Blog Post

New Zealand Attack: On Bridges and Walls

Graphics by Michelle Jia : Image Flickr ( I )

Less than four years ago, at the age of 46, I became an agnostic. It took me long years of relentless research to finally let go of Islam, the faith of my ancestors, and of organized religion altogether. My decision wouldn’t have been possible without reading numerous books on different faiths and spending endless hours of meditation in Buddhist temples, Christian cathedrals and mosques, trying to find meaning in what happened in Iraq, my country of origin, and seeking answers to my many existential questions.

 When I heard of the terrorist attack at the mosques in Christchurch, my first thought was: I could have been one of the victims! Amongst the fifty murdered parishioners, someone might well have been on a quest for truth, but the assailant—whose name I choose not to mention—denied them the right to draw their own conclusions. He cold-bloodedly confiscated their journey.

The attack startled the entire world. No one could have imagined something as horrendous happening in New Zealand. Despite everyone’s shock, Kiwis gathered for vigils across the country to express their grief and condolences to the bereaved families. It was quite important to remind ourselves that just as the Islamist attacks in several western cities didn’t represent the majority of the Muslims; this carnage too by no means represents New Zealand or Australia, or any specific race or religion for that matter. Rather it represents its executor and his accomplices.

Yes, the terrorist was not alone when he entered the two mosques and started shooting randomly at the people inside. Among his ghost associates are consecutive governments that failed to see the threat imposed by loose gun laws and the urgent need to change them, and politicians who have been using the plight of refugees for their own purposes over the past decade or so, either by warning the voters against taking on more of them, or at best making it sound like an act of mere philanthropy, when in fact it is not.

If one walked into any given hospital in New Zealand, one is likely to be greeted by Muslim doctors, nurses, technicians or other staff members. Many of them were refugees before they became naturalized citizens, and they are working very hard to help their fellow Kiwis. But healthcare is not the sole sector that’s reliant on immigrants. Education, transportation, construction, security, agriculture, to name a few; are all services being provided by different generations of refugees and immigrants. Their departure will result in an absolute disaster.

 Immigrants are an asset to New Zealand’s culture and economy. They are not a burden and certainly not a threat, unless we decided otherwise. The notion of migration is as ancient and natural as life itself. 

It’s also hard not to point an accusing finger at the mass media for telling single stories and circulating stereotypes, and at social media for encouraging users to publicize themselves at any cost. But the terrorist attack wouldn’t have happened without the influence of a disturbed mentality that’s not only against allowing Muslim migrants and refugees to settle in the West, it also and most dangerously fights the transfer of thought and is obsessed with building barriers instead of extending bridges.

It’s obvious that the only ones who benefit from the terrorist attacks—Islamist or anti—are the extremists at either end of the spectrum. They swiftly move to exploit the blood of the innocent to gain momentum and attract new followers from the people around them.

In grim and highly sensitive times like these, the voices calling for Islamic reform and advocating respect for human rights within Muslim communities will be silenced regardless of their valid and legitimate cause. And in the absence of a transparent and constructive dialogue, there is a grave danger that some moderate Muslims would emotionally react to the attack by shifting toward fanaticism, as could some of the now reasonably conservatives turn to the alt-right.

Our biggest challenge today is to make sure that there will not come a time when no one and nothing is left in the middle. Only walls.

 

Ali Shakir's picture
Iraqi-born, New Zealand-based architect and author, his articles and essays—in Arabic and English—appeared in several newspapers and literary journals in the Arab world, England, the United States and New Zealand.