Race, Policy, Social Justice

When will politicians and influencers finally start calling anti-Muslim bigotry by its name: Islamophobia?

Say it with me, slowly: I-s-l-a-m-o-p-h-o-b-i-a.

Last week’s terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, have left 50 Muslims dead and a further 34 injured. On social media, public figures – among them politicians, activists, artists and journalists – have offered their condolences to the people of New Zealand, along with their thoughts and prayers.

Two things are different about the online responses to this attack, however. One is that the number of people speaking out about hate crimes against Muslims is disproportionately lower than the numbers that speak out in response to any other display of violence and hatred. This is unsurprising – Islam and anything to do with it has become so deeply politicized that any declaration of solidarity with or sympathy for the Muslim community is perceived as some sort of radical political statement.

To say that Muslims shouldn’t be murdered for their faith is, judging by the few who are saying it, a controversial move in a way that saying it of any other religious group would not be.

The second difference in the social media response to the massacre is that well-meaning as they may be, public figures simply refuse to call it like it is.

There are a lot of mentions of ‘condemning hatred’, of ‘fighting all forms of bigotry’ – vague terms, and, in this case, empty ones. In not mentioning by name the Islamophobia that fuelled the attack and the Muslims that paid for it with their lives, these statements render us invisible. They group the fifty Muslims killed in worship with the victims of countless other attacks, all of whom are denied the right to their individual identities and the acknowledgment of the specific breed of hatred and bigotry that killed them.

Activist Shaun King, in a tweet, described this as “basically ‘All Lives Mattering’ the issue of Islamophobia.” When the motive behind an attack is so blatantly obvious and its victims so deliberately chosen, it is not enough to attribute it to simply ‘hatred’ or ‘bigotry’.

The Christchurch attack was inspired and fuelled by a widespread Islamophobic ideology perpetuated by mainstream media rhetoric, political figures, and social media. It was carried out with the intention of hurting the Muslim community specifically, in their place of worship, on the holiest day of the week.

There is profound power in language.

Vagueness, euphemisms, ambiguity – these are all detractors. They hide the real issues and protect perpetrators. They are of no substantial value, and all they do is prolong the pursuit of justice and accountability.

In not verbalizing the root cause of an attack, in being vague about what fuelled and continues to fuel this hatred, you are doing Muslim communities everywhere a grave disservice. It is not enough to condemn ‘hatred in all its forms’ or to ‘send love to those affected’. The hatred is in the form of Islamophobia, so mention that. The victims are Muslims, mention that too.

There is no ambiguity here, no gray area. In not naming us, in refusing to acknowledge the ideology that is killing us, you are failing us.