As New Zealand grapples with the aftermath of the attack on two Muslim congregations in Christchurch on March 15, the mass shootings on the other side of the world have struck fear through Muslim-American communities and renewed calls for action against the rise of bigotry in the United States.
Muslim-Americans urged political leaders, local officials and tech companies to confront the alarming spread of hate and racism that in recent years has led to scores of worshippers being slaughtered in religious institutions. The Islamic Society of Milwaukee released a statement regarding the tragedy.
“The attack in New Zealand against Muslims is, sadly, part of a trend by right wing extremists, in our country and around the world. The FBI has labeled right wing extremists in the U.S. as being the most significant threat facing our country… The attack in New Zealand is no different from the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Dylan Roof attack against innocent churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and other attacks against immigrants, African Americans, Hispanics and others… We call on all people of conscience, of whatever background, belief, culture, religion or identity, to stand together against the bigotry and hate which is becoming all too common. We must stand united against those who promote and tolerate such views.
At a press conference in Washington DC, Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad demanded President Trump unequivocally condemn the attacks, saying his words and policies “impact the lives of innocent people at home and globally.”
“You should condemn this not only as a hate crime, but as a white supremacist terrorist attack,” Awad said. “You need to assure all of us — Muslims, blacks, Jews, immigrants — that we are protected and you will not tolerate any physical violence against us because we are immigrants or we are minorities. You need to condemn this clearly today and you do not need to be vague. You have to be very clear on this.”
The alleged shooter, who is now in custody along with two others, live-streamed the massacre over Facebook. In the end, at least 49 people were killed and another 48 are being treated in hospitals.
In writings outlining his beliefs, the Australian man described himself as a 28-year-old claiming to represent Europeans and whites in a battle against immigrants — people he repeatedly called “invaders.” Throughout the screed, which he posted to several sources online, he cited his hatred for Islam and referred to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, arguing that attempts by the government to take away guns will lead to civil war.
Awad of CAIR alluded to President Trump’s proclivity for hyper-nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric on the campaign trail and as president and placed some of the blame for the ambush in New Zealand, at his feet.
“During your presidency and during your election campaign, Islamophobia took a sharp rise and attacks on innocent Muslims, innocent immigrants and mosques have skyrocketed,” Awad said. “We hold you responsible for this growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and in Europe, but also we do not excuse those terrorist attackers against minorities at home and abroad.”
Advocates across the country have urged Trump to disavow the attackers and the white nationalist movement in general, which they say invoke the president as an inspiration and a symbol of the white identity movement. His 2017 comments, following the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, referred to neo-Nazi and white nationalist protesters as “very fine people.”
Additionally, social media platforms and tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, which hate groups use to disseminate vile messages of prejudice and violence, and build their membership, need to do more to detect and shut down online objectionable content. Facebook moved quickly to take down the horrific video capturing the bloodshed in real time, as well as the alleged shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. But by the time it did so, there was little the company could do to stop internet users from re-uploading the video to YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and other online platforms.
Senator Mark Warner also pointed to the social media platforms as inadvertent facilitators of heinous ideology.
“The rapid and wide-scale dissemination of this hateful content — live-streamed on Facebook, uploaded on YouTube and amplified on Reddit — shows how easily the largest platforms can still be misused,” said Senator Warner. “It is ever clearer that YouTube, in particular, has yet to grapple with the role it has played in facilitating radicalization and recruitment.”
Twitter and Youtube have both condemned the attacks and said they are working to bring down any video of the shooting.
Muslims, who gathered for prayers on March 15 at mosques around the country, were unified in their grief over the tragedy and their refusal to be intimidated. Faith leaders of other religions stopped by the mosque to offer their condolences.
“The Jewish community knows, with the Pittsburgh shooting, what it means to have the promise of synagogue ripped out from under you,” said Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove.
Although Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said there are no “current, credible” threats against Muslim communities in the U.S., officials tightened security at mosques around the country.
This content was edited for length and originally published on Wisconsin Public Radio as After New Zealand Attacks, Muslim-Americans Call For Action Against Rising Bigotry
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