On Friday afternoon in Christchurch, New Zealand, two mosques were attacked in a mass shooting, with 49 confirmed dead and 39 still in critical condition. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has declared this “New Zealand’s darkest day,” being the largest massacre in New Zealand’s recent history. The timing is significant: Fridays are important holy and historical days in Islam and the Juma’ah afternoon prayers serve a similar function to Sunday morning church services – a time for most of the local Muslim community to come together, especially those who only come to the mosque for this one prayer a week.
I learned about the massacre at the same time I heard about the organisers for the Malaysian Women’s March being investigated for sedition by the Malaysian Government on accusations of holding “an illegal LGBT gathering.” My heart had warmed at the photos of rainbow flags and queer pride slogans taking the streets of a country I was born and raised in and now have citizenship of – but which never truly felt like home.
Both news breaking at once broke me: it brought to light how much someone like me was truly unwanted. I’m too queer, too “Other”, too much of an ex-Muslim enough for Malaysia. But I also still have “Islam” on my Muslim-country ID card with a Muslim name and a Muslim upbringing; I can’t scrub that away from me, just like I can’t scrub away my melanin. A white supremacist terrorist isn’t going to care about my complicated feelings on identity to decide whether or not to shoot me. I’ve already gotten death threats on Melbourne trams just for being brown. I saw many of my queer Malaysian peers, especially queer Muslims, grappling with a similar dilemma: caught between one group using religion to deny their existence and another claiming that their faith means they shouldn’t live.
That Friday night I went to see my dear friend, jazz cabaret chanteuse and QTPOC community leader Mama Alto, perform at a local LGBTQ bookstore & performance space. I was anxious about going – I was emotionally overwhelmed, scared for my safety, feeling vulnerable and exhausted after being bombarded with all this news from every outlet. But Mama is also a queer gender-diverse brown South East Asian, so I figured she’d understand my pain.
As she sang in her Cinderella gown and talked about The Diva, about queer representation and marginalisation and singing for your life, I was hit with nightmares of someone breaking through the front door with a gun and aiming straight for us. Chaos as bookshelves and tables were upended and people tried to huddle and the damask-patterned walls turn further red and what if my cis gay white guy best friend sitting next to me tried to be the hero and take a bullet for me and I survived because of him but now his blood is on my hands…
I squeezed my best friend’s hand, trying to remind myself that nothing is happening now and nothing will likely happen, trying to focus on Mama’s voice.
Mama and I caught up backstage at the end of the show. We held each other tightly as I cried into her gown and babbled about the anxiety attack from earlier. She told me that she too was broken, that she was super late for her soundcheck because she felt that going out would put her at risk of death. But then she saw my name in the ticket booking list and she knew that there would be at least one person in the audience that would understand.
If you want to help but are feeling lost, especially if you’re not Muslim, see if there are initiatives near you like the Victorian Mosque Open Day (happening this Sunday in Melbourne) to meet your Muslim neighbours and get to know their practices. Check in with your Muslim, immigrant, refugee, and POC friends to see what help they need. Donate to the official victim support fundraiser.
In times like these, when people don’t understand us and decide that this means we shouldn’t live at all, we need to connect with the people that do understand, even if just a little bit, even if peripherally. Now, more than other, we need each other.
Thanks for writing this. I am from Christchurch and my friend’s Aunt and Uncle, and her son’s friends, were murdered in the Deans Ave Masjid.
I am a Muslim ally. I am not surprised that this has happened, as Christchurch has an awful history of white supremacy, but I am grieving the utter cruelty and nazi level organisation, with which it has happened. My friend who is Muslim from Singapore and has NZ citizenship, has described this event as
“I knew each and everyone of them as they got wheeled in, one in particular stayed at our home when he and his family first arrived in Chch a few years back. It could have been my son on this table , I said to myself. the love and safety of Chch seemed to have been marred by yesterday’s tragedy, but in all honesty, it hasn’t. My colleagues worked tirelessly without a sigh or a moan . thank you for the messages, thank you for the food (name redacted) and my neighbours as we were too preoccupied to cook.(name redacted) thank you for cleaning my house while I did my ferrying duties.(name redacted) for the beddings etc
Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers, thank you for being….NZ…the one we know”
This is bewilderingly generous given that she knows all of the survivors who were shot at for being Muslim (she works at the local hospital and saw many of her friends coming into the hospital for treatment after being shot)…
I am cis female white lesbian New Zealander and all I want to do is put my arms around everyone who is suffering and feels unsafe and has had their lives torn apart by this massacre.
Is there a queer + south east Asian + Muslim group in Melbourne Creatrix that you can be supported by at this time? I am sending you virtual hugs((((((((((((())))))))))))))
There is to some degree, but I often feel awkward about participating due to my agnosticism. But we’ve been finding each other individually.
I wanted to edit my comment to say
I am grieving the level of safety my New Zealand community used to have. Anyone who is not white is feeling targeted and on alert, paranoid, unsafe and fearful for their safety. This is the change I am seeing and it feels hostile and precarious. I am not overstating this, but this has opened up so much fear.
May you and yours find only love, safe spaces and solidarity. I will stand with you.
Thank you 💓
Thank you for writing this to share with us.
Thank you for reading 💓
Sending queer care and solidarity.
Sending you so much love,we are Twitter friends and have met when I was still living in Sydney at one of Mama’s shows. You are wonderful. I hope you find the community you need in this time. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel. So so so much love
Sorry, I didn’t mean to reply to you! Having troubled commenting on my phone!
Thank you, Mama has been a great comfort 💓
Thank you, Creatrix, for articulating so clearly the deep hurt on all sides that I haven’t been able to for myself yet. Hearing from other queer folks targeted by Islamophobia is what is getting me through. I could barely string together the words to write this comment, so I am in such awe that you were able to hold this pain and write something not only so true but so beautiful at the same time. I am so angry at heartbroken that you had to. This poem has been helpful for me these past few days – I hope it brings you what it brings me:
Thank you so much for the poem! It’s really touching. We need to choose each other, claim each other, when no one else will. 💓
Thank you for writing this, Tiara.
Thank you 💓
Thank you for this. Hugs if you’d like them
Connecting with the people who do understand is exactly right, thank you so much for writing this piece so that we can have space to talk about it within this online community.
I’ve been finding it hard trying to connect with White Australians about this awful event. I know many people who are horrified and disturbed by an attack like this happening “so close to home”, but many of them seem unaware of the existing trends of right-wing extremism in Australia in recent years and appear to only just be comprehending that the violent rhetoric of Islamophobia and xenophobia which has become normalised even into casual “jokes” *does* actually have a real effect on the safety of people in the community. If that idea can finally get through to them now, great, but I’m appalled at the level of ignorance and naivete that the last few days have revealed…
OH MY GOD SO TRUE
Some have been really good, but the Egg Boy thing in particular has driven me up the wall
Trying to say things from the very moment this piece was posted but I can’t get them right.
So I’ll just say I will keep speaking out against and explaining bigotry, and supporting the immigrant businesses I love in all the ways that I can.
Every little bit helps 💓
Since I’m a New Zealander, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what “home” means, and what “shelter” means.
We have an expectation that “home” should mean “shelter”. And since I’ve lived away from NZ for 2/5ths of my life now, I have that attachment to feeling my “home” (my country) as always being somewhere I could return to and be “safe”. Especially since I now live in Australia, and it IS much more homophobic and racist than NZ overall. I was so pleased when the govt changed and they began to take such actions as raise the refugee quota.
However, when I was growing up, my physical home was about the least safe place for me to be – it was never a refuge. For Maori, their home was colonised, and their shelter, their turangawaewae, made unsafe. The effects of that, of course, continue through till today.
There is a current of racism that is constantly present in NZ, from the “casual” (normalising) kind like my mother’s through to the scary neo-Nazis. I do genuinely feel it’s less than in some countries like Australia (NZ has at least one major anti-immigration party, but it’s nowhere near as hateful as Pauline Hanson), but that’s a purely relative concept – people’s lives get fucked around in NZ a LOT because of racism and xenophobia.
But with this event, affecting people where a large proportion came to NZ to make a new home, to find shelter, because even dealing with the kind of racism and xenophobia they would encounter there was still PREFERABLE to dealing with whatever shit they had in their countries of origin… To have that promise of sanctuary – an instance of NZ trying to actually live up in some way to its cultural ideal of “giving everyone a fair go” – so utterly betrayed for these people is horribly shameful. It’s a new awful, despicable low.
The Prime Minister made some amazing speeches. “They are us” about the victims. “This is a terrorist act”, with no equivocation. “There is no place here” for the kind of person with those hateful extreme views. But she also said, “this is not us”.
It’s not our ideal, or what we like to believe about our culture, but as I said, it IS part of us as well. The scale and depravity of the act has never been part of NZ’s history, ever. No-one has been murdered for a political reason since the Land Wars between the settlers and Maori in the late 1800s. No-one would have thought to shoot up a place of worship without “inspiration” from the US – this I firmly believe. But the fact is, there WAS room for that to exist in my country, my home, and the home of those who were shamefully murdered.
I am sorry for you, everyone, who feels less safe in the world, because this happened in the “safest” place in the world. I am so sorry that it is not a shock and not surprising for you and everyone in your position, because of the hatred and fear that exists on such disgusting grounds *everywhere*.
I continue to grieve for those who were slaughtered without mercy and for the fact that my home failed those who needed its shelter. (My perception of my (imperfect) home/refuge is now altered forever, and I feel that loss too.)
I hope that you (those who are more directly affected by this) are surrounding yourself with whatever you need to make you feel sheltered and safe at the moment.
Kia ū ki te whakapono, kia aroha tētahi ki tētahi – hold strong to your beliefs, with love (respect) for one another.
There’s never going to be a country that’s truly the safest. Wasn’t the PM before Arden also very right-wing? And even Canada, another archetypal Safe Country, holds hatred within. Every place has the capacity for it. Question is – what do we do about it?
Sorry for the overlong feelings!dump, it wasn’t exactly the right place.
NZ’s former PM was much more socially conservative than average in NZ, being a staunch Catholic, but nowhere near to the Tony Abbott degree. He didn’t make a big deal of his religion, although he did vote against decriminalising prostitution and abortion, and against same-sex marriage. He did change his mind about the latter.
As to nowhere being truly “safe”, you’re absolutely right. Especially if you’re a member of a community that’s the constant target of outright lies and hatred.
What to do? Firstly, lose the complacency that “things like that don’t happen here.” Things like that can ALWAYS happen, when you have marginalised communities and a dominant culture that enables hatred against them.
Learn what contributes to the marginalisation. The “casual” racism (there’s no such thing as “casual”), the “jokes”, the stereotyping. It all normalises racism and xenophobia and lays the groundwork for extremists to flourish and commit their acts of violence. But any degree to which a culture condones or enables racism and xenophobia makes marginalised people’s lives undeservedly difficult and makes them feel justifiably isolated, unsafe and unsupported. It shouldn’t take terrorism for people to wake their ideas up.
Look very hard at our own biases and examine how they are affected by and contribute to the dominant culture. Work to fix them; don’t ask those affected to help us fix our shit. Learn respectfully about each other’s cultures and lives, and accept correction when we get shit wrong.
Speak up against lies (but don’t presume to speak FOR others). Learn critical thinking and examine the messages that get broadcast against “others”. Fear flourishes in a climate of ignorance. Provide vocal and visible and practical support for marginalised communities, on THEIR terms. Listen when we are told what the issues are.
That’s just a few things I can think of to begin with. But making our environment sufficiently inhospitable to the kind of garbage that allows ignorance, fear and hatred to fester is going to be a long, tough job. Cleaning up the crap has to be done by the people dumping it out. Getting everyone who contributes to that festering crap to accept their responsibility for it is the toughest part.
Thank you for writing this Creatrix Tiara. I’ve been struggling with articulating how I feel and reading your words helped me a lot. While so many of my family members went to the jumm’ah prayers, I could just lie in my bed and cry. There is a lot of sadness, fear and anger, but most of all I just felt hopeless. Reading words and hearing from my community was what gave me strength. Thank you for this ❤️
My love and solidarity go out to all you affected by this horrific tragedy. Thank you for writing this <3
Thank you 💓
All of my love and anger and resolve to make things better and safer for you, queer (ex- and current) Muslim folx. I hate that you are so often so suffocatingly surveilled by law enforcement, but no one cares to preventatively protect you from those who would hurt you.
That’s pretty much the best summary of the quandary we’re in 💓
This has been at the forefront of my mind for days. Solidarity to Muslim communities everywhere surviving in the wake of this trauma and horror. Solidarity to everyone in the global fight against white terrorism. What else is there to even say.
You deserve so much better.