When something terrible happens, I never know what to say. I didn’t know what to say after the antisemitic mass murder in Pittsburgh last year, and I don’t know what to say after the Islamophobic mass murder in Christchurch on Friday.
I’m ashamed to admit it, because it makes me sound pathetically naive, but I really was shocked when I heard the news. I knew that Christchurch has a White supremacist problem, I knew that they are racist and violent, but I thought they were equally self-centred and incompetent. I didn’t think they’d be organised enough to carry out a mass murder.
There’s thoughts that I’ve been thinking since I heard the news, and I thought I should write them down, in no specific order:
I’ve thought of every Christchurch Muslim I’ve ever known – people I met through the Christchurch Palestine Group or through the interfaith group I was in when I was a teenager. I’ve been googling people to check whether they’re still in Christchurch. I’ve been hoping that everyone I know is ok, and I’ve been thinking about how wrong it is, to hope that one person is ok when it means another person isn’t.
I’ve thought about the kids locked down at school on Friday, not knowing what was going on, not being able to separate rumours from reality. I’ve thought of the Muslim kids who didn’t know if their parents would be there when they got home that night. I’ve thought about the Muslim kids who went home that night to find out someone they love was murdered for being Muslim.
I’ve thought about the 4-year-old girl who’s in critical condition in an Auckland hospital, and about the elderly Afghan man who was the first person murdered.
I’ve thought about all the refugees from Afghanistan who survived the Soviet invasion and the Taliban and the US invasion (in which NZ participated) and escaped all the way to Aotearoa and were murdered by a racist.
I’ve thought about the refugees from Syria who survived Assad and ISIS and escaped all the way to Aotearoa and were murdered by a racist.
I’ve thought about the refugees from Palestine who survived the Nakbah and Israeli occupation and escaped all the way to Aotearoa and were murdered by a racist.
I’ve thought about the refugees from Somalia, and I’ve thought about the racist comments Winston Peters made about Christchurch’s Somali community when I was a teenager. I’ve thought about the ways that Islamophobia intersects with anti-Blackness.
I’ve thought about how Christchurch has only just began to recover from the earthquake. I’ve thought about the confusion and fear of a city locked down, and the traumatic memories it brings back from eight years ago. I’ve thought about how this racist mass murder will change the city forever.
I’ve thought about how the police spent so much time and resources surveilling and persecuting a bunch of Tūhoe and their comrades for some vague allegations of a terrorist plot, but failed to stop White supremacists from committing the largest mass murder since the 1940s.
I’ve thought about the time in 2004 that police asked an antifascist friend of mine to come brief them about White supremacist organising in New Zealand, and how when he arrived at the police station, all they really wanted was to ask him questions about his friends in the environmental movement.
I’ve thought about the time in the late 90s that my family arrived at synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and someone had vandalised the building by shooting through a stained glass window with a pellet gun, and I’ve thought about how the Christchurch police had told our congregation that this wasn’t a priority because it was only property damage, and I’ve thought about how the police didn’t think that property damage of a religious minority’s place of worship might be in a different category than property damage of a random building.
I’ve thought about how the police have been telling Muslims (and also Jews) not to have public gatherings for safety reasons, instead of taking responsibility for making it safe for religious minorities to gather, especially at a time when people are scared and grieving and need their community.
I’ve thought of all the politicians who were quick to condemn the murders, but failed to apologise or take responsibility for their role in upholding Islamophobia and White supremacy, and I’ve also thought of those other politicians who decided to blame the the victims of a brutal attack for being Muslim in the first place.
I’ve thought about the stories Muslim friends have told me about life in New Zealand and the casual Islamophobia that confronts them every day. I’ve thought about the fear and pain and grief that Muslims in Christchurch, and in all of Aotearoa, and in every Western country, feel right now, and of the toll that kind of fear and pain and grief takes on every part of a person’s life.
I’ve thought about Hazim Al-Umari, who didn’t go to the mosque that day because he thought it was too dangerous, and about his son Hussain who went to the mosque in spite of his father’s warning, and now his parents don’t know whether he’s alive or dead.
I’ve thought about Husne Ara Parvin, who was murdered trying to save her husband.
I’ve thought about how incredibly diverse Christchurch’s Muslim community is – people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Egypt, Fiji, and no doubt many other countries were at Al Noor and Linwood mosques that day. I’ve thought about how lucky Christchurch is that so many people from around the world have made it home.
I’ve thought about the 49 people who were murdered. May their memories be for a blessing.
I’ve thought about the people who are in hospital with gunshot wounds, some of whom are still battling for their lives.
I’ve thought about everyone who’s survived this horrifying racist attack.
I’ve thought about how it’s not enough to just mourn the dead, now it’s time to fight like hell for the living.