I’m checking in on you.
The words from my friend, so simple and so full of all the concern and love and tenderness between us, loosed emotions barely held at bay.
New Zealand and Australia were plunged into the tumultuous waters of terrorism with the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, March 15.
Earlier that morning, I walked my dog and took her to the groomer, the people at the mosques gathered for Jum’ah–ordinary tasks that constitute our lives.
The first tweets announcing the attacks trickled in coyly, testing the temperature. The air stilled into muffled silence and I was debilitated by disbelief.
More tweets appeared, more details, more horror–from reports of the shootings, to live-streamed footage from the terrorist’s head-mounted camera, to the discovery of his wild white supremacist screed. The toll of dead and injured grew. And the ripples began to spread out from the epicentre of Christchurch.
The terrorist was detained–his car forced off the road by police, tipped to one side, two wheels still spinning. The image spread in all directions. Details about him seeped into the world and Australia sucked air in through its collective teeth. Islamophobia, stoked for decades, had borne fruit. Our nation, built on the premise of white supremacy, had given birth. We had bred him, fomented him, enabled his extremist ideology to evolve. And the ripples spread further.
The outpourings of grief and anger and horror began.
This collective public grief is so odd. There is and isn’t a personal locus for it. I am at once one of those at prayer in a mosque, and ardently not one of them—eschewing religion as a tool of subjugation. I am part of the society that fomented the terrorist, and apart from it, othered by it.
Collective grief morphed into guilt, justifications, mitigations and then denials from those who never feared bigotry, felt othered, or worried about being spat at, yelled at, abused, attacked. And the ripples spread further.
Those who know such violence, in other forms and other ages, turned towards communities, friendships, families. We consolidated relationships, we checked on each other, we made our kids text us–even more than usual. We tamped down rising panic. And the ripples spread further.
I’m reading poetry as a balm and failing woefully to extricate myself from the rapid pulse of a rolling Twitter feed, where outrage feasts on breaking news like a digital ouroboros.
“This is not the Australia I know” proclaimed one tweet after another, reaching for moral high ground in the quagmire of white supremacy. Yet this is the Australia that every First Nation Person has known, it is the Australia many migrants have also known. It is also New Zealand. And the ripples spread further.
The terrorist was humanised in ways not afforded to Blak or brown alleged perpetrators, or even Blak or brown victims. He was softened, he was centred in the narrative. We know this story. We have seen it all our lives. And the ripples spread further.
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand–who conducted herself with dignity and grace, who didn’t centre herself in the tragedy, who behaved in every way like a leader–refused to use his name, beseeched everyone to refocus on the victims. She was justifiably praised. She was centred in the narrative. And the ripples spread further.
Australian Senator Fraser Anning made vile statements and was egged by a young white man. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was mealy-mouthed in his condemnation, inconsistent in his message. All three in turn became the focus of the news cycle, the centre of the narrative. And the ripples spread further.
Islamophobia and white supremacy spawned these attacks, and we should brace for more. And the ripples spread further.
There are also repercussions for every brown and Blak person, for every person of colour. A white supremacist won’t stop to check religious affiliation, he (and it is overwhelmingly a ‘he’) isn’t going to ask if the brown person he’s killing is a First Nations Person, or an Indian, or a Hindu, or a Christian, or an atheist. The ripples are still spreading.
There are no easy answers, no happy endings. There is only a re-commitment to reaching out, to fighting bigotry and racism.
I am trying to focus on the minutiae of life, the simple pleasures, the infinite frustrations, the love of family and friends. Surely, that is what gets us through such times? I hope so.
Image credit: algria/Pixabay