While Twitter went into a frenzy over a suspected terrorist attack in Oxford Circus yesterday (which amounted to nothing more than Chinese Whispers gone awry), around 305 innocent Muslims were killed in an actual terrorist attack in Egypt. The global responses to the separate incidents highlighted just how imbalanced our attitudes towards terrorism actually are.
Within the space of minutes, there were thousands of tweets about Oxford Circus. The Daily Mail was quick to lick its lips amid the pandemonium, citing a 10-day-old tweet to brew rumours about a lorry attack (the article has now been removed from its site). Even though nothing actually happened, the panic that ensued was instrumentalised by far-right bigots to stir up xenophobia – Katie Hopkins, for instance, tweeted: “The truth of our frightened country is all the texts from children reassuring their moms” and the deplorable Tommy Robinson, without any evidence to suggest Islamic extremism, tweeted: “How long until we find out that today’s attack in Oxford Circus was by a Muslim who was again known to our security services.”
While hundreds of actual innocent lives were taken at the hands of terror in Egypt, figures from the British right seemed almost keen for Oxford Circus to be an Islamist attack.
As an Iraqi-Egyptian living in Britain, I find the paradox not only rage-inducing, but unbearable. I’ve witnessed how the West has been so conditioned to fear Muslims that we’re all blind to the fact that what we really need to worry about is our culture of fear instead. It has established a dangerous social cycle where “the imminent threat of Islam” means a potential tweet or sighting is suddenly proof of a jihadi siege in the West.
Even though the United Kingdom has been victim to horrific acts of terror in recent years, including the London Bridge, Manchester Arena, Westminster and Finsbury Park attacks, let’s not forget that it is Muslims and Arabs in the Middle East, as evinced by yesterday’s massacre in Egypt, that suffer the most at the hands of extremism. Muslims and Arabs all over the world fear terrorism just as much as everybody else – yet when fears of Western insecurity are invoked, Muslims continue to bear the brunt of hate. Our fear is unacknowledged, and the far right instrumentalise global panic to invoke yet more Islamophobia.
Even more appalling, the attack in Egypt was capitalised on to propagate more hate and division – Donald Trump used the attack to yet again argue for his wall, tweeting: “We have to get TOUGHER and SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN.” So even though over 300 innocent Muslims lost their lives, Trump somehow made it about himself and his exclusionary policies.
While most reasonable people know that Trump is the worst kind of leader there is, let’s not forget that millions around the world are persuaded by his hate campaign against Muslims, and they too will see the attack in Egypt as yet more justification for all social, political, and cultural Islamophobia and segregation.
I’m devastated that while Muslim Egyptian comrades suffered at the hands of terrorism, the world uses it as fodder for their hate campaigns. As the Oxford Circus panic revealed, we have become so conditioned by fear that many will take anything and everything to justify their beliefs.
And let’s not forget that this growing divide, exasperated by far-right supremacy, only adds fuel to the agenda of Islamic extremism.
There is so much that is magical and peaceful about Islam that goes unnoticed, and the world has an obligation to open its eyes to it. Yesterday’s Egyptian victims, for instance, were followers of Sufism. Sufi Muslims engage in a more mystical sect of Islam, where each and every Muslim has a deeply personal and spiritual relationship with Allah, who celebrates the utter individuality and uniqueness of every person. Sometimes, Sufis connect with Allah through dancing in skirts to incur a spiritual dialogue. It’s beautiful and empowering.
If yesterday showed us anything, it is that we need to shift our compass from fear to sympathy and from hate to understanding. What we need right now are reasons to come together, and so I hope we can all spend some time this week properly grieving the tragic lives lost in Egypt – for that is where our collective attention should be.
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