New Zealand Terror Attack Shines Light on Islamophobia

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

March 22, 2019

The senseless murder of fifty Muslim worshippers during Friday religious services in Christchurch, New Zealand has elicited strong reactions across the region. While some authors focused on the immediate aftermath and the shared humanity that brought communities together post-attack, for others the event served as a painful reminder of the devastating effect that anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment has on society.


According to the Saudi Gazette’s Khaled M. Batarfi, the tragedy displayed the ability of people from different faiths to come together against “religious and racial intolerance”: “The international media coverage was as responsible and principled. Many scholars followed with analyses explaining the why and how. Some pointed to the Islamphobia trend in Europe and other parts of the world like China and Myanmar that created such an environment. Others called for international laws against hate speech. As shocking as the terrorist attack was, it showed how much solidarity humanity has developed against religious and racial intolerance that fed the hatred behind the crime. Like past attacks on other houses of God around the globe, this too was a totally unprovoked assault on peaceful, unarmed civilians.”

One such message of solidarity came from survivors of another senseless act of violence which took place six months ago at the Tree of Life synagogue in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. In an emotional op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Marnie Fienberg’s message was simple: “To the families that are reeling, I want to say that we in the Jewish community are your siblings; we are all children of Abraham. We are appalled at this attack and mourn your loss deeply…. Regardless of the distance, these families in New Zealand need your love, respect and space. They need to know that 99 percent of the people in this world are amazing, loving people. They need to know that their families are not defined by the way they died, but by the way they lived. Today I don’t have an answer, any more than I did six months ago. Today all I have are tears. Tomorrow, maybe, we can all work together to find a solution and a way to protect all of us, especially when we are at our most vulnerable.”

Issuing a call for “standing together” in the face of such attacks, Khaleej Times’s Mustafa Al Zarooni notes that, as hatred knows no boundaries, tolerance and mutual respect also ought to be universal: “We live in an advanced world and only through peaceful living and collaboration can we progress further. Clinging to the past and holding on to the dark lessons in history will only make people bitter. Selective understanding of situations does not help assuage hostilities but spreads hatred…. People with extreme ideologies have been spewing hatred and polluting minds of people with messages of intolerance. It’s time to put an end to this. The world does not want any more killing of innocent people. It’s time we stood together to fight such intolerance.”

Others have drawn attention to what the Daily Sabah’s Kilic Bugra Kanat argues is the increasing radicalization of the far-right and the rise of Islamophobia around the world: “Many have raised the threat of anti-Muslim hatred but somehow it has not been given enough thought on how to take steps to stop the spread of these ideas. This attack demonstrated that it is a more dangerous and destabilizing threat than many have assumed. The discourse against Muslims is leading to policies that discriminate against Muslims in some countries today. These policies and the increasing intensity of this discourse may lead to the further radicalization and spread of extremist ideology among existing far-right groups.”

A similar sentiment is expressed in a recent Gulf News editorial, where it is suggested that Islamophobia is driven by systemic and societal dynamics, and is far from being an isolated phenomenon: “The Muslims at the two New Zealand mosques were liquidated not just by a man filled with hatred, but by the ideas that he clung to, ideas about racial superiority and who his country belonged to…. Islamophobia is not a fringe problem: It is embedded in much of Western society. For over two decades now — the span of an entire generation — the whole Muslim community has been forced to accept collective guilt and punishment for every act of terror or violence committed by one of its members. Never would, or should, this standard be applied to white people, who seem to have kept the privilege of individual differentiation for themselves.”

Characterizing the terror attacks in New Zealand as “Islamophobia in its worst barbaric form,” a Jordan Times editorial sees no end in sight for the “hate and animosity towards Muslims [which] is deep rooted in the West and can be traced to the birth of Islam. What is worse is that Islamophobia in many Western nations is projected to rise because of several reasons and not only historical in nature, but also due to the rise in the number of Muslims immigrating to Western countries. The higher the number of Muslims emigrating to the West, the higher could be the hate and animosity towards them, especially when Muslim identity is visible. No amount of pious hopes is going to change this alarming projection. As long as peaceful coexistence between religions and cultures is not attainable in many parts of the world, the crisis is going to continue.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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