The global COVID-19 pandemic has produced an array of domestic and global security challenges, from border control to great power rivalry, to regional territorial disputes, to violent extremist groups, to the protection of vulnerable minorities—the virus has magnified and exacerbated societal ills and geopolitical fault lines.
The rise and internationalization of far-right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups and movements have been identified as the number one threat facing Western security forces and intelligence agencies in the year ahead, thus making Muslim minorities the prime target of hate motivated violence in 2021.
During the course of the past decade, Muslims replaced Jews as the primary target of race and religiously motivated hate crimes, mostly because media and political discourse has mainstreamed and normalized Islamophobia.
During the course of the past decade, Muslims replaced Jews as the primary target of race and religiously motivated hate crimes.
It’s just an observable fact that a politician or pundit can say things about Muslims that he or she could never get away with saying about the Jewish people. Whereas anti-Semitism is an instant career killer, Islamophobia continues to provide race-baiting charlatans with a path to instant fame and fortune.
This isn’t to suggest anti-Semitism no longer constitutes an enduring fixture of white supremacist hatred, but when neo-Nazis marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us,” they spoke to the “Great Replacement” or “white genocide” conspiracy that alleges a secretive Jewish cabal is plotting to flood white majority countries with Muslim immigrants.
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It was the conspiracy that drove Brenton Tarrant, an Australian born far-right extremist, to livestream his murder of 51 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019. The mass shooting, or rather “spectacularization of racist, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic violence,” has become the blue-ribbon event for like-minded and would-be extremists.
“Since Christchurch, every major far-right attack (i.e. an attack that created victims) has been posted on the Internet, whether in the form of an announcement beforehand, through live-streaming during the event or both,” observes the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies.
In the past week alone, a white supremacist group in Australia promised a repeat of the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack, and a Singaporean teen was arrested for plotting to attack mosques in the city-nation state on the anniversary of Tarrant’s attack.
“He watched the livestreamed video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March , 2019, and read the manifesto of the Christchurch attacker, Brenton Tarrant,” reads a statement from the Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned what was already a white domestic terrorism crisis into something bordering on becoming a full-blown epidemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned what was already a white domestic terrorism crisis into something bordering on becoming a full-blown epidemic, with mosques and Muslims repeatedly used as the backdrop to news stories about the virus, and as conspiracies alleging Muslims to be super spreaders are shared widely online.
“Islamophobic sentiments emerged at the beginning of COVID-19 coverage when a flurry of media networks used images of visible Muslims in pandemic articles, betraying an ongoing problem of implicit bias,” observes Khaled al-Qazzaz, Director of Education for the Muslim Association of Canada. “This included outlets such as The New York Times, BBC and CNN choosing irrelevant pictures of Turkish mosques to illustrate their stories on the US suspending travel to the EU.”
These needless and unjustifiable Islamophobic framings of the virus and associated conspiracies are partly to blame for the upward spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2020, despite the constraining effect lockdowns have on violent incidents.
Germany, for instance, recorded a whopping 650 anti-Muslim hate crimes during the past year, fueled by the neo-Nazi propaganda and mainstream political discourse, a result of the far-right opposition party, AfD, gaining increasing political power.
“At least 122 mosques were targeted in such attacks last year,” Kemal Ergun, President of the Turkish-Muslim association IGMG, told Anadolu Agency, adding that dozens of mosques have been the target of multiple bomb threats from violent right-wing groups.
Worryingly, the violent and deadly attack on the US Capitol by far-right Trump supporters on January 6 has become a source of inspiration for neo-Nazis in Germany, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Many of whom view the insurrectionist plot as something more achievable in their respective countries, thus becoming a recruitment bonanza for Muslim hating white supremacist groups and movements around the globe.
“Far-right extremists, Corona sceptics and neo-Nazis are feeling restless,” Stephan Kramer, head of domestic intelligence for the eastern German state of Thuringia, told The New York Times. “There is a dangerous mix of elation that the rioters made it as far as they did and frustration that it didn’t lead to a civil war or coup.”
None of this augurs well for Muslim Americans in particular, who were the chief target of former President Trump’s hatred, fear, and suspicion—a man who claimed “Islam hates us,” banned Muslim migrants, demonized Muslim Congresswomen, and praised Nazis as “fine people.”
It’s little wonder the US Department of Homeland Security has identified white supremacist groups as the country’s number one domestic terrorism threat.
It’s little wonder the US Department of Homeland Security has identified white supremacist groups as the country’s number one domestic terrorism threat, and why in the penultimate year of Trump’s presidency, 62 percent of the 4 million Muslims in the United States experienced religious discrimination, according to a survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
“Ultimately, the issue of Islamophobia is inseparable from the question of how resources are distributed in the US: ending anti-Muslim racism means creating a US in which we use our resources to ensure the health, education, and well-being of everyone who lives here rather than to fund a military machine that serves the interests of corporate elites,” said Arun Kundnani, author of “The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism and Domestic War on Terror,” in a recent interview.
In ending the Muslim travel ban, putting a halt on arms sales to the Middle East, and making human rights, healthcare, and education a top priority of his administration, President Biden has made already made steps in the right direction. But, until the US and other Western countries fully address and resolve these social inequities and growing Islamophobic sentiments, Muslim minorities will remain on high alert.