Robert Fantina, an American writer and peace activist, has reacted to the recent terrorist attack targeting two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, saying, “Racism knows no geographic boundaries.”
“While the tragedy in Christchurch killed 50 people and injured many more, there are increasing numbers of smaller cases of violence against Muslims,” he told the Balkans Post in an interview.
He also said it is impossible not to see that “U.S. President Donald Trump has condoned racism and bigotry in a variety of ways.”
The following is the full transcript of the interview.
Balkans Post: The Christchurch mosque attacks have killed at least 50 people during Friday Prayer on 15 March 2019. How would you view such acts of violence against Muslims living in the West?
Robert Fantina: This unspeakable horror is becoming all too common. While the tragedy in Christchurch killed 50 people and injured many more, there are increasing numbers of smaller cases of violence against Muslims. It is impossible not to see that U.S. President Donald Trump has condoned racism and bigotry in a variety of ways, but he has been particularly hostile towards Muslims, from promising, as a candidate, to prevent Muslims from entering the United States, to signing an executive order as president to do just that. He has refused to strongly condemn white nationalists, and with white nationalism having the power of the U.S. president behind it, such murderous acts will be more frequent.
BP: The far-right terrorist, identified as Brenton Tarrant, had called on his supporters to target Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who is London’s first Muslim mayor. What does that tell us?
Robert Fantina: Racism knows no geographic boundaries, and despite Trump’s lack of popularity around the world, his tacit approval of such violence resonates with other racists. Trump criticized Mayor Khan following a terrorist attack in London, so far-right terrorists taking this criticism by their hero a step further is only to be expected.
Unfortunately, because of the growth of white nationalism around the world, threats such as these will only increase in the near future.
BP: In the livestreamed video of the attack, the first victim of the tragic incident can be heard saying, “Hello, brother” to the attacker. The footage went viral on social media, with many describing the Muslim man as a hero. What’s your thoughts on this?
Robert Fantina: This man is an inspiration around the world. Faced with a rifle, he must have known his death was imminent, yet he recognized the murderer as a fellow human being, and he acknowledged him as such. The evil within the assailant can only be glimpsed when one thinks that he was able to shoot and kill, at close range, a man who addressed him as ‘brother’.
Among other things, this should completely dispel the false notion that Islam is a religion of violence. This artificial stereotype is promulgated by Trump, but the evidence, not only in this incident of the victim addressing his murderer as ‘brother’, but in countless other ways, must now be dismissed by any thinking person.
BP: The livestreamed video also sparked off a debate around the role of tech companies in preventing the spread of videos relating to the shooting. Facebook said that within 24 hours of Friday’s shooting it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack from its platform globally. What’s your analysis of the role of social media in such incidents?
Robert Fantina: Social media enables many important issues that are ignored by the mainstream media to be broadcast around the world. For example, few media outlets report the daily violence that Israel perpetrates against the Palestinians, but that information is widely available on social media, although Facebook, working with the Israel government, blocks much of it. In the case of the unspeakable violence against two mosques in Christchurch, it can be important for people to see that Muslims are, like everyone else, human beings with the same needs and wants as their Christian, Jewish and atheist counterparts, and their suffering in time of tragedy is also the same. It would be interesting to what impact the approximately 300,000 videos that were actually seen (most were removed immediately when they were posted) had on the viewers. Were most viewers shocked and horrified? Or did some cheer? If it is found that viewing such videos leads to more violence, then they should be removed. This would be in keeping with the theory, supported by some studies, that frequent exposure to violent video games increases the tendency for violence.
In the current political environment, when violence against Muslims is increasing, while situations such as the Christchurch tragedy must be widely broadcast and discussed, care must be taken not to glorify the perpetrator in the eyes of those who would see him in a positive light. The unspeakable suffering he has caused must be made know to the world.
Robert Fantina is an author and activist for peace and international human rights. A U.S. citizen, he moved to Canada following the 2004 presidential election. His books include ‘Desertion and the American Soldier – 1776 – 2006’; Empire, Racism and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy’; and ‘Essays on Palestine’, a collection of his writing on the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. He has also written about the impact that war has on individuals, in his novel, Look Not Unto the Morrow, a Vietnam-era, anti-war story.