Fear, dehumanisation & defiance: Making sense of Christchurch
It has been a testing past few days to say the least, as we watched with horror at the events in Christchurch, Zealand unfold. The grotesque nature of such an incident makes it feels unprecedented and unimaginable, and yet it also isn’t unexpected.
For many Muslims across the world, while the pain and anguish of this act of terror will undoubtedly weigh heavy for a long time to come, it speaks volumes of where we find ourselves as a community globally that we aren’t entirely shocked by these events. Questions, fears, and doubts have overcome us and as we find ourselves scrolling endlessly through our social media feeds trying to make sense of things, it only adds to the angst.
The thought that has been circling in my head over the past few days is how this is what it now means to be Muslim. If it wasn’t evident that we have become synonymous with violence within the last decade and a half, it has become inescapable now.
The dehumanisation of Muslims
Growing up, the constant otherizing, dehumanization, and vilification that we engaged with informed us of our sense of self, anxiety-ridden and seemingly degraded, that we saw the enemy every time we stared at ourselves in the mirror. So much so that such instances only remind us of the lived reality we are now confronted with – to have our existence defined solely through violence. As victims, because most of the mainstream press will narrativize it as if we come from a culture and lineage of barbarity, it is no surprise when we die. Or that the case is made when it is violence perpetrated by the violated. In some way, there is a definitive correlation made to violence. A correlation that seems to be absent when discussing violence in the context of many other ethnic and religious groups.
We’re boxed in to fit a concise, neat label with no evidence given of the complexities or histories that have actually shaped us and continue to do so. And when the degree of humanization is dependent on geographic location or ethnicity, it’s not surprising that we are quickly forgotten as victims if not always demonized as the perpetrators. Yet also made out to become targets nonetheless; for someone, somewhere. If not here on a crisp winter morning standing at the bus stop then for those far, far away who pray for cloudy skies, so the drones don’t rain death upon them for a day. Living in constant fear. Is that what it now means to be Muslim? And that’s me speaking as a bearded brown man of relative privilege. I cannot think what it means for our sisters in hijab. Or those across the Muslim world, the unnamed and practically non-existent until violence renders them present; who have their existence then summed up as statistics and terms like collateral damage. How different really are the reactions to violence; when it’s a car bomb that goes off in Baghdad or a cruise missile targeting a funeral procession. Muslims die there as they did in Christchurch, and yet we are repeatedly told that all human life is equal. It’s absolutely heart wrenching to fathom.
Yet now that the events in Christchurch have transpired, how do you even process this and what it means? It wasn’t close to home for many of us and yet it has hit so near; to what invokes our very spirit and feeling of community. We can often make sense of the senseless by rationalizing away all sorts of things to soothe the distress and the confusion. But here, we know what happened and we know exactly why it did. And yet it feels almost unimaginable and the thought that it will forever hang over us as a possibility, and every time we step into our most sacred of sanctuaries is terrifying. I could feel the tension in the air at Jummah on Friday, if not see it on the faces of all those we sat side by side on the carpeted floor with. It seemed like no one was really listening to the imam speak about the resolve of our ancestors after he’d told us he didn’t want to even be there today; either people had their heads down or others were looking tensely towards the exits.
Yes, we can have faith and trust, but how do we undo a very real, actual, and now sadly a very rational fear like this? That this could happen to any of us, to any of our loved ones, at any moment all because what we feared has been made real; or maybe it always was. That people as twisted with such motives are there, plotting and scheming if not romanticizing such abhorrent cowardice.
That in our houses of worship, be they synagogues, churches or mosques, where we go to find peace, to make sense of all the senselessness and find some calm in lives on the outside that puzzle us enough already. That in this space, where for many of us we look forward to visiting at least once a week, to maybe gain a trinket of tranquility, where the befuddlement of the outside can do us no harm, where we break from the world on the other side of the walls, where everything other than our belief is left at the doorstep; when this space where we go to find that peace has now become compromised with this terror, what happens? The peace that we carry back with us and depend on – how do we now find it in our hearts, our minds, and our homes if we cannot find it there?
An attack on all of us
We can be strong in our hope for the best and His protection but even the soundest of minds and strongest in their faith will find this hard to swallow. This wasn’t just an attack of the most despicable of nature, of such grotesque and vile monstrosity – it was an invasion. An invasion into not only our sacred spaces but into our hearts and into our minds. They didn’t just attack two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, they attacked us all – from Toronto to Stockholm. This was the intention; to strike fear, to not just have the world watch and leave us shaken, hurting and mourning- but to make us fearful. By entering into our psyche and implanting this trauma. To rob us of our humanity and our dignity by crippling our faith.
We, however, cannot afford to just be passive in this pain, to let it make us indifferent and detached. It is essential that we grieve and remember those who were the victims of this injustice; to keep them alive through us. Yet more than ever before we have to be bold and unapologetic as Muslims. To be intimidated means that we have given in to the intention behind this attack. Someone asked me the other day, “are you really sure that you want to go to Jummah?” Yes. Because we must reaffirm ourselves and reclaim our humanity and our dignity from those who try to strip us of it. Moreover, it’s also crucial that we conceptualize and understand how and why incidents like this take place. We can’t let it break us.
We need to fight White supremacy
This wasn’t just senseless violence. This was premeditated. It was with cause. It was thought-out and strategized to convey a message with a purpose. Such grotesque terrorism doesn’t just occur randomly in a vacuum. It is about white supremacy. We need to have more open and transparent discourse on white supremacy. It is part of a much larger narrative of structural and actual violence that has afflicted much of the Muslim world for the past three decades. This not only depended on pouring resources towards producing sentiments that have directly fed the rising tides of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and bigotry across the Western world that continues to necessitate ongoing endless wars, but then it also reproduces the very legitimization of the otherizing and vilifying of Islam. It is part and parcel of the white supremacist violence that we see occurring all too often. For such violence to take place in settler-colonies, on stolen lands that were founded upon systems of and rooted in racial supremacist ideology, cannot really come as a surprise to us sadly.
The very politicians now sending prayers and thoughts today, are the same who were justifying banning Muslim immigrants and signing $750 billion-dollar defense budgets to bomb Muslim countries yesterday. Bullets from a gunman in Christchurch or in Quebec or drone strikes and CIA black sites in Afghanistan. Islamophobia is justified through white supremacist ideology. You can’t separate the two. The violence that is inflicted upon much of the Muslim world today is a result of western imperialist endeavors entrenched in supremacist ideology. And yet many of those countries are solely defined by the violence that is inflicted upon them. And so then how can targeted hate attacks such as those in Christchurch be understood without this framework?
And many of the aforementioned politicians are directly complicit in the occurrence of such horror. They continuously pander to the emotions of subsections of society by upholding this ‘us vs. them’ paradigm and reinforcing a monolithic construct of race to score brownie points with voters and now stand aghast when events like these happen. We don’t need crocodile tears from those who were lambasting the very first hijab-wearing Muslim congresswomen only last week. Who repeatedly based their attacks on abhorrent anti-Muslim discrimination while somehow simultaneously claiming to defend other minorities.
This is as much about the media actively profiteering off of the demonization of a diverse global community of people as much as it is about a gun fetishism culture and harmful understandings of masculinity, about weapons manufacturers funding right-wing think tanks in Washington DC, arms sales that render wars never-ending or what structural racism and classism produces on a daily basis. It’s interconnected and interdependent. And in doing so, they have made brown bodies and Islam synonymous with violence. Their language and policies have desensitized us to violence against Muslims and in turn, normalized such hatred.
Their supporters decried the trampling of their right to free speech when anyone criticized them; whether they subtly masked their hatred behind scientific language or were out in the open wielding tiki torches. They radicalized them and now don’t even want us to talk about it because they know exactly why it’s happened. Extremism that we’ve seen before; toxic, pseudo-historical fictions about “defending” white Christian civilization. It’s been centuries in the making since 1492 and the terrorist responsible in Christchurch could not have made this more abundantly clear. The same rhetoric centering around white supremacy is repackaged and replicated in so many forms repeatedly. Yet while many have known this has been a rapidly growing and constant threat, western governments have fundamentally failed to do address this or do anything about it because they’ve been preoccupied surveilling and harassing Muslims at home, policing and criminalizing everyday Muslim acitvity while bombarding and invading Muslim countries abroad.