Blog Post

Against Hate: "Hello, Brother" (V)

Graphics by Michelle Jia : Image Flickr ( I )

“Hello, brother,” said the man at the door to the white supremacist who shot him on the spot and shot him again at point-blank when he tried to crawl away. In less than 30 minutes, 28-year old Brenton Harrison Tarrant of Australia took the lives of 50 Muslims and left 49 more in critical condition before the police arrested him. “Just a [sic] ordinary white man” from “a working class, low income family,” Tarrant writes in his manifesto. Outside this gruesome context, Tarrant’s opening lines would be a great introduction to a successful man who overcame adversities in order to succeed in life. Except that Tarrant has transformed into a mass shooter and an Islamophobe of the worst kind. Tarrant had no interest in learning, little interest in education, “barely achieving a passing grade,” he writes, “I did not attend University as I had no great interest in anything offered in the Universities to study.” This negative attitude towards learning may have been the dark torch that ushered him down such a despicable course of destruction. Uneducated, gullible, sub-ordinary, and jobless. Tarrant must have fit the radicalization ticket, an easy prey for a monstrous machine of White Supremacy. To be sure, Tarrant is guilty of a premeditated massacre executed in cold blood, guilty of succumbing to a vile ideology of racial superiority, but it must not escape our eyes that he is also a symptom, a pawn, a pharmakon of the cancerous growth of White Supremacy.

Tarrant’s naiveté is pathetic. “If I don't survive the attack, goodbye, godbless [sic] and I will see you all in Valhalla!” What God will bless these killings? Did he actually believe there is a God for white people, an Anti-Islam deity waiting to reward him on the other side? And what do we make of “Valhalla”? This is not a sequel for Mad Max, rather a manifestation of maximum madness and insanity. Tarrant did not receive any education, and someone forgot to tell him that Valhalla is not heaven, but a hall of the fallen in Old Norse poetry — it doesn’t exist outside that poetry. It is the hall where a god named Odin collects the dead whom he merits worthy of staying with him. He feeds them well in order to corral them against the wolf Fenrir during the battle of Ragnork, in which Odin and his collection of “worthy” men perish. Clearly Tarrant had no idea that he cannot be a Christian and an Old Nordic pagan at the same time.

This awkward paradox speaks volumes of the ignorance of white supremacists. It does not just end with pawns and executors like Tarrant, Alexandre Bissonnette, Robert Bowers, or Dylann Roof. It begins at the top and we see it in the hate propagandas of politicians. “The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism,” writes Australian Senator Fraser Anning in the immediate aftermath of the New Zealand massacre. This odious polemic is the last thing one would expect from an elected government official whose fellow citizen had just perpetrated the darkest and deadliest crime in New Zealand’s history. Instead of showing sympathy for the 50 lives taken violently at the hand of a terrorist, as any human being with an iota of decency would do, Anning goes on to blame Muslim immigrants for being the “cause of bloodshed.” The flagrant politicization of the massacre appears strikingly clear in Anning’s ugly manipulation of the Scriptures: “As we read in Matthew 26:52, ‘all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword’ and those who follow a violent religion that calls on them to murder us, cannot be too surprised when someone takes them at their word and responds in kind.” It is important that the emphasis upon Europe and Christianity and the subsequent “reaction” of an “a ordinary white man” like Tarrant be brought into clear antagonism with the so-called “invading” Muslims. Behind the bizarre marriage of such polar opposites looms the apparatus of a carefully crafted doctrine of White Supremacy, one in which politics, ideology, and the manipulation of religion are shamelessly militarized for the service of white nationalism.

White supremacy is a cowardly doctrine. Cowardly because it can be confronted with learning and education, with what the likes of Tarrant clearly lack. It recruits the simple-minded, the uneducated, and the idiot. It convinces them that attacking houses of worship will send them to heaven. It feeds on the naiveté of its recruits and the utter exposure and helplessness of innocent victims. White supremacists gunned down innocent humans in deep meditation, in a vulnerable, soul-searching condition, praying in piety and humility, amassed together for the praise of God.  A cowardly bullet from the gun of cowardly terrorist is doomed to hit a worshipper even if the shooter did not have a perfect range. But as Jewish communities did not refrain from Shabbat synagogue services after the Pittsburgh massacre and as black Christians did not abandon going to Church after Charlottesville, Muslims likewise won’t stop attending Friday congregational prayers after Christchurch, after London, or after Québec City. We must come together to confront White Supremacy, to point monstrosity in the face and expose its ugly realties to the world.

The Qur’an says in Q.2:213: “Humankind was one sole nation then God sent prophets to bring forth good tidings and to caution them, and He revealed to them the Scripture in truth to decree among humankind in what they differed on.” And in Q. 30:22 “And among His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your tongues and your colors. Verily, in that are signs for the knowledgeable ones.” These two verses have two themes in common: difference and learning. The address is to all humankind, who have different views on life, speak different languages, and come in different skin colors. Now this difference is not just a coexist sticker. The very meaning and continuity of existence is predicated on difference, which is the formative thread of our existence on earth. This difference, this existence of the other who does not resemble me, is not an obstacle or a challenge that needs to be tolerated or transcended with civility as the fortunate among us have learnt at school or have been taught by their humane parents, but it is the essence of life that we must all embrace and celebrate. This difference could only be appreciated when we learn to learn from one another, when we learn that we are one world and one community, that beneath our forms and dispositions, our creeds and beliefs, our languages and colors, lies the unaccommodated human that is all of us.

Some may have inherited the world from their racist ancestors, but we are all now borrowing it from our children and we have a responsibility to leave it a better and more humane place for them. As we mourn the death of 50 innocent Muslims and the shattering of hundred of families at the hands of a hateful, ignorant terrorist, we have no choice but to come together to learn, to gain knowledge and to seek knowledge of and from one another. No learning is achievable without learning of the other, without empathy or charity, and without being responsible for the wellbeing of the other. The Qur’an says in Q.5:32: “Whoever kills an innocent life, it is as though he has killed all humanity, and whoever saves a life, it is as though he has saved all humanity.” Our responsibility for the wellbeing and for the life of others, the utterly others, precisely because of their difference, is what makes us worthy of the gift of life.

Mohammad Salama's picture
Professor of Arabic, San Francisco State University
I received my PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. I was born in Alexandria, Egypt where I spent my childhood and adolescent years. After High School, I moved to Cairo to study at ‘Ayn Shams University, where I studied classical and modern Arabic and received my BA and MA in Literature and Translation. I am a recipient of two Fulbright Scholar Awards. My interests include modern and classical Arabic literature, Quranic Studies, Comparative Cultural Studies in the colonial and post-colonial Arab world, as well as French and Egyptian cinemas. I have published in scholarly venues that include der Islam, SCTIW Review, JAL, ASJ, ALIF, and AHR. My book Islam, Orientalism, and Intellectual History (I.B. Tauris) and the co-edited volume, German Colonialism (Columbia UP) both appeared in 2011. My forthcoming books, The Qur'an and Modern Arabic Literary Criticism: From Taha to Nasr (Bloomsbury ) and Islam and the Culture of Modern Egypt (Cambridge UP) will both appear in 2018.