An attack occurred on March 15 at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand. Approximately 50 people were found dead and 48 were left injured.
Summaries like this, which use passive voice to soften the reality of their content, divert attention away from where it is often needed. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack this past week, the media took sides on a variety of complex issues, from anonymity on the internet and gun-control laws to meme culture and whether or not to release information about the terrorist. Beneath the discussion of these important issues, however, is a root cause of violence that perhaps seems too unsolvable, distant, intimidating, or contentious to merit as much public discussion — deep-seated islamophobia that is held up not only by aggressive expressions of hate but passive tolerance of that bigotry.
Assigning blame for this terrorist attack on “meme culture” or “guns” falls short of calling out the systemic toxicity behind the white Christian supremacist ideologies that set up, affirm, and aim to justify violence. It’s not just explicit racist speech or online trolling that heightens the risk of terror attacks like these. It’s the public’s subtle indifference and fear of confronting internalized biases.
If we fail to educate ourselves on perspectives foreign from our own, the anti-Muslim bigotry that has socialized us to see Muslims fit the role of certain characters, specifically, violent ones, fills in the gaps where we are ignorant. Perhaps as a result, it’s harder for the institutionally white media and many members of the American public to be as comfortable with Muslims in the role of ‘victim,’ as is the case with New Zealand.
In an ideal world, we might feel every event of mass violence — whether that be a shooting in a school, a shooting in a club, or a shooting in a mosque — with a relatively equal amount of pain and anger. But the truth is, some equally devastating events hit our hearts harder than others, and we believe that this discrepancy results from our comfortability with who is affected.
It’s our responsibility, therefore, to challenge our unconscious biases and surround ourselves with content that doesn’t just relate to our own experiences. We don’t need to think of ourselves as “reaching across the aisle” so much as we should strive to attain a broader emotional consciousness.
Ignorance isn’t innocent. The default bias that exists is what allows President Trump to respond to the attack not through condemnation of the terrorist but through criticism of the media and trivialization of white nationalism, for mosques to be described as ‘peaceful’ as though their default is the opposite, and for 50 lives to be lost without the change-driven mobilization that we know can exist in the United States.
Anti-Muslim bigotry — including and especially our internalized and “implicit” biases — informs the way we frame acts of terror like the recent tragedy in New Zealand. Our failure to challenge our understandings is, ultimately, a choice to remain complicit in a system that violently characterizes Muslims and then thinks little of its indifference.