As the dust settles on the graves of the Christchurch victims, US President Donald Trump and his empowering of white nationalism and neo-Nazism have been identified as the chief cause of this slaughter in two New Zealand mosques.
But viewing the shooter’s actions simply as a result of Trump’s rhetoric and the global rise of right-wing nationalism misses an essential part of the story: how the war on terror has normalised the violent Islamophobia that laid the foundation for the Christchurch massacre.
Let’s not make Trump the fall guy for the shooter in New Zealand. Since 2001, the world has watched silently as Muslims have been bombed and killed in mosques, schools and hospitals from Mosul to Mogadishu, Kandahar to Aleppo. The perpetrators weren’t far-right extremists, but the previous residents of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Former US President George W Bush – largely seen as the architect of the war on terror – dropped 70 000 bombs mainly on Iraq and Afghanistan during his two terms in office: 24 bombs a day.
Expanding Bush’s wars from two to seven, the hoop-shooting, mic-dropping, smooth-talking Nobel Peace Prize winner and former US President Barack Obama approved 10 times more air strikes than Bush, dropping a whopping 34 bombs a day on Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama ramped up the drone programme and oversaw more strikes in his first year in the White House than Bush carried out during his entire presidency.
But at least we can comfort ourselves knowing that these non-stop bombings were killing the bad guys out to harm the US and the rest of the world. Right? Nope.
‘Wars on terror’
Militant leaders on America’s “kill list” accounted for just 2% of drone-related deaths, according to journalist David DeGraw. More than 80% of those killed have never been identified and the US Central Intelligence Agency’s own documents show that it doesn’t know whom it is killing.
Countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Myanmar have adopted Washington’s war on terror logic to further their expansionist interests.
Over the past five years, Saudi Arabia has led a multinational coalition that has killed more than 50 000 Yemenis in its “war on terror” efforts in the Middle East’s most impoverished country.
Under the leadership of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, 20 000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed in one of the most vicious and destructive campaigns of ethnic cleansing in recent history.
Israel has killed at least 10 000 Palestinians in its “antiterror” operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2000.
India has stationed 500 000 troops in occupied Kashmir, with some rights groups estimating that 100 000 Kashmiri Muslims have been killed there.
Throughout it all, there has been little outrage – let alone repercussions – from the media, society in general or governments in these countries.
The citizens of these countries don’t mind who their governments kill, as long as they’re told that the people being killed pose a threat – either demographic or terror.
This was the mosque shooter’s justification, too. Didn’t he also believe that he was helping eliminate a threat to the free world? If the leaders of the free world have been able arbitrarily to kill “dangerous” Muslims at mosques, weddings, funerals and schools with no repercussions, why wouldn’t he also not want to get in on the action?
The shedding of Muslim blood in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Kashmir and Yemen has gone by virtually unnoticed and dismissed as something that happens in “those” parts of the world, yet the Christchurch attacks have shocked the world. The fact that it has taken place in a “civilised” country such as New Zealand, explains Lafayette College assistant professor in South Asian history Hafsa Kanjwal, creates a discourse that places value on Muslim lives in the West, but continues to render Muslim victims of war-on-terror violence elsewhere invisible. Simply put: Christchurch shocks us, but not the war-on-terror carnage in Africa and the Middle East.
Take the example of three-year old Mucaad Ibrahim, the youngest victim of the New Zealand bloodbath, who was born to a refugee Somali family. The little boy loved to cheer his older brother on as they played football on Friday nights at a park near the mosque. Like most kids his age, he loved using an iPad and his family described him as “smart beyond his years”.
If Mucaad was killed in one of the 110 airstrikes that Trump has ordered in Somalia since June 2017, then we would known him by a different name: Collateral Damage. An estimated 800 people may have been killed in these war on terror attacks. Not all of them were the bad guys. Do we know their names and their stories?
Atta Elayyan, 33, was a father and goalkeeper for the New Zealand futsal team. Elayyan and his family are originally from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. If Elayyan had been killed in one of the 166 mosques in the Gaza Strip that Israel bombed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge – rather than at the Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch – you probably wouldn’t even know his name, let alone the name of the mosque.
In the Middle East and Africa the dead, it seems, have no names, no story to tell. Dignity for the dead seems to be reserved only for those who die in Western countries.
The war on terror’s Islamophobic violence isn’t just about drone strikes and bombs. There’s also extraordinary rendition across countries, Guantanamo Bay, black sites, Abu Ghraib, secret interrogations, Bagram Prison, torture and the continuous surveillance, fear and suspicion of all things Muslim.
Beards and hijabs must be controlled, Friday sermons restrained. We need to “tone down” support for Palestine and criticism of wars in the Middle East.
From Jackson Heights to Bradford, Mayfair to Lakemba, some of our leaders have been convinced that we need to be spied on. We must be the “good Muslim” as Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani describes: integrated, always ready to condemn, apolitical, safe.
Islamophobia isn’t just about the “sand nigger” slurs or the tug on a woman’s hijab. While those are clear expressions of anti-Muslim bigotry, what we really need to address is the violence against Muslims that is initiated and sponsored by governments. The war on terror, writes Justice for Muslims Collective co-director Maha Hilal, is the blueprint that the shooter followed in his violence against Muslims in New Zealand.
The road to Christchurch
Christchurch isn’t only about an individual fanatic with a warped ideology, it is about the global war on terror that is constructed on the dehumanisation of Muslims.
The road to Christchurch began in Kabul and runs through Baghdad, Kunduz, Tripoli, Pulwama, Sana’a, Gaza City, Rakhine and Damascus.
Don’t criticise Trump’s rhetoric and how he has emboldened white supremacy without first calling out his bombing of Muslims in Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
According to US Defence Department figures cited by TruthDigcolumnist Lee Camp, the American military under Trump dropped 44 096 bombs in 2017. That works out to 121 bombs a day, one every 12 minutes.
Most of those targets were Muslim. Shouldn’t that feature more prominently in discussions about Trump’s violence against Muslims, rather than his itchy fingers on Twitter?
“Never again” will remain an empty slogan unless we push back against the never-ending bombing of untermensch (a person considered racially or socially inferior) in Muslim-majority countries. Ignore the war on terror and we disregard what got us to Christchurch in the first place.