My home is not Christchurch. My passport has never reached New Zealand’s border control. Despite this, when I awoke to the news that at least 49 Muslim men and women were massacred by a white supremacist during the holiest prayer of the week, my body reacted the way it would have had a bomb exploded in a church in Cairo or had a car attacked Muslim worshipers in central London next to my apartment.
If it were any other month, any other city, any other story, my mind would have disassociated the news and allowed me to go on with my day. But this particular attack has not given me and many of the people around me room to desensitise, and the reason is clear: this is another reminder that our right to exist as people of colour within Western systems of power is conditional.
To be clear, I am Muslim. However, my ethnicity is ambiguous and I am not a hijabi, and so the voices that racialise me tend to overlook that fact. This should (and does) make me feel safe and protected from most daily microaggressions and islamophobic commentary. My hijabi family and friends who are visibly Muslim carry most of the burden on most days which I sympathise with, but never experience.
But on days like these, something shifts. When I read the headlines from Christchurch, my body reached for the familiar feeling of fear I held in my heart following the Paris shootings of 2015. That night, as I watched CCTV footage of hijabi women being shoved in front of trains, I took off my necklaces inscribed with the word “Allah” and hid them in a box, as though my identity and faith were a dirty secret I had to lock up if I wanted to remain an accepted member of society.
‘Muslims’ were the perpetrators of the Paris shootings. In Christchurch, Muslims were the victims. Yet, I feel as afraid of backlash on the Muslim community today as I did on that November night. Reading the statements made by some politicians regarding these attacks, one being Senator Fraser Anning insisting that “today is not an excuse to forget the countless lives lost to Islamic terrorist attacks”, only adds fuel to my fears. Somehow, even when Muslims are the direct and only victims of an attack, we are still to blame. The real blame should be on the demonisation we have been succumbed to, the ignorant misconceptions of our teachings and values that have entered the mainstream, and the continued silence we have grown used to from non-Muslim communities.
We are tired of accepting half-minded apologies and prayers over murders and mistreatments that are a direct cause of decades of dehumanisation. These attacks were shocking, but they were not surprising. They are part of a white supremacist system of power and oppression, fuelled by a scapegoating mentality that has picked its latest targets of brown skin and ‘foreign’ beliefs and seems to be unwilling to loosen its grip. When symbols of white power like President Donald Trump insist that white supremacists are “only a small group of people”, he completely omits the systematic ideologies of oppression that have inspired such arrogance and evil in the hearts of these murderers. When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claims that the shooter was not “one of us”, not a New Zealander, she wipes any responsibility off of the hands of New Zealand’s society, culture, and discriminatory rhetoric.
He is one of you. He was a product of his upbringing, his education. He was a product of your words, your politics, your ‘othering’. Muslims are not your only victims, but we continue to be silenced by non-Muslim communities, whether white or black, Jewish or Hindu. To the POC communities who continue to perpetuate an image of Muslims as inherently violent or archaic, please know that by doing so you have lost half your battle against our collective oppressor. To the POC communities that stand in silent solidarity with us, your silence is useless, stand beside us and help us dismantle this system that was not designed for our success. For my Muslim brothers and sisters, we may not feel like we have the right to take up space on days like this, but I pray that God surrounds you with hearts and arms open and ready to rally beside you.
Ina lilah wa ina ilaihi raji’oon.
Words by N.N.
Illustration by Hannah Wolny