‘We are devastated with grief. But not shocked’
RIGHT now, the Australian Muslim community is not just aching.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: "The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy and compassion of each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever."
Our community is not only aching - it is haemorrhaging.
We are mourning our fathers, our mothers and our children, who went to pray and who are not coming home. Fifty mounds of dirt were dug, the earth will accept our men, women and children who were attacked in "slaughter by appointment", as Waleed Aly said on The Project last Friday.
I've stayed awake and thought about Mucaad Ibrahim, only a year older than my youngest son. A gorgeous boy. Our boy. Mucaad was only three years old when he was gunned down. His family has been informed of his death; his grave will be the smallest that was dug. I wonder if he liked Paw Patrol or Spider-Man. The grief and sorrow are at times overwhelming.
My eldest son hasn't been told about Christchurch. My husband and I decided that he spend the past weekend with his best friend, who is not from the Muslim faith. I don't have capacity to tiptoe around my sorrow in front of him. And I do not know if the right answers will fall from my mouth, or if they will get stuck in my throat. As a Shaykh recently said, it is something that only "those who carry the gift of the womb would understand". Again, I think of little Mucaad's mother.
And then at the weekend, Senator Anning released his statement, emblazoned with the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. Its substance was quickly condemned; but condemnations are easy to issue and leave no room for accountability. Let's not forget Senator Anning was physically embraced after his "final solution" speech. It's impossible to believe they didn't know what he was saying. And Muslims have now paid the highest price for those in Australian government that have exploited anti-Muslim sentiment for political purposes.
In the aftermath of Christchurch, politicians tripped over themselves to be seen hugging local Islamic leaders and in attendance at interfaith prayer vigils. But there have been no demands that white people speak out about white supremacy and terrorism and that they do more to quash them.
Many of these politicians have openly flirted with anti-Muslim sentiment and built upon decades of policies that have dehumanised Muslims; perpetuating a "freedom of speech" that has now been paid for by 50 brown bodies, black bodies - even tiny little bodies of children.
The uncomfortable truth is that most Australians have been comfortable with the cost of their freedom of speech. But for a long time, Muslims haven't just been vulnerable to being targeted by right wing extremists; we have been targeted.
And we need to acknowledge Brenton Tarrant is not an anomaly. Neither is Senator Anning.
Thinking that their views were shaped by chance is a luxury, a privileged perspective by those whose daily life has never been impacted by any form of white supremacy.
Colonisation in Australia only occurred via systemic acts of injustice and violence: the taking of land, frontline wars, sexual exploitations and murder of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Now, its long tentacles are embedded in our institutions, and too often, manifested in our political leadership. You don't have to look far to see: the idea of DNA testing for Indigenous people, black deaths in custody, the treatment of refugees in offshore detention, the idea of a "burqa ban" or halal certification inquiries. It is Muslim women having to start their own register to document the Islamophobia attacks against them because we are not believed. Abbott once said that "Islamophobia hasn't killed anyone". Except we always knew that it could - that it would.
There is a deep and burning anger within our communities that the politicians and media that have demonised Muslims are granted access to our community so soon after Christchurch and used as backdrop to create a new myth of unity, of togetherness, of not being angry.
Many Australians have attended their local Mosque since Friday to lay wreaths and to extend their condolences to the Muslim community. The sentiment is appreciated, but it has the potential to force the emotional burden of having to absolve grief - even guilt - onto a community that feels shattered and bereft.
For too long, media has amplified racism and provided a platform for dog whistling. It has not been a neutral space for Muslims. Rather than engage in dialogue, complex issues have been reduced to sound bites. Rather than be critical of dangerous ideology like white supremacy, media figured out a way to profit from Muslims being the new bogeyman in a post 9/11 world.
Suddenly, those outlets that vilified Muslims and declared that they would "fight radical Islam for 100 years", that reduced us to grotesque caricatures in cartoons and portrayed us as subversive, dangerous and prone to radicalisation, have declared "we are all Muslims".
Meanwhile, Brenton Tarrant is referred to in headlines as a "madman", a "mass killer", an "angelic boy who grew into a far-right killer". We waited for the "t word" - terrorist. It came eventually, but not quickly enough.
Too little space has been afforded to us in public debate; instead, we are usually written or spoken about. When we are not given space, we turn to social media and then branded trouble makers. It's easier to disregard our criticisms that way.
And Australian Muslim women have been trying to hold the line against the relentless tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric. The spaces that are available for Australian Muslim women to dissent, criticise and object are but a slither. We fight for a place at the table within our own communities. We still fight for our voices to be heard, for participation, for representation. We fight against self-censorship and the seductive politics of respectability; of avoiding airing one's dirty laundry in public. We are stuck between internal community patriarchy and external racism and structures of white supremacy. Representation and participation aren't about being included in a photograph with the Prime Minister. For both in and outside our communities: it is about our critical voices being considered to be legitimate and valid; for our advice to be considered.
As one sister confided to me: "We don't know who to fight, the racists or our own people".
But we stand firm, we stand together and we want to be heard. To be unequivocally clear, many Australian Muslims are not shocked that a terrorist attack like Christchurch occurred. We're devastated, but not shocked.
And the fact is, it could have been prevented, by a more rigorous stance against anti-Muslim rhetoric and white supremacy - in all their forms. But at least now we know how many Muslims must die to cause our country to pause and reflect on where we are and how we came to be here. It is 50.
Lydia Shelly is a lawyer and community advocate.