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Inclusive Islam: What can we do after the Christchurch mosque massacre?

By Junaid Jahangir

There is no shred of doubt in my mind that the heinous massacre of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch is an act of raw evil. To relegate it to the act of a lone, misunderstood person struggling with mental health problems would be to downplay the effect of the supremacist narrative that emboldened a dastardly coward to pounce upon utterly defenceless people absorbed in prayer.

This supremacist narrative is used everywhere that has witnessed the rise of far-right politics. Such a narrative plays on the insecurities and fears of people, who find themselves overwhelmed by globalization and technological changes. Instead of looking within for personal responsibility and accountability, such people adopt the easier path of buying into conspiracy theories and blaming others for their own shortcomings.

However, this is a familiar narrative. A group of people thinks itself victimized, its way of life threatened by outsiders and immigration. The same narrative can be seen in the case of Muslims who joined ISIS a few years ago. Such Muslim recruits also based their narrative on the persecution of Muslims worldwide by imperial powers. They too felt humiliated by constantly finding themselves on the defensive on their cultural and religious heritage, much like the far-right in the West.

Both the Islamist and white supremacists address the perceived humiliation and powerlessness in their lives by resorting to extreme tactics, which—in their minds—offer them glory. They cannot work with humility towards making themselves better and helping others, for in their narrative they have dehumanized the other that they fear, allowing them to act without thought to their own morals. Given their extreme ideology, Muslims and the Western/European communities try to dissociate themselves respectively from Islamist and white supremacist terrorists.

But Muslims cannot excommunicate ISIS sympathizers as khawarij (outsiders) any more than westerners can play off white supremacists as deranged. The politics of exclusivism are dangerously close to the core of many cultures. In Islam, juristic manuals, written in the age of Islamic Empires, divide the world into believers and heretics—they allow believers to socially marginalize fellow believers with the approval of their own conscience. Similarly, mainstream Western communities cannot deny the right-wing politics—found in many countries—which view Muslims as the fifth column.

So what can common, every-day people do after the Christchurch mosque massacre? Is it to call their nearest Muslim and offer sympathy?

Should people call their politicians to demand action against the narrative of Islamophobes? While that may be necessary, it is not sufficient to ensure that such dastardly events do not happen again. Indeed, the more restrictions we place on their free expression of opinions and the more we force people to walk on eggshells, the more they harbour animosities and find like-minded communities in the dark recesses of the internet. And it is in such online corners that someone on the cusp of society imbibes all that hateful jargon to finally let go of all inhibitions and engage in the unthinkable. This is parallel to the process of the making of Islamist terrorists.

In honest truth, there is not much that can be done to bring the likelihood of Islamophobic terrorist acts down to zero. Just as it cannot be ensured that Islamist terrorist acts will come to a halt. If anything, the Christchurch incident may just have emboldened Islamists to create havoc of their own. As such, the ensuing cycle of hatred and violence will continue unabated.

If we are to listen to the wise sages amongst all our faith traditions, we know that darkness does not drive out darkness. We can only destroy hatred with love, and we cannot change others but only ourselves. This means each one of us will have to look within. As Muslim thinker and activist Amanda Quraishi writes: “The hate we cling to—the ability to look at any other person and see them as an ‘other’ who, for whatever reason, deserves less grace than us, is the essence of the human condition which is rooted in ego and the active avoidance of the reality of our shared humanity … To truly change the world and make it a better place, we will have to commit to changing ourselves first, and erasing the lines between ourselves and that of even our worst enemies.”

In Edmonton, this means for the larger community to stand by their Muslim neighbours. And they are doing a phenomenal job through Hate Free Edmonton. Activists like Associate Pastor Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum and Paula Kirman, along with others, actively resist the hatred espoused by the Soldiers of Odin through counter rallies to send out a strong message that hatred has no place in Edmonton. They persistently offer a deluge of support especially after every Islamophobic incident in Edmonton.

The need of the hour is for hegemonic Muslim institutions to join such activists in such acts of self-reflection and to look within. That will require them to look into their own instances of marginalizing Muslims branded as apostates, heretics, LGBTQ2S+ Muslims, and any and all that do not fit the ‘mainstream’ Muslim narrative. This means reflecting on what makes Muslims in Edmonton connect with the Muslims in Christchurch but allows them to completely ignore Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, whose mosques have also been attacked by suicide bombers and murderers.

I distinctly recall the 2010 Ahmadi mosque massacres. When I asked local Muslim leaders to join me in standing by Ahmadi Muslims against their systemic persecution, I was told that there was not much we could do in Canada and that we should focus on local issues.

In essence, everybody can hug their children tighter after heinous incidents, there is wisdom in reaching out to the child of the “other.” That is the bedrock of Islam—Tawhid (Oneness) of all humanity— and our strongest safeguard against terrorism—, Islamist, white supremacist or otherwise.

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