As those of you who have been following my blog know, it’s about books, writers, bookshops – and occasionally movies, travel and photography. But because of what occurred here in New Zealand a week ago I feel compelled to write something about it.
One week to the day ago 50 people who were going about their lives, many of them praying in their place of worship – their place of safety – were murdered and around the same number were hospitalised. It was, without a doubt, a hate crime and the dead and injured were targeted because of their religion and/or colour. All we know at this point in time is that there is just the one accused man in police custody who has been charged with one count of murder with more counts to be added before he stands trial. Much has been made of the fact that this man is a white supremacist and is Australian. I guess the authorities here want to make the point that it was NOT a New Zealander who committed such atrocities and to try to distance ourselves from the perpetrator.
I am not sure what the killer expected to happen as a result of his crimes, but if he wanted to start a race war, or religious war, or merely to spread hatred and distrust among the various races, religious groups and communities of NZ….he failed miserably. Never have I seen such a coming together of people. The support shown by the NZ public of love and empathy toward the Muslim community has been huge. And in return that love has come back from the Muslim people to the rest of NZ. Long may this state of being last.
Distrust and hatred among people of different races or religions comes mainly from ignorance, of not knowing anything about these people or their religious practices. It’s interesting to see how many hits on line there has been about what it is to be Muslim. People aren’t looking this up in order to convert, but just to understand and accept that there are more similarities between the various groups than there are differences. All too often we make a big deal about how different some people are from others instead of embracing our similarities. There has been particular distrust from non-Muslims relating to the wearing of the various head scarves starting with the hijab – which covers the hair and the neck, but leaves the face visible – through to the full burka which covers the entire head and face. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals and freedom of choice. They choose to cover because they believe it is liberating and allows them to avoid harassment. Unfortunately due to ignorance from others who have no idea about why these various head coverings are worn and so therefore fear or distrust them, harassment, of a racial kind ,is something that happens all too often. I think it’s important for all of us to have a little knowledge about all religions, all ethnic groups so that we understand rather than fear or hate through our ignorance.
A post on the BBC website – link below – shows the differences between the various Muslim head coverings and their names. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241
In Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Hijab has become compulsory. Iranian women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. However in most other countries it is optional, but as a sign of respect and modesty most Muslim women choose to wear a head covering in some form or another.
The morning after the shootings, my wife told me that she wanted to pick some flowers from our garden and take them down to the local mosque to show that white people can also show love and empathy, not hatred and bigotry. So, she picked a few flowers, wrapped a ribbon around them and we visited the mosque. The gates and the building were all locked up….small wonder after what had happened in Christchurch. We were surprised to see, so early in the morning, that there were already many floral tributes and cards with messages of support attached to, or leaning against, the fence around the mosque. These tributes have continued to grow in number throughout the week and are now so deep that they are taking up most of the footpath.
There was a short – I can’t call it a service because it had no religious meaning – it was more of a moment of love and respect, there outside the fence of the mosque, when poem was read out written by the poet Rumi, called Silence (or in silence)…..followed by a minutes silence for us to reflect on what had happened. Many people of all skin colour were openly weeping. It was both sad, but at the same time quite beautiful to see this coming together of people who would not normally even speak to one another.
All over New Zealand there have been vigils and public meetings and tributes. Here in my home town of Hastings – which happens to have the only Mosque in the whole of Hawke’s Bay (our region – the same as an American state or an English county) – a service of remembrance, of love and empathy was held in the middle of town by local civic and religious officials last Monday, and even though it was in the middle of the day, when so many people would have been at work, it was heartening to see hundreds of people of all ages, races and religious backgrounds there. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and more all side by side united in grief and love.
Many non-Muslims who want to show their unity and support for the Muslim community are not sure of the protocol to follow. In times such as these it is natural to want to hug someone and tell them that things will be OK. BUT it is not generally acceptable for people outside the Muslim faith of opposite genders to have physical contact. So in general it would be acceptable for a male to hug a male and a female to hug a female – BUT please ask first. Show your respect for their culture. For female non-Muslims who want to wear a scarf or hijab to show support for their Muslim sisters – this is quite acceptable. There was a story about Muslim women who after the Christchurch attack were afraid to go out in public wearing the hijab to take their kids to school. However, non-Muslim women in the community offered to walk with them and to wear the scarf themselves.
There was a photo on Facebook showing 3 eggs – one white, one light brown and one dark brown – all decidedly different looking. In a second photo all the eggs had been cracked into a pan – all looked identical. Under that outer shell – that outward appearance – they were exactly the same. A simple but at the same time a timely reminder to us all to embrace our similarities and not focus on our differences.
We have had our first threat – supposedly from ISIS – saying that the deaths of their Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand will be avenged. This is not what the NZ Muslim community are saying. They have reacted only with love, peace, gratefulness for the huge show of public support…..and unbelievably… forgiveness for the shooter. I think all of us can learn from this.
This post is primarily about the good that came from this tragedy. I may write another post, at a more suitable time – outlining from my own perspective what I see as the problems, the unanswered questions arising from what happened and comment on the NZ governments response.