A fortnight since the world witnessed the brutal massacre of 51 Muslims in New Zealand, CulturallyInappropriate will be divulging an insight into how Muslims feel about recent events. Earlier this week I opened up my inbox for anyone around the world to share their thoughts on the New Zealand attacks, and more broadly, the troubling origins and effects of Islamophobia on a personal as well as global scale.
Together, these women bring their personal experiences with hate crime, talk about their views on media rhetoric and suggest how we can all better understand and counter anti-Islamism.
The following responses are from;
Hodan, 19, Kenya
Yasmeen, 25, United Kingdom
Alishba, 19, Pakistan
Eliza, 19, United Kingdom
Khadija, 18, United States
How did you feel when you heard about the New Zealand terror attack?
Hodan: Honestly speaking, I don’t know. I wish I felt anger and sadness but I was in a state of shock. The first few hours were just me convincing myself that this wasn’t true and that I’d wake up from this nightmare.
Yasmeen: When I heard about the New Zealand attack I felt empty and numb. Part of me knew one day this was going to happen, with all the anti-Islamic rhetoric going around. All day there was a lump in my throat, all day I looked around at my city’s Masjids (it was jummah here) in the day it happened, and I felt heartbroken. I felt like the attack took with it a part of me that still believed that people don’t do this. And it made me feel scared for my community, for all the wonderful and diverse families that come to the masjid, young and old, Friday after Friday, I ached to for them. I ached for Muslims everywhere.
Alishba: Horrified. What hit me the hardest was the fact that such abhorrent actions were thought of worthy to be filmed. It rubbed salt in the wound, so to speak.
Eliza: I felt a range of emotions. I was shocked at the news because something so horrific and terrible had happened in New Zealand. However, another part of me is not as surprised at the occurrence of such a deadly attack as I am witnessing the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. I was not as surprised when I found out about the attacks on Birmingham mosques a few days after Christchurch because such actions would encourage more vile actions. As someone who is constantly anxious and overthinking everything, I am already in a constant state of fear and anxiety and this does not help. I feel like people have become desensitised about such tragedies because of how common they feel in today’s day and age and to some extent, maybe that is what has happened with me. That has not to say that I am not angry and outraged by what is happening. I am angry. I am heartbroken. I am tired. I am exhausted.
Khadija: I was devastated when I heard. I remember leaving class and going on Instagram and seeing various posts and videos. I was confused at first but after I researched it and found out what happened, I felt my heart drop. That was not how I was expecting my Friday to start. I held in my tears until I got back to my room. I remember being angry at whoever committed the act, and feeling heartbroken for those who it happened to. The phrase “salaam, brother” repeated in my head all day, over and over again.
Does Islamophobia affect your life on a daily basis?
Hodan: Alhamdulillah, it doesn’t on a day to day basis, but that’s more so because I live in Nairobi which is more of a culturally and religiously diverse city. Once in a while there will always be the bigot who thinks they can bully me but that’s thankfully a minor occasion.
Yasmeen: Islamophobia affects my life daily, from microaggressions to full blown threats, it’s the whole spectrum. Microaggressions can be like when you see your friends with other people who you don’t know, and they don’t want to meet you. Or, at work when people refuse to touch money you have touched. Its things like rumours being spread about you being extreme and oppressed just because you decided to wear a hijab. People commenting on how ‘you’re such a pretty girl’ and how the hijab makes you somehow ugly. I have faced violent aggression too, from pork being thrown on me at school to grown men harassing me in the street. Recently, only a day after the New Zealand attack, my young cousins were threatened to be stabbed by four older men. Numerous times abuse has been hurled at me and my family from car windows. Teenage girls mimicked my children and pretended to wrap their hats around their heads to mock us and followed us home. These are a few cherry-picked incidents. I’m 25 years old so if I was to list you my daily experiences you would be here a long time.
Alishba: It’s impact is felt in places where one is the minority and when people are taught to be antagonistic towards you in particular. A lot of it can be subtle as well, like the extra security checks particularly if you are visibly Muslim.
Eliza: I have been lucky to grow up in a Muslim majority area in London, which I am glad to call home. As a Londoner who is used to seeing such diversity wherever I go, coming to a university that is based in a white-dominated area, I was taken aback. While I haven’t faced blatant Islamophobia, some people’s attitudes towards Muslims have been shocking and upsetting. I thought I would never come across such people with so much hate and bigotry in their souls. Islamophobia affects me in the sense that I feel like I am constantly representing the Muslim community, which means I have to try to be on my best behaviour. I want to subvert every single stereotype they have of Muslims. I do not want people to think I am submissive or weak. However, I do not want people to think that I am as liberated as I may portray myself to be. I want to be able to exist without feeling such immense pressure.
The Punish a Muslim Day was a terrifying experience, especially as this was during my first year of university when I was away from home for the first time. Although I tried to convince myself that this was another ordinary day, I felt there was a real and legitimate threat if I stepped outside. My parents told me not to leave my room and not to go to classes. They told me to pray.
I went outside and went to my classes and tried to go about my day. I went out and marched with all the other people at the solidarity march that was organised by my Islamic Society. My non-Muslim friends marched alongside me. Words cannot describe how I felt by having them by my side and I will always be thankful to them for that.
Living in NYC, Islamophobia is not something I face all the time, but there are instances where i have experienced it here and there. The first time I decided to wear a hijab, my friend’s Islamophobia became apparent to me. I heard things like, “when are you taking that thing off your head?” I have had people change their seat on trains and buses because they sat next to me, I have had people whisper about me, and look at me with fear in their eyes.
What can individuals and communities do to tackle and dismantle white supremacy and its effects?
Hodan: We as a community need to come together. Muslims are so divisive and anti-eachother to the point where we cannot base a foundation of solidarity. Unite, unite, unite. As individuals, we need to address these people head on. Our lives matter more than white tears. Dismantling this system starts from as simple as telling John and Becky hijab and 9/11 jokes aren’t funny and are a form of hate speech.
Yasmeen: If you’re white/ non-Muslim, and you didn’t check up on your Muslim peers and show them you care it is because something is deeply ingrained for you not to care. We need to stop this anti-Muslim rhetoric, we need to stop using damaging headlines. In one headline in sky news the attacker was described as ‘calm,’ how can a man who ruthlessly shot women men and children be calm? Another headline said that Christchurch was a peaceful mosque, which entails that all other mosques are not peaceful, and therefore deserve it if it happens to them? Pictures of the ‘angelic attacker’ as a baby were plastered on newspapers instead of the 51 lives lost. It needs to stop. To start change we need to wake up, we need to boycott western news, stop buying their papers and start sharing the real stories.
Alishba: Discourage bigotry and white supremacy in all forms and all platforms. Encourage open dialogue and meetings with each other from the beginning to demystify the ideas in our heads that make us see each other as something to be feared.
Eliza: Acknowledge that it exists! Acknowledging that there is a problem is key to tackling it. Individuals and communities should then recognise how they and their communities may contribute to racism and white supremacy, even unknowingly. We are conditioned to believe so many things that we leave unchallenged. Hence it is important that we all, especially privileged folks, actively and consciously re-educate themselves to tackle white supremacy. Challenge other people’s attitudes, even if they do not mean it. If you are in a place of privilege, please use it! I do not want your thoughts, prayers and tears if you do not actively tackle white supremacy, racism and Islamophobia as well as supporting greater restriction for gun ownership.
Khadija: I usually just call people out on their privilege. People can start by accepting their privilege and using it for good.
Do you feel your friends and/or community responded to the mosque shooting any differently as opposed to when the victims of terror have been non-Muslim/white?
Hodan: Unfortunately, yes. I know far too many people who are hush hush about this tragedy but painted the French flag on their faces and wore black for the Parkland Shooting Memorial Day. In the end, I think it comes down to what you view as a violent shooting and what you see and a “not so violent” shooting. As painful as it is for me to realize, a lot of non Muslim people see our blood as inferior.
Yasmeen: Yes. They didn’t care. Apart from one of my friends. The sentiment applied to attacks like Paris and Manchester and Tunisia were not applied here. There were no solidarity flags, no fear from them, no abuse hurled toward the coward who did it. I remember an incident after the Paris attacks when one of my then friends was feeling afraid, and I told her her fear is real and valid. But somehow my fear after attacks on Muslims was not valid enough. I confronted my white/non-Muslim friends about why they never checked up on me after NZ and the further Birmingham mosque attacks. When I told them I needed space from our friendship because of how my feelings were ignored, they started listing their own problems and said ‘we didn’t see the news’, one of them called the attacks ‘bullshit.’ Truthfully, they assumed Muslims as lesser people and chose not to see the news , ultimately, because we do not look the same as them. It wasn’t their people so they didn’t care. It was bullshit to them that I felt threatened and upset. They were not affected by this at all but were quick to b be insulted that I had called them out in their lack of humanity and began to emotionally Blackmail me.
It was disgusting to say the least but at least true colours came out.
Alishba: Loss of innocents is a tragedy regardless of the backgrounds of the victims so I feel they reacted with the same level of empathy.
Eliza: Yes. Firstly, the Islamophobic people that I know had thoughts, let’s just say we have very different views on this topic. I would like to talk about the acts of solidarity that I have received. For example, at my university, Jummah was held in the main part of my university a week after the attacks. Muslims in the community came and prayed while non-Muslims stood and listened to the sermons given afterwards. The amount of people that came in solidarity was truly heart-warming and I will never forget that. I think my community responded in a positive way. While the sentiment of solidarity is much appreciated, I question whether this will have a long lasting impact. With time, what happened in Christchurch will be fade into history and life will carry on. Ardern has tried to make long lasting changes to ensure such events do not occur again but I doubt other world leaders like May and Trump will do the same. Also, the fact that we, as Muslims, are so happy and thankful for her amazing actions (which some may argue should be standard procedure) says a lot about our expectations of our politicians and communities when it comes such tragedies like this.
Khadija: People did respond differently. There was a lot of awareness for it, but mostly by the Muslim communities. I didn’t see many of my non-Muslim friends speaking about it and trying to raise awareness. Not even a pray for New Zealand.
Do you feel safe?
Hodan: I don’t feel safe. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think my children and their grandchildren will.
Yasmeen: Not at all. I feel like I have to watch my back whenever I leave the house. Certain places are no go zones. Certain places I may have to adjust and wear a hat. There was a spur of attack on mosques in Birmingham as well an we attend a weekly gathering which we had to do with the doors and gates of the mosque locked. Sometimes you can’t defend yourself in a situation after considering will this person turn around and shoot or stab me if I retaliate. The fear is real and daily and it’s not subsiding. Every Muslim knows there are people out there who are happy about New Zealand and are using it to fuel their hate further.
Eliza: No. I am a visible brown, Muslim woman who wears a hijab. I am a walking target. The complexity of my identity means I cannot limit it down to one thing I would be targeted for.
Khadija: I feel safe because I live in such a diverse city with a strong Muslim presence.
Do you feel that there are world leaders or any rhetoric that holds accountability for the spread of white supremacy and anti-Muslim attacks?
Hodan: Of course there is! Hate and bigotry starts from the top! The man who killed our innocent people shared the same rhetoric as Donald Trump and Senator Fraser. The rhetoric of “white people own and built civilization and you should kiss our feet in gratitude.” When in reality, white men built civilization with our blueprints, blood, sweat, tears and backs.
Yasmeen: Yes. 100%. Donald Trump. Teresa May, Fraser Anning, Boris Johnson and many more – who all hold anti-Islamic viewpoints. They don’t care about what happens to Muslims and in most of their cases have been openly happy about bad things happening to Muslims. I would like to point Katie Hopkins, who tried to use Christchurch to fuel more hate an against her already far right followers. Hate breeds hate. Love breeds love.
Alishba: So many – Trump is a prominent example. Constant hateful rhetoric does carry weight and have a role to play especially since in most cases like this they are mentioned as inspirations.
Eliza:Yes. With the rise of Islamophobia, politicians have not held people into account. For instance, the lack of focus of the UK Conservative Party’s Islamophobia is appalling and has been swept under the rug. The way Muslims are portrayed and discussed in our media does not benefit anyone but those who make money off this. The lack of accountability of the media, of our leaders has contributed to the increasing attacks on Muslims. We must hold them accountable, by doing so, people will realise that things need to change for the better.
What distinguishes Ardern from other leaders is that she mourned with Muslims and reacted to Christchurch as if she has lost people from her own communities while other leaders would never do that. If you want names, you should look at Western leaders like Trump. He has legitimised and become a figure for white supremacists to idolise. Social media websites are failing to tackle hate speech online. In India, Modi’s silence over the persecution of religious minorities is powerful as it allows the continuation of such attacks. Narrowing it down to particular leaders is impossible. We must hold them accountable over their actions, their policies and their silence.
Khadija: There are definitely people in positions of power, such as Trump, who influence others into thinking that white supremacy is a good ideology and that Muslims are predominately bad.
What is your message to people in power?
Hodan: Speak up. It is now or never. What side of history do you want to be on? And oh! Your silence is far louder than your speech.
Yasmeen: Be more Jacinda Arden. Be more humane. She is exemplary of how such events should be dealt with. She counteracted every intention that the terrorist had. The following Friday after the attack the Athaan was broadcast across New Zealand and other countries, people wore scarves in solidarity, so much so that you couldn’t tell who was Muslim, she quoted our beloved Prophet (SAWS) and on top of that she visited the people and grieved with them. It was beautiful and human. She dealt with love and compassion. We have all these Muslim bloggers who failed to use their platforms for awareness that they made off the back of their faith. Then we have the rest of the politicians who were so placid about their reactions. Take a note from Arden.
Alishba: You have responsibility over the things you endorse. Use that power wisely and be aware if how it can be misused to avoid committing the same mistakes.
Eliza: Listen! Please do listen to Muslims when we tell you how your policies are affecting us. Do not generalise all Muslims because we are extremely different. True equality will happen when we are treated as a human, when we are viewed as complex, and weird, irrational, caring and wondering human beings. What Jacinda Ardern has done is outstanding and how she has dealt this is commendable. Other leaders should take notes on how to deal with such events.
Non-Muslims – educate yourselves! I do not need you to know the ins and outs of Islam (even I do not know that), I just need you to understand that I am a human just like you. When it comes to ally ship, I want you to be constantly challenging the rising anti-Muslim sentiment alongside us, do not try to take the microphone away from us, amplify what we have to say. No one is perfect. It does not mean we cannot try to strive to be better beings.
Khadija: My message would be, instead of supporting and spreading hate, why cant we all advocate for love and peace?
I also had this closing statement from the chair of North Worcestershire Hate Incident Partnership (NWHIP)
When the horrific news broke about the terror attack in New Zealand, I was shocked and devastated by it, it took a couple of days for it to sink in before i was able to speak about it. Since the attack, there have been attacks on mosques in the UK. I feel there needs to be more education in schools about Islamophobia and more regulation to be put into place for the media and the portrayal of Muslims in a negative way. Social media platforms need to also regulate and block hatred material being shared. Leaders need to take action and lead by example just like Jacinda Ardern, when a terrible incident like this happens communities do come together and we should remember there is hate but also a lot of love also.NADIA, CHAIR OF NWHIP
The contributors delve into thoughts that I have also experienced, we see that many of us are frustrated with the unresponsiveness towards violence against Muslims and systematic oppression.
As Muslims we feel the need to band together more as our experiences do not receive the same level of validity, the evident lack of solidarity from non-Muslim minorities suggests the lack of recognition of Islamophobia as a form of racism, as a systematic oppression and attack on entire faith.
“WE DO NOT HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF FEELING UNAFFECTED”
A few of the responses highlight the notion of feeling a necessity to be the safe Muslim friend that does not mention the oppression of our people because that’s not what well assimilated and integrated Muslims do. However, we should not be complicit in serving as token friends whose experiences have to be toned down. Our fears for safety are disregarded as a victim complex or irrational fear – even when hate crimes are prevalent and rising.
Whether it is individual reticence, or willing ignorance towards terrorism and the continual attack on Muslims, silence is not a grand and noble gesture because you think that not mentioning things lessens the impact. Silence ultimately validates the intentions of supremacy.
Ultimately, Muslims do not have the privilege of feeling unaffected. And simultaneously whatever we do feel always seems to require a western validation in order to be affirmed. The inequality is that as a non-Muslim, you have somewhat of a power to validate Muslim experiences by just as little as acknowledgement of the sh*t we go through. Something as little as sharing online, saying look what these people are going through, which may not seem like a lot, but you have the potential to REACH an audience that otherwise might not ever warrant a second thought towards society’s impact on Muslim life and identity or, have their only knowledge of Muslims fed through newspapers that demonise us. Muslims have been attacked, massacred, brutalised, harassed, targeted long before Christchurch. The one thing that Christchurch has somehow warranted is a portion of the attention that the western world has for so long deprived Muslims of.
Yet still, not enough.
Article By Shazmeen Khalid
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