Indians Justifying the Christchurch Killings, How Far is Too Far?

Social Commentary

Indians Justifying the Christchurch Killings, How Far is Too Far?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The Christchurch shootings proved once again – if there were any doubt – that terrorism really has no religion. The horrifying images of the radicalised Australian gunman firing upon cowering devotees inside a mosque were received with shock and disgust the world over… for most. Even as most humans in possession of a functioning soul reacted to the attacks with the appropriate amount of revulsion, there were those who chose to abandon their empathy and indulge in a spirited round of victim-blaming, as if the 50 innocent people who died in the attacks had anything to do with the cruelly random nature of their deaths.

A “chowkidar” in action.

The terrorist who carried out the attack was a white Australian man who was influenced by far-right ideologies and conspiracy theories, in particular the “Great Replacement” theory (which was also the title of his manifesto) that states that the white population in Western countries is in danger of being wiped out through falling birth-rates and miscegenation with immigrant populations. In his manifesto, he specifically called for removal of “invaders” to white-majority countries. His exact words were, “Roma, African, Indian, Turkish, Semitic or other. If they are not of our people, but live in our lands, they must be removed.”

For the terrorist, his idea of removal involved painting an assault rifle with hate-filled words and symbols, driving to a house of worship, and wreaking havoc on the innocents gathered there, while streaming it live on the internet. The sounds of their screams of fear and mortal agony as he guns them down, contrasted against the flippant way he screams “Subscribe to PewdiePie!” before commencing his assault is a chilling window into how cold-hearted his radicalisation had made him.

Clearly, his targets were people who were born with the wrong skin colour or ethnicity. The place of worship he attacked was a mosque, but it could just as easily have been a temple, or a gurudwara, just as long the people inside were brown-skinned. These views have takers among racist audiences, like Australian senator Fraser Anning, who said that the “real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

At least Anning is a white male, which means he’s protected by the same ideology that endangered everyone in the mosque that day. But what about the Indians who echo views like Anning’s, and buy into the racist, Islamophobic narrative peddled by both the shooter and the senator? It’s a bit mind-boggling that brown folks like us – who are no different for the terrorist – should align with his white supremacist ideology.

The comments section of an article on Anning on Swarajya Magazine’s Facebook page.

I wonder if these folks not realise that men like Fraser Anning and the Christchurch shooter are unable to see the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim? Or perhaps their own Islamophobia runs so deep that they mistake the racism of white terrorists as a shared interest? Indian Islamophobes have had a field day listing numerous incidents of Islamic terrorism as justification for the Christchurch attacks, effortlessly forming a link between ISIS and al-Qaeda, and the poor souls in the mosque who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

This victim-blaming is a convenient way to side-step criticism for violence, and it’s a favoured tool of the right in the aftermath of incidents like the Christchurch shooting. And it’s not just religiously motivated either. I still remember the disgusting comments online in the wake of the murder of the journalist Gauri Lankesh. Instead of condolences, her detractors chose to dehumanise her with insults and vilified her as an anti-national Naxal supporter who got what was coming to her.

After all, Indian right-wingers, especially those on social media, aren’t exactly renowned for their sensitivity.

In the USA, after a white nationalist at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville drove a car into a crowd of protestors and killed a woman, their president Trump chose to say that “both sides” were responsible for the violence, rather than unequivocally condemning the murderous act carried out by his supporter. And that’s without even counting the astounding number of times women victims of sexual assault have been blamed for their attacker’s actions. Whether patriarchy or bigotry, victim-blaming is a one-size-fits-all solution for the right.

But after Christchurch, after seeing the footage of screaming victims cowering on the floor as they get mowed down by a madman’s automatic rifle, how can anyone think what took place was justified? At this painful juncture, who still has the capacity to hate?

Commenters on the subreddit India Speaks discussing a Rightlog “article”.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. After all, Indian right-wingers, especially those on social media, aren’t exactly renowned for their sensitivity. These are the same people who turned Rohith Vemula into a meme to feel dank, and came up with the inane slogan of “Pehle sweetu, phir #MeToo”. A Muslim boy lynched on a train and a eight-year-old girl kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Kashmir was not enough to make them question the people acting in their name. So perhaps instead of looking for answers, I should be asking more questions.

After Christchurch, how far is too far?