We are in shock and mourning, so I’ll keep this brief as I can.
On Friday we learned, in the most horrific way, that we live in a country where a man can walk down the street in broad daylight fully armed and livestream his massacre of Muslims at our place of worship.
We also learned that this bloodbath had been in the planning for years, and that it was committed by a white European on behalf of white Europeans, on what he believed to be unquestionably white European lands.
This was an act of terror and white supremacy, inspired by white supremacists, Islamophobes, and xenophobes everywhere, and undertaken in defence of past and present colonisation of Indigenous lands.
We know all this because it was conveyed, loud and clear and without equivocation, by the perpetrator himself: his views were published online, expressed in a long-winded and vile manifesto, and even scribbled on the firearm he used to gun down men, women and children.
We also know this because of the act itself, and the inaction it met with in the lead-up. Planned and executed with complete impunity and without any hesitation, the massacre took place because the perpetrator, like so many others before him, felt a confidence that in our societies is afforded only to white men.
He felt this confidence, and was vindicated for it. As media, politicians, and everyday discourse focused on the threat of radicalisation supposedly harbored by Muslim communities – a suggestion that would now surely be farcical if its consequences weren’t so tragic – as the SIS and the GCSB were busy scouring the facebook accounts of Māori activists and Muslim youth, this man blithely and unashamedly made his violent intentions plain and clear, and visible for all to see.
I’ll never forget the many meetings and roundtables I attended, alongside other Muslim advocates and leaders, where we argued and pleaded, pointlessly it seems, with different government agencies to turn their attention from our communities and mosques to the real threats in this country. I’ll never forget the empty reassurances, let alone the smirking faces as someone dismissively joked, in reference to the far right and white supremacists in New Zealand: ‘it’s hard to take these guys seriously.’
I’ll also never forget my hosts at Al Noor Mosque when I visited them two years ago, probably not long before the killer began planning his attack. At the time, we were visiting every major city to consult with Muslim leaders and communities about their experiences of racial profiling. I won’t forget how, like all Muslims in this country, and despite all the harassment and intimidation suffered at the hands of the SIS, Customs, and Immigration, they clung to this notion that we belonged here, that we were safe here, that this is our home.
I can understand and respect the sentiment, but I’ve never been one to share or believe in it. What I do believe in is justice and accountability. The responsibility for our ‘darkest day’ in recent memory lies with the same racist, colonial structures of power that have produced dark day after dark day in this country’s history. It lies with the politicians and pundits who pander and exploit racism to score points and increase ratings. It lies with the institutions and agencies who were too busy looking at Te Urewera, Greenpeace and the Al Noor Mosque to bother with the gun-toting white men intent on shooting up the place.
Today we need to grieve and mourn, so let’s do whatever we can to support each other and, most importantly, the immediate victims of yesterday’s atrocity. But tomorrow, we need to ask some hard questions and hold people to account for the sheer horror they enabled.
Image: Al Noor Mosque / Wikipedia