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The research was concerned with exploring the question whether the Christchurch massacre represents the peak of Islamophobia and can we say that with this event, Islamophobia has achieved the most extreme form that it can take. The dissertation considered literature that presented various themes related to Islamophobia, including role played by media in rising Islamophobic narratives, moral panics related to Islamophobia, Islamophobic reactions to Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers and the relationship between Islamophobia and white extremism. The research was undertaken with qualitative research methodology informed by positivist research philosophy. The data for this research was collected from secondary sources including books, journals, and news reports involving Islamophobia and Christchurch massacre. The findings of this study suggest a link between Islamophobia and violent extremism by white supremacists. The study recommends that there is a need to consider the link between Islamophobia and white extremism and get more in depth insight into this issue because the Christchurch massacre brings this matter to frontline again.
The Christchurch attack took place on the 15th March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a person who identifies himself as a white supremacist entered a mosque and gunned down more than 50 people (Choudhury, 2018). Because the day was Friday, there was quite a crowd at the Mosque gathered for Friday prayers (Choudhury, 2018). The Christchurch attack has raised much interest not only because of the gruesome nature of the attacks but also because the killer has professed himself to be Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist (Choudhury, 2018). The attack therefore brought to the fore the questions related to the rise of Islamophobia in western democracies. Reicher, et al. (2019) poignantly start their own article with the question that in “the aftermath of a slaughter like Christchurch, we are forced, once again, to confront that old question: how can people be marked for murder, not for anything they have done but simply for who they are?” (p. 11). This question goes to the root of the debate on Islamophobia as to whether it is capable of inciting violent actions on the part of those who harbour it and whether therefore, the Christchurch massacre can be said to be the peak of Islamophobia which is not just a phenomenon that involves social repercussions but also violent actions. In that sense, the Christchurch massacre may be described as the ‘peak of Islamophobia’.
Berntzen, et al. (2021) recounts that the concept of Islamophobia emerged as a concept in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was used as a master concept to describe negative attitudes and hostile practices towards Muslims in academic, media and policy circles. It was in 1991, that the word is first reported to have been used in the American periodical Insight, and then in the UK paper, Independent and finally by the UK Runnymede Trust Report into Islamophobia (Berntzen, et al., 2021). The term ‘Islamophobia’ is generally used to describe negative feelings towards with Muslims or the religion of Islam, with implications for the social and legal responses to Muslims (Runnymede Trust, 1997). Although the term ‘Islamophobia’ may be more recent in origin, the concept dates further back according to Berntzen, et al. (2021), who point to its use in the work by Spanish historian Fernando Bravo López where he demonstrated that the term was first introduced by Maurice Delafosse and Alain Quillien in 1910. Quillien referred to the work of some authors who he said regarded Islam as an enemy of Europeans (Berntzen, et al., 2021).
It is also important to note that there has been some criticism of use of Islamophobia by conflating it with a genuine critique of Islam or Islamic countries (much in the same way as there has been an opposition to the conflation of critique of Zionism with anti-Semitism); in this context, Fred Halliday had argued that the term ‘Islamophobia’ risks conflating critiques of Islam and critiques of Muslims, and can be used by some Islamic states to stigmatise any legitimate criticisms of Islamic interpretations and practices (Halliday, 1999). On the other hand, there is a counter argument made to this in that other terms like anti-Semitism and Homophobia have been similarly used misrepresent or delegitimise arguments but that does not mean that fear of the Jews and fear of the homosexuals does not exist in many societies around the world (Berntzen, et al., 2021). Therefore, there remains a genuine interest in the term ‘Islamophobia’ and the events of the Christchurch massacre have led to further interest and concern with the growing incidence of Islamophobia in western societies, which makes this subject relevant and worthy of research.
The work of Edward Said on Orientalism is also important to understanding Islamophobia (Said, 1978). Said (1978) described Orientalism as:
“in practice, America’s encounters with the Middle East have included everything from pilgrimage to captivity to war, and they have been defined by emotions ranging from admiration to fear to disdain. To consider these multifaceted relationships, we must consider the politics of representation” (McAlister, 2001, p. 3).
Orientalism describes the western approach to the Middle East. Said (1978) argued that there are four dogmas of Orientalism adopted from English and French scholarship on the Orient, which related to the inherent superiority of the west, based on the discussion on the Orient by those who do not inhabit it, which shows Orient as static and homogenous more to be feared or controlled. Said (1978) therefore defined Orientalism as a form of hostility towards Islam which is historic as well as modern and which is based on the same sources that drive anti-Semitism.
Islamophobia has been reported as a rising phenomenon in literature; particularly since the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), there has been increase in Islamophobia in western countries (Saeed, 2007). There have been conflicting reports as well on whether Islamophobia is a phenomenon that has gained in practice or not; for instance, Greer (2010) reported that there are no objective data to demonstrate actual support for Islamophobia in Britain (Greer, 2010); on the other hand, another study from Britain indicated a significant number of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims and their establishments (Githens-Mazer & Lambert, 2010). Similarly, literature has reported growing Islamophobia in Canada with ramifications on social and workplace equations (Zaman, 2010). In Australia, there has been an increase in the use of pejorative and negative reporting on Muslim immigrants with use of terms like ‘unwanted invader’ to describe Muslim immigrants and refugees, which reflects on the growing negative association with Muslims and Islam in that country (Parker, 2015).
Although, Muslims are not homogenous, the increasing perception of Islamophobia has had the effect of Muslim communities increasingly defining themselves in homogenous terms or in a unified way as ‘Muslims’; this has implications for the way in which the community perceives itself and is perceived by others with a lack of emphasis or reference to race or nationalities as was done earlier (Ahmad & Evergeti, 2010). This is seen as a response to Islamophobia leading the otherwise heterogenous Muslim communities to identify themselves within the commonality of Islam (Ahmad & Evergeti, 2010). Thus, it can be said that there is a development of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ binary for Muslims and non-Muslims, which is one of the products of Islamophobia. The impact of this binary may be that there is greater emphasis on religion to identify Muslims as one community, which also may make this community more vulnerable to attacks that are rooted in bigotry. The Christchurch massacre can also be seen in this context. The killer in that case identified all the Mosque goers as one homogenous group and on the basis of that assessment proceeded to attack them. When he was asked why he targeted those people, he stated:
“They were an obvious, visible and large group of invaders, from a culture with higher fertility rates, higher social trust and strong, robust traditions that seek to occupy my peoples [sic] lands and ethnically replace my own people” (Reicher, et al., 2019, p. 11).
Thus, the Christchurch killer identified the entire group of Muslim people he targeted as one homogenous group for which he uses the terms ‘obvious’ and ‘visible’, which may reflect on certain religious markers that he used to identify the victims. He uses the term ‘invader’ to describe this group and he places them at a binary, with his ‘own people’ which may be understood to mean non Muslim White people. This can also be understood from his own responses to some of the questions posed to him at the trial, where he identified himself as “just a regular White man, from a regular family. Who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people” (Reicher, et al., 2019, p. 11). He also defined ‘white’ as ethnically and culturally European people, which he placed at a binary to the Muslims. Why this may be significant is because Islamophobia may not just be placed as a phenomenon of fear of the other but may also lead to violent responses towards the ‘other’, with the other being described in terms of religious identity that unifies and homogenises the people belonging from the Muslim community and places them as the ‘enemy’. The development of ingroup and outgroup perceptions may then be one of the ways in which Islamophobia manifests itself in the society.
Some scholars trace the increase of Islamophobia in the western countries to the terror attacks of 9/11, which led to the death of more than 3000 people in the United States as well as the destruction of the World Trade Centre; for instance, Saeed (2007) writes about the increased negative perception and reporting of the Muslims in the media after these events of 2001, even though negative representation of Islam and Muslims was on the rise since the 1990s:
“As late back as 1993, Ahmed noted that many Muslims voiced concern of the negative representation of Islam and Muslims by the Western media. However, following on from such incidents as the Rushdie affair, the first Gulf War and 9/11, interest in media representations of Islam have grown. An ever-increasing body of research has argued that on the balance the images, representations and discourses relating to Islam/ Muslims in mainstream Western media tend to be negative and hostile” (Saeed, 2007, p. 444).
It is interesting that Saeed (2007) uses the terms ‘negative’ and ‘hostile’ to characterise the media reporting on Islam in the western countries; this may be one of the aspects that is important to understanding the phenomenon of Islamophobia and whether media plays a role in the development of this negative perception of Muslims.
Islamophobia or fear of the Muslim other may also be linked to the perception of the prevalence of Islamic terrorism or the threat of the Islamic terrorism in the western communities. For instance, in British context, there has been increased negative reporting and perception about the Islamic State (ISIS) being able to recruit young British Muslims for the Syrian war and other Jihadist activities on British soil or in other countries (Walt, 2015). Indeed, there has been some indication in the literature that after the events of 9/11, there has been an increase in newspaper reporting on the threat of Islamic terrorism which places raids on British Muslims at the core of the reporting (Poole, 2011). Use of terms like ‘bombers, violent Muslim fanatics, ‘extremists’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ has also been noted in the media coverage, which may have the impact of helping form pejorative and negative ideas about Muslims (Poole, 2011).
To go back to the point of the way in which Muslims may be treated as a unified and homogenous community, this point can also be related to racism because one of the arguments made in literature is that Islamophobia is a hybrid racism, which has taken on new proportions since the 9/11 attacks and the increased terror events in European countries have added to this sense (Carr, 2009). Islamophobia has been described as hybrid racism because it is neither colour-coded nor non-colour coded racism, much like anti-Semitism which saw prejudice and racism against Jews based on their religion irrespective of their race and nationality (Carr, 2009). Even the threat of Islamophobia is said to be a hybridised threat because it relates to physical well-being and cultural safety of other groups (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010).
The research methodology adopted for this dissertation is based on qualitative research methods with the use of positivist research philosophy and data collected from secondary sources. The dissertation adopts a deductive approach. This section of the dissertation explains and justifies the methods adopted for the research study.
The design of the research methodology is an important task for the researcher and one which can be done after the purposes of the research have been identified by the researcher as the research design is created to help the researcher to achieve these purposes and the goals of the research (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2012). In this research study, the goal of the researcher is to explore whether the Christchurch massacre can be said to be the peak of the Islamophobia in the western society. The first step is to identify the research philosophy, which will underpin the research design because this guides the formulation of the research design (Wilson, 2014). There are four research philosophies that are generally used by the researchers in social science research, these being, Realism, Positivism, Interpretivism, and Pragmatism (Creswell, 2013). The research philosophy of Positivism is adopted for this research; this is based on objectivism and taking a methodological approach to research (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2002). This was considered appropriate for the present study because objectivism would allow the researcher to explore the literature to understand whether there is some evidence to support the claim that with the Christchurch massacre, we have reached the peak of Islamophobia. The researcher took the Positivist approach because instead of approaching the data from a more interpretivist viewpoint, the researcher approaches the data for what it represents (Creswell, 2013).
The research takes a qualitative approach to the research study. A qualitative approach is based on taking a more flexible approach to data. Qualitative research is not based on numerical data and is appropriate for research studies that require a more nuanced and flexible approach because there are layers of information about the research subject (Creswell, 2013). In this research study, the researcher is exploring Islamophobia in the context of a specific incident, which is, the Christchurch massacre. This is a nuanced subject, which needs an in depth approach to understand the different layers of information and narratives that are involved in this subject matter.
The research approach of deductive is adopted for this research to specify the approach relating the research to theory (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Of the two approaches of deductive and inductive, the researcher chose to adopt the deductive approach because there is already existing theory that can be used to relate to the issue of Islamophobia and this research study sought to collect data and assess how the research related to the theory (Perrin, 2015, p. 81). The researcher did not seek to create a new theory, for which an inductive approach would have been more appropriate. Rather, the researcher chose to use existing theoretical frameworks to study Islamophobia and the Christchurch massacre.
The research is based on secondary data and there was no primary data collected for this research. Qualitative data was collected from academic books, articles in peer reviewed journals, and other reports and secondary sources.
One of the important themes identified in literature on Islamophobia is the use of media or the impact of media for the shaping of perceptions on Muslims and Islam especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks by Islamic terrorists in the United States, and the later attacks in European cities, including the 2004 London Underground bombings (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010). Literature recognises that to a significant degree, Islamophobia gained traction in the period after 9/11 where there was an increase in the narrative on Islamic terrorism; for instance, a British study found that negative representation of Muslims in the media increased in the period after 9/11:
“Prior to September 11, 2001 there was but scant empirical research on newspaper representations of Muslims with the vast majority of work employing non-systematic anecdotal evidence in order to illustrate general trends in media coverage (Richardson, 2004). It was of course after this date that newspapers began to dedicate an unprecedented amount of space, time and attention to British Muslims, their differences from the ingroup and the threats they allegedly pose to the ingroup. Muslims have never before occupied such a central position in the British media, given their general absence from more ‘normalised’ representational positions such as in popular soaps, literature and reality television. This perhaps explains the primarily negative ‘hypervisibility’ of Muslims across the media, which has encouraged social representations of negativity and threat” (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010, p. 289).
Thus, there is some evidence presented in the form of evidence from news, reality television, and even popular TV shows which indicates that there was an increased visibility of Muslims with a more negative and pejorative tone in the media. This is common to many western countries and it is not limited to the UK regardless of whether or not the people of some of these countries have actually experienced terrorism; an example is Canada, which has not experienced any terror attacks unlike some of the European countries and even its North American neighbour (Zaman, 2010). Literature does emphasise on the significance of the relationship between rising Islamophobia and media; how the media represents Muslims in a given society may have an impact on the level of Islamophobia experienced in the society as noted below in the context of the British media:
“Muslims and Islam have occupied a central role in the British media following the Salman Rushdie Affair, the 2001 riots, conflicts in the Middle East and the global war on terror. Featuring also in issues surrounding multiculturalism, crime, education and faith schools, immigration, and oppressed women linked to the Burqa debate, Muslims have been the focus of numerous public issues and denunciations. The portrayal of Muslims has been largely negative and stereotypical informed often by a virulent, racialised Islamophobic discourse. This concern has been vocalised by many Muslim advocacy groups, organisations, academics and activists who argue that representations of Muslims in the British media are persistently negative, unfair and discriminatory and have subsequently contributed to establishing a climate of fear or a moral panic‘ with the Muslim folk devil‘ at its heart” (Sian, et al., 2012, p. 230).
Thus, there may be use of negative and pejorative terms with reference to Muslims and Islam and there may be stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in the media that may lead to the formation of certain perceptions around Muslims in the given society.
There is also a link drawn between the media reporting of Muslims in a pejorative sense, as well as negative public discourse on Muslims and the developing of a ‘suspect’ community. Saeed (2007) has noted the increase of negative reporting about Muslims by the western media. Walt (2015) has also noted that there is an increased negative reporting on the potential of European Muslims falling prey to the Islamic State (ISIS) recruitment. Evidence does suggest that the ISIS has managed to recruit a significant number of people from across the world (Khan & Estrada, 2017). Such reporting and public discourse on the rising number of Muslim youth getting recruited by the ISIS can arguably lead to the perception of a suspect community. Literature does suggest that Muslims are treated as a suspect community after 9/11 and other terror attacks (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). The term suspect community was first developed by Hillyard (1993) in context of the Irish community at the height of Irish fundamentalism when members of the Irish community were treated with suspicion because of the public perceptions and media reporting on Irish terror.
Pantazis and Pemberton (2009) have applied the same term to the Muslim communities in Britain, which are treated with suspicion for their potential link to terror organisations. In this context, ‘suspect’ refers to the perception of an individual's perceived membership of a sub-group (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). The labelling of communities as suspect communities not only has an impact on the way the police interacts with such communities or its individual members, but also on the way a general discourse is shaped about the community (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). Literature provides evidence that after the 9/11 attacks and the other terror attacks in the European cities, there has been a general tendency to view Muslim communities with some suspicion, and this has also been reflected in the higher numbers of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims and vandalism of Muslim establishments (Githens-Mazer & Lambert, 2010).
Disproportionate reporting on individual terror events or even individuals like Shamima Begum may also lead to the increase in negative perceptions around Muslim communities in the western world (Downing, 2019). In this context, the following statement is important to highlight the different standards that the Muslim teenagers may be held to after their radicalisation as compared to white teenagers who may be viewed with sympathy:
“Other British citizens who have left the UK to join militant Islamic groups, including numerous male Jihadi fighters, have been allowed back into the country to face prosecution and deradicalization. A toxic nexus of misogyny and xenophobia is at play in discourses about Begum. As a figure perceived to be unemotional and unapologetic, she is illegible as a “proper” female subject. And as a woman of Asian and Muslim background and appearance, she may not inspire in the average Middle Englander on the omnibus (or in the SUV) the easy capacity for identification and forgiveness that a middle-class white teenager who had been radicalized at a young age might elicit. But, most damningly of all, we cannot ignore the fact that the irrational emotion of fear of the other is being not only encouraged by government ministers but also legitimated in acts that are potentially in breach of international law” (Downing, 2019).
The later part of the above statement in which Downing (2019) compares the case of Shamima Begum with that of radicalised white youth and argues that the disproportionate negative reporting and harsher treatment met out to her is due to the fact that she is a Muslim woman and does not get the sympathy that a white teenager may have received had she been in the same situaiton. Importantly, Downing (2019) notes that there is a “cultivation of emotionalism and specifically of the emotion of fear” with regard to Muslims in the UK (and indeed other western countries).
The impact of media reporting on Muslims especially in relation to specific terror events or radicalization cases (like Shamima Begum) reflects on the more negative perception about Muslims in the western societies. The question is whether this negative reporting and discourse result in Islamophobia and events like the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. In other words, does the Christchurch event exemplify the extreme of Islamophobia and does this have something to do with the creation of suspect communities out of Muslim communities. The next theme of moral panics and Islamophobia is related to this question as it discusses how Islamophobia may be compared with the creation of moral panic.
Negative perceptions about Muslims can even take the form of moral panic where the members of the general public may have such negative perceptions about the Muslims that lead them to form such perceptions about Muslims that lend to Islamophobic discourse. Therefore, moral panic is another context that becomes important for understanding the extent to which Islamophobia can lead to violent actions akin to the Christchurch massacre. One of the studies on Islamophobia has expressly noted that there is a creation of moral panic with the growing perception in general public that there is rising Islamic fundamentalism in western societies (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010). The study attributes the moral panic associated with Islamic fundamentalism to the negative representation of Muslims in the media especially after the events of 9/11 and then the terror attacks attributed to the Islamic fundamentalists in many European countries in the two decades after 9/11 (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2010).
Moral panic studies were first made popular and academically significant by the work of Stanley Cohen (Rohloff, et al., 2013). Cohen explains moral panic as follows:
“The objects of normal moral panics are rather predictable; so too are the discursive formulae used to represent them. For example: They are new (lying dormant perhaps, but hard to recognize; deceptively ordinary and routine, but invisibly creeping up the moral horizon) – but also old (camouflaged versions of traditional and well-known evils). They are damaging in themselves – but also merely warning signs of the real, much deeper and more prevalent condition. They are transparent (anyone can see what’s happening) – but also opaque: accredited experts must explain the perils hidden behind the superficially harmless” (Cohen, 2011, p. viii).
Cohen (2011) discussed four formulae that leads to the development of moral panic and which can be applied here in the context of Islamophobia to understand whether the phenomenon can also be described as a moral panic where the members of the general public can come to develop a perception about Muslims being a threat to them or their community. As Cohen (2011) says, moral panics are represented by the new but also old phenomenon or people or groups in the society which are thought to be damaging in themselves as well as, being warning signs of a more prevalent condition. They are transparent as well as opaque. In this context, the ‘new’ is represented by the Jihadi terror in the period of 9/11. The ‘old’ is represented by the pre 9/11 discourse about Muslims as being ‘others’ or outsiders in the western society as well as by the discourse about Crusades (Rohloff, et al., 2013). The community is visible, therefore, transparent by the fact of their dress, or other markers but, there is a sense of opaqueness because of their rituals and practices being private, which may be argued to be lending to the perception of risk of the unseen. Finally, the community may be seen as a danger to the non Muslims. These aspects may provide some credence to the argument that Islamophobia is in the nature of a moral panic. If so, then this provides a context to study the Christchurch massacre in that light.
Islamophobia is reflected in actions of local communities, which are also explained as moral panics in light of the reactions of the local communities in the west to the Islamic communities (Al-Natour, et al., 2016). An example of this is given from the town of Camden in New South Wales, where a proposal of establishing an Islamic school was met with resistance and a xenophobic campaign by the local communities (Al-Natour, et al., 2016). In this campaign against the settling of the school, the local Anglo-Australian communities drew on a “catalogue of moral panics in recent history concerning Islam and people of Muslim backgrounds in order to gain support for their Islamophobic campaign” (Al-Natour, et al., 2016, p. 101). The school was to be built on the land owned by the Quranic Society of New South Wales; although the school was to be set by an Islamic society, some members of the community had welcomed it as an addition to the education institutions within the community (Al-Natour, et al., 2016). However, the subsequent Social Media campaigns and letter campaigns against the school reflected on the hostile reception to this development in the town of Camden. Much of these campaigns represented Muslims as potential terrorists and their project of building up an Islamic school as a potential threat to the society (Al-Natour, et al., 2016). The case is instructive of how Islamophobia can take on tones of moral panics and how the local communities can also take a more aggressive and even violent approach to Muslim communities. The protest around the school included incidents involving putting up wooden crucifix on the site of development, putting up pigs’ heads on stakes with an Australian flag draped around the heads, racial abuse towards local Muslims, and attempts to break into the offices of the Quranic Society of New South Wales (Al-Natour, et al., 2016, p. 105). Even public declarations by the Quranic Society that the school would be open to all communities and the girls would not have to wear head scarves, did not serve to allay concerns of local communities about the possible implications of this school or even reduce hostility to the Islamic school (Al-Natour, et al., 2016).
Some commenters have noted that the Muslim other is being perceived as the preeminent ‘folk devils’ of the times, which is also why there is a rise in the xenophobic politics especially in European countries (Morgan & Poynting, 2016, p. 1). Another important point that is made out in the literature is that moral panics around Islam have been globalised, which means that the negative perceptions around Islam and the fears in response to these are not limited to specific regions of the world but have become more relevant in public discourse around the world (Morgan & Poynting, 2016). This also means that the contemporary Islamophobia may be different from other moral panics in the twentieth century because of the globalised nature of this moral panic (Morgan & Poynting, 2016).
Moral panics around Muslims have at times taken an aggressive and violent turn in Australia in the recent past; for instance, in 2018 four white extremists invaded a mosque in Brisbane, Australia, vandalised the place and even called a child present at the mosque a ‘bloody terrorist’, and threatened to burn the mosque down (Poynting & Briskman, 2018). This event took place after a widely publicised speech by Australia’s then Citizenship Minister, Alan Tudge, who made a call for Australia to mount a ‘muscular’ defence of liberal values. Other themes in his speech included a values clash narrative between the Muslims and the western people using examples like female genital cutting, child marriage, and domestic violence in Islamic societies which are popular narratives in anti-Islam discourse amongst the right wing (Poynting & Briskman, 2018). Although Australia does have a history of normalisation of racism amongst certain sections of the public, the attacks against Muslims are seen in a different light as going beyond racism and involving elements of moral panic and Islamophobia. The otherisation of the ‘deviant Muslim’ is seen to be qualitatively different from the ways in which otherisation is done with other immigrants (Poynting & Briskman, 2018). The moral panics around Islamist terrorism and Islamist fundamentalism and the casting of the ‘Muslim Other’ as illiberal and censoring fundamentalist have played a role in such violent attacks as seen in the Brisbane Mosque in 2018.
Another theme that may be noted in the literature is the impact of negative portrayal of Muslims on the way the society perceives immigrants and refugees from the Islamic countries and whether these perceptions also lead to Islamophobia. Furthermore, whether such perceptions have roots in racism, which may make it harder for Muslims to counter such negative perceptions about themselves (Carr, 2009). In other words, is Islamophobia difficult to counter by the Muslim communities themselves and whether this is another aspect that reflects on the vulnerability of the Muslim communities to protect themselves from attacks like the one in Christchurch. Attached to this theme is the perception in media and public discourse about the lack of integration by the Muslim refugees and the fears related to the link between the lack of integration and Islamic fundamentalism (Long, 2010).
There is some evidence of there being a general perception around Muslims not being able to integrate fully in western societies as seen in the media reporting and public discourse around the need to restrict immigrants from Islamic nations because they are perceived to be threat to the western society or at the very least not suited to assimilation with the western society (Long, 2010). Evidence of the use of detention, deportation and denaturalisation procedures for Muslim refugees and immigrants without any significant public opposition indicates that there is now a general perception about Muslim immigrants not being welcome or desirable in the western societies (Long, 2010). The discourse in the western societies related to immigration control has become interlinked with the securitisation discourse where Muslim refugees and immigrants are portrayed as threat to national security (Gibney, 2008). Attached to this discourse is the negative or pejorative perception around Muslim refugees and immigrants as the ‘other’ or as drivers of undesirable demographic changes in the western societies (Wodak & Boukala, 2014). In Australia, where the Christchurch killer was from, as well as in the UK, the use of terms like ‘unwanted invader’, ‘boat people’ and ‘invader’ have been used as a part of this growing discourse on immigration and security (Parker, 2015; Taylor, 2015). The term ‘boat people’ signifies on the surreptitious entry of Muslim refugees instead of addressing the risks that many Muslim refugees take to escape humanitarian crises in their own countries and the term ‘invader’ signifies serious level of threat by Muslim immigrants to the western societies. There are other terms that are used for the Muslim immigrants and refugees that can lead to the creation of moral panics and Islamophobia; this includes the term “interlopers” (Greenslade, 2005, p. 5). This term signifies the otherness of the Muslim refugees and their being not welcome. More akin to the notion of their being a threat to the western society is the use of the terms like ‘waves’ (Cap, 2016, p. 6) to characterise the fear perceived with relation to the Muslim refugees and immigrants coming into the western countries. This fear may also be related to Islamophobia and a feeling of threat associated with the incoming of Muslim immigrants into the western society.
It is important to recall that the Christchurch killer specifically stated at his trial that he took the action against whom he termed as a “large group of invaders … to occupy my peoples [sic] lands and ethnically replace my own people” (Reicher, et al., 2019, p. 11). When asked if he had any regrets, he said that he should have killed more ‘invaders’ (Reicher, et al., 2019). Linking these responses by the Christchurch killer at his trial in New Zealand, it can be argued that these perceptions that have been developed by the individual are to some extent mirroring the perception of other members of the society, including media persons and politicians who have used similar terms like ‘invader’ to describe the Muslim refugees and immigrants. It can be asked whether Islamophobic discourse in the media and the general public discourse can be taken so far as to even lead to terrorist events like the Christchurch massacre.
In Australia, there has been a public discourse around the immigration from Muslim countries. For instance, Australian Immigration Minister, Dutton stated in a parliamentary debate in 2016 that was a mistake to settle so many Muslim Lebanese in Australia in the 1970s (Poynting & Briskman, 2018). Dutton has also publicly supported the entry of Christian Syrians and Iraqis over the majority Muslims, by stated that the former are ‘persecuted minorities’ and his statements have been supported by senior ministers (Poynting & Briskman, 2018). This reflects on the rising levels of intolerance against the Muslim communities, which also speaks to the rising levels of Islamophobia even in the public and political discourse in countries like Australia. The question is whether such public discourse amounting to Islamophobia can lead to violence against Muslims. Can Islamophobia also take the form of violent extremism? The next section of this literature review considers the literature on violent Islamophobia.
Literature provides evidence on how Islamophobia can also lead to violent actions by those who harbour hostility towards Muslims. The Christchurch massacre is an extreme example of such a violent action by someone who has expressed Islamophobic views. The question is how this incident can be described as Islamophobia reaching its peak. Experience of violence by Muslim individuals has been reported in literature; for example, Alimahomed-Wilson (2017) provides evidence about the increase in exposure to public incidents of violence by Muslim women in America. In this study, Alimahomed-Wilson (2017) drew upon forty semi-structured interviews with young Muslim American women, and also used data from the FBI hate crimes data and civil rights policy reports, to explore the rise of institutionalized private violence directed at Muslim women. The research found that 85 percent of the women participants in the research reported experiencing verbal assaults or threats within public spaces, while 25 percent actually experiencing physical violence (Alimahomed-Wilson, 2017). Both verbal abuse and physical violence has been reported as exposure to violence in this research. Incidents that were reported in the research included an Iraqi woman being exposed to an attack by a white man in the grocery store parking lot where he choked her and ripped off her hijab and used racial epithets (Alimahomed-Wilson, 2017). What is also concerning is that women are more prone to attacks due to the intersectionality of their race and gender making them more vulnerable targets to such attacks (Alimahomed-Wilson, 2017). Similar findings were reported in a research carried out in the UK by Hopkins (2016) who noted:
“These forms of gendered violence are especially targeted at Muslims; the perpetrators are overwhelmingly White men and the victims are women but also men who are perceived to follow the Islamic faith. I draw attention to the intersection of gendered violence with other axes of difference including race, masculinity and place to explore the gendering of Islamophobia and racism” (p. 186).
What is also important is that Islamophobia is linked to violence as represented by the crimes against Muslims in the UK. Hopkins (2016) notes that in the period between 1 April 2012 and 30 April 2013, 150 incidents of hate crime were reported through the Tell Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks project and these included 12% cases of assault, 12% cases of property damage, 11% cases of distribution of anti-Muslim literature and 8% cases characterised as involving ‘extreme violence’. These incidents represent actual violence directed at people who are Muslims and can be used to argue further that there is a potential of Islamophobia to take on violent forms, the extreme of which was seen in the case of the Christchurch massacre. However, the counter argument to this may be that Islamophobia itself is a reaction to Islamic radicalisation.
Indeed, literature has sought to bring attention to the relationship between Islamophobia and radicalisation, which is described by one author as neither coincidental nor independent from one another so that the two are resultant of push and pull factors making them a concept of ‘reactionary radicalism’ (Iner, 2018, p. 1).
On the other hand, violent reactions to Islamic radicalisation are also a form of extremism or Islamophobia being extremism in itself (Pratt, 2019). In other words, while Islamist radicalisation is a cause of concern, there is also the rising extremist Islamophobia which is becoming a matter of concern with incidents of violence against Muslims as well as extreme events like the Christchurch massacre bringing attention to this concern. Such Islamophobic extremism is being reported from different parts of the world; in Thailand, there are incidents of violent actions by Buddhist extremists (Pratt, 2019). In Myanmar as well, extremist actions of violence by Buddhist extremists against Rohingya has triggered a mass exodus of Rohingyas away from that country (Pratt, 2019). Therefore, while there is a link between Islamist radicalisation and Islamophobia there is also a link between Islamophobia and extremism. This has been brought out in the statements made by Anders Behring Breivik who carried out a massacre in Oslo in 2011; one of his statements reads as follows:
“It is not only our right but also our duty to contribute to preserve our identity, our culture, and our national sovereignty by preventing the ongoing Islamisation” (Pratt, 2019, p. 38).
Anders Breivik’s diary and other writings have reflected on his growing Islamophobia and his disappointment with the political parties to address the problem of growing Islamic populations in the European countries. The fears of Islamisation of the Norewegian and the woder European society was one the dominant themes in the writings that were maintained by Anders Breivik including his diary (Bangstad, 2014). It may also be added that the actual violent act may be carried out by an individual who may be acting as a lone wolf, but the collective discourse on Islamophobia cannot be discounted in playing a role in the inciting of such individuals into committing such crimes; in Norway, this task was carried out by some newspapers who carried a far right agenda, as well as educated individuals who used blogs and internet to publish anti-Islam rhetoric and the fear of the rising Islamisation of the Norwegian society (Bangstad, 2014).
In Australia itself, where the Christchurch attacker belongs, there has been an emergence of far-right activism which includes among other themes, “institutionalisation and expression of racist, anti-Muslim and nationalist and exclusivist attitudes by right-wing extremist political parties or movements” (Peucker & Smith, 2019, p. 2). Thus, the far right movement in Australia also includes Islamophobia and anti-Muslim narratives. Organisations like anti-Islam Q-Society, which was founded in 2010, the Rise Up Australia party, which was founded in 2011 are examples of the far right organisations in Australia (Peucker & Smith, 2019, p. 5). Since the first half of the 2010s, there are a number of events that have happened, both in Australia and other countries, that have intensified “the already existing moral panic around the place of Islam and Muslim communities in Australia” (Peucker & Smith, 2019). This included the post 9/11 War on Terror rhetoric, the rise of ISIS, the 2014 Lindt Café siege and a series of other terrorist plots and violent attacks in Australia (Peucker & Smith, 2019). These events led to the heightening of the moral panic around Muslim communities. Far right organisations like Patriot Defence League Australia, Aussie Angels Against Sharia, Stop the Mosque, Reclaim Australia and even a political party named Australian Liberty Alliance have developed along with the heightened Islamophobia.
The Christchurch massacre has led to questions about how the narrative of ‘us versus them’ and the civilizational war between Islam and the west, has also led to the increase of Islamophobia and how this has manifested itself in the most violent form in the Christchurch massacre. In this regard, it has been noted:
“Islamophobia and the rhetoric of the Muslim threat is part and parcel of events such as the Christchurch massacre as is the global war on terror and the national security rhetoric and practices that it has spawned… However, the shooter’s ideology gives us an opportunity to examine how white supremacy can be weaponized in the global war on terror. Many of these shooters have been explicit in their concern for national security. The threat they articulate and defend against is demographic (whites), civilizational (the West), political (democracy) and religious (Christianity). For people like Tarrant and Brevik, the visible, raced Muslim is the epitome of the Other carrying in himself the very negation of the West. To allow him in is to sow the seeds of white, Western, Christian, democracy’s annihilation, to inaugurate the end of Western civilization” (Choudhury, 2018, p. 7).
The above is very insightful because it notes on some interesting aspects of Islamophobia and white extremism. One point of importance is that Christchurch massacre is not the only manifestation of the Islamophobia in the west, the other manifestations being the war on terror and the securitization rhetoric that has impacted the immigration policies of western countries. Another point of significance is that the ideology of the Christchurch shooter is significant factor because it is the weaponization of white supremacy rhetoric that can be seen in the incident; this can be related to the non Islamic extremism in response to perceived Islamic threat. The third point of significance is that the statement refers to the other incidents in the recent past including the Oslo shooting by Brevik which also related in some sense to Islamophobia. The fourth point of significance is that there is an ongoing discourse on the Islam versus the western civilization which is also seen in the Christchurch event. These issues highlight the possibility that Islamophobia has the potential to be violent and extremist.
In the context of Australian Islamophobia, in the context of the subject under discussion, the Christchurch massacre being perpetrated by a white-supremacist Australian becomes an important aspect of understanding the link between Islamophobia with violence. Poynting (2020) explores how anti-Muslim racism in Australia is reflected in anti-Muslim stories, rumours, campaigns and prejudices against Muslims have led to the perpetuation of anti-Islamic prejudice. This has led to policy responses aimed at countering violent extremism and targeting Muslims for surveillance, bringing anti-Islamic prejudice into policy discourse and also increasing public discourse around Islamophobia (Poynting, 2020).
The Christchurch massacre was carried out by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian from New South Wales. Media reports about the trial have described Brenton Tarrant as a white supremacist (Garrison, 2019). In order to understand how the attack of Christchurch also signifies the extreme of Islamophobia, it would be useful to delve into the background of Brenton Tarrant and his engagement with Islamophobia. Some of the highlights of the event are that Brenton livestreamed the rampage as he attacked 2 mosques and killed 50 people on that day (Garrison, 2019). Tarrant has made his white supremacist views and Islamophobic views public through an online manifesto, which was subsequently banned in Australia and New Zealand (Garrison, 2019). The online manifesto was called “The Great Replacement” and is described as 70 pages of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rant advocating an atmosphere of fear against Muslims to deter them from coming into Australia (Garrison, 2019). The manifesto also speaks about fears of white genocide; indeed, the overarching theme of identity that the manifesto speaks about is white identity or European identity and Tarrant does not describe himself as Australian, instead choosing to describe himself of European lineage (Garrison, 2019). He describes himself as an ethno-nationalist and a fascist and says that it took him two years to plan out the attack only choosing New Zealand later (Garrison, 2019). Importantly, Tarrant has described Anders Breivik, the Oslo terrorist, as his inspiration (Garrison, 2019).
What the above data suggests is that the Christchurch incident cannot be seen in isolation from the other indications about rising Islamophobia, white supremacist movements, moral panics around Islam, and ethno-nationalism. In Australia itself, there has been a noticeable rise in both xenophobia and white supremacist movements; the participation in the War on Terror has seen increasing perception of Islam and Muslims as public enemies, and normalisation of hate speech against Muslims (Wilson, 2019). The normalization of Islamophobia in Australia is complemented by popularisation of security approach towards immigrants and refugees. Since 2001, the Australian government has used an offshore processing practice for asylum seekers despite severe criticism in the international community (Fleay & Hoffman, 2014). The Pacific Solution, which was visualized as a policy response to asylum seekers, allows Australia to use Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island for processing of asylum seekers outside of Australia (Fleay & Hoffman, 2014). The purpose of this policy is to prevent and deter asylum seekers from coming into Australia in boats and instead be transported to the islands till such time that their refugee claims are settled (Fleay & Hoffman, 2014). In the first instance, the Pacific Solution was meant to process asylum claims of refugees from Afghanistan but has been expanded over the years to be used for asylum seekers from around the world. The purpose of including this data is to bring attention to the background that Tarrant was coming from as there has been an increase in public discourse against Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers on the ground of security or by showing Muslims as threats to security. In Tarrant’s manifesto, these fears of the Muslim immigrant are clearly made out. Moreover, the ideas that Tarrant espouses of creating fear for Muslims as deterrence to come into white countries (not just Australia) can be arguably seen to be very close to the public discourse in Australia against Muslims.
Incidents involving violence against Muslims and even South Asians have been noted in Australia; an infamous incident involved the race riots on Cronulla Beach in December 2005, when young white men beat and threw bottles at ‘brown people’ and this incident has been described as a “milestone in the development of a more forthright, ugly public nationalism in Australia. Now young men wear flags as capes on Australia Day, a date which is seen as a calculated insult by many Indigenous people” (Wilson, 2019). Seen in this background, the Christchurch massacre by Tarrant appears to be a related event that signifies a link between Islamophobia and violent extremism. The literature review drew on several themes that relate to Islamophobia. These themes can now be explored in specific relation to the Christchurch incident. The first theme is the representation of Muslims in media and public discourse. The second theme is Islamophobia as a moral panic. The third theme is the negative portrayal of Muslim immigrants and refugees. The fourth theme is violent extremism as manifestation of Islamophobia. The purpose of this analysis is to explore how Islamophobia can lead to perpetration of violent extremism and how incidents like Christchurch massacre cannot be seen in isolation.
Coming back to Tarrant’s Online Manifesto, which reflects on his views about Muslims, immigration, and extremist fascist ideology, this provides an insight into how he was also impacted by the online literature and public discourse on Muslim immigration in western countries, the threat posed by Islam and Islamist fundamentalism, moral panics about how Islam would present a security threat to western countries, and white genocide. The Online Manifesto contains several references to anti-immigrant sentiments, hate speech against migrants, and calls for displacement of non-European immigrants from European countries (Gelineau & Gambrell, 2019). Much of the Online Manifesto by Tarrant focusses on the theme of a possible white genocide by the Muslim invaders unless actions are taken to prevent such violent actions against members of his race. It has been noted that the Online Manifesto reveals that Tarrant appears to be acting out of a sense of taking action against an ‘occupying force’ which is a perception built in his mind about Muslims as an invading and occupying group of people (Moses, 2019). It has also been noted that although Tarrant's writings in the Online Manifesto do reveal the subjectivity of genocidaires where there commit terrorist acts with genocidal intent and a preventative self-defence in their own minds, it is somewhat hypocritical that Tarrant commits these acts in fear of white genocide when the settler colony that Tarrant appears to be protecting was actually created out of the genocide of indigenous Australians (Moses, 2019). Tarrant’s genocidal intentions with respect to Muslims is quite clear from the Online Manifesto where he calls himself a "kebab removalist" in reference to a meme about the genocide of Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian war (Moses, 2019). The element of self preservation that Tarrant claims to be exercising by attacking Muslims in the Christchurch mosques can also be seen in the context of news media reports in 2014 and 2015, where the local press had reported that there were some indications that a congregation member had been radicalised at the mosque (Matthewson, 2015). Athough, the same media reports also noted how many Muslims from the same congregation were disturbed about the potential of the entire community being perceived as radicalised when it was one individual who had been found to have links with Al Qaeda (Matthewson, 2015).
The Christchurch attack can also be seen in the context of an anti-immigration stance linked with Islamophobia takes to its violent extreme. There are several notes in the Online Manifesto that reflect on the writer’s antipathy to the Muslim immigrants and not just in Australia but also in European cities as he specifically writes that he grew enraged by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns in France when he visited that country (Gelineau & Gambrell, 2019). This is a clear indication of his anger towards immigrants as he apparently sees this as a form of invasion of ‘his lands’. Tarrant also wrote about the one episode that tipped his Islamophobia to a violent extremism end when in 2017 an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five (Gelineau & Gambrell, 2019). Again, this is an indication of the link between Islamophobia and the potential for violent extremism by those who harbour such views.
Although not all Islamophobic individuals may be driven to violent extremism, there is a link between the two that is noted in the literature explored for this dissertation (Alimahomed-Wilson, 2017; Hopkins, 2016; Iner, 2018; Pratt, 2019; Bangstad, 2014; Choudhury, 2018). This literature suggests that Islamophobia can take a violent turn and that there are incidents of such violent extremism against Muslims by those who harbour such negative beliefs and perceptions about Muslims. Proceeding on the same lines, there can be a link drawn between Islamophobia and moral panics and extremist violence. This is seen in the actions of Tarrant in attacking mosque goers in Christchurch and the Online Manifesto in which he reveals his fears of Islamic invasion, Islamic fundamentalism, and immigration invasion. Literature on moral panic has been explored in this dissertation, which provides some insight into how perceptions about certain individuals, groups or events can create moral panic (Cohen, 2011). Literature has also suggested that such moral panics are seen in the way Islamophobia has built up in western public discourse over the period of time (Rohloff, et al., 2013). After the terror attacks of 9/11 in America and the subsequent terror attacks in some European countries as well as terror attacks targeting Australians, there is a discourse around how Muslim fundamentalism presents a threat to the democratic western countries (Rohloff, et al., 2013). Another important characteristic about the Islamophobic discourse is that it draws on discourse about Crusades which presents Islam as an enemy of the western civilization and Christianity (Rohloff, et al., 2013). Therefore, the moral panic is also derived from historical discourse around Islam and presenting it in the contemporary sense as the enemy which is set to invade and needs to be repelled. In that sense, Islamophobia can also be understood as a fear against the Muslim invader. Seen in the context of the Oslo terror attacks and the Christchurch massacre, the events can also be seen as an extremist response to what is seen as a threat.
Therefore, the literature that has been considered in this dissertation presents data that suggests that Islamophobia has the potential to lead to violent extremism and the Christchurch massacre can be seen as the peak of Islamophobia in the sense that it represents the extreme form that Islamophobia can take. This is why Choudhury (2018) writes that the rhetoric of Muslim threat and Islamophobia is part and parcel of events such as the Christchurch massacre. The overarching point is that the incident at Christchurch now makes it incumbent on researchers to understand how Islamophobia can take extreme and violent forms.
The research was concerned with exploring the question whether the Christchurch massacre represents the peak of Islamophobia and can we say that with this event, Islamophobia has achieved the most extreme form that it can take. The dissertation considered literature that presented various themes related to Islamophobia, including role played by media in rising Islamophobic narratives, moral panics related to Islamophobia, Islamophobic reactions to Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers and the relationship between Islamophobia and white extremism.
Exploring these themes closely with the data on Tarrant and his Online Manifesto, what was found was that there were strong Islamophobic views presented by Tarrant in his writings as well as strong apathy to Muslim immigrants and refugees not just in Australia but other western countries. The Online Manifesto also presented views on conspiracy theories around white genocide and the Islamic threat, which may be related to the literature on moral panics. These views can be seen as part of a narrative of moral panics about Muslim immigrants who are seen as invaders. The literature also presented data on how there has been an increase in xenophobic public discourse as well as actual actions amounting to violence against Muslim people in different countries around the world.
At the same time, there has been an increase in the normalisation of narratives around securitisation of immigration policy is needed to respond to the threat of the Muslim immigrant and refugees. This is seen not just in the media reports but also in the political discourse particularly from the far right or right centric political parties in countries like Australia. The increase in such narratives can also be seen in conjunction with the normalisation of anti-Muslim rhetoric and discourse in some western countries. The broader picture may be that the normalisation of the anti-Muslim rhetoric can lead to the normalisation of Islamophobic rhetoric. Ultimately, Islamophobia can take on violent extremist forms. The Christchurch event is an example of that. What can be recommended, based on this discussion is that, there is a need to counter Islamophobic narratives, which can be done by members of the Muslim community as well as by the other members of the civil society.
At the very least, there is a need to consider the link between Islamophobia and extremism more seriously in literature. This dissertation has shown that there is a link in the writings of Tarrant and his actions; his writings reflect on the need for western societies to fight against Muslim immigration which he equates with invasion. Moral panics around Islamic fundamentalism are also reflected in these writings. Linking such Islamophobic views as presented in the Online Manifesto with the actual actions of Tarrant in attacking the two mosques in Christchurch, it can be said that this case does present evidence of such a relationship between Islamophobia and extremist violent by white supremacists. Therefore, there is a need to explore this with more depth in research.
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