Islamophobia, Christchurch and the Failure of White-Centric Democracies.
Yesterday, a horrific
shooting occurred in the city of Christchurch, in an open act of Right-Wing
racist, Islamophobia in a mosque during the Friday prayers. At least 49 have
died and half as many are injured, including young children. The news of the tragedy
traveled quickly and many activists, politicians and renowned people voiced
their horror and sense of heartbreak at the tragedy.
This shocking incident, the first of its kind in over 29 years in peaceful New Zealand has not occurred out of a vacuum, but as a result of a continuity of a move towards increased Right-Wing values and governments across Europe, Australia, and America. Concepts such as “Make America Great Again” and Trump’s form of internal domestic and border policies have emboldened racist and anti-refugee segments within western societies. The flow of Iraqi, Syrian and other Middle Eastern and African refugees into Europe and the international community’s failure in humanely and adequately addressing the root causes of the mass flow of refugees continued to breed racist and anti-refugee values. Thousands languish in refugee camps across Greece, while Europe has paid billions of Euros to countries like Turkey to build walls and push back the refugees, as border guards shoot at leaking boats of refugees. Thousands of miles of border walls and fences have been constructed across Europe to prevent desperate people from reaching safety. In Australia, in places like Nauru we have built prisons to house these refugees indefinitely in what has been called the “Guantanamo Bay” of Australia. Suicides are rampant, activists are writing award winning books via Whatsapp to raise awareness of the horrific conditions in these prions because they lack access to activists, journalists or even doctors.
Then incidents like the shooting of Al Noor mosque , Christchurch happen and we are bewildered, wondering what we could do to ensure such incidents do not occur again.
Why is the sight of the Other so frightening to us? Why is Islamophobia rife within our societies? Why are women who wear visible symbols of Islam, such as the hijab, the recipient of such a high level of violence? Why are the Muslim victims of White, Right-Wing terror blamed for their own deaths? Why must the heroic actions of individual Muslims be shown as a way of humanizing them, showing them that they were against this form of violence? Wasn’t the very act of them being humans and going about their peaceful worship enough?
The reality is that racism remains deeply ingrained in our societies. Worse, each incident of racism, whether open racist statements from politicians, to artists, to athletes, is seen as isolated and unconnected to a long history of ongoing racist values within our societies entrenched within our socio-political institutions and systems. We must see these acts of terror as a continuous reflection of a strong thread of racist and exclusionary, but also patriarchal values within our societies. The question must be asked as to why the majority of these terrorist attacks are conducted by White, young men. This crises of patriarchy, this crises of culture is also the same one that causes the death of one Australian woman a day at the hands of her former or current partner.
More than that, the shooting at Christchurch is a reflection of the failure of the political system of the Western, neoliberal, “democratic” system. It is a failure of openly racist politicians that we continue to vote for, and allow to remain within politics. It is a failure of our society on an individual and collective level to engage in honest, open and critical discussion with each other about our internalized racism. It is a failure to call each other out and to continue look the other way. It is a failure of the safety-pin wearing, punch-an-openly-Nazi in the face type of activism which fails to take into consideration that the majority of us are actually racist- from our fathers, to our mothers, our uncles, cousins, friends, siblings, partners. It is a failure of the left to engage in effective activism. It is a failure of inclusiveness, failure of multiculturalism entrenched on superficial, tokenistic levels. It is a reflection of the ongoing racist foundation of the Western, White-Anglo system which sees anything that differs as a danger to its existence and entrenched values. It is a colossal failure of the education system to integrate humanity, inclusive, intersectional, and democratic ideology at its foundation of our classrooms. It is a failure of our media system which continues to openly promote White-centric values across its news, movies, shows and programs.
In my personal experience of the White-centric nature of the education system, Australia has failed to teach entire generations the importance of cultural inclusiveness and respect. From experiencing racist taunts, to calls to “go back to your country” to outright culturally ignorant statements from teachers and staff, to daily experiences of Othering and alienation, has been the overwhelming sense of our experience in the Australian education system. These experiences are common for most non-white, immigrant and refugee communities in places like Australia, NZ, Europe, etc. The othering, being made such a common, repetitive aspect of our experiences becomes entrenched in our collective psyches- adding another layer of trauma to the ones we brought with us from our war-torn homes. We become used to being in the margins, never part of mainstream society, always in an observer position, until first and second generations of our families internalize Whiteness and discard the mother culture as a form of self-preservation and “assimilation”.
Luckily, unlike places
like America, in Australia and NZ we have very strict gun laws that act as an
important deterrent from hate crimes being more widespread. For this reason,
strict gun control laws are essential. But gun control is merely a deterrent
and not a real preventative measure. The real prevention comes from genuine
inclusiveness, open, ongoing dialogue within our society about racism against
minorities, including that of racism and marginalization towards Indigenous and
Aboriginal communities. But this requires a level of honesty, integrity and
courage that we have, so far, failed collectively as a society.
The ongoing treatment of Indigenous and Aboriginal communities in Australia is a strong indicator of the core values that dominate. For instance, on the 13th of February, 2008 the then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made an official apology to the Stolen Generation of the Aboriginal people. While the apology was the right step forward, it utterly failed to correctly address Aboriginal marginalization within Australian society on a systematic and institutional level.
Earlier this year, the popular TV presenter Kerrie-Ann Kennerly was called out by fellow panelist Yumi Stynes for openly racist statements about the Aboriginal communities in Australia. Over 500 activists took to the streets of Sydney to raise awareness of the invasion of Aboriginal communities as the foundation of Australia. The activists widely relabeled “Australia Day” into “Invasion Day”. On a morning show Kennerly stated that “has any single one of those 5,000 people waving the flags saying how inappropriate the day is, has any one of them been out to the outback where children, where babies and five-year-olds are being raped, their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped. They get no education,” on the Ten morning show.
This issue sparked a wide debate where many criticized Yumi- a Japanese Australian- for calling out the racist statements of Kennerly instead of the actual racism of Kennerly. There is a collective failure to understand that racism is a form of prejudice and institutionalized power. The failure of a system that continues to treat refugees as outsiders who should be grateful for having even the chance to set foot on Australia, continues to produce marginalization, alienation and exclusion. Yet, refugee communities are often the back bone of such societies, if not that of the economy.
At the core of this issue is also the predominance of neolibral, hyper individualized nature of White centric society. We do not have a sense of community”. No sense of connection or belonging, where the “I” is the most elemental, driving force of our form of co-existence. Living in Australia has taught us that people who live side by side for decades, for the most part, will barely even exchange basic pleasantries. As I write this, I look out my window on a rainy Saturday afternoon into our peaceful Western Sydney street. I am reflecting on how the neighbors on both side of our house, a Christian Lebanese family and an Indian family on the other side often exchange plates of food, invite each other to coffee and tea, support each other in family issues, including matchmaking and even creating job opportunities for each other through the friendship of the women within the families. My Kurdish mother has developed a network of non-White women across the neighborhood who often exchange sweets, support and kindness. The White neighbors in contrast have never even shared a simple hello. Ironically the only White woman who has made a connection with my mother has been a Jehovah’s Witness woman who was trying to convert my mother- a stout atheist by the way (they are good friends now and often have coffee together.) The point is that White centric society has so much to learn from our sense of community, from the refugees who have lost everything and come here to form new networks in the hope of being accepted. People who are not afraid to say hello to each other. People who will shyly bring you a plate of carefully prepared food in the hope of you enjoying a piece of the culture they are so proud of.
White-centric culture needs to be dismantled. Hyper-individual neoliberal societies need to be challenged. White-centric, patriarchal culture which sees other communities as less than, as the Other, as the feminized, fetishized, silenced other is the culprit. White-centric culture needs to be opened up to the rich mosaic of diversity and cultures that exist in countries like Australia and NZ. Neo-Liberal hyper individualism needs to be challenged by everyone. Speak to your neighbors, say hello, ask them over for a cup of tea, share plates of food. Be inclusive, be open minded, be welcoming, be warm. Stop being afraid of the Other they told you was the terrorist while your fear caused your own sons to become the terrorists.
We are all complicit in the crimes that occur within our societies. A society is only allowed the crimes that it accepts and tolerates. Unless we actively, fiercely, and unequivocally address the ongoing exclusionary, undemocratic, and racist underpinnings of our societies we will continue to experience such acts of terror towards the marginalized and the disenfranchised. We will continue to make statements of condemnation and prayers for change on social media as a sign of our collective lack of political will and impotence.