From Jacinda Ardern to Eggboy, the white saviours
have taken over the Muslim story once again from the Muslims. To
commemorate a week of the Christchurch terror attacks on two mosques there were a series of moves and events designed to make Muslims
feel they belong.
New Zealand radio and television sounded the call for prayer at 1.30 pm, the time of the shootings. Policewomen and TV anchors wore the scarf; the latter began their telecast
with a ‘salaam alaikum’ (peace be upon you), newspapers had Arabic scrawling on their front pages with an explanation of Muslim rituals, and Prime Minister Ardern quoted the Prophet. The
distinction between state and religion was lost. Also, instead of an expression
of solidarity, it appeared to be a catering to a homogenised people, if not a special
Entitled brown folks were, however, over the crescent moon. They were complicit
in propping up such privilege with their gratefulness for a whiteheadscarf wearer or a young man
egg-splattering the head of a racist Australian senator.
A fundraiser for Eggboy Will Connolly
raised a whole lot of money for his legal fees and
for being “a good egg”. Using him as an example of how the West responds to
hate speech ignores the immensity of the vile comments by Sen Fraser
Anning blaming immigrants for the terror act.
Ardern visiting the bereaved with much empathy isno doubt
a potent image of a caring
leader, but would a Muslim leader reaching out to his
people be greeted with as much enthusiasm?
These gestures have a limited shelf life, but by becoming
totems they reduce the Muslim identity to a community that cannot manage without an Other’s
“I’d love to wear one, how do I
tie it?” asked an
enthusiastic white woman expressing her support for the March 22 Scarves in Solidarity Day.
To lift the spirits of New Zealanders, Christchurch youth worker Jay
Geldard decided on Colour Your Day: “Colour Your Day has come from asking how do
4.8 million people respond to an event like this? You
get a sense that there's this desire, and it's like people who have been quite
down don't know how to respond. So it's saying, let's just put on something
bright. It could be socks, it could be scarves, it could just be mufti - you'll just see people in bright colours and
you'll know you are all together.”
The problem with sentimental
gestures is that they do not go deeper than the displayed
symbolism. While wearing colourful socks could have worked as casual weekend dressing, it being a
Friday – the day of prayer for Muslims, the day when
the attacks took place while they were on their knees
in obeisance – the sense of joyousness was a bit incongruous.
However, it was not as
disingenuous as wearing a scarf in solidarity. As a Muslim woman who does not
wear one, I often get praised
for my assumed breaking of shackles by the rightwing
and the liberals in India. The hijab has been a red
rag for democratic regimes as well as feminists. Curiously, both these pro-choice proponents use it to indicate oppression and refuse to grant the wearer the dignity of
having made a choice to assert an identity. They also
seem to forget that women are shamed in the streets for wearing this identity.
That these liberals were ready to don a scarf in
solidarity amounts to a denial
ofthe rights of a
people to stand up for themselves without being caricatured, howsoever benevolent the motive might be.
The notion behind speaking on behalf of a
community is not inclusive but exclusive. It is a declaration that white is the mainstream, the standard gold. To belong, immigrantswill have to look through this prism.
In an impassioned speech,Ms. Ardern said, “He is a terrorist, he
is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and
to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the
name of the man who took them. He may have sought
notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him
nothing – not even his name.”
This is most simplistic. He did not merely seek notoriety; he wanted to annihilate
people. His manifesto clearly stated that. Terrorism by a white man cannot be explained away as an attention-seeking exercise. By
making him invisible, his supremacism is being whitewashed.
Aiding in this process are the
elite among the immigrants who rarely speak about such entrenched racism in
their adopted homes and help in sidestepping the
dangerous fact that such violent responses are not really an exception that
commentators and Ms. Ardern herself makes it look
like. They do the white thing by deifying a man who lost his wife in the
attacks but forgave the killer because he represents ‘the spirit of Islam’. How different is it from the
West creating binary stereotypes of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim?
Unless we have a Muslim, an Arab,
an immigrant speak up
against supremacists, and not just with eggs, and unless
Muslim societies stop feeling beholden for tokens, the white killer will remain in whitened public perceptionmerely a
gunman seeking notoriety and
not the terrorist that he
Images: The Washington Post, New International Published in CounterPunch