It is an unfortunate sign of the times that Islamophobia has continued unabated albeit accompanied by more violence and bloodshed than ever before.
The assault in New Zealand, which led to the deaths of 49 worshippers and many more injured in two mosques in the serene city of Christchurch, has left Muslims all over the world shocked and disturbed. What made it more heinous was the fact that the killers filmed and live-streamed the attacks.
This is not the first time that mosques have been targets of angry right-wing white extremists. Over the years and across the globe, worshippers have been attacked, and not all attackers were white right-wingers. In Asia, those attacks were fuelled by inter-faith discord, as was witnessed in Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar Indonesia, and even in Pakistan.
In America, distrust of Muslims has always existed. Coupled with the rise of political leaders with extreme views, the US witnessed in recent times a remarkable shift to the right when dealing with people of other faiths or colour. Politically motivated outbursts against Muslims in America have given rise to physical and verbal abuse. The situation is not much different in Canada, which has witnessed an upswing in attacks and desecrations of mosques in the last few years.
In Europe, it is much of the same. The UK has seen a surge of anti-Muslim sentiments, much of which is fuelled by some politicians who try to curry favour from the voting public by whipping up anti-Islamic rhetoric. By creating an atmosphere of hate and distrust, maligning the real message of Islam has become an art with some of these leaders. With mainstream British media playing down the Islamophobia angle, such crimes have often been classified as hate.
Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, you name it, have all been burdened with their share of anti-Muslim sentiments.
The violence against Muslim places of worship or the worshippers themselves cannot be simply explained away by pointing towards the anti-immigrant wave. These people fleeing from persecution and war-torn areas need our compassion. Western governments need to act against people perpetuating terrorism on their soil, against minorities and immigrants.
Israelis killing Palestinians
Nearer home, Saudi Arabia has not been immune from such terror attacks on places of worship. In 2014, the country was jolted into the realism of a sectarian conflict when an attack on Shiite worshippers at a mosque left several people wounded. The worshippers were undertaking rituals for Ashura, a revered day in the month of Muharram.
Seven people including two children were killed in the ensuing gunfire. In a shoot-out with the suspected perpetrators of the crime, two security officers were also gunned down. Some 15 individuals with suspected links to the shootings were taken into custody. This marked the first time that such a major militant attack against Shiites took place on Saudi shores.
In Israel, there have been countless documented cases of Israeli troops storming mosques and provoking the faithful, with many Palestinians being killed by Israeli gunfire.
So, what should governments do to prevent future such attacks? First of all, all places of worship should be defined as red zones whereby any act of violence would be met with the full force of the law and not dismissed away as the act of a deranged individual. Be it a mosque, a church, a synagogue or a temple, these are places of worship and their sanctity should be guaranteed by all governments.
Recognise growing culture of Islamophobia
I also would like to see severe penalties applied on any parties or individuals found guilty of shooting down and killing of worshippers, regardless of their beliefs. That would set a precedent. I would like to remind many of the well-fed bureaucrats in inter-faith organisations across the world to up their act and seriously start working to remove the distrust and suspicion people seem to have of each other.
Governments around the world must immediately recognise the growing culture of Islamophobia. They must institute national strategies to combat it.
We cannot afford to allow these killings to go on forever.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.