Thursday night, I saw the first news reports from New Zealand. Another terrorist attack on a mosque, then on two mosques. “Dozens” dead, then 49, now 50. Denunciations of the terrorism by government officials, the hunt for the shooter or shooters, the arrest, the manifesto, grief, rage, numbness.
The terrorist who killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand boasted of being a fascist and a white nationalist. He praised U.S. President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.” He expressed hatred of immigrants, calling them “invaders,” the same language used by the terrorist in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. That’s also the language of President Donald Trump, earlier on the day of the shooting, as he vetoed the Congressional action against his border wall national emergency. “People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” he said.
Trump condemned the massacre but said he does not believe white nationalism is a growing threat. Every index of racist and Islamophobic and anti-immigrant and white nationalist activity in the United States says he is wrong. White nationalist activity shows an increase over the past two years, including at least 50 murders by right-wing extremists in 2018. The terrorist massacre in New Zealand mosques follows other racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic terrorism in Quebec City, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Charleston in recent years. Besides these deadly attacks, a wide spectrum of Islamophobic attacks around the world includes a 2017 bombing of Dar al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.
Naeem Rashid died in the Al Noor mosque, the first mosque attacked in New Zealand, as he tried to wrestle the gun away from the shooter. “I got to be honest with you, it wasn’t me, it was God that saved everybody. God saved everyone,” the Afghan refugee said. He is a hero.
Husne Ara Parvin was killed as she tried to save her wheelchair-bound husband. She is a hero.
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah ran after the shooter at the Linwood mosque, attacked him, distracted him, and kept him from shooting many more people than the seven who were killed there. He is a hero.
And then there is the first man who was killed. A Twitter post by Aziz Helou describes him:
“The first Muslim man to die, his final words were “hello brother”. These words were uttered by a man who symbolized Islam. He had a rifle pointed at him by a man with clear intentions to kill and how did he respond? With anger? With aggression? No, with the most gentle and sincere greeting of “hello brother.”
“Perhaps this hero was trying to diffuse the situation? Maybe Allah swt used this man to show the world the kindness that is Islam. I don’t know but what I want, is to make certain, that is that this detail isn’t lost amongst you., That this man’s final act was an Islamic one, a sincere courageous and warm way to stop violence instead of fueling it….”
Courage and faith give inspiration for our own lives.
A speaker at today’s solidarity gathering at Dar al Farooq Islamic Center listed ten stages of genocide. The first stage, he said, is the development of an “us versus them” characterization, dividing people of different races, religions, or ethnicities. Another stage is dehumanization of others, such as rhetoric that characterizes other groups as animals or vermin.
The speaker urged attention and action. “When these changes happen in front of you,” he said, “you have an affirmative obligation to call it out.”
Our obligation does not wait until discriminatory laws are passed or internment camps are opened. Our obligation begins now.
When someone denounces Islam or Muslims, makes anti-Muslim jokes, makes fun of a woman wearing hijab, makes prejudiced and Islamophobic statements, each of us has an obligation to call them out. Even if they are friends. Even if they are family members.
When someone makes a racist or an anti-Semitic statement, we all have an obligation to call them out. Even if they pretend it is a joke. Even if they preface their statement with, “I guess I’m just not politically correct.”
Today and every day, we all have an obligation to stand up against hatred.