New Zealand mosque attacks are a 'moment of reckoning for the politics of demonisation'

Sydney Vigil on March 21 for the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack. Photo Zebedee Parkes

Hundreds of people gathered at three Perth mosques on March 23 to mourn for the victims of the Islamophobic massacre in Christchurch.

Australian Islamic College (Perth and Adelaide) executive principal Abdullah Khan addressed the crowd at the Islamic College in Thornlie. 

Before speaking he acknowledged the Traditional Owners of the land.  The following is a transcript of his speech.

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Racists and bigots believe that diverse societies don’t work. Frustrated that their howling at the moon wasn’t enough, they’re now picking up weapons in an attempt to prove themselves right.

We can’t keep expressing shock and then moving on until the next outrage. We watched in astonished horror last year when a Nazi entered a US synagogue and shot dead 11 worshippers.

And yet after the initial alarm, the world carried on like before.

These haters are destabilising our societies and concerted action needs to be taken before things get even worse.

To be clear, this isn’t just about Western societies. Many Muslims see Christchurch as a small part of a global rising tide of Islamophobia perpetrated by insecure majorities.

Let’s take a whistle-stop world tour from east to west.

In Myanmar, decades of hate speech and persecution culminated in 2017 with more than 700,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya having to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh after a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The implicated military in Myanmar has been given plenty of diplomatic cover by China, whose authorities are currently holding up to 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in euphemistically titled “transformation-through-education” camps in Xinjiang. It’s one of the stories of our age — subjugation on an epic scale.

India’s historic multi-faith character has taken a hit under the leadership of [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi, a man who was chief minister during the 2002 Gujarat massacre, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims. His brand of Hindu nationalism has led to divisiveness rather than unity, and the growth of phenomena such as “cow-related violence”.

Many politicians across Europe have been gaining ground by peddling anti-Muslim messages. France’s Marine Le Pen compared Muslims spilling onto pavements from packed mosques after Friday prayers to Nazi occupiers. Arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage once accused British Muslims of having “split loyalties”.

The biggest beneficiary of ballot box Islamophobia though has been [US President] Donald Trump, with his campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. He said that this ban would stay in place until the country's representatives “can figure out what the hell is going on”. Presumably, despite all his intelligence, he’s still not got a grasp of it.

Trump arrived on the back of a generation of Islamophobia that went hand-in-hand with the controversial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which, let us not forget, resulted in the still barely acknowledged deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

When the global picture is this grim, it’s little wonder that many Muslims feel embattled. Especially when they are also being told that, despite these tragic numbers, they are actually the aggressors.

This is not, however, a religious conflict. The millions of Muslims who have lost their lives, been put in detention or oppressed in many other ways, have not been treated this way as part of a religious war. These are not the new crusades. The perpetrators are too diverse and too disparate for this to be the case.

So are the victims.

Christians are also oppressed in China and India. Christian and Muslim Palestinians face violence and discrimination every day in the context of Israel’s occupation of their territory. France and Germany reported disturbingly sharp rises in anti-Semitism last year.

I do not need to remind you of the statements by senators Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning . There is no doubt that there is blood on the hands of those politicians who incited hatred.

In light of the evidence, a ‘War on Islam’ thesis doesn’t add up.

This is about how nation-states treat their minorities.

Harmony isn’t going to be achieved if only we had more interfaith dialogue and more mosque open days.

Tackling this threat effectively requires a radical rethink about how we talk about freedom, equality and respect for all.

The strength of a nation lies in how well you treat all your people. It’s a mark of strength when you celebrate everyone who lives alongside you. We move forward when everyone has the freedom to live their lives as they wish, to contribute to their society as they see fit, and to be the people they want to be.

Every culture around the world must find their language to bring people together, rather than to drive them apart.

In 1945, the Nazis were defeated through war. This time, we’ll beat the haters through the force of love, compassion and shared humanity.

Let me tell you, the New Zealand mosque attacks are a moment of reckoning for the politics of demonisation.

The horrific attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, in which a shooter killed 50 people and injured at least 48 more, is a devastating reminder of the consequences of letting hatred and demonisation go unchecked.

This was one of the darkest days in New Zealand’s history, as the NZ prime minister [Jacinda Ardern] very rightly declared. The attackers who unleashed their deadly hatred and racism upon women, men and children as they took part in Friday prayers have thrown us all into shock and grief.

The politics of demonisation has today cost 50 people their lives.

This is also a moment of reckoning for leaders across the world who have encouraged or turned a blind eye to the spread of Islamophobia.

Reports that the attackers followed a white supremacist manifesto must galvanise world leaders to start standing against this hate-filled ideology.

Today we stand with all those who have lost loved ones and vow to unite against this hate.

The New Zealand we believe in is the one that thrives as a multicultural society, welcomes refugees and migrants, and respects the rights of everyone to practise their religion in peace.

These attacks can only strengthen our resolve to fight for a society built around peace, hope and justice.

I would like to conclude with the following words.

Thank you to the New Zealand prime minister for showing great leadership at this tragic time. The world leaders have a great example to emulate.

Thank you to the people of New Zealand who stood beside Muslims to grieve with them.

Thank you to all Australians who showed solidarity with the Muslim community in this tragic time. Your overwhelming support, messages and flowers have not gone unnoticed.

Finally, I must acknowledge that we now see a glimmer of hope with the support you have shown.

Thank you one and all.

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