Islamophobia is real and it has frighteningly deadly consequences for its victims. The Christchurch masjid attacks may have been a surprise only because New Zealand is a relatively peaceful country. Anti-Muslim hatred resulting in terrorist attacks are all too real, and frequent. Most people were also surprised that a multicultural society like Canada witnessed a murderous attack on Muslims in their place of worship two years ago (Quebec City Masjid attack that resulted in six deaths).
For those following the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the West closely, it was only a matter of time before some white terrorist individual or group struck. Politicians, security agencies, and the police were all chasing “Muslim terrorist” phantoms duly amplified by the right-wing media. True, there are Muslim extremists but they pale in significance with the right-wing white extremist groups. In any case, most Muslim extremists were already known to the intelligence and security agencies. In most instances, their murderous plots were instigated by intelligence agencies to impress their bosses and keep their hefty budgets flowing.
In almost every terrorist act blamed on Muslims — whether in the US, Canada, or Europe — the intelligence agencies have been deeply involved. Even the most spectacular attacks of 9/11 are considered by most experts to be an inside job. Canada’s Toronto-18 case of June 2006 was similarly instigated. It was RCMP agents that received obscene amounts of money to trap gullible Muslim youth into their diabolical plot. John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were fortunate to have their case thrown out by a BC judge in 2016 when she accepted that RCMP officers pushed the couple into the bomb plot. The British Columbia Supreme Court similarly dismissed the crown’s appeal against stay of charges of the earlier court verdict and upheld that the couple was manipulated into the plot.
Quite aside from these disturbing acts by intelligence and security agencies against Muslims, the threat of white supremacist groups in Western countries is real and growing. Even the intelligence agencies admit this threat but politicians do not want to take any action against such extremist groups. Is it because they target Muslims, people projected as the bad guys and, therefore, deserving of the punishment inflicted on them?
If politicians in Western countries are serious about addressing this growing threat — and it is bound to affect others as well, not just Muslims — then a number of steps are necessary. First, Islamophobia must be declared a hate crime. In several countries, anti-Semitism is already a hate crime under law. Second, the white supremacist groups and their enablers must be identified and banned. If groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. are banned as terrorist organizations — quite rightly — then white supremacist groups like Soldiers of Odin, Canada First and other such groups including the Jewish Defence League (JDL) must also face the full force of the law. In the US, the JDL has been banned since 2002 as a terrorist group; why is Canada so far behind in confronting this bunch of terrorists?
Third, political leaders must stop pandering to racist groups in the name of “freedom of speech.” Hatred against an identifiable, law-abiding group — the Muslims — that results in such horrific crimes cannot be accepted as “free speech.” Words do carry weight and lead people to violent acts. The murderous attacks in Quebec City and Christchurch provide ample proof, if proof indeed were needed, of the impact of hate speech against defenceless people.
Finally, we must come to the real point: the West’s endless wars on Muslim countries. Launched under the rubric of the war on terror, it is actually a war on Islam and Muslims. Since 9/11, the number of Muslim countries attacked is very long. Dirt-poor Afghanistan has been virtually destroyed. It had already been wracked by decades of warfare.
America’s attack in October 2001 made the situation much worse. While there is a glimmer of hope that Washington’s destructive war in Afghanistan may soon end, there are other areas that are still in the throes of externally instigated violence and bloodshed. These include Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. Venezuela has also now been added to the list. The Palestinian and Kashmiri people have suffered decades of oppression at the hands of alien invaders. Islamic Iran is also constantly demonized.
With the exception of Venezuela, all other countries are predominantly Muslim, hence their demonization and dehumanization. This leads to riling up racists and bigots in Western societies that go on rampages killing innocent Muslims in their places of worship.
The West’s history of violence against others is long and gory. The Crusades were launched from Europe but the Inquisitions were carried out in Europe. The slave trade and genocide of Native peoples in North America, Australia, and New Zealand followed. Then came the internment of Japanese and Italians during the Second World War. Jews and Catholics were also targeted. Why should this pattern of oppression and humiliation continue?
Isn’t it time to end this shameful conduct, this time targeting Muslims?
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).