A white supremacist racist prepared, carried out, and posted his murderous rampage live on social media for the world to see. He didn’t differentiate between men and women, old and young, or even innocent mosque attendees and Islamists. To him, all Muslims are the same: invaders and extremists, hell-bent on destroying western civilization by taking over through the sheer weight of overwhelming numbers, and thereby changing the values of society.

Fortunately, there have been only a few incidents where (non-Muslim) right-wing terrorists have murdered or attempted to do so. From the attack on Finsbury Park mosque in East London to the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the incidents can still be counted on the fingers of one or two hands. However, to assume the number of such right-wing attacks will remain a handful is wishful thinking.

The stages that humans go through when faced with grief are well established. The most natural human response to these sorts of attacks is that of grievance and sorrow, anger towards the perpetrators, and overwhelming sympathy for the communities at the receiving end. However, in this case, there is another sinister element that has become part of the narrative: the Islamist opportunism.

It is important to bear in mind that responses to tragedies vary depending on the victims, the perpetrators and the location of such atrocities. Attacks that happen in Muslim-majority countries, by Muslim fanatics against minorities or even other Muslims, do not receive extensive local or international coverage, nor do they generate the level of outrage amongst Muslims as they do if the attackers are non-Muslims, white, and where the victims are Muslims.

The outrage naturally multiplies when the attacks happen somewhere in the West. Take for example the Taliban or ISIS blowing themselves up in mosques, or even mobs torching churches. These instances are rarely brought up by Muslim communities in the West when discussing the levels of anti-Muslim hatred they experience, and never by their representatives. Though such outrages are all too commonplace, it seems they don’t warrant discussion, too often on the basis of their being inconvenient to an anti-West, Muslim-victimhood narrative.

The response to the Christchurch tragedy has brought out immense levels of sympathy for Muslims around the western world, which is greatly appreciated by many Muslims, including myself. From the New Zealand Prime Minister starting her address to the parliament with an Islamic greeting to the recitation of Quran there, and a top Muslim female Police officer doing the same at a rally, the response is overwhelmingly supportive and full of love for all Muslims. So much so that kind-hearted non-Muslim women pledged to wear the hijab for a day in solidarity with Muslims. The kind intention is there for all to see and feel.

However, it is ironic that neither non-Muslim nor Muslim men would offer such a gesture, and why would they: the head-covering is only an obligation imposed on women, and never on men. This aspect of Western sympathy, though good-intentioned, makes painful viewing since no Muslim women ever organise the opposite of World Hijab Day by removing their hijabs in solidarity with millions of women who are forced to wear it and face serious consequences for not conforming to the diktats of men.

Not only are we seeing the normalisation of Islamist doctrines and their endorsement by unsuspecting westerners in the wake of this attack, but there is also a shrewd attempt by Islamist outfits and mosques to take advantage of western sympathy following the atrocity by means of silencing the criticism of Islamism: the twisted interpretation of Islamic teachings for political purposes.

People are being labelled ‘insensitive’, ‘hateful’, and ‘bigoted’ for daring to point out the hypocrisies and double standards applied by Muslim leaders when minorities are maltreated and murdered in the Muslim nations such as, inter alia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Egypt. The conversations and debates that could—and should—be held on many platforms and forums are being denied and shouted down with claims that any criticism of aspects of Islam or behaviours of fanatical Muslims at this ‘sensitive’ time is akin to the mindset of the far-right and supportive of the NZ killer’s manifesto.

And going beyond that, a large selection of self-appointed Muslim leaders from Islamist organisations as well as individuals—seemingly academics, professionals and religious figures—have penned an open letter in the Guardian, demanding that the media be held accountable for the atrocity associating Islam and Muslims with extremism and terrorism. They also find academics responsible for being critical of Islam.

Before challenging the content of the letter, it should be noted that whilst a sizeable number of Muslim women have signed the letter, not a single one boasts the title of Imam, or Imamah, that is, prayer leader, as if there were such a possibility within mainstream mosques anywhere even in the western world. The same leaders who are citing bigotry, ill treatment of Muslims, and negative media portrayal have no problem whatsoever forbidding Muslim women from entering mosques or, if they are allowed, only on the condition that entrances are gender-divided, seeing women relegated to completely segregated side or back rooms and squashed up spaces as if their presence, whilst somehow permitted, is otherwise utterly intolerable.

The signatories to the letter cite examples of attacks on mosques and synagogues as well as a prevailing anti-Muslim environment as a result of unsavoury media headlines and academics deliberating on certain aspects of Islam. Not surprisingly, they seem to have ignored the number of mosques and other religious spiritual establishments attacked across the world by Muslims themselves, and which remain persistently and abundantly high in number. Do the Muslim terrorists who attack fellow Muslims, blow themselves up in mosques and bomb shrines also get manipulated by the same alleged western rhetoric about Islam and Muslims, or do these letter signatories wish to block out the presence of a strong extremist, often sectarian, strain thriving within Muslim communities that instigates such attacks? They warn of double standards within the West while being seemingly oblivious to how unashamedly hypocritical they are in signing a letter that ignores the fact that it’s Islamism, political Islam, that is the major risk to ordinary Muslims. And this is so because Muslim communities are not bold enough to challenge Islamism within their midst due to tribalism, or are simply complacent about its spread across the globe.

What is also alarming and telling is the sheer absence of any progressive Muslim groups and individuals in the list of signatories. This surely makes the motivations of the signatories suspect. It also demonstrates the lack of willingness of these religious figures to engage with those who wish to bring Islam, and Muslims along with it, into the modern era.

These hard-line religious groups and individuals tend to jump at any opportunity to coerce politicians into not reprimanding fellow Islamists when their words or behaviours are anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, or bigoted in some other way. Yet, when it comes to reformation of how Islam is being interpreted, their response is stonewalling and censorship, or throwing around labels such as ‘Islamophobes’ to intimidate politicians, authorities, and individual Muslims trying to make a difference into silence. Sadly, many politicians, NGOs and individuals support Islamists in such endeavours for the sake of political correctness and what they view as inclusivity.

Upon reflection, it’s not just the Islamists who’ve signed this letter, but unsurprisingly and disappointingly, also members of a growing body of Muslim communities living lives highly segregated away from the rest of the society, and who are invariably perpetuating the notion of Islam being at odds with the western values of openness, liberalism, tolerance and respect for each other.

As is well known, there are Muslim parents openly picketing a school in Birmingham and bullying the teachers into abandoning plans to introduce LGBT relationship classes, arguing that such lessons corrupt children. Such is the feeling of success in their campaign that they are spreading the idea to have undesirable lessons eliminated from the curriculum across the country, spearheaded by other like-minded Muslim parents. In the same breath, the same families also invoke perpetual victimhood when claiming wider society, politicians and the media are biased against them. Ironically, the same parents and their leaders label any non-Muslim parents who do not allow their children to learn about Islam ‘racist anti-Muslim bigots’.

The danger of this self-exclusionary mind-set and the exploitation of the attack in New Zealand is a deepening of the fissures that already exist between various segments of society. The disillusionment with the political class surrounding Brexit and the growth of anti-immigration and populist governments across major Western countries will undoubtedly contribute towards widening the gulf between the left and the right-leaning, indigenous and new arrivals, and definitely between Muslims and non-Muslims across Europe, North America and Australasia.

Whilst our Muslim communities alone cannot be held responsible for healing these fissures, what is in our gift, at the very least, is to challenge Islamism, the culprit for perpetuating the them-and-us mentality; and to review the constant unjust and irritating demands too many of us are placing upon society in the name of our religion. Should this trend continue, the sympathies of the wider society over atrocities such as Christchurch will dissipate over time, leading to a society where eventually basic humanity towards each other will die, killed by suspicion, fear and resentment?