A Week On From The Christchurch Attack, Solidarity Is The Antidote To Race Hate

Denialism undermines our collective efforts to face down racism in all its forms – New Zealand shows we need international anti-racist solidarity

Today is one week since the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. Once more Muslims and Jews the world over will assemble in prayer. Grief and recovery are surely partly about marking minutes, hours, days, weeks and years. It is also I think, about forging something new, strong, positive and enduring after the devastation.

My mother died suddenly in late July of 2011. It was the same weekend that a “far-right extremist” (for want of better imperfect words) slew dozens of young Labour activists in Norway. Before the killer was identified, much of the public and media speculation had assumed a ‘jihadist’, ‘Islamist’ or even (in that obvious abuse of language) ‘Islamic’ attack.

Last Christmas Eve, we lost my dad. The loss was equally sudden but now sparking even greater cause for reflection. My parents came to Britain sixty years ago, in no small part prompted by sights of anti-Muslim violence in their first home country of India. Culturally Hindu, their British Rule of Law ideal would in time be tainted by the casual and even violent racism that they themselves endured. Still, they never gave up on other people of all faiths and none, nor on the universal values that they left to their now middle-aged daughter. They would have been scared and horrified by the latest atrocity on the other side of the world. Yet as citizens of everywhere and never “nowhere”, they would have been heartened, I have no doubt, by the global moral leadership demonstrated by New Zealand’s young female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern: “We cannot think about this in terms of boundaries… We are one, they are us.”

Globalisation, migration and the internet renders these inspiring sentiments equally irrefutable logic. Yet there are ‘boundaries’ other than international ones that must be defied if Ardern’s worldwide anti-racist rallying cry has any hope of becoming a reality.

The walls that I have in mind are those between different ‘peoples’ and political factions. Isn’t it high time that leaders came together to tackle racism in all its forms? Racism is structural and institutional, requiring an approach which seeks change on this scale. Responsibility for this needs to be demonstrated not just by political leaders but by mainstream media outlets who have played a role in normalising racist discourse. Surely, we can all recognise that there is but one human race, no sensible competition for pain nor virtue, and no hierarchy of racism?

We know how difficult defining racism in all its nuances can be. On the one hand it should not even require definition. On the other hand, it’s important to try and identify some of the tropes and excuses that hate hides behind. This week Labour adopted a simple, helpful and widely supported definition of Islamophobia and I call upon all mainstream democratic political groupings in the UK to consider doing the same. It describes this form of hate as “rooted in racism”, hence calling out the widely promoted conceit that pedlars of anti-Muslim bile are somehow all about a theological critique against a racially diverse religious community.

Race hate is ignorant and powerful, designed to divide and rule – and you don’t need to have a “funny tinge” to be its recipient. The white headscarf-wearing Muslim woman who receives abuse on a ‘western’ street is no less the victim of racism than her Jewish, Afro-Caribbean or Asian sister in these dangerously febrile times. And the pedlars of conspiracies, hate and bullets are surprisingly liberal in their choice of targets.

The antidote is as simple, if nonetheless occasionally difficult as the diagnosis. It is resisting partisan temptations to ignore our own flaws while magnifying those of opponents; and recognising that denialism undermines our collective efforts to face down racism in all its forms. It is ensuring that any international anti-racist coalition spans the democratic spectrum and provides people of all faiths and origins with a place in all democratic traditions.

It is the Christian man, who at last Friday’s prayers, kept watch outside the Manchester mosque with the homemade sign saying, “you are my friends…” It’s the rabbi who broke Shabbat to attend the New Zealand High Commission vigil and the many other rabbis who have offered their solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters in their own vulnerable moments of worship. Solidarity is a good old-fashioned word that is coming back into fashion in circles of the left and way beyond. Call it fellowship. Call it ummah. I think of it as love.

Baroness Chakrabarti is the shadow Attorney General and a Labour peer


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