On Morning Report, the public service radio station here in Aotearoa New Zealand, sandwiched between faux outrage that Andrew Little, the leader of the Labour party, paid a bill late and real outrage from the Greens party that Andrew Little doesn’t care what they think, a report on the Copenhagen shootings included an interview with a Jewish woman. Whilst not one of the victims at the synagogue, she was understandly upset and made this wild statement: “I do not teach my children to hate. I wish others would teach their children not to hate.” When prompted, she said she was referring to “muslims.” To clarify, she was asserting people of Muslim faith teach their children to hate. The breathtaking hate of the statement took my breath away; this snippet should never have been played.
It should never have been played because it made a link between all followers of Islam and the actions of Omar el-Hussein, and that went entirely unchallenged. An assertion that followers of Islam are raising their children to hate is polarising to say the least.
Briefly, the events in Copenhagen were as follows: Omar el-Hussein opened fire at a free speech event in Copenhagen being attended by cartoonist Lars Vilks and then outside a synagogue, killing two people. He was later caught by police and died in the ensuing gunfight. El-Hussein had made a facebook post prior to these shootings proclaiming loyalty to ISIS. He was 22 years old, he had a history of violence and criminal offending and was involved in gang activity. His classmates attest to his short fuse, but also that he was intelligent and sociable.
There is no evidence that he was following the orders of ISIS. There is no evidence of him being inspired by the Charlie Hebdo attacks. There is some evidence that he was radicalised in prison, from which he was released a mere two weeks before these attacks.
It is absolutely inconceivable that he be regarded as representative of Muslims in Copenhagen, in Denmark, in Europe or worldwide. An extremist Islamic theology fits his violence and sense of dispossession; an extremist Islamic theology is as alien to the majority of Muslims as it is to me.
The threat of Islamist terrorist attacks in the Minority World is greatly exaggerated. In the last five years, two percent of terrorist attacks committed in the European Union were by Islamist extremists, and between 1980 and 2005, six percent of terrorist attacks committed in the USA were by Islamist extremists.
So the coverage of Copenhagen is not about a real and present danger to us all. The coverage of Copenhagen is another step in building a discourse of hate against Islam. The media and political leadership in Europe, in the USA and here in Aotearoa New Zealand are central to communicating this discourse. If you read the media on Copenhagen, it is full of statements that insinuate that el-Hussein’s actions are part of a worldwide radical Islamist agenda. Moderate voices in Islam are rarely given an opportunity to speak, and always after the fact so that their reflections look like excuses.
What happened in Copenhagen is awful. What happened in Copenhagen is not evidence that builds the case for a conflict to control energy resources in the Middle East which will be hidden behind the faux humanitarianism of defeating ISIS. However, what happened in Copenhagen is being reported in such a way as to dehumanise 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.
Dehumanising Muslims is important if Minority World governments like our own are to secure the support of their voting populations to go to war for oil and water in the next 20 to 30 years. To maintain our affluence, our unsustainable way of life, we need the resources of the poor in the Majority World. It is useful that many of them are Muslim, because it can and is being used as a wedge in our common humanity.
Indigenous people in Aotearoa New Zealand should recognise the language and imagery being used against Islam. Read our parliamentary record Hansard and the NZ newspapers of the nineteenth century and you will see the language is the same; where once we were subhuman, inhuman, violent, dangerous, terrorists, lazy, misusing our resources, today the Muslim is the same. We need to stand up for Islam not because of the truth of their faith and cultures, but because of our belief in the right of people to live in a diversity of culture and faith and to have authority over their own resources, countries and governments. The imperial project being worked out in the Middle East will not end there. If we leave our Muslim brothers and sisters to stand alone, who will stand with us when empire returns for the little we have remaining?
For another take on this, I recommend you see Russell Brand’s analysis of the difference in coverage between the Chapel Hill shootings and Copenhagen.