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After Christchurch, Muslim commentators must call out the war on terror as much as far right violence

It is important to see how the entire military-industrial complex, linked to white supremacy, relies on fear of Muslims
A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa on 13 November, 2014 (Reuters)

Hours after the horrific terror attacks in New Zealand, which killed 50 people and left many others in critical condition, Muslim commentators were providing their analysis of what led to such a brutal massacre against Muslim men, women, and children, in what was supposed to be a place of sanctuary.

A vast majority did not mention the War on Terror.

Unfortunately, much of what has been said has been half-baked, playing into existing liberal tendencies to solely focus on the dangers of  "far-right extremism", "white supremacy", neo-Nazis, and Islamophobic rhetoric by politicians.

The disastrous War on Terror

To be sure, the dangers of the far-right and white supremacy are critical. But what of US-led imperial violence, anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia fuelled by the Western liberal establishment, as well as the disastrous War on Terror, now in its 18th year?

As a 2018 report by the Watson Institute at Brown University noted, in just Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone, over half a million people have been killed.

What of US-led imperial violence, anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia, as well as the disastrous War on Terror?

This number does not include the number of people killed in places like Yemen, Somalia and Libya, as well as the countless others who have been killed by countries like India, Israel, Myanmar and Russia, that have utilised the war on terror logic for their own security interests.

These lives are simply erased. 

As Maha Hilal, perhaps the only one that does make reference to the war on terror, notes in her article: "The global war on terror has become a blueprint for violence against Muslims. When there isn’t a shooting at a mosque, there’s a drone strike in Somalia. When one Friday prayer goes by without incident, an innocent Muslim is detained on material support for terrorism charges or another is killed by law enforcement. Maybe a baby is added to a no-fly list."

Everyday complicity

In sum, both the "state and society" play a role in fanning the flames of fear of, and dehumanisation of Muslims. New Zealand's massacre happened because of the everyday complicity - by the right and the left - in violence against Muslims everywhere.

 Palestinians take part in a protest against the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 17 (REUTERS)
Palestinians take part in a protest against the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 17 March (Reuters)

It is important to see how interconnected these regimes of violence are, and how an entire military-industrial complex, also emboldened by white supremacy, relies on the strategic deployment of fear of Muslims.

The New Zealand massacre happened because of the everyday complicity - by the right and the left - in violence against Muslims everywhere

This is what makes the vast majority of analysis by Muslim commentators particularly troubling. There has been a thorough litany of what Trump said and did, and how white supremacy has been unleashed during his time in power.

It becomes all too easy to call Trump “impotent” in the face of white supremacy. Trump has, in effect, become a scapegoat for everything the Western liberal establishment has refused to acknowledge within itself. Yet, his indiscriminate bombing of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen since he came to office hardly gets a mention.

Obama's bitter legacy

And what of holding Obama to account? Aside from his bombings of eight Muslim-majority countries and his expanded drone warfare, Obama oversaw the extension of "Countering Violent Extremism" (CVE) programmes.

These programmes effectively parroted the threat of radicalisation within Muslim community spaces, disproportionately targeting the American Muslim community when the real threat of extremism actually lay with white supremacists.

This is what makes Obama’s "condolences" hypocritical, and deeply offensive. And what of Bush, who should for all intents and purposes be behind bars for his illegal war in Iraq, under the lies of  "weapons of mass destruction".
 
This pandering by Muslim commentators to the liberal elite essentially allows for a discourse that places value on Muslim lives in the West, but continues to invisibilise Muslim victims of imperial violence elsewhere.

This is why the attack shocked so many: that it happened in the "civilised" world, not in the "uncivilised other", where massacres are "routine" and "commonplace".  We still seem to have no idea of our role in them.

Liberal hypocrisy

Why is the liberal establishment, then, only interested in propping up the voices of those Muslims who are not actually able to provide a real, consequential critique? 

Chelsea Clinton attends a vigil held at NYU Kimmel Center to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in New York City, 15 March (REUTERS)
Chelsea Clinton attends a vigil held at NYU Kimmel Center to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in New York City, 15 March (Reuters)

Is it because it, too, is complicit in stoking the embers of white supremacy in its complete inability to question and challenge the endless bombing of Muslim-majority countries, the military industrial complex, and the subsequent racialisation of Muslims that is needed to uphold this system?

All of this makes the aftermath of the Chelsea Clinton incident a master class in liberal hypocrisy. Clinton was asked to leave a vigil held in New York City for the Muslim worshippers murdered in New Zealand, for leveling false accusations of anti-Semitism against Black Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a move that drew outrage from many Muslim guardians, with one actually describing the Palestinian Muslim woman who confronted Clinton as "dumb".

The incident revealed an inherent blindness, or perhaps a refusal, to hold liberals and pseudo-progressives accountable for their contribution to Islamophobia in one form or another.

On Ilhan Omar and the white liberal feminists
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That Chelsea Clinton remains an ardent supporter of Israel, and played upon the Islamophobic trope that Muslims are anti-Semitic to shut down Omar’s criticism of Israel, was overlooked.

This is what happens when Muslim lives, in this case Palestinian Muslim lives, abroad are invisibilised.

To see not just the liberal establishment, but also Muslim commentators, close ranks against a young Palestinian Muslim woman in favour of a powerful white woman, who just a few weeks ago was aligned with the far-right in her critique of Omar, was liberal hypocrisy at its zenith. 

Until there is a critical intersectional conversation on these issues in the popular media, solidarity by Muslims with Muslims who are victims of the far-right will remain as vacuous as any other talking head. 

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

Hafsa Kanjwal
Hafsa Kanjwal is an assistant professor in South Asian history at Lafayette College. Her PhD, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was on the social history of modern Kashmir.