Muslims face a harsh new reality after the Christchurch shootings

Now that the first of the victims have been buried Khadija Laghari explores what the Christchurch mosque shootings mean for Muslims … 

Friday, the 15th of March has been described as “One of New Zealand’s darkest days.” Indeed, Friday is also the holiest of the days during the week as Muslims offer Jumma prayers. The Mosques of Christchurch were full as the residents were looking forward to offer their afternoon prayers until they experienced what they had never imagined in the wildest of their thoughts; it was within a span of seconds that the men’s prayer room was attacked following the women’s prayer room, with a heavily armed shooter, shooting all over the Mosque. The first shooting took place at the Al Noor Mosque following a second shooting at the Linwood Mosque. There were several explosive devices attached to the vehicle of the shooter, who is under custody and has been charged. The city has been placed on a lockdown with all schools and offices shut. A climate change protest, which included young children, was taking place nearby. The Bangladesh Cricket team were extremely lucky to escape with their lives. The chilling attack was live-streamed. 

The shooter identified himself as a white man in his late 20s, born in Australia who was motivated to defend ‘our lands’ from ‘invaders’ and wanted to ‘directly reduce immigration rates’. Quebec, Canada also experienced a mass shooting two years ago killing six people at a Mosque. The end of 2017 experienced a rise in hate crimes targeting the Muslims in Quebec City. This could be described as a fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam, perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life. However, this type of discrimination has been long rooted in the New Zealand immigration policy from the late 1980s.

The country was keen on having British immigrants but a some refugees started arriving from the Middle East of Christian and the Baha’i religions. In response to the pressure that the UNCHR had put on New Zealand in order to resettle Iranian refugees in 1985, New Zealand was not ready to accept those of a different background than the Baha’i.

The 1980s and the 1990s brought about a wave of prejudice and discrimination for Muslim settlers. Employment opportunities were limited and acceptance in society was difficult. The September 2001 attacks worsened the Anti Muslim sentiment. The Immigration Profiling Branch was set up to deal with visa applications from “high-risk” countries including Muslim countries. The influx of Muslim immigrants increased rapidly between 1991 and 2006. Muslims now make about 1% of the New Zealand population.

There are many extreme versions present through out New Zealand, which encourage anti immigrant mentality existing online, in government policies, party politics and on the streets. Muslims have been stopped at New Zealand customs for hours and Muslims have also been asked to spy on fellow worshippers at the mosques. Christchurch is home to the country’s largest white supremacists and groups. The city has a sense of attachment and tradition, which harbored some groups to take this ‘”cause” to extreme lengths. Racist attacks are not unusual and tend to focus on Asian people.

The shooting represents ‘White Supremacy”; a cause by which the shooter was not only motivated but managed to make a mark in history. There are many forms of White Supremacy present from subtle magazine cover stories that press for restricted immigration backing it by explaining that “too much” immigration is “politically stressful” and destabilizing for its host countries to native-born white citizens putting out a show of fascism. The bodies still warm in Christchurch on Friday, released a statement by Senator Frasing Anning of Queensland, in Australia, claiming that the real cause of this bloodshed was the immigration program which had formerly allowed “Muslim fanatics” to migrate to New Zealand. The result of white supremacy will be the deaths of non-white people, because there can be no such thing as acceptance and tolerance of a nonwhite presence.

The shooter on Friday afternoon seemed preoccupied by the fact that white people may be replaced and will soon be strangers in their own countries-countries that were established over the deaths of dark-skinned occupants. No matter how many Muslims there were in the region, or how many people were converting to Islam, the mathematical rationale does not add up. It can be put as this; the Muslims are an existential threat regardless of their number- the number just used as a justification that has fueled white supremacists for centuries. The biggest barrier to fight this type of racism prevailing in the society is the reluctance to accept the existence of it. It is an unfortunate reality; it happens and is a part of everyday life. Is it now the time to acknowledge why and how.

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Filed under Discussion, Human Rights, Immigration, Islamophobia, New Zealand, Politics, Racism, Women

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