March 21, 2019 Abdul Haqq

Restless Knights & Crescent Moons: Terror in Christchurch, NZ

Every Friday, millions of Muslims congregate in mosques around the world to listen to sermons delivered by their respective imams. Jumu’ah or, Friday Prayer as it is more commonly known, is a time for spiritual guidance and personal reflection. On Friday 15th March, the world witnessed – many via livestream – the violation of 2 of these religious sanctuaries in Christchurch New Zealand as a white supremacist terrorist – Brenton Tarrant – calmly entered and randomly murdered 50 innocent worshippers while wounding a similar number. The dead and injured comprised men women and children – the youngest being only 3 years old.[1] As I visited my local mosque, prayed and then awaited the weekly sermon, thoughts of the attacks earlier that morning (my local time) continued to preoccupy my mind. While sitting beside fellow attendees who were either reading the Quran, praying or quietly adjuring their exuberant young children to pay attention, it was difficult to comprehend how such serenity was so cruelly shattered just a few hours earlier in the Al Noor and Linwood Avenue mosques.

World leaders were swift to condemn the latest terrorist atrocity;[2] however, the emergence of voices, such as Australian Senator, Fraser Anning, who appeared to implicitly support the attacks, caused outrage:[3]

“Scott Morrison condemned Anning’s comments which blamed the Islamic community for the mosque shooting, saying they are “appalling and they’re ugly and they have no place in Australia”.

“I want to absolutely and completely denounce the statements made from Senator Anning in all of the comments that he has made in his conflation of this horrendous terror attack with issues on immigration and Islamic faith,” Mr Morrison said in a press conference on Saturday.” [4]

Senator Anning’s statement coincided with news of a 73-page manifesto circulated by Tarrant shortly before embarking on his murderous attacks and inadvertently afforded credence to the latter’s unsophisticated polemic. After providing what must be considered mere lip service against the terrorist attacks, Anning proceeded to contradict his opposition to them by stating:

“…whilst this kind of violent vigilantism can never be justified, what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence.”

“As always, the left-wing politicians and media will rush to claim that the causes of today’s shootings lie with gun laws or those who hold nationalist views but this is all clichéd nonsense.”

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

“Let us be clear, while Muslims have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators. World-wide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale.”

The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.”

“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.”

“As we read in [the New Testament of the Bible] Matthew 26:52, ‘all they that take the sword, shall perish by the sword’ and those who follow a violent religion that calls them to murder us, cannot be too surprised when someone takes them at their word and responds in kind.”[5]

It is necessary to reproduce the statement almost in its entirety to highlight its abhorrent content and provide context. The polemical and inflammatory views – issued on the day of the attacks – reveal the extent to which white supremacist and Islamophobic beliefs are embedded within the fabric of many western societies today. In the UK alone, a total of 39 Conservative party members were recently suspended as a result of their Islamophobic comments online. The severity of these, from members of the current government, is a cause for concern as they mirror sentiments not too dissimilar from Senator Anning’s. For example, remarks like; “I was going through a few magazines the other day down at the local Mosque. I was really enjoying myself. Then the rifle jammed,” are nothing short of reprehensible.[6] When elected officials not only possess these beliefs but also advocate them, toxic environments, which enable atrocities like those committed in Christchurch, are easier to cultivate:

“…hate groups in the US have continued to surge in the Trump era, and that the president himself has helped to mainstream hate by “fueling fears of a white minority country.”” [7]

In fact, risks of copycat attacks have increased, as have other emboldened attempts of violence toward Muslims and their property:

“Five mosques in Birmingham have been targeted in a string of violent attacks after having their windows smashed with sledgehammers, prompting a counter-terror investigation.” [8]

A Return to the Dark Ages? 

Senator Fraser Anning’s comments reveal religious and bigoted preconceptions that are inherently flawed. Observations regarding Muslims as the usual perpetrators of violence on an industrial scale are easily refuted with empirical evidence that unequivocally concludes that right wing extremism poses more of a risk than its religious counterpart:

“Radical right wing terrorism is on the rise… And since 2008, terrorist attacks on the U.S. soil carried out by right-wing extremist groups, including white supremacists, outnumber those by Islamic jihadists by two to one. That is a statistical fact.[9]

Senator Anning’s religious reference has deeper historical roots and lies at the heart of most white supremacist manifestos. The first crusade was launched at Clermont, France on 27th November 1095. Pope Urban II informed his audience of churchmen, knights and common folk that the Turks, (Ottomans) who were “…despicable, degenerate and enslaved by demons…” had overrun the Holy Land and were massacring Christians. He called for all to “… hasten to exterminate this vile race from our lands…” and liberate Jerusalem.[10] It is significant to note the climate during that period and the reason for it being called the Dark Ages:

“Some scholars perceive Europe as having been plunged into darkness when the Roman Empire fell in around 500 AD. The Middle Ages are often said to be dark because of a supposed lack of scientific and cultural advancement. During this time, feudalism was the dominant political system.” [11]

When comparing the above period with today’s socio-economic and moral decline across Europe, as well as other western societies, it is possible to identify some of the reasons behind existing xenophobic climates. Undoubtedly, nationalism is a contributory factor behind the type of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment witnessed in the US, UK and other parts of the world:

Nationalists are concerned above all by the fortunes of their own tribe. International co-operation does not come naturally to them. And yet, despite this, the world is seeing the emergence of a “nationalist international”. Nationalist political parties are on the rise across the west — and they are taking inspiration from each other and working together… The nationalists’ dominant issue is usually immigration – and the need to defend the nation against “swarms” of migrants from outside the west.”[12]

Pope Urban II’s strategy to redirect attention from the societal malaise at the time and to unite behind a common enemy – the alien ‘other’ – continues to be an effective one today:

At the Council of Clermont, in France, at which several hundred clerics and noblemen gathered, Urban delivered a rousing speech summoning rich and poor alike to stop their in-fighting and embark on a righteous war to help their fellow Christians in the East and take back Jerusalem. Urban denigrated the Muslims, exaggerating stories of their anti-Christian acts…” [13]

Senator Anning’s attribution of Australian and New Zealand woes toward Muslim immigrants echo the above sentiments of Pope Urban II. The end result of such vitriolic propaganda is usually catastrophic for the victims but considered victorious for the perpetrators. Nevertheless, they constitute what can only be considered crimes against humanity:

“Those [crusaders] who survived the march broke into the Holy City on 15thJuly 1099. What followed was no ordinary slaughter. The piles of Muslim dead were “almost as high as houses.” One crusader, known as Raymond of Toulouse wrote back to Pope Urban and reported that “…our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”” [14]

This historic ‘industrial scale’ killing of Muslims in the above description has been surpassed many times since, particularly in the 20th century, as was witnessed during the US invasion of Iraq – precisely 16 years ago on 20th March 2003. For the sake of brevity, this example should suffice from an international perspective; however, in order to provide a more localised counter-narrative to Senator Anning’s remarks, his forefathers’ genocide of aboriginal inhabitants must also be referenced:

“After European settlers arrived in 1788, thousands of aborigines died from diseases; colonists systematically killed many others. At first contact, there were over 250,000 aborigines in Australia. The massacres ended in the 1920 leaving no more than 60,000.” [15]

It is invidious to suggest that either Muslims or for that matter,  a multitude of other faiths, cultures and ethnicities possess a monopoly of killing on ‘industrial scales’ without considering the murderous exploits of Europe and the US. Senator Anning and other nationalist, far right supremacist extremists would do well to reflect on this historical fact.

They are us: An example of effective & compassionate leadership

Jacinda Ardern is still relatively new in her post as PM; however, her decisive and empathetic leadership should serve as an example to leaders around the world. While awaiting further information as the suspected perpetrator/s were being sought, she initially described the attacks as ‘unprecedented’. Once aware of the full scale of the crime, her succeeding declaration was emphatic:

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.”[16]

 She was unfaltering in her resolve to reassure fellow New Zealanders, stating immediately after the attacks; “…we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it.” [17]

Some media correctly acknowledged:

“By so swiftly and decisively describing the shooting as a “terrorist attack”, Ms Ardern seemed to show an awareness and consideration of the fact that many people feel officials are reluctant to use this word when an attacker is white, even if that attack is politically motivated.” [18]

In direct contrast to the impotence witnessed in the US surrounding gun law legislation, Ardern acted swiftly to amend her own country’s regulations by prohibiting all military style automatic guns and assault weapons.[19] It must be reiterated that this occurred within a week of the devastating attacks. Her overall response has won plaudits everywhere and the clarity with which she continues to address existing challenges, while setting new precedents, is remarkable. For example, seldom do victims and survivors of terrorism receive immediate focus; it is usually the perpetrator who achieves notoriety, with their entire life being placed under microscopic investigation and reporting. PM Ardern stated during a parliamentary session shortly after the attacks:

“He sought many things from his act of terror but one was notoriety, that is why you will never hear me mention his name… He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.

And to others, I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we, in New Zealand, will give nothing – not even his name.” [20]

Her authoritative comments resonate with the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres’ statement in 2018 when commemorating victims and their families during an International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism:

“We can all learn from their experiences. Communities around the world are demonstrating their resilience in response to terrorist attacks. They are countering terrorism and violent extremism in their everyday lives, in their schools, markets and places of worship. 

Supporting victims and their families is a moral imperative, based on promoting, protecting and respecting their human rights. Caring for victims and survivors and amplifying their voices helps to challenge the narrative of hatred and division that terrorism aims to spread. We need to provide victims with long-term assistance, including financial, legal, medical and psychosocial support. When we lift up the victims and survivors of terrorism, listen to their voices, respect their rights and provide them with support and justice, we are honouring our common bonds, and reducing the lasting damage done by terrorists to individuals, families and communities.” [21]

Conclusion

PM Ardern continues to lead by example, announcing that the Muslim call to prayer will be officially aired following 2 minutes of silence in memory of the deceased:

“I know from many there is a desire to show support to the Muslim community as they return to mosques, particularly on Friday. There is also a desire amongst New Zealanders to mark the week that has passed since the terrorist attack. To acknowledge this, there will be a two-minute silence on Friday. We will also broadcast nationally via TVNZ and RadioNZ the Call to Prayer.” [22]

Heroic accounts have emerged about a few of the deceased who placed the safety of others above their own. There are lessons to be learned from the stoicism of bereaved family members and friends – and New Zealanders who have united to support them. Many have awoken to the devastating effect of white supremacist extremism and, although there may be sleepless nights ahead, together they will find strength in witnessing the consolidating splendour of future crescent moons:

“Say: “Verily, my prayer, my sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded…” [23]

 

 

 

 

[1]Wolfe, N; Molloy, S & Bedo, S: ‘Dozens dead after gunman opens fire on Christchurch mosques in ‘unprecedented’ terror attack’, News.com.au, 16thMarch 2019: https://www.news.com.au/world/pacific/police-respond-to-shooting-inside-christchurch-mosque/news-story/db75a7aa031b8db068ca7c7e44c4728e#.582vo

[2]Jones, S: ‘World leaders condemn ‘sickening’ terrorism in New Zealand’, The Guardian, 15thMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/15/world-leaders-condemn-sickening-terrorism-in-new-zealand

[3]Young, M; Molloy, S & Smith, R: ‘Egg Boy speaks after egging Senator Frasing Anning for lashing out at Muslims’, News.com.au, 18thMarch 2019: https://amp.news.com.au/national/queensland/politics/politician-lashes-out-at-muslims-after-christchurch-shootings-they-are-the-perpetrators/news-story/8e3f11fe73821dc3e65d75432ac76f2e

[4]Ibid

[5]Officially released statement of Senator Fraser Anning, Senator for Queensland Australia, dated 15thMarch 2019.

[6]Khan, S: ‘Conservatives suspend 25 more members for posting Islamophobic or racist comments on Facebook’, Independent, 20thMarch 2019: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-islamophobia-members-suspended-racist-conservatives-a8830071.html

[7]Wilson, J: ‘US hate groups have seen ideas enter mainstream in Trump era, report finds’, The Guardian, 20thFebruary 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/20/trump-hate-groups-ideas-spread-report-southern-poverty-law-center?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[8]Swerling, G: ‘Counter-terror police investigating after five Birmingham mosques attacked with sledgehammer’, The Telegraph, 21stMarch 2019: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/03/21/counter-terror-police-investigating-man-attacked-four-birmingham/

[9]Nichols, C: ‘Who carries out more attacks on US soil: Right wing or Islamist extremists?’ Politifact, 31stAugust 2017: https://www.politifact.com/california/article/2017/aug/31/who-carries-out-more-terror-attacks-us-soil-right-/

[10]‘Pope Urban II orders first Crusade’, History: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pope-urban-ii-orders-first-crusade(accessed 21st March 2019).

[11]St. Pierre, J: ‘What caused the Dark Ages’, Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-caused-the-Dark-Ages(accessed 21st March 2019).

[12]Rachman, G: ‘Donald Trump leads a global revival of nationalism’, Financial Times, 25thJune 2018: https://www.ft.com/content/59a37a38-7857-11e8-8e67-1e1a0846c475

[13]St. Pierre, J: ‘What caused the Dark Ages’, Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-caused-the-Dark-Ages(accessed 21st March 2019).

[14]Ibid

[15]Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine; ‘Australian Aborigine’, 1992: https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/australian-aborigine(accessed 21st March 2019).

[16]Nagesh, A: ‘Jacinda Ardern: A leader with love full on display’, BBC News, 21stMarch 2019: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47630129

[17]Britton, B: ‘New Zealand PM full speech: ‘This can only be described as a terrorist attack’’, CNN, 15thMarch 2019: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/15/asia/new-zealand-jacinda-ardern-full-statement-intl/index.html

[18]Ibid

[19]Lyons, K: ‘Jacinda Ardern ban all military style automatic guns and assault weapons’, The Guardian, 21stMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/mar/21/new-zealand-shooting-jacinda-ardern-to-make-policy-announcement-live-updates?page=with:block-5c92f162e4b0a5422e63896a

[20]Wahlquist, C: ‘Ardern says she will never speak name of Christchurch suspect’, The Guardian, 19thMarch 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/19/new-zealand-shooting-ardern-says-she-will-never-speak-suspects-name

[21]Secretary General’s Message for 2018: International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism: http://www.un.org/en/events/victimsofterrorismday/messages.shtml

[22]1 News Now: Jacinda Ardern announces two-minute silence to mark week since Christchurch terrorist attack’, 20thMarch 2019: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/jacinda-ardern-announces-nationwide-two-minute-silence-mark-week-since-christchurch-terror-attack?variant=tb_v_1

[23]The Holy Quran, Chapter, Al-An’am, (6:162, 163)

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