By Shaharyar Khan Afridi
The world woke up on Friday to a horrifying bloodbath in two mosques in New Zealand — one of the most peaceful countries on the planet — which saw 50 people killed in cold blood while praying. The victims were those who have mostly been blamed for terror: Muslims.
According to reports from Christchurch, the gunman carried rifles covered in the slogans of white nationalist and far-right hate groups, the names of terrorists who carried out attacks on Muslims, and inscribed with historic references.
Nine Pakistani nationals were killed. Bangladeshi cricketer Tamim Iqbal tweeted, “Entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers” after they escaped the deadly shooting.
While people around the globe were still in shock over the butchering of their fellow human beings, another stroke blew them away: A Queensland lawmaker put the blame for the mass shooting on the victims, calling it a result of the increased Muslim presence in the region and labelling the community “fanatics.” Sen. Fraser Anning crossed all limits of decency by claiming that the attacks highlighted the “growing fear over an increasing Muslim presence” in Australia and New Zealand.
Anning did not stop there. He went on to associate global terrorism with Islam, holding all Muslims responsible for the carnage. If that was not enough, he also asserted that, while Muslims may have been the victims of attacks, they were also the perpetrators. He blamed the deaths on Islam and said: “It is the religious equivalent of fascism.”
Prophet Muhammad, who spread the message of peace to the world, is the most followed man amongst the Muslim community. “Certainly, people will follow you, and certainly people will come to you from all quarters of the earth to understand religion; when they come to you, guide them toward goodness,” the Prophet advised. Challenging the basis of a religion with teachings such as Anning’s should be strongly condemned on the global level.
I don’t know whether political compulsion made Anning defend the attacker, or if these are his considered views or it was a mere racist rant. But, if politicians have such irrational views, I am afraid to say we have to worry about the inclusive peace of the world. We mutually need to concur on the fact that terrorism is an anti-human phenomenon and defies all basic principles of every religion and civilization.
The level of Islamophobia and bigotry can be gauged by the double standards of the world on renouncing acts of terrorism. When terrorists hit France, the entire world stood by the country and denounced the act. People even used special profile pictures on social media site Facebook to express their solidarity with the victims. However, the response to the Christchurch slaughter has been starkly different. No special profile pictures or slogans have been witnessed; instead even Muslims have been blamed for being the victims. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan tweeted: “I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam and 1.3 billion Muslims have been collectively blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim. This has also been done to also demonize legitimate Muslim political struggles.” This sums up the debate.
Peace is an undisputed slogan of every religion, while terrorism’s sole purpose is to destroy the global peace. As a Pakistani, I can feel the pain of this tragedy; the scars that the innocent bloodshed of the past four decades have left are deeply engraved on our hearts. Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism and we have fought a brave war against terrorists over the past two decades.
In our fight against terror, we have suffered colossal damage, including the loss of more than half a million lives and $126 billion, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey (PES) 2017-18. This war on terror has cost us our people, our children, our assets and our economy.
The near-miss for the Bangladeshi cricket team at Christchurch takes me back to the time when terrorists targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009, on their way to Qaddafi Stadium for the third day of their second Test match against Pakistan. No cricketer lost his life in the attack thanks to the sacrifices of our security forces personnel and the driver, who showed remarkable courage and drove the bus to safety. But seven precious lives were lost in the incident.
The Sri Lankan cricketers survived but the doors were closed on international cricket and other world-class sport in Pakistan. But we did not give up. We defeated the terrorists. It is 2019 and we have been successful in bringing cricket back home. I was at the Karachi National Stadium on Sunday to watch a galaxy of international cricket stars partake in the final of the Pakistan Super League. Finally, we have regained our lost glory of hosting top-level cricket.
The question, however, still arises: Will New Zealand face the same providence? I hope not, because for Pakistan the struggle to bring cricket back was hard and we would not wish any other country to face similar circumstances.
Muslims respect all religions. One Christian or a Jew does not represent the entire religion, and that should also be the case of a Muslim.
We also need to redefine terrorism. One must differentiate those defending their homeland from occupying forces. For example, one needs to understand that the people of Palestine are facing state terrorism. The unarmed victims have nothing but stones to desperately defend their lands. Labelling those who throw stones at armed soldiers equipped with modern weaponry as terrorists is an oversimplification of the issue.
As Jean Baudrillard once said; “Terrorism, like viruses, is everywhere. There is a global perfusion of terrorism, which accompanies any system of domination as though it were its shadow, ready to activate itself anywhere, like a double agent.” We need to understand that terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires a serious international discourse.
And Patrick J. Kennedy once said: “Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists try to manipulate us and change our behavior by creating fear, uncertainty, and division in society.” Today, this tragedy in New Zealand reinforces that terrorism is not unique to one religion or country.
The world should stand united against this menace and, in order to achieve global peace, we must realize that terrorism functions beyond geographical boundaries and defined religions.
(Shehryar Khan Afridi is Pakistan’s Minister of State for Interior. Twitter: @Shehryarafridi1)