On the 15th March 2019, news broke of a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed, dozens injured. This attack was motivated by an anti-Muslim agenda. Amber Syed shares her reflections:
In the hours and days following the terrorist attacks in New Zealand it has been hard to know what to feel and what to think. Amidst all the beautiful displays of solidarity and grief witnessed from the New Zealand community and across the world, it has been hard to dispel a certain feeling of hollowness, because of what caused the bloodshed in the first place.
It got me thinking: we can surround ourselves with the messages of outrage and peace and solidarity and pretend that those other abhorrent views don’t exist. We can pretend there’s no place for them in our world. But the fact remains that there is a sizeable minority that is not silent; there are people who feel emboldened to continue spreading the ignorance and pure hatred that has just killed 50 innocent people. It is wishful thinking to pretend that Islamophobia does not exist, or that it only operates on the fringes of society.
We have to confront the reality that there is a cycle of hate and violent rhetoric. Terrorist attacks don’t happen out of nowhere. They are fed by constant exchange between toxic ideologies, by extremist thinking from both directions. They are fuelled by rhetoric that seems to start off reasonable or even rational but steadily gets more and more deluded. And people get caught up in this endless cycle, and innocent people die.
So now it is time that we try to actually do something about it. We need to stop letting out-and-out racists hide behind pseudo-legitimate anti-immigrant fervour. We need to confront media outlets that normalise the ‘us-vs-them’ narrative. We have to confront those from our own communities that internalise this narrative - those who promote and perpetuate the notion that to be Muslim is to be ‘other’. Contradict those who seek to entrench the flawed idea that the West and Islam cannot be reconciled. Publicise the reality of millions of Western Muslims. We are not a fifth column. These are our countries and our homes. We live here and belong here. To be a Western Muslim is not a paradox.
It crossed my mind that there are two ways Muslims have typically sought to deal with islamophobia. Either we have retreated into our own communities and minimised our interactions with wider society, or in interacting with wider society we have downplayed and perhaps even erased our connection to our faith. oNeit Neither of these are productive routes. It is time that we become open and confident in our identities as British Muslims; it is time we show that we can be proud Muslims while also being contributing and necessary members of society. The only way to counteract the narrative of antagonism between Islam and the West, which is the same narrative that fuels white supremacists and ISIS, is to become living contradictions of the twisted reality it seeks to portray.
Everyone deserves the right to live their lives without fear of attack and hatred; to be able to pray in peace; to feel like they belong in their own countries. We deserve no less. We deserve to be able to exist as we are and live our lives as we like, without constantly having to justify our own existence.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un – to God we belong and to God we return.