Quebec mosque attack: All genocides start with words

There are an increasing number of people willing to inflict violence upon Muslims - and a US president willing to portray Muslims as a threat

CJ Werleman's picture
Thursday 2 February 2017 10:24 UTC

On Sunday night, Alexandre Bissonnette, a French-Canadian university student, walked up to a mosque in Quebec City, armed with an AK-47, and murdered six Muslims in cold blood.

Described by friends as a “Trump-loving conservative” who hated immigrants and loved apartheid Israel, and by a refugee advocacy official for his “anti-multiculturalist, pro-nationalist” views, Bissonnette was also known as an “internet troll” who’d often cite New Atheists Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens when expressing his anti-Muslim bigotry.

So here we are – firmly and observably fixed in a climate of reactionary, right-wing extremist-driven fear of an imaginary external enemy. History has been here before. In Hitler’s Germany, the Jewish people were viewed as the main threat to the state. All across the Western world today, Muslims are viewed as a threat to Western civilization itself.

Al-Qaeda prediction comes true

We are exactly where deceased American-born al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011, predicted we would be. In a 2010 sermon, he prophesied, “The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens.”

Indeed the West already has. Trump rode to the White House on the back of anti-Muslim hate. Marine Le Pen threatens to do same in France; likewise Pauline Hanson in Australia, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands; while political parties across Europe have made anti-immigrant policies the cornerstone of their respective platforms.

'The Quebec massacre is the realisation of every Muslim's greatest fear in the post-9/11 era'

- Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR

Moreover, the actual incidences of violent and threatening hate crimes against Muslims is off the charts – with the FBI reporting a 89 percent surge in the past year.

“The Quebec massacre is the realisation of every Muslim's greatest fear in the post-9/11 era,” Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the civil rights group CAIR (Phoenix) told me. “We've seen the landscape change from mere harassment, to vandalism - to armed mosque protests.

"Each step of the way, we've been saying, ‘Look! Islamophobia is real’ – but to seemingly deaf ears. What happened in Quebec, just as what happened to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was really a question of ‘when’ and ‘where’ they would happen, as opposed to a question of ‘if.'”



Alexandre Bissonnette, charged with six counts of murder (Reuters)

Mosques in Texas are being set alight. Muslims are being threatened, bashed or murdered by right-wing vigilantes. I use the term “vigilante” intentionally for, in the mind of a terrorist, he is exactly that, no matter how demented the logic. The terrorist sees his violence as noble, just, heroic and as necessary to protect his imagined or real community.

Dylann Roof, the white nationalist who executed nine black Americans at a church in South Carolina, believed he was defending the white race from “other peoples”. Anders Breivik, the right-wing extremist who murdered 69 students in Norway in 2011, believed he was defending Europe from Muslim migrants. It appears the Quebec City mosque terrorist shares identical views.

This is not coincidence

It is no accident we find ourselves here, with an increasing number willing to inflict violence upon Muslims, and a US president who is willing to portray Muslims as a threat to Americans. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump said in a recent interview. We are here because of the political discourse that has followed the attacks of September 11.

Prior to 9/11, national security discourse rested upon security of the sovereign state. In other words, protecting the national border was the reference object of securitisation. The “War on Terrorism” has changed this logic.

There will be extremists and the mentally unstable who rationalise to themselves: 'The government isn’t doing enough. I need to do something.'

Since 9/11, Muslims have become the object of securitisation. Not only has discourse portrayed Islam as a threat to Western values or incompatible with liberal democracy, but also we have carried out mass surveillance against Muslim communities, infiltrated mosques with informants, profiled and passed legislation that identifies Muslim as suspicious actors.

When you see Islam as a threat, then you see Muslims as a risk. When you see Muslims as a risk, you see Muslims as a group that needs to be securitised. When a vast slice of the electorate views Muslims in these terms, political action inevitably follows, while counter-terrorism policy follows that.

READ: Who speaks for Muslims? The Saudis, the Turks or the Germans?

It’s this logic that underpins Trump’s self-defeating and unconstitutional ban on Muslim refugees and immigrants.

In a climate of hyper-reactionary, right-wing driven hysteria against Muslims, however, there will always be those who believe the authorities aren’t doing enough to mitigate or manage said threat. There will be extremists and the mentally unstable who rationalise to themselves: "The government isn’t doing enough. I need to do something.”



Armed protesters demonstrate in front of a Texan mosque in December 2015 (AFP)

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, told me that in all failing states he had observed, out-groups were enthusiastically scapegoated by political elites. When the citizenry didn’t feel the state was doing enough to suppress the identified out-group, he explained, right-wing vigilantes and militias ended up performing what he called the “dirty work of the state”.

Echoes of history

We are now living in very dangerous times. While Nazi Germany metaphors are usually lazy and boring, it’s not a stretch to compare today’s climate of anti-Muslim bigotry with the early stages of anti-Semitism that swept Western Europe in the early part of the last century.

If you pull Nazi propaganda from the 1930s and replace “Jew” with “Muslim,” then you’re effectively seeing a return of Nazi-style propaganda, but against Muslims, on social media.

Each time you share or like a "Ban the burqa" or "Ban sharia law" post on Facebook, you're helping create another anti-Muslim terrorist

Each time you share or like a "Ban the burqa" or "Ban sharia law" post on Facebook, you're helping create another anti-Muslim terrorist, like Bissonnette, and helping elect a racist opportunist like Donald Trump.

All genocides start with words - and these words quickly become conspiracies. These conspiracies portray a specific group as a threat. When a specific group is seen as a threat, violence follows, and occasionally genocide follows that violence. This is how genocide took place in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur and Rwanda.

READ: Trump is a nastier George W Bush

Muslims living in the West do not wish to enact sharia law.

Pretending otherwise only serves to help these conspiracies take hold. Spreading these conspiracies is how you're contributing towards a climate where someone like Bissonnette believes he did a noble and heroic thing, and helps usher someone like Trump to power.

CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: People gather around the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill during a vigil following a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque on 30 January (Reuters)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.