Seeing the Beauty After a Tragedy

Jacinda Arden comforting a Muslim woman–photocredit: David Walker

It’s been a little over a week since the Christchurch massacre occurred. A long week. As we were reeling from the news, people demonstrated the best of humanity and the worst.

At times like these, it’s easy to focus on the negative, to feel besieged by hate. When you hear justifications for the murder of 51 Muslims, excuses for the unvarnished hate and criminality, justifications that sound like the victims invited their own murders, it is difficult to feel anything but anger. And it’s not just words, not just the screeds on the internet. Last week, 5 mosques were attacked and vandalized in Birmingham, UK. While police have ruled out white supremacy or terrorism, Muslims in the area are not convinced. Of course, this is not surprising given the attack on the Finsbury mosque in 2017 and other racialized violence against Muslims in Europe. Furthermore, we know that there has been a very serious uptick in violence against Muslims and Islamophobia globally.

Yet in all this horror, there have been moments of incandescent beauty. And I want to invite us to dwell on these moments rather than let them pass by as we move back to the negative. Here are a few:

  • The celebration of the lives of the victims. Shortly after the massacre, I tweeted that even in death, Muslims were not humanized. That was remedied almost immediately by Professor Khaled Beydoun who tweeted about each victim, giving them names, faces, stories, lives. Rather than focusing on the terrorist, the world, possibly for the first time for Muslim victims, turned their attention to the beautiful lives of those who were targeted.
  • Jacinda Arden rose to the challenge. She showed what empathy and genuine concern for her people looks like. Her words were inclusive, she showed respect to the community, and more importantly she took action. She refused to say the terrorists name. She wore a head covering, she began the conversation about gun control immediately, and she has called for a global fight against racism. In contrast to Donald Trump who has taken every opportunity to marginalize Muslims, she did not shy away from extending her compassion and support for these grieving people. [The picture above was taken by David Walker.]
  • The memorial service started with the adhaan or call to prayer. In a time when many countries are regulating mosques, banning the call to prayer as a nuisance, New Zealand’s embrace of the call to prayer was moving and powerful. It centralized and normalized Muslim worship as part of New Zealand’s societal fabric.
  • Numerous hakas performed by New Zealanders across the island. These demonstrations of solidarity, particularly coming from Maori communities, remind us that white supremacy has had many victims across the globe. An indigenous community performing a sacred ritual in honor of new immigrants who have become victims of a very old racial violence is a recognition of kinship, of grief.
  • We are stronger together than any hate. And this was demonstrated by our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters in the United States. Almost immediately, Jewish communities started raising money for Christchurch. A number of communities showed up to stand guard at mosques during prayers.

Even though we are the targets of violence, far more people reject violence than accept it. President Trump has tried to normalize violence. But he and his followers have not succeeded. They have justified it but it has not become any more normal to target Muslims than it has been to target Jews, Blacks, and LGBTQ communities–perhaps the regularity with which this violence occurs is depressing, but it is not “normal.”

And hate has given rise to the election of fighters like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sharice David, and others. So while it is important to be vigilant, to resist, to demand our rights, we cannot succumb to a victim mentality that sees Islamophobia in every disagreement, in every slight. There are far too many real threats to level this charge against those who disagree with someone who happens to be Muslim or for reasons that have nothing to do with Islam or bigotry. 

These are trying times. People are stretched thin. Scraped raw. It is now that we must exercise compassion, understanding, and patience–two important values for Muslims and all faith traditions.