Christchurch Mosque Massacre: Tragedy, Blame and the Death of Free Speech

March 22, 2019
Philip Johnson, Ph.D.

A lot of people have asked me about my thoughts regarding the Christchurch Mosque Massacre of March 15th. I have a lot of thoughts. Even more questions. And I shared a few predictions with Global Next’s students regarding what I thought would be the aftermath of this event. The one thing I wasn’t interested in was giving a quick, public reaction. I wanted to let things unfold, get more information and specifically gain more perspective before I commented on such a horrific event. 

Now it’s been a week since the 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Harrison Tarrant murdered 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an act of unmitigated evil.  No person with a soul can deny the atrocity of murdering 50 innocent worshippers, ages 3 to 71 years old.  It is heartbreaking. Regardless as to whether or not I agree with the Islamic faith, and regardless as to my concerns regarding Islamist ideology, attacking innocent worshippers in a mosque is unconscionable, inexcusable and wicked.


Much of the media doesn’t want to use the murder’s name, but he has one and I think that evil should be named. What’s interesting is that while the media hesitates to make this monster famous by using his name, they have no trouble connecting his act of violence to many other names – from conservative thinkers, alt-right bloggers, Donald Trump and to Free Speech itself. 

I predicted that this would happen and spoke about this to my group of U.S. students who were with me in China when the massacre took place. Tarrant’s motives for the attack aren’t a mystery. In his 74-page rambling and often contradictory manifesto, he describes himself as an “ethno-nationalist” who is obsessed with race, birth-rates, offended by immigration and intent on further polarizing and destabilizing the West. He name-drops dozens of people in his writings sending the media into a frenzy of blame regarding anyone who holds conservative views. Interestingly, Tarrant said that he most closely identifies ideologically with the People’s Republic of China. That doesn’t make this act of terror China’s fault any more than it makes the attack the fault of the NRA or Donald Trump – or the fault of free speech.  

But of course the media did exactly what the terrorist wanted – used the attack to add fuel to the fire of division and hatred. The progressive left has exploited this incident to blame individuals who had absolutely nothing to do with this act of terror. 

How will Muslims respond? 

One of my former students from Afghanistan told me that “Muslims are never scared of such deaths and in such a place because these cowardly attacks make us more united and more committed to worship Almighty Allah.”  I am sure that from my former student’s perspective this is a statement of peaceful unity and group strength through a time of pain. And I am sure that this tragic attack will create a certain kind of unity in the Islamic world – but I am not sure that a peaceful response will be the intention of all Muslims as they react to such an event. You can hear it ringing out in mosques now…”The West is at war with us…Islam is under attack.” It has the potential to turn from solidarity to revenge.

What about Christian persecution? 

The media’s silence on Christian persecution at the hands of radical jihadists is always curious to me. As massacres go, events like the one in Christchurch, motivated by this type of ideology, are quite rare. What is not rare, however, is continuing Christian persecution and the media’s silence on it. As David Wood of Acts17Apologetics, points out, Islamic extremist attacks are still so common that it’s almost as if no one pays any attention to them anymore. 

While the media and politicians are focusing on how gun control laws and free speech are to be blamed for this attack, no one – or almost no one – is talking about other terror attacks that have occurred over the last week at the hands of Islamic extremists. Just since March 15th, there have been terror attacks in Mozambique, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.  Well over 100 men, women and children have been massacred in the name of Allah. (David Wood) Have these kinds of attacks become so common that we really don’t pay attention any longer? 

So far in 2019, there have been 453 Islamic terror attacks in which 1956 people have been murdered. (  4305 Christians were murdered by Muslims extremists because of their faith in 2018 alone. ( Who is talking about this?

Free Speech/Hate Speech?

But I guess I’m not allowed to mention any of those incidents. Because that would just be inciting violence, right? So let’s just pretend none of that has or is happening. 

According to the Sunday Times, (and numerous other news outlets) after a meeting on Friday in Istanbul, Muslims are calling for a response against “Islamophophia” since the Christchurch attacks. The article says that according to the ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, “Violence driven by Islamophobia requires “genuine, comprehensive and systematic measures to address this affliction.”

The OIC  has called for countries with Muslim communities, minorities or migrants to refrain from “statements and practices that associate Islam with terror, extremism and threats to society.”

Does that mean that we’re not allowed to speak out against jihadists or the ideology of Islamists? Have we reached a total tipping point where even discussing global problems and controversial ideas and behavior will become illegal?  Where criticizing Islam is now shielded because if I mention that Islamic terror exists, I might be encouraging someone to act violently against it? How incredibly convenient. 

There are lots of legitimate concerns in the world. There are lot of people and ideas that I deeply disagree with. Violence has never been and will never be the answer…from any side, from any point of view.  But neither is the answer to silence people and prevent debate, discussion and disagreement. 

The tragedy of lost innocent lives can’t be undone. How people share this planet and share their ideas, and coexist – that is the challenge. Unfortunately, that just got a little bit harder.

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