It is how we respond that counts
As the proverbial dust settles after the terrorist attacks carried out against Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, there is much to ponder. A gun toting white supremacist prepared to go to war against humanity and more specifically, against Muslims. He loaded his vehicle with enough ammunition to leave no living person standing, charged up a camera, fitted it in place to broadcast live the slaughter he was about to thrust upon worshippers. Friday, considered to be the holiest day of the week, meant that his victims were Muslims who had come to the mosque with their families to pray together and connect with their faith and touch base with neighbours and friends. Before he began the rampage, he uploaded a manifesto that would, amongst other hateful things, pay homage to Nazi imagery and refer to US President Donald Trump as, “a symbol of renewed white identity”.
The world was collectively shocked at the events that unfolded that fateful Friday. New Zealand is a country with a total population of around five million and a non-existent history of gun violence. The modus operandi of the Christchurch attack was horrifying. The fact that many of the bodies had multiple gunshot wounds indicated that the shooter took glee in snuffing the life out of children, women and men of all ages who had congregated for peace and prayer. The fact that the shooter picked his victims on the basis of the god they worship, begs the question, how did we get here?
It is all well for us in Pakistan to admire Jacinda Ardern, would we as a community and as a nation, come together for the one per cent of our country?
The answer lies in complex issues of immigration, racial discrimination and a constant demonisation of Muslims. Terms like, ‘Islamic terrorism’, ‘jihadists’, ‘Islamists’, ‘radicals’ have been used frequently to label a global Muslim population of almost 1.8 billion. The word ‘terror’, has become almost synonymous to Islam and Muslims, courtesy many mainstream media outlets and Western politicians. US President Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric against the ‘others’, his anti-Muslim travel ban, the Brexit referendum and the general feeling of distrust of the ‘others’ has led to a subsequent wave of anti-immigrant, nationalist thought in the West. While the world has been so busy vilifying Islam and Muslims it has collectively shut its eyes to what can now be called textbook homegrown terror. The rise in mass shootings and acts of violence within the USA and Europe, perpetrated largely by white supremacists, is fuelled by what they see on television, the bogey man, bearded or (in the case of women) fully covered in a niqab with slits for eyes, huddling in a mosque whispering in Arabic or even Hebrew in the case of Jews. In their myopic view, these people are a threat to their inherent “whiteness”. Just like terror knows no religion, neither does hate, which is why the average Caucasian xenophobe sees no distinction between Muslims and Jews. He is further emboldened by the fact that whenever he strikes, be it Sandy Hook 6 years ago (the shooter fatally shot dead 20 children and 6 adults), Santa Fe Highschool (the shooter killed 10 schoolchildren, including young Sabika Sheikh hailing from Karachi) or the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, he will be labelled as a ‘lone wolf’, a ‘disturbed’, ‘mentally unstable’ individual. He can yank headscarves’ off women’s heads, scream racial slurs, draw firearms on fellow students, teachers, or cinemagoers without having to look over his shoulder. His religion, his race, will not face the consequences of his actions. He will be treated as an individual who is lost. For what can you call an individual who has no value for human life? If that person is white, then he is deranged but if he happens to be of any other non-white heritage, he will be an undisputed depraved mass murderer: a terrorist. Nothing more, nothing less. White mass shooters are largely treated by law enforcement and the media as mentally incapacitated whereas minority offenders are criminalised, often disproportionately. More Americans have died at the hands of white supremacists than Muslim ‘terrorists’ as defined by media outlets.
As Christchurch municipal workers begin the arduous task of preparing graves for the 50 that were killed, it should be noted that the ages of the victims range from 3 to 71 years, 28 of those shot are still in critical care with multiple gunshot wounds. Six days in, Prime Minister Ardern was true to her word and brought a sweeping change to New Zealand’s gun control. A blanket ban and ‘cease of sales’ were imposed on all semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines and all parts that may be used to convert guns into military-style firearms on Thursday. Ardern also directed officials to develop a buyback scheme for those who already owned such weapons. According to the 2013 census, New Zealand is home to 46,149 Muslims, who make up around one per cent of the population. This did not, however stop Ardern taking ownership of the tragedy that she expressly called, “an act of terror” and its perpetrator an unequivocal “terrorist, an extremist”. For Ardern, the path forward for her country was simple, the fact that the victims were Muslims, mostly immigrants, was irrelevant. They called New Zealand their home and an attack on them was an attack on her country. She visited Muslim community leaders, observing hijab, holding and comforting a community struck with violence and besieged in sorrow. She also rendered the terrorist nameless, refusing to ever mention his name in public. She did all this for the one per cent of her country. On Friday, the azan, khutba and Friday congregational prayers were broadcast live on New Zealand television. Women in New Zealand wore headscarves in solidarity with Muslims. Ms Ardern stood firm in her commitment to heal her nation. While the world may applaud her, she serves as a reminder to leaders in the West, who close their eyes to terror unleashed by the xenophobic, white male who has grown up and been radicalised at home. New Zealand has shown them that they are probably one of the world’s greatest nations, not because of economics but because they stood tall and strong in the face of hatred towards a community that has been lambasted by most of the world for decades. For them, nothing was relevant with the exception of the fact that their fellow countrymen were in pain.
It is all well for us in Pakistan to admire Jacinda Ardern, but it is also important to reflect on the fact that while she stepped forward to protect the one per cent minority of her country. Would we as a community and as a nation, come together for the one per cent of our country? Would we strive to prevent the one per cent minority of Pakistan from feeling alienated? The answer is all too clear. Sadly, we are far away from the light that guides the great people of New Zealand and their leaders. While this tragedy has united them, had it been the other way around and in Pakistan, it would expose the fault lines deep within the community. Ms Ardern spoke to her people at the congregational Friday prayers, “According to Muslim faith, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body, when any part of the body suffers the whole body feels pain.” New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.” — and they did stand as one for that one per cent.