Two-Years on Since the Christchurch Attack and Islamophobia Persists
Friday March 19 2021
This week saw the second anniversary of the Christchurch attack in which a gunman motivated by far-right and Islamophobic conspiracies massacred 51 Muslim women, men and children across two different mosques amidst Friday prayers. While this tragic incident may now be in the past, the dangerous and hate-filled ideas that motivated the gunman are still very persistent and continue to gain traction within the current climate.
Two years on from the devastating attack, Islamophobia continues to be evident across the globe, serving to “perpetuate, validate, and normalise discrimination, hostility, and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities”, according to the UN. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has warned that hostility and hatred towards Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims had reached epidemic levels globally. This anti-Muslim sentiment is directly linked to the worrying rise of far-right activities, mainly in online spaces where dangerous anti-Muslim conspiracies are often espoused and conceived.
The Christchurch attacker had come to believe in a notorious Islamophobic conspiracy: the ‘great replacement’ theory. This theory suggests that a social and ethnic substitution and exclusion of white Europeans is taking place in the West by ‘third world colonisation’, as a result of excessive rates of birth and mass migration. As such, the ‘great replacement’ theory manifests deep sentiments of anti-immigration, white nationalism and Islamophobia through promoting hate-filled and conspiratorial claims about Muslims. However, it is just one of many anti-Muslim conspiracies which ostracise and create hostility against Muslims. Concerningly, such widespread Islamophobia means that prejudice and hostility against Muslims can arise from the unlikeliest of sources and contexts – including, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the rise of the global pandemic, numerous false claims began to emerge connecting Muslims to the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, groups in the UK gave these conspiracies momentum on social media, forcing counter-terrorism police to investigate far-right groups who were “trying to use the coronavirus crisis to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment”. It is essential we recognise that the perpetuation of anti-Muslim ideas and conspiracies does not always go unaccompanied, and can result in deadly attacks of violence committed against Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslims continue to rise annually, while the devastating Christchurch attack evidences the more tragic and extreme consequences of leaving Islamophobia and anti-Muslim conspiracies unchallenged.
Two years on from the horrendous attack in Christchurch, it is disheartening to observe the persistent and sustained rise of Islamophobia which has reached “epidemic” levels worldwide. This urgently necessitates a range of comprehensive strategies to protect an already vulnerable and ostracised community against prejudicial ideas and its devastating consequences. It is critical that clear definitions of Islamophobia are adopted, along with the implementation of primary legislation to deal with social media offences and hate speech online. Furthermore, strategies of working with social media companies to protect free speech while developing an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online need to take place in consultation with Muslim grassroots organisations. Ultimately, only by taking such meaningful steps, can we start eradicating the epidemic of Islamophobia which has for so long tarnished our society.