By Kalinga Seneviratne
SYDNEY (IDN) – After a White Australian of Christian background Brenton Tarrant gunned down 50 Muslims praying at a Christchurch mosque on a Friday, it took the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern more than a day to call it a “terrorist” act, and when she did so, the mainstream media in Australia and New Zealand quoted Tarrant’s mother as describing him an “angelic boy”.
Social media users across the world have condemned the Western tabloids’ attempts to humanize the killer, while ignoring those Muslims killed – many of whom had fled such terrorism in their own countries to find refuge in New Zealand. If the killer had a Muslim background, headlines across the world would scream “Islamic Terrorism Strikes ‘Peaceful’ New Zealand’ and would have described the killer as an “evil” person and a product of a violent religious culture.
This thinking was reflected in a statement released by Australian senator Fraser Anning from Queensland following the Christchurch massacre. He blamed the New Zealand immigration program that “allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate” who promote a “violent ideology” as the cause of the attack.
He was condemned widely in Australia for spreading such hate speech. But his diatribes distracted attention from the violent nature of Christian identity politics, which the Western media prefer to call “far-right”, “white supremist” or “Neo-Nazi” violence.
They never call it “Christian Terrorism” even though using violence to spread or defend Christianity has a long history from the crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries, European colonial conquests and to contemporary violence against Muslim communities in Western countries.
Four days after the Christchurch massacre, Australia’s only high-profile Muslim media identity Waleed Aly said on the popular TV Show he hosts ‘The Project’ that he was gutted, scared, overcome with utter hopelessness — but not shocked by extremists’ violence.
He added that some eight years ago the then Shadow Minister for Immigration had suggested at a party room meeting that the opposition should use community concerns that Muslims fail to integrate to Australian society as political strategy. Though he did not name the person, he was referring to the current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who threatened to sue him for defamation but later withdrew the threat.
Needless to say, similar strategies have been used by mainstream politicians and political parties in the West – the most notable are U.S. President Donald Trump and French opposition figure Marine Le Pen – to drum up political support from their Christian bases. The media tend to use the word “race” rather than religion to discuss such issues, even though the word “Muslim” refers to a religion rather than a particular race.
Germany hosts the second largest community of Muslims in Europe numbering around 5 million and last year there have been over 570 attacks on Muslims, but, these attackers are always described as ‘far-right” or “neo-Nazis” not “Christian extremists”.
In June 2018, when nine French men and a woman were charged in a Paris Court for planning to attack veiled women, imams, mosques and halal grocery stores across France, the New York Times (NYT) said the group claimed they were “fighting an Islamic peril” but nowhere in the report was the word Christian used, instead they were described as a “small right-wing vigilante group”.
In 2005, the popular American Christian televangelist Pat Robertson publicly called on the U.S. government to kill Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He was quoted in NYT as saying “it’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop”. Though the newspaper did quote Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Rangel as saying that it is sheer hypocrisy for a nation supposedly fighting terrorism to let a Christian preacher make such a terrorist statement, NYT did not label Robertson as a “Christian Terrorist”.
But, in 2013, Time magazine ran a cover story on ‘The Face of Buddhist terror” in Asia referring to how militant monks are fuelling anti-Muslim riots in Asia. But, when Christian evangelical preachers do the same it is not ‘Christian Terror’. Even the Burmese army that attacked Rohingyas were called a “Buddhist Army” but NATO jets pounding so-called “Islamic terror camps” in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq are not called “Christian Armies”. Applying the same logic as for Myanmar it can be said so.
Leave aside the crusades and European colonialism that destroyed the Inca civilization of South America, in the post-war era we have had a whole chain of Christian terror groups that have killed people and bombed communities. There was the Irish Republican Army that almost assassinated British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984. In the 1970s and 1980s they terrorized the UK with bombings and assassinations but they were never called “Catholic Terrorists” just merely IRA.
Between 1987 and 2004, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was involved in a terror campaign to create a Christian state in Uganda ruled according to the Ten Commandments. They killed thousands of people in the process and were described as one of the most ruthless terror groups in the world – even the U.S. State Department declaring them a terrorist organization. In 2005, LRA leaders were charged by the International Criminal Courts for crimes against humanity and war crimes. But, the western media never called them “Christian Terrorists” just referred to them as LRA.
There is the infamous Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168 people and two white Americans were ultimately convicted for the bombing. The media described them as belonging to a “religious cult” or when it became obvious this was Christian they said both were radicalized by a “Davidian religious sect” near Waco, Texas – a state well-known as a base of Evangelical Christianity movement that propelled both George W Bush and Donald Trump to the White House.
In China, when two Christian cult members were sentenced to death for murdering a woman at a McDonald’s restaurant, media reporting across Asia referred to them simply as “members of a Chinese cult” even though it was stated in the reports that they belong to an underground ‘Church of the All Mighty God” that believes its founder is a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
In the 1980s when the campaign for a separate Khalistan state for Sikhs in India intensified leading to the blowing up of an Air India flight flying between Montreal and London, and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, these actions were described as “Sikh Terrorism” by the western media, even though Sikh militants would like to call themselves the “Khalistan Liberation Army”.
In north-east India there is a long simmering terror campaign in Nagaland to create a separate Christian state that has killed over 200,000 people, where the late American Christian evangelist Billy Graham has attracted pop-star status. Nowhere do we hear about “Christian terrorists” in Nagaland, but, we hear a lot about the Hindu “Saffron Armies”.
When I raised the question of why Turrant is not labeled a ‘Christian Terrorist’ when even his manifesto released on social media had references to threats facing Christianity, a Christian friend of mine in Sydney said: “He is not a Christian. Because if one were to hold extreme Christian views, he would be handing out food to the poor.” Well one could make the same argument about the Muslims, Buddhists and the Hindus.
Perhaps the best strategy for the media, at least in Asia, would be to take religion out of reporting terrorism and investigate and analyse more mindfully the socio-economic issues that give rise to such conflicts. If that could be done, different religious movements could come together to help solves the pressing economic, social and environmental problems threatening human civilization, as the core values of all the major religions would entice them to do so. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 April 2019]
Photo: Governor-General of New Zealand, Dame Patsy Reddy, lays flowers for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings at Hagley Park on 19 March 2019. CC BY-SA 4.0
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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