Last week, hundreds of people watched live on social media as a white-supremacist terrorist ruthlessly shot worshipers during Friday prayers in New Zealand. None of these people cared to report this horrific act. Instead, they preferred to remain silent and by doing so became complicit.
This act of silence is more than enough to show the level of hate that exists against Muslims in the West. To see an act of extreme violence and not report it is alarming. According to experts, stillness in the face of such brutality is nothing new; it has been always common in Western societies and has peaked more due to the stance of some leaders on the issue.
"I don't think that anti-Muslim sentiments have gained momentum in recent years. Anti-Muslim ideology and racism have always been common in Western societies," said Farid Hafez, a senior scholar at the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University.
In Hafez's opinion, the supporters of these ideologies have assumed that Muslims and Islamic values do not fit into Western societies and their values.
"In the face of these sentiments, there is a lack of understanding in the Western world on how to deal with the so-called 'Muslim question,'" Hafez said.
However, according to Todd Green, a former adviser for the State Department on Islamophobia, although it is true that these sentiments are not new to Western society, the "persistent hostility Muslims have faced since the 9/11 attacks is due in many cases to deliberate efforts by politicians and by anti-Muslim organizations and networks to manufacture and manipulate intolerance toward Muslims."
While some Western leaders are acknowledging this plague of anti-Muslim ideologies as a problem to be tackled, others are actually fueling it and pretend as if the attacks against Muslims are not terrorist actions.
"When the Charlie Hebdo terror attack occurred [in France in 2015], many Western leaders from around the world gathered to show solidarity, we did not see a similar reaction when it comes to the New Zealand attack," said Hafez while emphasizing that many Western leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump are failing to recognize inhuman actions toward Muslims.
WESTERN POLITICIANS FUEL ANTI-MUSLIM SENTIMENTS
Green defines politicians like Trump as "opportunistic" and says that they have become more explicit in targeting Muslims with harsh rhetoric and discriminatory policies. As a result, anti-Muslim ideas have become more mainstream in the past decade.
"As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said things such as 'Islam hates us.' It did not hurt his candidacy. In fact, he was able to instrumentalize Islamophobia in powerful ways, and one might argue this helped him win the election," Green said, adding that such rhetoric was unimaginable in the first couple of years after 9/11.
Craig Considine, a faculty member at the Department of Sociology at Rice University, also refers to 9/11 as a beginning point of anti-Muslim momentum and received even more attention with the emergence of Donald Trump.
"Far-right politicians and additional conservative voices around the world followed his populist and anti-Muslim lead," he underlined, while adding that the Christchurch attack might actually be a tipping point.
Green also highlighted that Trump is not alone in his ideas, giving the example of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Viktor Orban in Hungary and many of their political allies and their hateful rhetoric.
Still, Hafez also emphasized that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response to the attack was a perfect example of solidarity and leadership for all the leaders in the world to look at.
"In addition to Ardern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel released a great statement which was very progressive," he added.
NUMBER OF ATTACKS ROSE SINCE 2011 NORWAY TERRORIST ACT
However, although anti-Muslim sentiment has been a reality of Western societies for quite some time now, one can trace back recent violence to the bloody mass murder that took place in Norway in 2011, known to have inspired the attack in New Zealand.
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right political terrorist who killed eight people with a van bomb in Oslo before shooting dead 69 participants of a Labour Party Youth League summer camp on Utoya Island in 2011, became an inspiration for many future attacks since then. During the following terrorist attacks, hundreds of people lost their lives in Western countries.
In Sweden, a masked swordsman killed two and wounded another at the Kronan School in Trollhattan, on Oct. 22, 2015. The perpetrator chose the school as his target due to its high immigrant population. It was the deadliest attack on a school in Swedish history. A teacher who was stabbed during the incident succumbed to his wounds on Dec. 3, 2015, raising the death toll to three.
On July 22, 2016, 10 people, including the perpetrator, were killed and 36 others were injured during a mass shooting in the vicinity of the Olympia shopping mall in the Moosach district of Munich, Germany. The perpetrator expressed his admiration for Germany's right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and that he was "very nationalistic," repeatedly uttering anti-Turkish abuse.
In Switzerland, a man yelling "get out of our country," opened fire on people at an Islamic center in Central Zürich on Dec. 19, 2016. The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland issued a statement suggesting it should serve as an "alarm" regarding the threat posed by increasing Islamophobia in Swiss society.
On January 29, 2017, a mass shooter killed six people and injured 19 at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Philippe Couillard called the shooting a terrorist attack, but the perpetrator was not charged with terrorism. The incident was classified as a hate crime and an anti-Muslim attack. A man fatally stabbed two people and injured a third on a MAX Light Rail train in Portland in the United States on May 26, 2017. He was confronted for reportedly "yelling a gamut of anti-Muslim and anti-everything slurs." The Portland Police Bureau's report said the man was shouting "hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions," and directed his inflammatory remarks at two young Muslim women, one of whom was wearing a hijab.
In the U.K., a man drove into a crowd of Muslim worshipers leaving a mosque in London after prayer on June 19, 2017. The incident, in which a person was killed and 11 others were injured, was deemed terrorism. Several civil rights groups and politicians claimed the perpetrator was motivated by anti-Muslim ideologies.
According to Green, one must keep in mind the fact that "the most recent attack in New Zealand represents a pattern of white men driven by white supremacist ideologies attacking racial and religious minorities in Western nations."
In Considine's opinion, there is no doubt that anti-Muslim ideologies are now part of mainstream society in countries like the United States, the U.K., France, and Australia, where anti-Muslim rhetoric is grasped by politicians, political forces and religious leaders. He explains the reason why Western societies are attracted to such inhuman ideas is the fact that politicians are presenting them with a clearly identified scapegoat (Muslims) to blame for the very real problems within their countries.
However, despite all these bloody attacks taking place, according to Hafez, there have been different kinds of anti-Muslim, racist movements in the West during recent years. One type includes new-right extremist ideologies which are organized through the dense network of the internet. It represents a very specific ideology based on radicalization and specific use of language developed in online forums and websites among young people. This is the one that both Breivik and Tarrant held as their ideologies and took action in accordance with that.
The second type is mainstream sentiments and grassroots movements in society fostered by contemporary events such as the refugee crisis. Although these two waves are different, they go hand in hand and feed each other, said Hafez.
According to Considine, although these types of terrorist attacks are "absolutely preventable," the solution might not be so easy since the extremist ideologies are "complex and deeply rooted" in Western societies.
"The response to right-wing and white supremacist terrorist attacks in Western nations has been inadequate," Green said, underlining that most Western governments have not adjusted to the threat of right-wing and white supremacist violence.
"In a number of instances, they have even refused to accept that there is a right-wing or white supremacist problem," he added.
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