Today marks the first day of Ramadan. I haven’t practised the religion since I was a child. All my family, those closest to me and those who raised me to be the adult I am today, are devout followers of Islam. They’re the greatest, most loving and accepting people I know.
I’m not here to defend them. I’m done defending Muslims and their religion. Not only does it fall on deaf ears, I’m no longer interested in playing that role. I’m tired. I hate to say it, but I feel defeated.
I was on my way to a climate change protest with my baby girl, when we stopped in for a coffee. The café had a massive screen with the breaking news of a shooting in Christchurch. I stood there in shock watching the atrocity unfold. It was early in the day and no one really knew what had happened.
I kept checking my phone for updates. Throughout the day, the death toll kept rising. It was finally revealed that a gunman had opened fire in a mosque during Friday prayer. I felt physically ill. I called mum and dad to check in and see how they were going. At first, they were angry. When the dust settled and it was confirmed that fifty people had died, simply for practising their faith, they were filled with sadness.
That sadness was palpable. Here in Australia, we were shocked and filled with despondency for our kiwi neighbours. Things like that just don’t happen in our corner of the world. I can’t even imagine what kiwis went through. Let alone the people of Christchurch that had already endured so much.
That sense of dread, loss and helplessness stayed with us. All of us. Regardless of our faith, background or political views, the sadness was widespread. The news suddenly showed an interest in the rising alt-right. Statistics showed what Muslims already knew. The steep rise in terrorists’ attacks committed by alt-right groups with anti-Muslim sentiment.
Waleed Aly, a brilliant journalist of Egyptian heritage and a practising Muslim, gave an amazing speech on his show, perfectly articulating how most Muslims felt. Not at all surprised, defeated, sad and exhausted. His powerful words led to an invitation from the New Zealand Prime Minister, while here in Australia we had an elected member of parliament blame Muslim Immigration for the attack.
It was no surprise at all when we learnt that the gunman was Australian. The hatred for Muslims, Africans, Arabs and all those considered other has been brewing in this country for decades. The vernacular and ideations of Muslims as a threat has been seamlessly woven into our politics and media since I was a teenager. It was subtle at first, now it’s turned into a side show.
This behaviour was finally being called out. This atrocity stopped everyone in their tracks and forced people to sit in a place of discomfort. It forced politicians to think about their words and the impact they had. It made people that randomly post things on social media, think about the role they played in spreading this fear mongering and hatred. Important conversations were being had across all sectors of society. It's this discomfort that's needed for things to get better.
At first, I thought this could be the catalyst for change we need.
This young kid that was a social justice warrior. He egged said politician that blamed the attack on Muslim immigration (I refuse to mention his name). The video of egg boy went viral. Finally, people were relieved of their discomfort. Here was someone everyone could get behind that was a much better representation of what real Australians looks like. Hell, we could even joke about it now. Meme’s, late night hosts joking about it in monologues, there were even murals painted in his honour.
I am not disparaging this young man. He stood for what he believed. I applaud that. I very much doubt he even knew the kind of attention he would garner. But that’s just it. The reason he was such a sensation was because he's exactly what was needed to change the conversation. To alleviate the discomfort.
I’m asking you to keep the conversation going. If you or someone you know does have a problem with a minority group, don’t get mad and yell, ask questions and learn. Learn that we can all live together despite our differences. Don’t take a politician’s word as gospel. Don’t believe what you read in the tabloids. Most importantly of all, respect humanity. You don’t have to agree with people, just respect them.
I hope that these conversations lead to more information being shared. Learning that it’s our differences that make us so amazing.