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Christchurch changed nothing

Reflections on the Christchurch shootings.

Image by Brendan Esposito

We amble our way through the world, life punctured with world events that have meaning to us. I’m Victorian, so my life’s progress is measured, like a metronome, by AFL Grand Finals and Boxing Day Tests. I also grew up Muslim in the West at the turn of the century — and this has a very particular meaning to diaspora Muslims; even more so to those who are visibly Muslim. It means our lives are punctuated by altogether more sombre events and we live in constant anticipation of the next, bracing ourselves for the deluge of hatred that accompanies it. For those of us that are visibly marginalised, by way of hijab or complexion, we have come to terms with the idea that we don’t get jobs like white people, or that we date differently, or that we make less money. Many of us in a millennial context have made our peace with that. We never make peace with the loathing; with our categorisation as lesser-than. It is a point of incandescent rage in the Muslim community that we never reconcile — why won’t it just fucking stop?

March 15, 2019. Christchurch.

51 dead, and an outpouring of grief and support from voices I’d never heard, unlike anything I’d ever known. Perhaps it was the closeness, compounded by the fact it was an Australian who perpetuated it. It has been encouraged by our elected officials in the name of the fabled marketplace of ideas, as long as I have known. After the attack, we were told the narrative would change; that it would be different now.

Why then, are my Twitter mentions filled with neo-Nazis, more emboldened than ever? Why is it that we have seen an uptick in Islamophobic hate crimes, even after Christchurch made it unpalatable for even One Nation to go on the attack against Muslim communities? How is it that neo-Nazism is alive and well on campus, an arena that supposedly suffocates free speech with the vice-grip of the do-gooder left? Why am I still on edge, waiting for the next brown terrorist to shatter this façade of calm?

It is because even in the face of death, we never actually confronted Brenton Tarrant’s ideology as a nation. When the Prime Minister was taken to task on national television last year for suggesting in 2011 that shadow Cabinet leverage anti-Muslim sentiment in the community, the Prime Minister explicitly rejected addressing any issue of historic Islamophobia in the Government or his Party, and spoke instead at length about his personal reputation in the western suburbs. While ASIO warned of right wing extremism and white supremacy as the most significant emerging threat to security in Australia, we saw the responsible Minister focusing on a confected threat of “left wing Islamist groups”; consistent with his turn away from the specific demonization of Muslims he engaged in pre-Christchurch, in favour of his newfound position as a culture warrior.

It seems an uncomfortable reconciliation for Australians; for white people — built upon (an obviously problematic) notion that this nation was settled in a similar vein to America, with the aim of freedom of religious pursuit. Therefore, the idea that we can be so explicitly Islamophobic (as if White Australia didn’t prohibit Muslim immigration) is at odds with our idealistic construction of Australian identity. It is an ideological dance we are forced into with every Breivik or Tarrant or Jones in this country, and it is rooted in the imperialism Western governments so gleefully engage in. We so deeply and so quickly politicised the role that Muslims have to play in the West since the turn of the century that it became partisan — indeed, the Opposition opposed the decision to enter Iraq, and the government had no majority in the Senate. There is little question of how the War on Terror fed off, encouraged and exacerbated Islamophobia in the West — this much is clear and uncontroversial, whether it was propagated by Bush, Blair or Howard. With unilateral action being taken in Australia to follow the United States into Iraq, there was little opportunity for any degree of cross-chamber or public resistance. Putting aside that the rationales for Iraq were entirely confected of themselves, our course of action in 2003 laid the path for the War to become a partisan issue, and by extension the role that Muslims have to play in this country, and in the War.

We were forced into perpetual apologia, or otherwise, a distancing from our faith. Any public response to the contrary invites a revocation of your right to Australian identity, even if it is so mild as to simply reject the basis for Western neo-imperialism, or one’s relation to fundamentalists on the other side of the world. To be with us was to be progressive, and to be against us was not. Such a fundamentally flawed binary model of identity results in what we saw a year ago on Channel Ten — the Prime Minister, presented with a decade of Islamophobic behaviour in his ranks, sought not to address it but to run. He had little choice; commit the grave political sin of throwing his colleagues under the bus in favour of bolstering his own leadership credentials to a substantial portion of “moderate” Australia, or otherwise admit that there is a tension between acknowledging the humanity of Muslims and efficient conservative leadership in this country.

When we shove political issues into partisan boxes, we devalue them. In devaluing the Muslim community in the War on Terror to a partisan “issue”, we have failed them. We forfeited our ability to substantively address the Islamophobia we perpetuated for the sake of neo-colonialist wars on the other side of the world. When I ask myself why nothing feels any different since Christchurch, perhaps it’s because it is no longer possible to think differently, not as long as the War on Terror rages on.