There are many catalogues of heartbreak circulating right now, as there always are in the aftermath of a mass shooting, and which are a necessary part of processing the anger and grief we all feel. Waking up this morning was heavy. Friday prayer today was heavy. I don’t have the confidence to put into words the exact mixture of rage, sadness, empathy, and unbelievable, dragging exhaustion that all of this makes me feel. I can only take refuge in the words Muslims traditionally say when we receive news that someone has passed away: Inna lillahi was inna ilayhi raji’un. To Allah we belong and to Him we return.
I’m not the first person to say this, because we always say this—but I’ll echo what many of my Muslim sisters and brothers are saying today: we are devastated. We are grieving. But we are not surprised.
I want us to reflect on the deeper complicity shared in these kinds of massacres for once, because I don’t want another tragedy to pass with thoughts and prayers and misinformation and nothing else—although I fear it will, as usual. I see a lot of calls today to clearly call this out as terrorism, for officials and governments to shift their gazes and focus on the metastasizing tumor of anti-Muslim white nationalist extremism that has been spreading in white-majority societies for decades.
And that’s important. We need to call out the double standard that has created programs like Countering Violent Extremism that focuses only on those who associate themselves with Islam, or a rhetoric within the FBI that labels Black Lives Matters activists as “identity extremists,” yet gives a pass to neo-Nazis as if they are lone wolves (America’s favorite name for a white gunman). We must root out the proliferation of white nationalist hatred and incitements toward violence against anyone who doesn’t fit into their definition of human beings deserving of human rights—online and off.
But it’s not enough to point fingers at this vile murderer’s path to radicalization as if he couldn’t hack the sorrows and disappointments of life, fell in with the wrong crowd, and lost his mind. This is not an isolated incident. It’s the natural result of decades of demonization of a religion and a people that was based in greed for natural resources and geopolitical power. Governments in white majority countries, led by the United States and facilitated by racist media coverage, have been weaponizing Islamophobia for war, for profit, and for political power for a very long time, and very few outside our communities have been willing to stand up and speak out against it.
We had to watch as the U.S. invaded one Muslim majority country after another under the guise of security and the “war on terror,” and spread their anti-Muslim rhetoric to every place on the earth that is dominated by American media. We have watched as the talking points of conservative propaganda outlets became the platform of the party that elected Donald Trump, and have now become the public relations arm of the White House. We have seen how one after another, these white men who murder black people, or Jews, or Muslims in their most sacred moments, in houses of worship that should be their sanctuaries—and every single time that radicalization links back to the racist rhetoric that has animated American foreign policy since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq right after 9/11, and has been turned against immigrants and minority communities within our borders.
And we’re far from the only ones. The rising tide of right-wing anti-Muslim nationalism normalized by the U.S. and its allies has been escalating globally—just look at what’s happening in China and India. And every person who chooses to stay silent instead of speaking up because they’re not targeting your community has blood on their hands. The “silent majority” won’t be judged innocent of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that their silence enabled in the wake of 9/11.
We don’t always have the ability to separate ourselves from the corrupt institutions that we live in. As an American Muslim, I understand that very well. But if I’m not trying to use what power I have to uproot and dismantle white supremacy and all its associated evils, I’m failing my moral duty.