Islamophobia has become so commonplace that it is rarely confronted in the halls of power, emboldening extremists to target the Muslim community, Muslim leaders are arguing in the wake of mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.
Hours after at least 49 people were killed in the shootings, which occurred during Friday prayer, a senator from nearby Australia responded to the attack by blaming “the increasing Muslim presence” in the country.
“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” Sen. Fraser Anning of Queensland said in statement Friday. “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader…”
Just incredible: As 49 Muslim worshippers lay dead in New Zealand, a sitting Australian senator blames “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand”. pic.twitter.com/13w7aAK8IR
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 15, 2019
It appears that Anning’s views were shared by the alleged white supremacist shooters, one of whom, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, left behind a nearly 100-page manifesto detailing his desire to create “an atmosphere of fear” against Muslims.
Statements like Anning’s have not only emboldened people like Tarrant, leaders in the Muslim community argue, but have served to normalize Islamophobia across the globe.
“We only look at fires, but we smell the burning smoke for miles and miles away and we ignore it,” Abbas Barzegar, director of research and advocacy at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said at a press conference Friday. “We have to pay attention to the ideology that breeds this kind of activity.”
“The same pathological ideas that exist in this manifesto … are directly related to ideas that are carried out in certain quarters in our own society, that exist in radio shows, that exist in TV shows, that have dog whistles by mainstream politicians, by mainstream news commentators,” Barzegar added. “We, as a community, have to take control and leadership back in our public space.”
Muslim community members on Friday called on President Donald Trump to unequivocally condemn the attacks and to disavow the white nationalism that inspired it. On Friday morning, Trump condemned in a tweet the “horrible massacre in the Mosques” — but his words rang hollow for many Muslims, who saw the attack for what it was: a violent manifestation of the president’s own words and policies.
“Mr. Trump, your words matter. Your policies matter,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “They impact the lives of innocent people at home and globally and you should condemn this not only as a hate crime, but as a white supremacist attack.”
Over the past several years, Trump has casually remarked that he is open to the idea of shutting down mosques across the country and creating a registry of all Muslims in the United States. He has falsely claimed that Muslims cheered after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, enacted three iterations of a ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries, and has mainstreamed Islamophobia by regularly tweeting anti-Muslim comments and retweeting anti-Muslim videos.
The attack was a “culmination of a long line of increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric — rhetoric that goes completely unchecked by societies at large,” tweeted reporter Talal Ansari. Last year, Ansari, along with reporter Hannah Allam, wrote a searing analysis in BuzzFeed News detailing the unchecked trend of Islamophobia among U.S. elected officials.
Ansari and Allam found that, since 2015, Republican officials in 49 states have openly expressed anti-Muslim bigotry and have even codified such bigotry into legislation. Most of them did so with impunity.
Anti-Muslim bigotry became even more prominent in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign for president, said Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization. The group published a report in 2018 that analyzed the trend of anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists who ran for office, documenting their campaigns, messages, and election results.
Although the vast majority of candidates who employed Islamophobia lost their elections or won by smaller margins than previous years, the strategy does not yet seem to be a dealbreaker for voters.
“There’s a base of support for this rhetoric that is very hard,” Simpson told ThinkProgress. “We know it’s not popular broadly, but there’s that minority that has a lot of power … And, it’s fear. This is fearmongering.”
Mainstream lawmakers like Republican Reps. Steve King (IA), Peter King (NY), Duncan Hunter (CA), and Louie Gohmert (TX) have peddled in Islamophobia for years. Their rhetoric, Simpson said, has devastating repercussions, referring to the series of planned mosque attacks in the United States over the years, from the 2017 Bloomington, Minnesota, mosque bombing to plotted attacks against mosques in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2017 and Garden City, Kansas, in 2016.
After the Bloomington bombing, then-White House senior official Sebastian Gorka told MSNBC, “There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false … You have to check them and find out who the perpetrators are. We’ve had a series of crimes committed, alleged hate crimes by right wing individuals in the last six months that turned out to be propagated by the left.”
Simpson said such statements sent “a very unmistakable message that this is a White House that’s going to look the other way … It’s not surprising and it’s not an anomaly that this would’ve happened.”
“There are real consequences to dehumanizing a community,” Simpson added. “And one of those consequences is that people treat their lives with less value.”