Friday 15

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Some thoughts on the attack on mosque-goers in my hometown.

Submitted: March 22, 2019

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Submitted: March 22, 2019

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The Ides of March. I don’t really understand its significance to the Romans, only that Julius Caesar was assassinated and Calpurnia, his wife, warned him that morning: beware the Ides of March… But that’s all shoved to one side now because we’ll always remember the date as being the day a terrorist attacked the Muslim community of New Zealand. And because of it, change seems to be in the air. The general outpouring isn’t necessarily in sympathy for Islam, it’s because most Kiwis believe in fairness and giving people a fair go, and the gunman didn’t give his victims a fair go! There is also an element of embarrassment that such a thing could happened here, so we’re doing our best to manage the situation. We want to close the gap between Islam and the rest.

The perpetrator isn’t one of our own, he’s Australian, who had the right to come and go as he pleased, and the bugger chose this country to do his dirty deed. Apparently he thought of himself as a white supremacist, the kind that thinks Hitler and his cronies’ idea of the Aryan Herrenvolk ‘master race’ was superior, not understanding that if you track the bloodline back… starting with the Germanic race, it tracks back to Indo-European, originating with Indo-Iranian. The same origins, as some Maori who have been quilloquially been referred to as Whaka (Whakarewarewa) Blondes. Nobody is purer than anyone else. The guy had all the hallmarks of his ilk, anti-Islam, racist and probably anti-immigration, not caring about the ethnicity of the victims, and there were a number of races represented at the mosque that day.

One of their own, Abdul Aziz, saved many of the worshippers at the Linwood mosque by confronting the attacker. Aziz showed courage and empathy for his fellows, three or four shots were fired at him, but when he picked an empty, discarded weapon, the gunman wasn’t keen on the idea of bullets heading in his direction, so retreated to his car. Aziz smashed the car’s windscreen and the gunman took off! Of course Aziz wasn’t the only hero, other worshipers, the police, medics, hospital staff and ordinary citizens all made the rest of us proud.

The massacre shook the whole of the country and our prime minister showed real leadership in condemning the atrocity, hate speech and racism, and the public followed her lead showing a genuine willingness to be more accepting of foreign cultures. We know, there will always be hate speech and there will always be racism, because both are difficult to control and both are ingrained. The government intends to strengthen laws and force overdue changes on social media so some progress will be made. But let’s be clear, hate speech isn’t by any stretch of the imagination exclusive to Islam or race.

Racism is arguably more of a conundrum. For a start, most races have slur-type names for other races which have long been used within everyday culture. Whether or not parents are racist, racist terms have been a part of household vocabulary, which is how children learn them. Racism festers away beneath the surface even without us realising it. For instance, in the office we were discussing the massacre, and my two companions said they had nothing against Muslims persée, but they didn’t think the hijab was appropriate here and it wasn’t appropriate for Muslims to congregate – you know, when in Rome… I had a different take, based on my own experience. When we were in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, we noticed the expats keep to themselves socially, and they didn’t wear the local garb on a daily basis. The response was, ‘But that’s different.’ I see no difference.

Where we were based in Tanzania the expat community was in town while we were far away, but I knew if I wanted to learn the local language, I had to live it. During my working week, I rarely encountered another white person unless our field rep called, and I understand what it’s like to be alone within a different culture. However, I felt no racism directed at me, but on the other hand, I saw that the each tribe had an adverse opinion of other tribes, which is one of the reasons nepotism flourished. I noticed too that although out of politeness, Swahili was spoken in front of me, however, all tribes loved the opportunity to use their own tribal language. Lugha ya nyumbani – the language in the home. Swahili is the first language nationally, based on Bantu and infused with Arabic and other languages evolved and used as a common language for trade, including slave trade. Anyway, I also noticed old traditions were enjoyed too, not compelled by religion or law, but because traditions strengthen ties and celebrating their tradition is enjoyable. So, the more I knew the language, the more comfortable I became. But when travelling through India, Nepal and Thailand on our way home, I felt far less comfortable not knowing a word of any of those languages. When at last we boarded an Air New Zealand flight, the voice of the Kiwi hostess and her somehow familiar body language, made me feel we were already at home and I relaxed Nevertheless, we still use Swahili, especially in our home. Why? Because it has been part of our life and it’s a joy to use.

Racism is by no means exclusive any particular race. I don’t need to detail it here, but suffice to say, I haven’t been to a country where I haven’t witnessed some form of racism. Many within the Islam community in New Zealand claim that they have been racially abused, women say there have been attempts made to remove their hijab. It’s not easy, a clash of cultures occurred over the release of the bodies to the families. In Islam tradition, cleansing the body and burial is urgent, but the police needed to carry out post mortems and be certain of the identities of the deceased for reasons to do with the impending court case, the delay frustrated families and they spoke out about it.

We know the history and what has happened in other countries, but this is New Zealand and we’re giving enlightenment and inclusiveness a chance in our way. The feedback from the Islam community is a positive one and we hope we can move forward with all two hundred and thirteen ethnicities that call this country home. We are aware these sentiments aren’t universal here but sitting on our hands isn’t an option. We hear the threats of reprisal and trust that our Islam community remains uninfluenced by radicals. The sure thing is, more deaths will not return the deceased nor make life any better for the mourners.

 

 


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