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The UK has a responsibility to stop the spread of Islamophobia online

18 Mar 2019

image via Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday morning, the UK woke up to the devastating news that 49 people had been killed during their Jummah (Friday) prayers at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Some of those victims were a 14-year-old boy, a Syrian refugee who moved to the country with his family in 2018, and 50-year-old Naeem Rashid, who tried to tackle the attacker at the first mosque to save other worshippers. Unnamed nationals from Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan were also killed.

Over the last five to six years, there has been also been a significant increase in far-right, extremist propaganda taking over the internet. In the UK, right-wing “political commentators”, such as Katie Hopkins – who used Christchurch as the basis of a rant about free-speech – have gained popularity solely based on uploading videos and text on Twitter to further their hateful agenda. Tommy Robinson was regularly using Facebook to upload his Islamophobic speeches before finally being banned earlier this year.

For years, this discourse has led to rallies and demonstrations all over the UK, often with an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment at the forefront, which sometimes turn into violent displays. Just hours after the Christchurch shootings, a man was attacked with a hammer outside the East London mosque. Though police have now confirmed that the man was a victim of a hate crime, they claim that that “there is no evidence to suggest that the mosque near the area was the intended target”. Yet there were still innocent Muslim lives present around the area that could have been hurt.

In fact, statistics show that 35 per cent of British people think that Islam is a “threat” to British life, implicating a relationship between the rise in far-right sentiment and Islamophobia which experts have confirmed. Harun Khan, the Muslim Council of Britain’s secretary, seems to reiterate these fears as he has requested the government to provide funds for mosque security, for he believes there is an increased risk of “copycat attacks” happening in the UK, “especially in a climate where we are now fully appreciating the growth in the far right”.

We must start tackling Islamophobic and far-right hate where it is first cultivated – on the internet. It is a crime in the UK to access “terrorist” propaganda even once, but far-right material is being accessed and distributed daily, violent events keep being created and shared on sites, repulsive and obnoxious statuses, comments and tweets are being shared on timelines. The Christchurch shooter’s live stream video of the whole massacre is still being circulated and shared, as well as his manifesto.

Despite his actions being strongly condemned and also labelled as a “terrorist attack” by New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, some of the mainstream media rhetoric has already shifted towards sympathy with the killer. There are numerous articles referring to his past occupation as a “dedicated” personal trainer who often taught children for free, while others give us mini biographies of his life, seemingly in a twisted attempt to reach justification. To me, there is only one conclusion: this man is a mass murderer, and no amount of “angelic” childhood photos will ever change that.

“This man is a mass murderer, and no amount of ‘angelic’ childhood photos will ever change that”

What we can do, however, is dissect his motives behind the attack. From what we’ve seen so far, they are a deeply embedded in white power and supremacy. Two weeks before the attack, which he had been planning for two years, he published a personal, 73-page manifesto online called “The Great Replacement” on imageboard website 8chan. The document is everything that you’d expect a document written by a racist murderer to be – an utterly psychopathic cesspool of hatred and antagonism, brought on by the fear of the unknown. He describes himself as a “regular White man” and explained his decision for the attack was a “stand to ensure a future for my people” (read: other white people). There is also a clear anti-Muslim and anti-immigration agenda, referring to his future victims as a “invaders [who] seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people”.

As we all sadly know from various past incidents, this is not the first time an attack like this has happened. In other words, a white man committing a mass shooting against people of colour is not a rare or new occurrence. This is also not the first time a murderer has uploaded a detestable, personal manifesto online, or uploaded photographs posing with far-right symbols on a website.

In fact, the Christchurch attacker praises Anders Breivik and also mentions Dylann Roof in his writings, suggesting that he most likely would have read the documents that are still floating around online and used them as inspiration to make his sick fantasies a reality. It also isn’t impossible for individuals in the UK to find these writings and use them to cultivate and grow their own hate, as well as spread their message to others.

Sajid Javid has now urged tech companies “to do more to stop his messages being broadcast on their platforms”, as allowing this to happen can only “lead to more radicalisation and murders”, but I’m wondering why this outrage is only coming out now?

It is a government’s responsibility to protect impressionable minds from easy access to detestable material. Hate speech and free speech laws should be revisited and possibly revised, and the ‘PREVENT’ strategy in schools should focus a lot more on extreme right-wing terror groups that exist in our own country in an effort to combat any presence of such attitudes in children and young people. Radical, far-right content should be policed more regularly and closer links should be formed with popular social media sites for this to be a continuous process.

Though the public has found ways to tackle hate, such as Saffiyah Khan standing up to an EDL protestor at a rally to defend a woman in a hijab, or YouTuber Niko Omilana infiltrating an EDL rally by pretending to be white, it is not always possible to always take the matter into our own hands without risking our lives. There is still a considerable amount to be done before we can truly understand how and why radical ideologies in the UK spread as quickly as they do.