I had planned to write my column today about Comic Relief but, well, here we are: cast once again into a pit of disbelief in the wake of the horror in Christchurch, as the very darkest side of idiotic humanity has spilt fresh hell into the laps of unsuspecting people just going about their lives.
Not only must we deal with our shock and and sorrow for people we did not know, just as we did after the Manchester bombing, but because this was an attack on Muslims, we also have to face down the staggering callousness of those who’ve plotted an implacable course to dehumanise that particular people.
Shortly after the murders, the Australian senator Fraser Anning issued a statement saying that: “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
Obviously, a lack of compassion bordering on the gleeful is not particular to any one stripe of extremist, but it’s still quite shocking to see it from an actual senator, voted in by normal people who mow their borders neatly and poke their small change into charity boxes.
It’s more than a little disorienting to find that he fails to see any pressing need to hide his preposterous belief that all followers of the Islamic faith are fanatics, and even more so that his mindset seems to have presented no great barrier to election.
But, let’s be honest, this is not just an Australian problem. In a masochistic moment, I had a quick rubberneck at one right-wing publication’s comments section, only to find a woman cheerfully sharing that “now they no how it feels not nice when the tables are turned [sic]”.
A comment like this, coming from an ordinary British woman who has no worries about her photo and name being published alongside it, is a feather in the cap of the online hatemongers who salivate at the prospect that there might be an immigrant to blame whenever an atrocity is reported, and are conspicuous by their silence if it transpires that there isn’t. No doubt they’d counter that it’s all about religion, not race, but their habitual failure to identify which of the many distinct forms of Islam it is that they’re blaming this time gives the lie to that.
Of course, we’ve all been shaken by attacks committed by Islamist fanatics. At the risk of stating the obvious, instilling terror is the primary purpose of a terrorist; the world’s fear is their proverbial made omelette, and the innocent people they murder in the process are just so many broken eggs.
I’ve felt that fear myself. I first felt it as a child, when religious fanatics were instructed by Ayatollah Khomeini – the supreme leader of Iran himself – to assassinate a satirist and poet who had criticised the regime and who, by the by, happened to be my dad. He was put on their “death list”, and we got asylum in the UK.
In 1984, Scotland Yard informed my father of a second plot to assassinate him on British soil, and we had to go immediately into hiding. I was 11 years old and truly, deeply terrified. Even after we were allowed to return home, I never felt feel safe. Every time we got into our car, I fully expected it to blow up. When the doorbell rang unexpectedly, I’d feel a spike of terror that it might be men with machine guns coming to kill us, even after my father calmly informed me that he didn’t think hitmen would ring the doorbell before coming in.
For a while – and, to nervously paraphrase Liam Neeson, this is not something that I readily admit – when I saw people wearing hijabs, I would instantly think: “They hate me. They hate my dad. They want us all dead”. I was afraid of them. Isn’t that awful? But I was a child, and the terrorists had done their job.
Thankfully, I had parents who were able to steer me away from that thought process, and helped me to understand the difference between politicised Islam and those who simply follow the faith in a quest for inner peace.
I went to a west London comprehensive school, where Muslim kids sat and learned French alongside classmates whose fathers were members of the BNP. I was at this school when a Fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie by the Iranian government, and the Muslim kids, who were mostly from British Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, teased me for being a “terrorist” because I came from Iran. They didn’t see their own beliefs as having anything to do with the book-burning and calls for murder that we were seeing on the news. And nor should they have. Bloody annoying for me though.
That woman in the comments section will regard herself as a good person. In many ways, she probably is. I bet she and most of the other commenters are lovely to dogs and wouldn’t hesitate to help an injured person in the street, and yet here they are, basking in death and violence and pure distilled misery. But then, she lives in a world where you can casually dehumanise Muslims on a Friday morning without losing all of your friends. We all do.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
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