THE BLOG
03/19/2019 12:46 EDT | Updated 03/19/2019 13:05 EDT

Christchurch Mosque Attacks Were About More Than Religion

Framing it simply around religion allows the systemic root causes to be ignored.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A group of women pay tribute to the victims of the mosque attack at the botanic garden memorial, in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 19, 2019.

I don't want to write this again. Another horrifying story. Identical emotional state. Almost the same time of year. Muslims murdered in a place of worship. Deja vu, but not the good kind. People are dead. Last time I reflected, the attack was closer, in a province I love and once called home: but this doesn't feel any further away.

I have family in New Zealand and Australia. They are immigrants who attend mosques similar to the ones targeted. Newcomers who had to leave their country and their home so they could freely practise their religion — a minority sect outlawed and persecuted in their place of birth. A family who adopted a country and called it their own because it gave them everything. This is a story not unfamiliar to many Canadian immigrants, a story not so unfamiliar to those in Quebec City and Christchurch.

Seems strange to have to leave your country and go elsewhere because of your religious beliefs, but when you're fleeing persecution, war, economic hardship, you can end up anywhere. My mother arrived in Canada, members of her family landed in other parts of the world. It's unsettling to end up becoming a target for exactly the same reason in a place that otherwise, gave you everything.

The shootings in New Zealand were about religion, without a doubt. The result of ongoing bias in the representation of Muslims as inherently violent, vengeful, barbaric and oppressive.

Watch: New Zealand PM vows justice for Christchurch mosque attack victims. Blog continues below.

But framing it simply around religion allows the systemic root causes to be ignored. Religion becomes an easy scapegoat to identify as the sole cause and move on from the fact that, ultimately, the shootings in New Zealand, Quebec and numerous other places, are also about brown (and black) skin.

Blaming the shooter for targeting Muslim worshipers in today's hyper-polarized environment — one where we are deserving of hate — allows the silent majority to remain quiet on the issue of racism and white supremacy.

It allows those who know nothing about Islam to point to wars, popular media coverage, and inciting pundits to carry on as though the targeting of Muslims over religion wasn't also about race, culture, immigration, economics, and most importantly, hate. A hate that has been festering and is now mainstream. This is evident by the shooter's court appearance, in which he clearly made a "white power" symbol used by many groups.

We have to address this bias in our understanding, coverage and portrayal of these events. So far we are failing.

The coverage of the event is riddled with headlines describing the killer as "angelic," a good boy gone bad, radicalized in his travels overseas. There are interviews with his family members and videos of churchgoers from his hometown, all attempts to humanize a killer as though his act was not based on a hatred of skin colour and a difference in religious and cultural values, but rather a personal derangement, picked-up in unknown and far-off dark places.

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The double standard in the coverage and narrative is obvious, and at this point, unfortunately, expected. What's no longer acceptable is the notion that the source of the killer's philosophy — his manifesto and his mention of similar events and individuals, his viewstoward immigrants and disregard of black and brown bodies — is not systemic, mainstream and entrenched.

This recognition has real-world implications. Taken seriously, the killer might have been become known and his actions prevented. With the amount of online activity before and leading up to the event, red flags should have been raised.

It's time to recognize the inherent racism within a system that produces terrorist watch lists with only brown names when the threat is universal. It's time to stop putting the word terrorist in quotations when referring to white supremacists, as though we are unclear on the intent of their actions. It's time for the silent majority to recognize that the killer's views are in their communities, their places of work and at their doorstep.

To donate to the families of the New Zealand victims, please visit this link.

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