The massacre of 49 Muslims at prayer in New Zealand was not an isolated case of white nationalist violence. In 2011, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi murdered 77 people in Norway. A white supremacist walked into a Charleston, South Carolina church with a gun and killed nine people in 2015.
In 2017, a white supremacist shooter killed six and injured 19 at a mosque in Canada. A neo-Nazi and failed political candidate in Italy targeted and shot immigrants, injuring six in 2018.
The killer of eleven at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh specifically targeted Jews because Jewish organization’s such as HIAS were bringing immigrants from Iraq and Syria to the U.S.
Right-wing nationalists in the U.S. and other Western countries have been demonizing Muslims and immigrants for many years. The shooter in New Zealand, in his manifesto, said that a trip to France convinced him that the country was under “invasion” from “nonwhites.” The shooter titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement,” a clear reference to the 2012 book by right-wing French polemicist, Renaud Camus.
In that book, Camus expounded the theory that North Africans and sub-Saharan African immigrants, many of them Muslim, are replacing Europe’s white majority.
The “great replacement” has been the battle cry of the French right-wing, even with immigration numbers falling. Marion Marchal, the granddaughter of convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen and a favorite of the far-right, regularly, promotes this idea.
In Australia, the home of the New Zealand shooter, groups agitating against Islam have been active for many years. Some experts say that anti-Muslim rhetoric has been normalized by mainstream right-wing media outlets, many of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch.
These publications have fomented “the kind of Islamophobic culture which makes it easier for extremists to think that they are legitimized to enact their deadly fantasies,” said Ghassan Hage, a Lebanese Australian academic at the University of Melbourne.
The reason New Zealand was selected for the attack, suggests Aurelien Mondon, an expert on the far right at the University of Bath in Britain, is that “He wanted to make clear Muslims weren’t safe anywhere.”
A Western war on Islam, rather than the Islamic extremists in groups such as al-Quaeda and ISIS, is what President George W. Bush wanted to avoid after 9/11. He visited mosques and embraced Muslim-Americans as “fellow citizens.”
The fact is that Americans and others in the West know little about Islam’s complex history.
If they did, they would not view it as an enemy but, as with Christianity and Judaism, one of the three Abrahamic religions in which we share much in common.
For example, persecuted Jews in Christian Europe were able to practice their religion in Islamic countries. When Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they were welcomed into the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
When Spain was in Muslim hands, it was considered a “golden age” for Spanish Jews.
In her book, “The Ornament of the World,” Professor Maria Rosa Monocol of Yale University writes:
“Throughout most of the invigorated peninsula, Arabic was adopted as the ultimate in classiness and distinction by the communities of the two other faiths. The new Islamic policy not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive but, following Qur’anic mandate, by and large, protected them, and both the Jewish and Christian communities in al-Andalus became thoroughly Arabized within relatively few years of Abdel-Rahman’s arrival in Córdoba.
In principle, all Islamic politics were (and are) required by the Quranic injunction to tolerate Christians and Jews living in their midst. However, beyond that basic prescribed posture, al-Andalus was, from these beginnings, the site of memorable and distinctive interfaith relations. Here the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the 10th century had a Jew as his foreign minister.”
As Karen Armstrong notes in “A History of God”:
“The destruction of Muslim Spain was fatal for the Jews. In March 1492, a few weeks after the conquest of Grenada, the Christian monarchs gave Jews the choice of baptism or expulsion. Many of the Spanish Jews were so attached to their homes that they became Christians, some practicing their faith in secret.”
Some 150,000 Jews refusing baptism, were deported from Spain taking refuge in Turkey, the Balkans, and North Africa. The Muslims of Spain had given Jews the best home they ever had in the diaspora, so the annihilation of Spanish Jewry was mourned by Jews throughout the world as the greatest disaster to have befallen their people since the destruction of the Temple in CE 70.
On a trip to Andalusia, Córdoba, Seville, and Granada among other places this writer saw first hand the many remaining reminders of this Golden Age of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and amity.
They serve to illustrate the lack of historical understanding on the part of those who engage in the demonization of Muslims and Islam.
Hatred of immigrants is a rejection of history
Moreover, stirring hatred of immigrants in a nation of immigrants such as ours is a rejection of our history. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that in a town of 8,000 people, 18 languages are spoken.
In his “Letters From An American Farmer,” Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:
“Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
What happened in New Zealand shows us where the demonization of Muslims and immigrants, combined with an ignorance of history, can lead.
Unless this comes to an end, future events such as that endured by the people of Christchurch, New Zealand are likely to be repeated. Words, particularly rhetorical excess, have consequences, as we have seen too often in recent days.