This past Friday, a 28-year-old Australian-born white supremacist mowed down 50 Muslim worshippers, including women and children, at two mosques in the quiet New Zealand city of Christchurch during an afternoon congregation prayer. He was arrested and charged with murder.
The shooter used social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instragam, to amplify his evil acts. A manifesto posted under his name on Facebook during the time of the attack claimed responsibility. It is filled with references to “white genocide,” a neo-Nazi conspiracy propaganda that white people are being replaced by invading Muslims. It also mentions that he had been inspired by Anders Breivik’s 2011 Norway attack and Dylan Roof’s 2015 shooting at a black church in South Carolina that killed nine people.
New Zealand is a peaceful and tolerant nation for immigrants. While speaking about the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” adding that two other people also were being held. “These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.”
But when the media asked President Donald Trump about the rise of white supremacists, he said he does not view white nationalism as a growing threat. He added, “I think it’s small groups that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”
In post 9/11, Muslim hysteria in America and Europe has flourished. But Trump’s 2016 campaign, which was marred with religious bigotry and xenophobic rhetoric, had made Islamophobia a campaign strategy. Trump openly advocated for a “total Muslim ban” into the United States and even suggested that during 9/11, Arab Muslims in a town in New Jersey were cheering for the terrorists.
Moreover, there is also a great push from some conservative media to promote and spread hate and fear about Islam, such as Muslims imposing Sharia laws in America and Islam invading the United States. Breitbart, Fox News and right-wing talk shows are the principal venues for the anti-Muslim canard.
On Friday morning, I received CNN’s breaking news from the Christchurch mass shooting on my iPhone. I was shocked and angry about the unfolding tragedy. I always pray on Friday at Al-noor mosque in Hilliard during my lunch break, but this past Friday was not a normal one. I was hesitant showing up for the Friday prayer because of the horrific incident at Christchurch. But I attended the Friday prayer because I realized the goal of the perpetrator was to create a fear through violence in which Muslim communities do not pray at the mosques.
During the Friday prayer the imam called for the congregation to be patient and pray for the Christchurch massacre victims, survivors and their families during the grieving and mourning period.
Our elected representatives need to speak out forcefully and condemn this vile act in places of worship. And those with a megaphone, including President Trump, must tone down their toxic rhetoric against religious minorities and immigrants because the words we use matter. In today’s angry political climate, the right-wing fanatics who used to be a fringe element have found a base to propagate and unleash their hatred and deadly violence, with a powerful leader who has emboldened them.
The white supremacists have repeatedly exploited the internet to recruit followers, share information, formulate plots and coordinate attacks. For instance, last year a white supremacist who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 and wounding six, was a frequent user of Gab, a social media platform adored by right-wing fanatics.
President Trump should reach out to Muslims and visit a local mosque to learn more about the pressing issues of the American Muslim communities.
It is time for Americans of all races, creeds and backgrounds to put aside our political differences to unite as one nation and demand from our elected leaders the decency to restore public discourse and confront the rising threat of the white supremacist, which is not only real but a growing threat. We can’t afford for another copycat of the Christchurch massacre to take place in the places of worship in our great country — the land of religious freedom.
Ali Mohamed is the editor and founder of Gubanmedia.com, a 24/7 online magazine of news analysis and commentary about the greater Horn of Africa region. Email him at email@example.com.