Ahsan: The Proper Response to a Massacre

The Christchurch shooting was fueled by Islamophobia.

by Sajid Ahsan | 4/11/19 2:00am

In the wake of last month’s horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, all of the usual media phrases and buzzwords that have grown so familiar and tired were put back into circulation. First came the expressions of shock and sorrow, peppered with words like “unimaginable” that have not been applicable for a long time. Then came the discussion of the responsibilities of the news media, wherein a number of very serious-sounding people have the same conversation about not showing the video of the shooting for what seems like the 30th time. 

The media’s responses to most mass shootings seem to be the same every time. But somewhere along the way, as the news cycle was going through its customary motions, a curious thing happened. A cavalcade of right-wing pundits and media figures decided that the correct response to an attack was to avoid talking about why it happened. Conservative talking head Ben Shapiro took to Twitter to claim that it was important not only to avoid sharing the shooter’s name but also the manifesto he left behind detailing his motivations — a document in which the description of the “Muslim threat” to white western culture and identity bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the far right’s rhetoric. This is of course the same Ben Shapiro who tweeted that Arabs “like to bomb crap and live in open sewage” and claimed that the majority of the roughly 1.5 billion Muslims on Earth held dangerous radical views. Shapiro seems inclined to ignore the parallels between his words and the shooter’s manifesto.

Fox and Friends, meanwhile, jumped from offering perfunctory condolences to defending the real victims of the day — the U.S. President and supporters of his anti-Muslim policies. Although the shooter’s manifesto refers to the President as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” Fox’s hosts insisted that it would be “insane” to try to draw any connection between the Trump administration’s stance on Muslims and “the actions of a maniac.” They do not think it is particularly relevant to reflect on their own network’s coverage during the past two decades, headlined in recent years by Tucker Carlson’s inflammatory warnings about hordes of proto-terrorists swarming into Western countries. Just a week prior, Fox News was forced to suspend Jeanine Pirro, despite the ire of the President, when she questioned whether Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was loyal to the United States or to “Sharia law.” Earlier this week, a man was arrested for making death threats against the congresswoman because of her Muslim faith, voicing claims of her supposed disloyalty to her country in a call to her office.

To accept these arguments as claims in good faith is to credulously believe that radicalization happens in a vacuum, totally disconnected from a culture of fear, suspicion and outright hatred towards Muslims that politicians and pundits like Shapiro have promoted since the “war on terror” began. It requires one to believe that a political movement couched in racist appeals, that called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, that demanded a registry of Muslim citizens could not have have galvanized white supremacists to commit acts of violence. 

Politicans and pundits make self-serving arguments and would rather wash their hands of the whole affair than reflect on their own complicity in making the world a more dangerous place for Muslims. This is not to say that these political and media figures are personally responsible for these deaths; one man held the gun in his hands, and the crime itself is his alone. However, this sort of violence is the inevitable endpoint of an ideology, the seeds of which can be seen throughout the American media landscape. To ignore that fact is an abdication of responsibility that crosses the line into malicious negligence.