An emotional and deeply personal response to the New Zealand attack from journalist Remona Aly, who is a British Muslim
It’s startling how many times a heart can be broken. I felt mine splitting in grief for the victims of the chilling Christchurch terrorist attack on Friday 15th March in New Zealand, reopening cracks I felt for the innocent victims of previous massacres – at the Tree Of Life Synagogue, the Manchester Arena bombing, the Charleston church massacre and tragically so many more.
Terrorism is indiscriminate, it assaults life, it assaults humanity itself. Everyone feels the horror of it. And it’s all so excruciatingly personal. In New Zealand, the target was yet again a sacred, communal space of worship whose doors were so open that it unknowingly welcomed the murderer into its midst. “Hello, brother,” are now the chillingly final words of the Muslim man whose life was to be taken first.
I have been to Friday prayers so many times, I go to feel the warm embrace of the Divine, and to taste the unity, peace and love when standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow worshippers. The people, including children, who were so callously killed at Al Noor mosque and Linwood mosque could have been my brother, my sister, my father, my child, my friend. In fact, there is no distinction, they are my blood. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern so poignantly stated, “They are us”.
My phone has been buzzing with messages from family and friends reeling from the horror, feeling sick to the stomach. Some Muslim friends were anxious about going to Jummah prayers in fear of copycat attacks, while others were even more resolute and determined to go. One man said he hadn’t gone to the mosque for years, but on Friday, felt he absolutely had to. Meanwhile, my friend’s seven-year-old nephew was so deeply affected by the news and asked with questioning eyes, “Is it safe for us to pray anymore?”
I can’t bring myself to speak about the horrific attack to my own five-year-old twin nieces. I just cannot disrupt their joyous, innocent souls by trying to explain that hate and murder was perpetrated against the people of New Zealand because they, like us, are Muslim. Not yet.
Tensions are justifiably high. There has been growing anger and resentment over the repercussions of casual and overt Islamophobia which is so routinely fuelled – as well as dismissed – by sections of the right wing media, and by some of our politicians here and globally. The failure to tackle the rise of white supremacist extremism is literally shedding our blood.
Riding through the shock, disillusionment and tears of this tragedy, I have been overwhelmed by the responses I’ve witnessed on social media, responses that have given me and so many Muslims the strength and assurance that we are not alone. Some that shine are a New Zealand woman who tweeted a message to Muslim women that, “I’ll sit with you on the bus, I’ll walk around with you while you do your groceries. What do you need to feel safe, I will do all I can to help.”
The newly weds who left their wedding bouquets at the mosque as a sign of respect. The British Christian man who stood guard outside a mosque at Friday prayers. The Australian fire station that put up the Islamic words of sympathy when someone dies: ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un”, meaning ‘To God we belong and to Him we return”.
Friends of all faiths and none have even reached out to me personally. When evil strikes, it is the candle of compassion, solidarity and humanity that burns on. Along with so many others, my prayers and heart and soul are with the victims and survivors of the massacres in Christchurch New Zealand.
They are us.