Over 200 people attended the vigil outside Great St Mary's Church on Sunday's vigil for the victims of the Christchurch shootingRosie Bradbury

On a bitter and unforgiving Sunday night, I attended a vigil in respect of the lives lost in Christchurch. It was more than just the cold winds cutting deep. The gathering sparked many thoughts about why and when we decide that an event is worth acknowledging. I began to wonder, why is it only when we see the horrors of mass murder in the West, that we as a western society, begin to recognise the existence of Islamophobia?

We seem shocked when horrific attacks like these occur, as if the West is the paragon of virtue when we contemplate the idea of peace and acceptance. As if these attacks are against the very nature of the fabric of Western society. As if we are not complicit in the build up to atrocities like those in New Zealand. We often forget that the place we call home was built on the basis of colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy. When we refuse to acknowledge the past, how can we hope to move forward in the future?

Why is it that we only discuss the rise of Islamophobia when it seems to hinder upon the idea that it is harming the sanctity of the West? It seems ironic that our society creates the animosity required for such attacks to take place, yet prides itself on acceptance and tolerance.

Islamophobia should not have to take the form of these tragedies to merit a conversation about its ugly existence. It’s pervasive and it seeps through every part of our lives. It’s gendered and racialised, which means those already oppressed in our society suffer further with another added layer of complexity. We owe it to Muslim communities around the world, to tackle the issues of racism and Islamophobia right at the roots; the government, the press, and the far-right.

"Government legislation and decisions breed the environment for the far right to thrive both directly and indirectly"

The first introduces harmful national policy. The second spins stories and feeds off of the xenophobia of those failed by the government. The third are pandered to by those in power, or those not affected by the vitriol spouted by them.

Government legislation and decisions breed the environment for the far right to thrive both directly and indirectly. It starts with deportation targets and the approval of vocally anti-migrant movements, and culminates in the illegal stripping of British citizenship. We saw the creation of the Prevent duty, which disproportionately affects British Muslims and BME communities. These all subconsciously justify the hostile acts against migrants and muslims across the world. Less clear cut are the consequences of economic policy. Austerity has had its role to play in breeding hatred towards migrants in society today. When failing to provide adequate jobs or support for those in need, people have the insatiable desire to blame someone, and who better to point their fingers at than a group our own government actively targets?

What we witness is the fruition of a hostile environment, and one that the press can take full advantage of. A report into the press coverage of five Australian newspapers; the Australian, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, and Adelaide Advertiser, all owned by Murdoch was conducted last year. It found that 2,891 stories painting Muslims in a negative light, were covered in just a single year. There are many more studies highlighting the negative bias of the press towards Muslim communities.

Closer to home, these are just some of the headlines that often surface in our own newspapers:

“One in five Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“Anger as less than A THIRD of Muslim nations sign up to coalition against Isis.”

“SECRET IS SAFE: Half of British Muslims would not go to cops if they knew someone with Isis links.”

“Half of UK Muslims would not report extremism.”

“Isolated British Muslims are so cut off from the rest of society that they see the UK as 75% Islamic, shock report reveals.”

All of these were found to be factually inaccurate and had to be revoked, corrected or rewritten. The press release an unrelenting torrent of abuse targeted towards muslims, and we wonder why such hatred can be evoked in the average Brit.

The news stories quickly broke out after the massacre, with videos and posts about the events that unfolded during Friday prayers. News reporters asked how an ‘innocent golden haired child’ had become a far-right extremist. Where were the headlines from these news outlets mourning the loss of Mucad Ibrahim, a 3 year old child, separated from his brother and father in the mosque, and brutally gunned down during Friday prayers? It would be naive to believe that the press are oblivious to the major role they play in radicalisation. Where is the regulation? When will IPSO and other regulators begin to take concrete action against not only vile, but false stories? By next week we will return to the onslaught from the press about the way in which Muslims are a direct threat to our liberalism.


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We are then left with far right groups. We saw them come to Cambridge, marching against the opening of a new mosque. We see the Tory government pandering to the far-right in exchange for their seats. Fascism is growing and muslim communities around the world need the support of our friends to fight against this movement. When our own leaders fail to speak out against these fanatics, we must use our own voices to cut across the hatred and intolerance perpetuated by these groups. These are not only the causes of Islamophobia, but also the tools which the far right use to radicalise the most vulnerable in our society.

So why are people shocked at such atrocities when they occur? We have been complicit in the nurturing of an environment in which these tragedies can occur with ease.

A toxic cycle ensues when events like this rear their ugly heads. The spotlight is placed firmly on Muslims: how will we react? How will we process this grief? How will we make change? We come out in numbers to show our solidarity with other muslim communities across the world, and in doing so make ourselves a visible target. Will it be us next at this vigil? Will we be safe at our next Friday prayers? Who will be there to fight for us? As was said in the ceremony, “we need more than just your sympathy”, we need “concrete” action.

For those of us studying here, we carry an incredible amount of privilege, and we should channel that into helping unearth and destroy the roots I briefly examined. Many of us will go on to become journalists, leaders and politicians, and we must use this to eradicate racial injustice in all its many forms, one step at at a time.