New Zealand shootings: Muslims are fearful and hurting but we must not give in to hate

16th March 2019

This article by Maajid Nawaz was originally posted in The Times on 16th March 2019.

Yesterday’s attack announces the lowest point for Muslim communities in the West since the Bosnia genocide. This is now the single biggest terror attack in Australasia, equal in number of victims to the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. It will change for ever how we view the new and emerging category of white supremacist and anti-Muslim terrorism.

Last month I was attacked in the Soho area of London in a racially aggravated assault. I was punched in the face as my assailant shouted “f***ing Paki”, and my forehead was punctured with an unknown object. I will probably be scarred for life.

If you had told me five years ago that the sort of violent racist and xenophobic hate that we witnessed as teenagers growing up in Britain, or anti-Muslim hate reminiscent of the Bosnia genocide, would re-emerge across the West, I would have been sceptical. Now I am terribly fearful.

In recent years our focus has rightly been on more organised and operational jihadist terror. Jihadism is still a larger threat for the West in proportionate terms, yet the new strand of far-right terror is catching up in terms of the threat it poses, how organised it’s getting and the traction it can gain.

Echoing, if not deliberately, the paranoid delusions of the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, the apparent killer’s motives appeared twofold: to kill as many “invaders” as possible and to promulgate his white nationalist ideology. These motives emerge from the conspiracist basis of his “replacement theory”, in which conspiracy theorists assert that Muslim “invaders” are repopulating at a faster rate than the “native” white population, thus will eventually expand to perpetually replace whites, and must be stopped at any cost.

It is tempting for my fellow Muslims to react in understandable rage by seeking to muzzle legitimate conversations around immigration and Islam or silence our right-wing political adversaries. We must resist this urge.

Just as it would be wrong to blame critics of western foreign policy for jihadist terror in the West, it should be unacceptable to use this attack to to blame critics of immigration or Islam, or to seek to silence the political right generally. That will only make matters worse. Now is not the time to turn on each other seeking blame.

Such a reaction is precisely what the terrorist wants and I suspect why he wrote his so-called manifesto. Yes, this is an attack on our fundamental identity as Muslims and our presence in the West. We are hurting right now but this should be a time to reach out in love rather than lash out in rage.

It will only increase mutual distrust. Of course, inflammatory anti-Muslim language must be condemned by us all, and many anti-Muslim provocateurs need to take a hard look at themselves right now, just as we condemn inflammatory Islamist language. That’s different though from trying to silence an entire policy concern like criticising Western foreign policy or opposing immigration and critiquing Islam respectively.

Now is not the time to settle political scores. Now is the time to reflect, reach out and respond with mercy from a position of moral authority.

Terrorists seek to silence debate. They prefer the bullet to the ballot. Let us debate all the hot issues in defiance, but the one principle I would ask that we all remember is that just as no idea should be above scrutiny, no person should be beneath dignity.