By Mariam Khan
2 Apr 2019
Since the Christchurch terror attack, much of the focus has been not on the mourning of New Zealand’s Muslim community, but on white people. This has been repeated across the west, and in parts of the Middle East. Jacinda Ardern’s face was projected on to the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai days after the attack.
The prime minister’s response to the shooting has indeed been exemplary but the reaction to it has left little space for the victims, or the wider Muslim community in New Zealand or around the world. While many of us are still coming to terms with the events that happened in Christchurch, I have seen more pictures of Ardern’s grief and mourning than of the Muslim community in New Zealand, the victims or those who acted bravely on the day to save lives and fight against the terrorist.
To give an example, as I opened the pages of a prominent London magazine, I saw the face of Ardern, eyes closed, hugging a hijab-wearing Muslim woman whose back was to the camera. I thought about the positioning, about whose grief we were seeing. I thought about why our grief seemingly wasn’t palatable. Was that the reason the media had decided to use a white woman – someone more familiar, someone who isn’t an “other” – to sell their papers and fuel online clicks? In this Islamophobic world, is it the case that even Muslim grief doesn’t sell and it needs to come repackaged with a graceful and mourning white face donning a Dupatta?
Yet when I’ve voiced these reservations over the past weeks, I’ve been told I’m a disgrace to Muslims for not accepting the more than adequate solidarity we’ve received. I’ve been told to fuck off by a white man and seen the same white man tell another Muslim woman he was off to join Ukip because she disagreed with him. I’ve been condemned for voicing discomfort at the lionisation of Ardern doing her job properly.
I’ve also been criticised for telling white women that a gesture such as wearing a hijab for a single day might be problematic, because it centres on themselves and in many cases co-opts the only part of someone’s identity they are familiar with.
Performative solidarity isn’t enough. People died and no amount of empathy is going to bring them back. Those standing in solidarity need to understand that they should use their everyday privilege to truly tackle Islamophobia in the long term, in its myriad daily manifestations. Just rocking up for one day and then forgetting about the Islamophobic world we exist in is not good enough. The kind of solidarity being shown in the west risks becoming a self-regarding state of “wokeness”. It’s the same problem when white people create a diversity panel and invite some diverse people. And then at the end of the panel those same white people go home and feel much better about themselves because of what they did, but the diverse participants who have tried to justify and explain their existence for an hour go home as well, knowing they are still “diverse” and will have to go on living with that day to day. This is gestural stuff.
I trust very much that Ardern is unbothered about the online world demanding she receive the Nobel peace prize – she is getting on with her job. But the framing of Muslim pain through the words and actions of Ardern has been so overwhelming and disturbing that I’m unwilling to sit quietly and let it pass. Because I’m worried that next time there is a massacre of a Muslim community, for anyone to care it will take another Ardern to lead the mourning. More than 130 Muslims were killed in Mali just over a week ago. Where is the coverage? Internment camps in China continue to hold Uighur Muslims; the war in Yemen shows no sign of ending; the Rohingya crisis had its five minutes of fame in the media and isn’t making headlines any more.
In a speech Ardern gave in parliament days after the Christchurch attack she said: “Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.” Ardern is playing her role, but I implore you, let’s name and tell the stories of those who were massacred: Abdukadir Elmi, Abdul Fattah Qasem, Abdus Samad, Ahmed Abdel Ghani, Ali Elmadani, Amjad Hamid, Ansi Alibava, Ashraf Ali, Ashraf Al-Masri, Ashraf Morsi, Asif Vora, Atta Elayyan, Daoud Nabi, Farhaj Ahsan, Ghulam Husain, Hafiz Musa Vali Patel, Hamza Mustafa, Haroon Mehmood, Hosne Ahmed, Hussain al-Umari, Hussein Moustafa, Junaid Kara/Ismail, Kamel Mohamad Kamel Darweesh, Karam Bibi, Khaled Mustafa, Lilik Abdul Hamid, Linda Armstrong, Maheboob Khokhar, Matiullah Safi, Mohamad Moosi Mohamedhosen, Mohammed Imran Khan, Mohsen Mohammed Al Harbi, Mojammel Hoq, Mounir Suleiman, Mucad Ibrahim, Muhammad Haziq bin Mohd Tarmizi, Musa Nur Awale, Naeem Rashid, Omar Faruk, Osama Adnan Abu Kweik, Ozair Kadir, Ramiz Vora, Sayyad Milne, Sohail Shahid, Syed Areeb Ahmed, Syed Jahandad Ali, Talha Rashid, Tariq Omar, Zakaria Bhuiya, Zeeshan Raza.
Let’s concentrate on those left behind and let’s loudly applaud those who intervened; such as Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah who chased away the terrorist by throwing a cash register at him. Let’s redirect the focus of this tragedy. Ardern doesn’t need the attention but Muslims across the globe need more than performative solidarity.
• Mariam Khan is the editor of It’s Not About the Burqa, and a writer and activist