49 innocent people, attending their place of worship, have been brutally murdered in a terrorist attack on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 48 others, including young children, were injured. Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister, described today’s events of as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. There are no adequate thoughts for such a disgusting, racially motivated mass murder, other than that its ideological roots are easily identifiable.
The murderer responsible for this despicable act published a 73-page manifesto prior to the attack, outlining racist and Islamophobic views that have been proliferated for years across the West by the far-right and the alt-right. Arguably, these views have spread to an even greater extent over the last decade or so, as the figureheads of the movement have gained significant media exposure, especially since the EU referendum and the US election in 2016.
A member of the US right-wing group Turning Point, Candace Owens, is named in the terrorist’s manifesto as having influenced their views, stating that “[Owens’] views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness”. Since the publication of this document, Owens has tweeted that she “never created any content espousing my views on the 2nd Amendment or Islam”, a statement that she began and ended with “LOL!”.
In addition to this gratuitous insensitivity toward a recent act of mass murder, Owens has, in fact, previously espoused negative views on Islam. On 7 July 2018, Owens posted a quote on Twitter attributed to Muammar Gaddafi, that suggests that Muslims will “turn [Europe] into a Muslim continent within decades”. In November of 2018, she then went on to tweet Emmanuel Macron, asking him to “defend your culture” by building an army to prevent France from becoming “a Muslim majority country in just 40 years”.
Some right-wing commentators, like Paul Joseph Watson, have argued that “the terrorist’s mention of Candace Owens clearly appears to be some kind of sick joke meant to demonise her”. Admittedly, the terrorist’s manifesto is laden with sardonic comments, but bearing in mind that Owens views Islam as a threat to France and its “declining birth rate”, it is clear that there is undoubtedly a connection between the proliferation of Islamophobic statements by those on the right, and what happened in Christchurch. One can dismiss the mention of Candace Owens in the manifesto as a matter of dark humour, but it is far from being a convincing trail of thought. The islamophobia might not be as overt as a slur or a racial epithet, but it is definitely looming in the suggestion of ethnic cleansing and the attempts to whip up a frenzy about the supposed invasion of Europe by Muslim people.
Various right-wing ideologies have always required a group to blame for their failings, be it people who follow the Islamic or Jewish faith, black people, or people have immigrated to the West. This need to deflect blame for systematic failings on the Islamic community has already manifested itself in terrorist attacks like the one in Finsbury Park in 2017, which was referenced in the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto. There will most likely be more in the years to come.
As probable as such attacks may be, so follows the likelihood that right-wing commentators will continue to peddle Islamophobia, blaming Muslim people and their immigration to the West as the cause of the economic problems face by the native population, under a pretence that they are protecting the last bastions of Western civilisation. Realistically, Owens constitutes only one section of a wide range of people who hold these views and use their platform to spread hatred toward Muslim people. Regardless, that platform is significant: she has been publicly endorsed by (and later distanced from) Kanye West.
Moreover, a few days ago, Sussex Students’ Union hosted Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk (the founder of Turning Point USA) as part of an off-campus Q&A session. As a student of Sussex University, I am extremely uncomfortable with the fact that the USSU approved of an event that disseminated the same views held by the man who attacked the Christchurch mosques. It is deeply troubling that a supposedly tolerant, pro-LGBTQ+, pro-BAME organisation could so openly contradict itself, without any second thought.
Karl Popper, in his 1945 work The Open Society and its Enemies, wrote about ‘the paradox of tolerance’:
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant… then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.”
If it is possible to “claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant” (Popper), then surely it is possible to deny a platform to those who seek only to engender hatred toward a specific group in order to advance their political agenda. Obviously, there is a distinction between criticising a theistic document, doctrine or text for permitting or enabling discrimination, and demonising an entire group of people. What Owens and others who share her views encourage is demonisation of Muslims as part of some kind of corrupting influence upon Western society.
Charlie Kirk, the aforementioned founder of Turning Point USA spoke at the 2018 conference for ACT for America, which has been defined by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as “the largest anti-Muslim group in America”. ACT! for America was conceived by Brigitte Gabriel, a conservative author, who once said that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America”. The company we keep is often reflective of ourselves, and by that notion, it would seem that Kirk, Owens and TP-USA are anti-Muslim.
Today, the consequences of demonising Muslim people have been presented once more. For how much longer will mainstream politics and the media flirt with this demonisation of Muslim people, and how many more innocent people will be senselessly murdered, just as the 49 people in Christchurch were?
Featured image: Wikimedia commons