If the current moment means anything for Muslims, it’s that mosques are places of fear and insecurity. In the span of one week, 50 New Zealand Muslims were being buried after a mass shooting and five attacks on mosques in the U.K. were reported. Most recently in the U.S., a mosque was set on fire in California and tagged with graffiti referencing the New Zealand attack.
While the Muslim community struggles to make sense of these acts of violence, these mosque attacks should be seen not only as targeting the Muslims practicing within their walls, but also a culmination of violence that has rocked the community across the globe — in the last 17-plus years due to the U.S.-led “global war on terror.”
Nevertheless, and despite the targeting of Muslims on a global scale, this moment has allowed governments across the world to feign concern for the Muslim community — operating on the premise that state violence and hate violence are disconnected and are motivated by different rationales.
Responding first to the Christchurch mosque attacks, Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid, speaking at London Central Mosque, stated,
The horrific events in New Zealand, like the atrocities we have suffered in the UK, are an attack on the values that unite us all. On our freedom to worship as we chose. Or even not to worship at all.
Three days later, when the attacks on five U.K. mosques occurred, Javid tweeted, “Let me be clear — hateful behavior has absolutely no place in our society and will never be accepted.” Despite the use of language precluding the singling out of any particular religious group by the state and using the word hate to distinguish and root interpersonal violence, what Javid’s statement obfuscates is the deeply entrenched Islamophobia in the U.K.’s counterterrorism framework, and that its own state-sponsored violence is the counterpart of hate violence.
One of the U.K.’s signature counterterrorism programs — and one that Javid supports — PREVENT, serves as a model for the U.S.-based Countering Violent Extremism program. The program surveils Muslims and criminalizes otherwise “normal” behavior. For example, a 4–year–old Muslim boy faced a terror warning for a picture that his nursery concluded was a “cooker bomb” because of his mispronunciation.
Unfortunately, this hardly scratches the surface of the differential treatment that Muslims face in the U.K. — an importer of the US’s global war on terror. Last month, for instance, Javid sent a letter to the family of Shamima Begum, a U.K. citizen who left at the age of 15 to join ISIS, stating that her citizenship was being revoked.
Thanks to Javid, Begum now risks becoming stateless. For those who excuse this move to strip Begum of her citizenship because of her ISIS connection, the U.K., has, since 2010, stripped 150 people of their citizenship – including aid worker Tauqir Sharif, who was running a successful nongovernment organization, but was accused of having a supposed connection to a group aligned with al-Qaeda. To this accusation, Sharif stated that, “these secret courts do not allow us to defend ourselves because we don’t know the evidence that is being presented against us.”
Though British law had previously prevented the stripping of citizenship if a person would be left stateless, this changed in 2014 with the Immigration Act, which according to Patrick Galey, “created two tiers of British citizen” – with those born in Britain considered more British than those naturalized or with non-British lineage. In practice, this has been exercised in some cases where a phenomenon of “blaming culture for bad behavior” comes into play, including the case of four Pakistani-British men who were convicted of sexual abuse and trafficking of young women and had their citizenship stripped. In contrast, Rolf Harris – born in Australia, but who lived in the U.K. and had British citizenship — did not have his British citizenship revoked even though he was convicted of 12 charges of indecent assault against young girls. With these examples in mind, the point is not to vindicate the accused, but to demonstrate how similar crimes with different consequences reinforce notions about particular groups – in this case, Muslim crimes being treated differently because of a racist view of cultural inferiority marked by the inherent propensity toward sexual violence.
From these examples — and there exist many more – the government is setting a precedent for the differential treatment of Muslims, and in doing so, modeling this mistreatment to members of society. Rising hate violence is therefore a reflection of the state’s logic that Muslims are inherently more criminal and deserve a special set of punishments. That’s why it’s unsurprising that in the week after the New Zealand attack, the U.K.-based group Tell Mama, an organization that tracks anti-Muslim abuse, reported a 593 percent increase in the number of anti-Muslim crimes in the U.K.
What this current historical moment has helped to elucidate, however, is not just the degree of hatred of Muslims, but the amount of violence that has tagged along with this hate. Moreover, as states offer opportunities to critique their hypocrisy, the mosque stands as a witness not just to those who have perished behind its walls, but to those who have been targeted because of their adherence to the faith that the institution represents.
Thus, while state responses continue to appeal to moral sensibilities of equality and non-discrimination, laws and policies implemented under the guise of the war on terror have not only criminalized Muslims, but have also unleashed white-supremacist proxy fighters to step in whenever the Muslim “threat” is leveraged.
Whether or not states take accountability for the hate violence, many Muslims will be there to shine a light — and a mirror.