WHEN you picture a terrorist, what comes into your mind? More often than not, is it a Muslim?
In the media, it does seem that way. When we hear of terror attacks done in hate, racism, and religious violence, people will immediately think that it is perpetuated by Muslims. Even in our local context, there are still some who look at Muslims in fear and hate.
This is why I was surprised to see that the Christchurch Mosque massacre in New Zealand, which was perpetrated by non-Muslims, was described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a terrorist attack. Why is this so remarkable?
Because, whenever we see non-Muslims perform acts of violence and terror, they are not called “terrorists”. They are “white supremacists,” or “right-wing shooters,” “rebel groups,” or rebel groups. But when it is a Muslim, their religion is all that you will hear from the international, and even local, media.
While we focus on our work in P/CVE, we ask ourselves, how does the rest of the world handle violent crimes committed by those who are not Muslims? And why is there a disproportionate number of people who claim that Islam is a religion of terror?
In Prime Minister Ardern’s case, she was able to enact a certain sense of leadership that is not often seen in international politics. Her use of language as she gave her initial remarks on the attack were both inclusive and direct to the point. She called out the perpetrators as both extremists and terrorists, while at the same time speaking of how her country should remain united.
When she went to the families and outside the mosques, she showed respect by wearing a hijab and showing empathy and emotion towards the affected communities. She gave real-time news updates to the media, offered financial aid to the victims’ families, and announced legislation that will change gun laws in their country.
It is refreshing to see a world leader embrace the Muslim community wholeheartedly, and at the same time being swift and timely in calling out those who did wrong. Because of this attack, the paradigm has shifted. How can Islam be a religion of terror, when it is Muslims that were killed that day in Christchurch? It is not a problem between religion, race, or culture. Everything and everyone is vulnerable to violent extremism, especially in the context of these attacks.
In the United States, it is white supremacists that have committed more terror attacks than any other group. According to a study done by the Anti-Defamation League in 2017, they were responsible for 18 out of 34 domestic terrorist attacks. Examples of white supremacists are adherents of Neo-Nazism, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. What they are doing has nothing to do with Islam, or anything to do with religion. It is terror based on the belief that one group is better than the other, in this case being race.
I hope that out of these horrible attacks, we can change the status quo of how Muslims are perceived in the world. Thanks to Ms. Ardern’s leadership, and the response from Muslims all over the world, we can show that we are a religion of peace and that we can work together towards solving violent extremism.
Together, we must change our mindset and do away with our old line of thinking. If the world will work together in addressing religious conflict, racism, and violence, we can have more compassionate leaders in government. It is my hope to one day witness these kinds of leaders in the Bangsamoro -- we would all be better off for it.