this up.

To address the problem, it must first be given its accurate name. Yet even this seemingly simple step in the face of the darkest of days for Muslims was already being denied within hours of the massacre.

One right-wing UK magazine explicitly said: “This is not Islamophobia”. Another leading UK paper proffered the headline “A law against Islamophobia is a terrible idea”. Beneath the headlines were semantics about whether such moves would shut down the ability to criticise Islam, or whether the experiences of Muslims were on a par with other forms of hatred. Or the haters’ last resort: that it is rational to have a phobia of Islam. I wonder if they’d have had the nerve to say that to victims of the massacre and their families?

At play has been the subtle blaming of Muslims for the course of events. Australian senator Fraser Anning cited “the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place”. And on the BBC, a Muslim interviewee was asked whether one of the causes of the massacre was Muslims not criticising Islamist extremism. It seems being a Muslim victim has to be justified more than simply being a victim.

But there is hope. Communities have united in a sense of love, comfort and solidarity. Many ordinary, decent people have been horrified by the reality of Islamophobia. However, the challenge ahead is finding new strategies to address Islamophobia, starting with calling it out when we see it.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

Updated: March 21, 2019 08:02 PM


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