Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.
As the first reports emerged from Christchurch, I felt that same sense of dread when learning about the massacres in Quebec City and Pittsburgh. Worshippers were once again gunned down in cold blood.
The attacks in New Zealand took place at two mosques during the Friday congregational prayer – when Muslims attend in large numbers. According to reports, at least one shooter killed people while they were praying, bowing to God. Thus far, the death toll stands at 49, with at least 20 seriously injured.
Make no mistake – the attacks were well planned. A shooter live-streamed his murderous rampage and posted an anti-Muslim manifesto online. (Despite attempts by social-media platforms to remove the video and manifesto, both continue to circulate.) In the video, he encourages viewers to subscribe to a YouTube channel which, in December, was accused of promoting another user known for anti-Semitic views. One of the people arrested is a 28-year-old alleged white nationalist and self-described fascist from Australia. Explosive devices were also found in his car.
This has brought back awful memories of the Quebec City mosque shooting, in which six men were murdered in cold blood by a right-wing, anti-immigrant male who was a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump and a consumer of online hate.
In the coming days, we will learn of the motivation of the terrorist or terrorists responsible, as well as their movements, and communications in the days leading up to the shooting. Many are shocked, given the low preponderance of gun violence in the country. Furthermore, New Zealand is a multi-ethnic, multilingual country.
What peaceful countries such as Canada and New Zealand have come to realize is that strict gun laws will not prevent the spread of hate among far-right extremists. This ideology espouses anti-immigrant, homophobic, misogynous, white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim views. In fact, researchers of hate crimes argue that security agencies and policy-makers have minimized – if not dismissed – the threat posed by these groups, while ratcheting up the dangers of Muslim extremists.
Yet, according to research by Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, between 1980 and 2014, in Canada, there were roughly 120 incidents inspired by right-wing extremism, compared with seven incidents by Muslim extremists. These include assaults, arson, vandalism and homicides. Since 2014, at least 20 Canadians have been killed by right-wing extremists such as Justin Bourque and Alexandre Bissonette and, allegedly, Alek Minassian, who faces 10 counts of first-degree murder for the 2018 Toronto van attack.
Dr. Perry’s research identified at least 100 right-wing extremist groups in Canada, with the majority in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. Their numbers have grown, as has their activism (both online and offline). This has coincided with the presidency of Donald Trump and the harsh rhetoric spewing from the United States. Some of the more alarming groups, according to Dr. Perry, are the Proud Boys (an anti-feminist, all-male group), Pegida (primarily anti-Muslim), Soldiers of Odin (anti-Muslim; conducts surveillance of mosques and border patrols), La Meute (white nationalists, anti-Muslim) and the Three-Percenters (anti-Muslim, devoted to preserving Canadian “heritage”). Law-enforcement agencies are not giving high priority to right-wing resurgence.
Collectively, we have a role to play against the spread of hate. We can confront hateful views within our families and social circles. Furthermore, we must hold politicians to account. Last year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford welcomed Faith Goldy at FordFest. After sustained criticism, he was forced to denounce her. Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer has to stop feigning ignorance of right-wing elements at rallies and take an unequivocal stand against those who peddle in hate. Whether it’s anti-immigrant animus filtering through the United We Roll convoy, or an individual espousing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory – Mr. Scheer’s immediate lack of denunciation of such views reflects weak leadership.
We must demand social-media companies to stop the spread of hate on their platforms. With the ubiquity of artificial intelligence, why can’t they check content before it is posted – rather than after? Maybe the problem lies in allowing these companies to self-police. The time is ripe for external regulation.
Complementing active resistance is resilience in the face of such tragedies, as demonstrated by New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, who told a grieving country it was targeted because “we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”
In the coming weeks, Muslims will feel a heightened sense of vulnerability. Please reach out in solidarity. Together, we will unite against all forms of hate and strengthen the bonds of humanity that bind us.