The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Western education has a lot to answer for when it comes to the Christchurch attack

There's enough research to suggest we aren't born racist – we learn it. Looking at everything from British to Australian curricula, it's easy to see how 

Akanksha Singh
Sunday 17 March 2019 15:38
Comments
Christchurch mosque attacks: What we know so far

The mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people weren’t different. They weren’t different because the attacker had a manifesto outlining his depraved beliefs, they weren’t different because they happened at the hands of a white man in New Zealand, and they certainly weren’t different because they were streamed live from his phone.

As a society, we seem to consistently distinguish Islamic extremism from “other” extremism. Truthfully, however, there is no “other” when it comes to extremes; there is no religion, no logic, and, indeed, no compassion.

So, when the attacker – a self-proclaimed “regular white man” from Australia – declared he was carrying out the attack to “directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves”, I didn’t just see a xenophobic, white supremacist ideology; I saw someone who was ignorant and poorly educated.

There’s a reason that racists and xenophobes are comfortable with the idea of an “invasion” by immigrants, refugees, or people of colour – western education has, time and again, fuelled white supremacy and, consequently, Islamophobia.

Hours after the Christchurch terror attack, three white men attacked a man outside a mosque in east London. They called worshippers attending Friday prayers “terrorists” and assaulted one such worshipper with a hammer and a batten.

Back when I studied GCSE history, we covered a lot of ground, but what we didn’t cover in nearly enough detail was colonialism. It was mentioned in a paragraph, to be sure, but then we brushed it aside and focused on the wars and all the great things Britain gave the world.

I think writer and politician Shashi Tharoor perhaps said it best when he described this cultural phenomenon as “historical amnesia”.

But this isn’t unique to British curricula.

60,000 years of Aboriginal history are ignored in Australia, with history textbooks still implying that Australia is white. And America and Canada, too, where Native American and First Nation history is but a small component of what is learnt.

Of course, this is changing in some parts of the world (albeit slowly), but until these curricula serve to be more than propaganda for how great the allied powers were, they’re not of much use.

Along with history, though, we need to look at the language and rhetoric we use to describe ourselves before we delve into whom we confine to the “outsider” label. Several individuals who have fanned the flames of modern-day Islamophobia are in denial over the extent to which commentary like theirs can lead to terrorist attacks.

Donald Trump denies white nationalism is a 'rising threat' after Christchurch mosque attack

When two New York University students confronted Chelsea Clinton at a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch attack, they suggested that Clinton’s criticism of black Muslim representative Ilhan Omar were part of the problem.

In a video, student Rose Asaf is heard saying, “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words you put out into the world. And I want you to know that, and I want you to feel that deep inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric that you put out there.”

Clinton, who replied to a tweet on antisemitism in response to Omar’s tweet accusing US leaders of defending Israel for financial gain, said she “co-signed as an American”. Adding: “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in antisemitism.”

Dweik and Asaf rightly pointed out that the words “as an American” were what were hugely problematic, pointing out that they believed “that Ilhan Omar did nothing wrong except challenge the status quo, but the way many people chose to criticise Omar made her vulnerable to anti-Muslim hatred and death threats.” Moreover, in an interview with The Washington Post, Asaf said that by using “as an American” Clinton reinforces the “anti-immigrant trope”.

And they’re right.

So when Clinton responded with the ultimate non-apology, “I’m so sorry you feel that way [...] I do believe words matter,” I couldn’t help but recognise the extent to which people with platforms are making matters worse.

This isn’t unique to Clinton though. Julia Hartley-Brewer criticised Nesrine Malik for pointing out that her criticisms of Islam and Islamic terrorists were “somehow responsible for today’s horrific mosque terror attacks”.

But they were.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The rhetoric put out by people like Hartley-Brewer is what white supremacists feed off. Despite calling the Christchurch attacks “right-wing” and “terrorist”, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has also relied on anti-Muslim rhetoric as a political strategy to secure his position.

Ditto Donald Trump, whose anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies were praised in the Christchurch attacker’s manifesto, calling Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

There’s enough research to suggest we aren’t born racist – we learn it. Perhaps from a racist uncle or grandparent, say. Perhaps from the man down the road who tells women in headscarves to “go home”.

Politicians, journalists and public figures have hugely influential platforms. And until they can fully grasp the extent to which they control public discourse surrounding issues such as immigration and xenophobia, and Islamophobia and white supremacy, as a public, we need to hold them accountable wherever possible.

Because words of hate or intolerance – however mild – don’t just hurt those they’re intended for, they empower closet xenophobes and reiterate white supremacist beliefs, too.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in