Christchurch

Raeesa Ashique - 4B Electrical
Posted on: March 25, 2019

I am still heartbroken by the events of Friday, March 15, when shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killed fifty people and injured dozens more.

The New York Times published an article with profiles of the victims. When I read this list, I cried. The youngest victim, Mucad Ibrahim, was just three years old.

For anyone who is unaware: a mosque – or “masjid”, in Arabic – is not only a place of worship.

It is a space for the community. I have attended events at my masjid ranging from discussion groups to tea parties to ping pong tournaments. Particularly during Ramadan, the masjid unites the community: we gather in the evening to break our fasts and pray.

It is a space for education. When I was a child, I attended classes at the masjid to memorize the Quran and learn about the religion. As a teenager, I taught classes, passing on my knowledge to younger children.

It is a safe space, where a Muslim can always return to God and rediscover spirituality and purpose. When I am scared or lost or sad, I know I can go to the masjid to pray, and it will bring me inner peace.

The sickness, the anger, and the hatred that could possess someone to invade such a space is incomprehensible. To shoot down innocent people is despicable. But to shoot down innocent people during prayer, in their house of worship…I have no words.

May all of the victims rest in peace.

I am writing this article backwards, by starting with my personal response. Let me now give you the facts.

What happened

Fifty people were killed at two mosques – Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Masjid – in Christchurch, New Zealand. 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, who self-identifies as a white supremacist, indiscriminately opened fire on worshippers during the congregational prayer, livestreaming the attack on Facebook.

According to witnesses who spoke with TVNZ: “a gunman – dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun – came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there.”

He methodically began in the men’s prayer room before proceeding to the women’s section. Witness Ramzan Ali said, “The mosque has segments, you know, he shot inside, went to another room, shot there. There is a ladies’ section, he went and shot them.”

After five minutes of shooting, he drove about five kilometres to another mosque in the suburb of Linwood, and opened fire on about 100 people who were praying inside.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that a number of firearms were recovered from both mosques, and two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were found in the suspect’s car and neutralized by the military.

Witness Farid Ahmed, who is wheelchair-bound and was in the parking lot during the shooting, spoke with Al Jazeera: “I was hearing shooting after shooting. After about ten minutes, I thought the shooter has left. I pushed myself to get inside the mosque and it was unbelievable. I saw in the main room…more than twenty people, some of them dead, some screaming…I saw on the floor hundreds of bullet shells.”

Before the shooting, Tarrant published an 87-page racist manifesto on Twitter, which he also emailed to the office of the prime minister, written in a question-and-answer format. He called the document “The Great Replacement”, a phrase which originated in France and has been adopted by European anti-immigration extremists. His overall goal is to prevent Muslims and non-white people from taking over Western society.

The prime minister confirmed that her office received the document nine minutes before the attacks, and it was forwarded to security services within two minutes.

Tarrant was influenced by the ideas and methods of Anders Breivik, a far-right Norwegian terrorist who murdered 77 people in 2011. Breivik wrote a 1518-page manifesto which inspired copycat extremists such as Christopher Hasson, a lieutenant in the US coastguard, who was arrested last month for an alleged plot against black and liberal politicians and media figures.

The police commissioner confirmed that Tarrant was not known in advance to New Zealand or Australian security services.

This leads to a lot of difficult questions: Tarrant openly supported white supremacy and had reportedly been planning the attack for months, yet he was not on a police watch list; he easily obtained a gun license and bought a collection of military-style semiautomatic weapons.

Responses from politicians

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised for her swift and appropriate action in wake of this tragedy. She labeled it as an act of terrorism and tweeted: “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our own migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.”

Ardern also offered emotional and financial support, visiting the communities and promising to cover funeral costs of all fifty victims, and introduced a new gun control policy.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Tarrant “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”

Other world leaders have expressed their condolences, including Donald Trump, Theresa May, the Queen, and the Pope.

Solidarity

New Zealand has shown support for the Muslim community in a beautiful and admirable way.

One week after the attacks, Friday prayer was held in Hagley Park opposite Al Noor Masjid. Hundreds of Muslims were joined by thousands of others, including the prime minister. In his sermon, survivor Imam Gamal Fouda said: “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken…We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us.”

Ardern also made an address, saying: “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.” She then quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain.”

The Muslim call to prayer, or “adhan” in Arabic, was broadcast on national television, followed by two minutes of silence.

Non-Muslim women in Christchurch were seen wearing a headscarf – “hijab” – in solidarity.

The role of the media

As most Muslims can attest, we are unfairly portrayed by the media.

Western news coverage of Muslims is often negative and highly stereotypical. Violent crimes committed by Muslims are emphasized, while violent crimes against Muslims are either downplayed or ignored. According to research from the University of Alabama, terrorist acts committed by Muslims receive 357% more news attention than terrorist acts committed by non-Muslims.

Even in this time of pain, Australian senator Fraser Anning suggested a link between Muslim immigration and violence. “The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. … It is the religious equivalent of fascism. And just because the followers of this savage belief were not the killers in this instance does not make them blameless.”

Ardern called the lawmaker’s comment “a disgrace”.

The rise of white supremacy

While US media and politicians talk incessantly about Islamic terrorism, white supremacist terrorism is far more prevalent. According to a recent study, two-thirds of terrorist attacks in the US are by the far-right. Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that far-right violence is unambiguously linked to white supremacy.

The New York Times also released a report saying the US’s “domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism”.

The pervasiveness of white supremacy within political parties is exacerbating the problem. This has been demonstrated several times in recent years: white nationalists influenced the 2016 Brexit vote by spreading fear of immigrants. US President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians have also been linked to white supremacy.

To make matters worse: mass shootings in New Zealand are extremely rare. Their deadliest shooting in modern history was in 1990, when David Gray shot and killed thirteen people. An attack of this magnitude in a relatively non-violent country illustrates the far reach of these ideologies, also suggesting that the internet plays a key role in perpetuating this racism.

While sites such as 4chan and 8chan intentionally unite the white supremacists, even the social media giants make it possible for these ideas to spread. Tarrant live-streamed the attack on his own social media accounts and posted the manifesto on Twitter. Both were disseminated across various outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, spreading his message while bypassing traditional news outlets.

Facebook said that it deleted 1.5 million copies of the video within the first 24 hours and was working to also remove “all edited versions of the video that do not show graphic content.”

This realizes an inherent problem with social media: the footage became propaganda, drawing attention to the statements in the manifesto.

Mr. Feldman from the Center for the Analysis of the Radical Right said that this situation leaves media outlets with an ethical dilemma: “The coverage will be wall-to-wall today, and tomorrow it will set someone else off.”

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