Who Massacred Christchurch?
At around midday local time, on Friday 15 March, white radical violent extremist, Brent Tarrant, walked into Masjid Al Noor, a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire, slaughtering 51 people as the current number stands. The self-proclaimed right-wing Australian terrorist premeditated the savage attack that indiscriminately attacked men, women and children, for two years, choosing communal jum’aa prayers when the congregation would be concentrated in the mosque.
In his ‘manifesto’, or better termed, a rant, Tarrant claims that he seeks to defend white Europe from non-white immigration, something he calls ‘an assault on the European people’. He claimed influence and ‘blessing’ from a group called ‘reborn Knights Templar’, who were supposedly also linked to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, invoking attitudes from the Crusades. He asserts that the ‘white man’ must ‘show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands’. He also referred to Turks as ‘roaches’, and called German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Turkish President Erdogan, and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, ‘high profile enemies’, who he urged people to kill.
The white supremacist terrorist espoused anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiments, calling for deportations and genocide of European Muslims who he called the ‘invaders’ His words are shocking and hurtful, ;however, they are not new sentiments. Neither Tarrant's ideas, nor his phrases, nor his targets are strangers to a mainstream media that has, for decades, furiously stoked up animosity towards, and rejection of, immigrants, people of colour and Muslims. The terrorist did not operate in a bubble; he is part of a coordinated attack on Muslims and immigrants which seeks to divide communities, and scapegoat particular groups.
This is easily evidenced by Tarrant’s own words. On why he attacked Muslims, he wrote, ‘They are the most despised group of invaders in the West, attacking them receives the greatest level of support.’ And he’s not wrong. Right-wing pundits, politicians and journalists have built whole platforms on the back of the stigmatisation, and even the dehumanisation of Muslims. Recently, the number of these has only grown, as parties embracing xenophobic and bigoted positions have gained traction across Europe. Interestingly, the countries with the fastest growing far-right parties, popularised on their hatred of immigrants and Muslims, also have the smallest proportion of Muslims as part of their populations. For instance, in Hungary, where the population of Muslims is a mere 5,600 (0.06%), 72% of Hungarians hold Islam in a negative light. Similarly, in Poland, many feel threatened by an allegedly rapidly growing Muslim population. However, many Poles are under the impression that Muslims comprise 7% of the population, while in fact, the proportion is less than 0.1%. These figures and groups are largely to credit with the perpetuation of the notion at the basis of the terrorist manifesto, of ‘white genocide’, and a ‘Muslim takeover’.
The rebranded National Rally (previously National Front), Bill O’Reilly,Katie Hopkins, Fox News, Hungarian President Viktor Orban, and the Daily Mail, are some of the usual suspects for feeding off, usually falsified, controversy. However, the more dangerous culprits are those not Suspected.
The brand of commentators, broadcasters and politicians who posture as progressive, open-minded liberals have become, in recent times, much more threatening because they have normalised many of the notions that had previously been carried only by the right and far-right of the political spectrum. Often, the subtle messaging or the omission of descriptions plays a central role in shifting national perspectives, as well as reflecting the views of audiences who usually pride themselves on being well-informed. Not only do these centrists and liberals implicitly partake in advancing an islamophobic narrative, but also explicitly platform, thus legitimising, figures with little relevance, whose only accolades are their hysterical beliefs and hyperbolic exclamations.
Examples of damning narratives advanced by ‘liberal’ are in abundance. One of the most disturbing ones, with a great long-term effect on public consciousness, is surrounding the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ plot in majority Muslim Birmingham schools. The story broke in 2014 by the Timeswith headline ‘Islamist plot to take over schools’. What followed was a thorough attack on Muslims in Birmingham by the paper, which published 159 articles, compared to 19 from the Daily Mail and only 6 from The Sun, with The Times claiming the city was ‘a hotbed for Islamists’, schools undergoing an ‘Islamist takeover’, and that ‘Muslim radicals threaten to kill teachers’. The widely considered high-brow liberal and centrist broadsheet was hasty to besmirch Birmingham’s Muslim community, despite the fact that, as revealed by the Guardian in 2017, many of the presumptions published were false. The letter that revealed the so-called ‘conspiracy’ was a proven fake, the allegations within it were never proven, and the 14 accused teachers had their cases overturned, dropped or dismissed. But these facts do not have as much prevalence or impact as the over 300 articles in the British press written about the ‘plot’, with an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims.
In a picture allegedly posted on Twitter by the Christchurch terrorist of his ammunition, and in video footage of the shooting on Facebook, the words ‘for Rotherham’ could be seen on one of his guns. This was in apparent reference to child grooming gangs in the UK town. The coverage of Rotherham is another example of the systematic vilification of people of colour and Muslims. The scandal, as well as the report Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation: Dissecting Grooming Gangs by the Quilliam Foundation profiled perpetrators of the crimes as ‘of Pakistani origin with Muslim heritage. The media jumped on the ethnic and supposed religious backgrounds of the men, ignoring the white perpetrators involved in the same crime, popularising the term ‘Asian grooming gangs’- ‘Asian’ and ‘Muslim’ being used interchangeably. Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, also joined in on the attack on ethnicity, tweeting about ‘sick Asian paedophiles’and feeding the false narrative of ‘no-go areas’. Grooming gangs being attributed to Muslims and Asians became normalised with the coverage of Rotherham, backed up by Quilliam’s claims, which expert Ella Cockbain criticises as being ‘a case study in bad science: riddled with errors, inconsistencies, a glaring lack of transparency, sweeping claims and gross generalisations unfounded its own ‘data’’. Inadequate research and a marked emphasis by the media on ethnicity when the perpetrators are non-white, has contributed significantly to the perception of Muslims as a threat to the white population.
These are just examples of two more long-term issues. The coverage of everyday incidents also substantiates this shift and normalisation of far-right discourse. This is evidenced by the way in which terrorist attacks are covered when the perpetrator is an ‘Islamist’, the presentation of the Shamima Begum case and the branding of her unborn child as a ‘jihadi baby’, the lack of coverage of counterterrorism acts which are designed to racially profile and infringe on civil liberties.
Even the coverage of the terror attack at Christchurch by BBC Newsnight was challenged by many journalists, including former producer Farah Jassat. The broadcaster aired a segment asking a Muslim commentator whether or not Muslims had done enough to criticise Islamist extremism in Britain. They also platformed far-right group, Generation Identity, which was permanently banned from Facebook for breaching the social media site's policies on extremist content, the day of an attack by a far-right white supremacist. The act of even mentioning ‘Islamist extremism’ in a completely unrelated event shows the incapability of fathoming Muslims as victims, while giving airtime to extremist views, particularly at such a sensitive time, illustrate the normalisation of the far-right.
The UK’s counter-terrorism chief pointed to the mainstream media for the prevalent ‘far-right messaging’which has contributed in the radicalisation of white radical terrorists.