April 2019

Shine a much-needed spotlight on mainstream media’s false reporting and thus, far-right terror 

How to put together the building blocks for an inclusive society

By Siddiq Bazarwala

Two years after Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire at a mosque in Quebec, Canada, killing six worshippers, injuring nineteen others, a horrifying part of history repeated itself in faraway Christchurch, New Zealand, 9000 miles apart.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian shot and killed 50 Muslim worshippers and in his manifesto cited Anders Breivik as an inspiration (read “radicalisation”), the deranged man behind the July 2011 terrifying Norway mass murder of 77 people.

Bissonnette like Breivik, held astoundingly false and most oft-repeated misinformation about a voiceless group of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. While Breivik’s name appears in the manifesto, Bissonnette was one of several names recorded in writing on the rifles used by the gunman in New Zealand.

Despite the clear link, a number of mainstream media outlets in the United States and Britain let alone neighbouring Australia have reported this barbaric killing of 50 innocent Muslims as a “mass shooting” or “white supremacist attack” when he is nothing but another white, blonde terrorist.

White supremacists attack and kill more people than Muslims anywhere around the world but the use of incendiary words like “radicalisation” and “terror” by the media are almost always reserved exclusively as synonyms to describe individuals with a Muslim name who commit acts of violence.

Three of four of the biggest mass killings over the last twenty years were carried out by far-right white Christian supremacists. From Timothy McVeigh, a Roman Catholic who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995 to Anders Breivik, a baptised Christian responsible for 77 deaths in Norway in 2011 to atheist Stephen Paddock’s Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017 killing 59 people as well as the series of coordinated attacks, killing 130 civilians across Paris by a group of Muslims in November 2015.

Yet, violent acts by individuals with Muslim names are almost instantaneously labelled “acts of terror” as if the spellcheck on our computers would not allow journalists to write what should not need to be tirelessly pointed out.

Couching the editorial language under the pretense of pure critique of religious thought, the mainstream media therefore ought to be held to account for amplifying ill-informed reporting dressed up as facts to its readership and viewership.

But killings in the name of Islam are usually accompanied by shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and white supremacists “don’t murder while shouting “Jesus is Lord”, you say.

In November 2015, an evangelical Christian, Robert Dear killed three and injured nine at an anti-abortion clinic in Colorado. He even praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work”. In court, he praised Army of God, a Christian terrorist group that is responsible for similar killings, such as Atlanta Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, who also bombed a lesbian bar. Then there is Reverend Paul Jennings, Scott Roeder, Micah Johnson and an infamous list of self-professed Christians with similar motives. This however, does not in any way put the teachings of Jesus on the dock.

The same argument is to be made about renegade Buddhists in Myanmar, Hindu nationalists in India and Jewish settlers in Israel. Atheists too meanwhile, don’t fare well. Stephen Hicks from the Chapel Hill shootings of Muslims and Chris Harper from the Oregon killings of Christians, are but two quick examples of proud atheists with zero tolerance for religion, illustrating uncomfortably for agnostics and atheists how religion is not always the cause for violence.

In fact, atheists like Pol Pot, Stalin and Chairman Mao, etc., are just as much if not more, guilty for horrible crimes against humanity. Not religion, not race nor country of origin. To suggest otherwise is to be foolhardy.

Worse still, they make us all targets by playing directly into the hands of the propaganda that aims to divide and destroy us. Instead, it may be worth trying to marginalise this threat now not by framing religion as a threat but as a tool to end terrorism by battling against the incessant culture of falsification and witch-hunt against Islam and ordinary Muslims today, something misinformation amplified by the media, and Islamophobia perpetuated by the loudest far-right voices has only made worse.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex but obvious theological argument, if the Quran, Bible or Torah said nothing but “do good and avoid evil”, you can be sure there will be people who will still misconstrue its true meaning and commit acts of violence.

When we understand this much, real looming threats living in our midst will no doubt become more than a few shades clearer and the right amount of resources and attention will be rightly allocated: – from psychological counselling to disillusioned individuals living on the fringes of our society to anti-terror intelligence that focuses on all forms of threat, not only “Muslim” ones.

In the end, the only way to ensure history does not repeat itself is to ensure we stop giving into fear and mistrust of each other, like the people from across all walks of life in New Zealand have done.