Muslim Americans speak out against bigotry in response to New Zealand shooting

Peyton Upchurch
Staff Writer

Following the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, Muslim Americans began expressing a heightened fear of a similar event occurring in their own communities. The shooting caused a surge in calls for local and state representatives to act out against the concerning spread of racial and religious bigotry in the United States that has led to the murder of worshippers in recent years.

In a conference in Washington D.C. following the shooting, Director Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Council urged the White House to condemn the attacks as an act of terrorism. President Trump has remained fairly quiet regarding the attacks, speaking mostly to address the media for “blaming him” for the event.

“…you need to assure all of us—Muslims, blacks, Jews, immigrants—that we are protected and you will not tolerate any physical violence against us because we are immigrants or we are minorities,” said Awad. “…you need to condemn this clearly today and you do not need to be vague…you have to be very clear on this.”

Awad also referenced the abrupt rise in hate crimes, domestic and abroad, committed against Muslim people since the beginning of the Trump presidency.

Addressing Trump directly, Awad said, “During your presidency and during your election campaign, Islamophobia took a sharp rise and attacks on innocent Muslims, innocent immigrants and mosques have skyrocketed… we hold you responsible for this growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and in Europe, but also we do not excuse those terrorist attackers against minorities at home and abroad.”

The March 15 massacre took the lives of 49 people and left 48 wounded. The Christchurch shooter, who is now detained with two alleged accomplices, live-streamed the terrorist attack on Facebook. A search of the alleged shooter’s person and property yielded writings that detailed the personal beliefs that supposedly led him to commit the attacks.

The 28-year-old Australian man, who has yet to be named publicly, referred to himself as acting on behalf of whites and Europeans in combating immigration and immigrants, whom he repeatedly called “invaders.” In these writings, which he posted to multiple online sites, the shooter commented on his disdain for Islam and referenced the U.S. Constitution in an argument that the government attempting to pass strict gun reform would lead to a civil war.

Farhana Khera of civil liberties group Muslim Advocates also called upon the White House to condemn the attacks, and cited the comments of President Trump following the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he said that there were “fine people” involved in the efforts of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.

“This hate-filled murderer,” said Khera in reference to the Christchurch shooter, “drew inspiration from Trump, and the white nationalist movement has celebrated Trump’s words and policies.”

According to NPR, Trump spoke to the media the day of the shooting, and denied white nationalism as posing a threat to global society. He addressed what he calls an “immigration crisis,” and gave an alarming reference to the writings of the Christchurch shooter, saying that “people hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is.”

Khera also called upon social media platforms and tech companies to be proactive in flagging and removing violent white nationalist rhetoric.

“Facebook, Twitter and Google, which hate groups use to disseminate vile messages of prejudice and violence and build their membership, need to do more to detect and shut down online objectionable content,” said Khera.

All over the world, religious leaders have reached out to offer their condolences to New Zealand and to the global Muslim community. New York City’s Islamic Cultural Center kept its doors open in the days following the shooting to offer peace and comfort, and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue brought a bouquet of white flowers in an act of outreach. He noted that the pain of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last year still lingers with his congregation, and that they feel the pain of the Muslim community.

“The Jewish community knows, with the Pittsburgh shooting, what it means to have the promise of synagogue ripped out from under you,” said Cosgrove.

Although the Department of Homeland Security did not anticipate any, “current, credible,” threat against Muslim Americans, security has been tightened surrounding mosques all over the country.

New York’s counterterrorism unit has been stationed at a number of religious institutions in the city, and in a statement on March 16, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said, “To the Muslim community here in new York: we stand with you always, and we will remain vigilant in keeping you safe—and making sure you feel safe too.”

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