The recent mass killing of 50 people by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant brought attention to a major issue in Western societies: Islamophobia. Islamophobia is defined as “an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life.” The cause of this hatred is difficult to accurately pinpoint. Many researchers point to the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing War on Terror. Although it is true that anti-Muslim sentiment increased after 9/11, it does not explain the continued increase a decade after the attacks.
A 2017 report by the Pew Research group showed that assault against muslims had surpassed the previous peak in 2001. In 2016, there were 127 reported anti-Muslim attacks, compared to 93 in 2001. However, in 2017, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports showed a decrease in the number of these victims. This was strange considering 2017 was the third year in a row that hate crimes increased. Some have pointed out that the UCR data may be inaccurate, as law enforcement agencies are not required to share their crime statistics with the FBI. There is also the fact that many hate crimes do not involve violence, but threats or property damage- which usually are not reported to the police.
Many Western European countries have also experienced a rise in Islamophobic hate. In 2015, the Muslim Council of Britain expressed concern that the London Metropolitan Police had recorded a 70 percent increase in anti-Muslim attacks. There was also a surge in 2017, right after the Manchester and London Bridge attacks. This trend continues into 2019, as the independent monitoring group, Tell MAMA, reported a 593 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents a week after the Christchurch shooting. In 2017, German authorities recorded 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques. That same year, the Citizens’ Platform Against Islamophobia recorded 546 incidents of Islamophobic hate in Spain. Islamophobia had gotten so noticeable that in 2018, the European Commission Directorate of Justice launched a toolkit to counter Islamophobia across the whole continent.
The sheer volume of Islamophobic hate should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Western political discourse. The immigration of Muslims and the threat of Islamic terror is constantly drilled into our minds. There is also the sustained propagation of falsehoods. For example, let us look at the title of Tarrant’s manifesto. Named the “Great Replacement,” the manifesto is in reference to the work of philosopher and far-right activist Renard Camus.
The “Great Replacement” is a theory that white, French Christians are being replaced by Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Considered a part of the overarching “white genocide” conspiracy theory, it is readily accepted by many on the far right. Lauren Southern, Eric Zemmour, Stefan Molyneux, Geert Wilders, David Knight, Katie Hopkins, Alex Jones and even Donald Trump are believers in this theory. Trump famously retweeted a post from the user “WhiteGenocideTM” and said he would look into the mass killings of white South African farmers.
Besides anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, there is also the blatantly Islamophobic language used by those in the media. Famous liberal comedian and talk show host Bill Maher is infamous for his comments about Islam. In a 2002 interview with CNN, Maher stated, “Yes, as a white guy, I’m not part of the fundamentalist Muslim problem that is attacking this country. That’s just a fact. I mean, I’m sorry I’m white, but I’m not the one who flew into the World Trade Center.” Maher also said, “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing.” Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros once said, “you can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand.” CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo declared, “the Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They’re unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening.”
In conclusion, it is not difficult to see why the Christchurch shooting occurred. For years, the West has demonized Muslims as barbarians, invaders and rapists. Our politicians, celebrities, and media professionals have bombarded us with narratives of hate. These narratives radicalize bigots such as Brenton Tarrant and Anders Breivik to commit horrible acts of violence against innocent people. Meanwhile, the hatemongers who inspired them get to walk away completely unscathed. Those in positions of power need to realize that their words have real life consequences. If you refer to an entire religious group as the enemy, people will treat them like it. In a world where Muslims are beaten to death, attacked with acid and have their places of worship bombed, we still have the nerve to label them all as “terrorists.” I think it is time for Western society to realize that we are not as civilized and superior as we portray ourselves to be.