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Barbershop: Muslim Group Reacts To New Zealand Shootings

Mar 16, 2019
Originally published on March 16, 2019 5:40 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to step into the Barbershop. That's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Now we're going to return our focus to that devastating mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Earlier this hour, we examined the question of what attracts people to the kind of white supremacist philosophy that the alleged gunman is believed to have espoused. Now we want to turn our attention to the community to which that violence was directed. We've invited four guests who identify as Muslim to reflect upon this moment and where we should go from here. Joining us over Skype from Wellington, New Zealand, is Tahir Nawaz, president and CEO of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand.

Mr. Nawaz, welcome. And if I may speak on behalf of all of us, I'd like to say I'm so very sorry for what the community is going through now. Thank you for coming.

TAHIR NAWAZ: Thank you very much for inviting us.

MARTIN: Joining us from Quebec City is Mohamed Labidi. He's co-founder of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City. And condolences are also due to him because you might remember that six worshippers were murdered there in 2017.

Mr. Labidi, welcome to you as well.

MOHAMED LABIDI: Welcome. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And joining us over Skype is Mona Eltahawy. She's an Egyptian-American journalist. She's written extensively about contemporary issues affecting the Muslim diaspora. She's with us from Montreal.

Mona, it's good to speak with you again, although I'm sorry for the reason why.

MONA ELTAHAWY: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And finally, here in our studio in Washington, D.C., is Johari Abdul-Malik, former director of outreach at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va.

Imam, welcome to you as well. Welcome back. And, again, I'm sorry to you as well for the reason that we're speaking today.

JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK: It's good to have us all together.

MARTIN: So, Tahir Nawaz, I'm going to start with you. And I'm just going to ask, how are you doing? And how are you processing all of this?

NAWAZ: We are going through it slowly. We're still in shock and sad at what has happened, as we all know that New Zealand is one of the most peaceful country. It was, I'll say. But perception is changing now. We getting a continued support from all the communities from New Zealand - is also including all the religious communities. They're offering us all the support they needed at this time, actually. They have offered us to - their own temples and synagogues and churches to come and pray there while our mosques are closed. And they're also offering us in many different ways. Similarly, the New Zealand government itself - they are - they're well responsive in this matter. And they're doing what's the best it can be for us at this time.

MARTIN: So, Mr. Labidi, I can't help but think that this week's events have brought back painful memories. I was wondering if there's anything you can offer the people of New Zealand, the believers in New Zealand? Is there any comfort or anything that was particularly helpful to you that you could perhaps share with them?

LABIDI: First, I would like to present my deep sympathy to - for the victims, for all the victims, including the injured one, and for the Muslim community in New Zealand. And we are very shocked and saddened by this event. And it rises our community here in Quebec City in Canada. And we would like to tell them that we are with - our heart with them, and if can I - can we do anything they want, we are here to help them. And now today - yesterday, our board decided to make an action. So for them, it's symbolic action, like getting some money for the families of victim. And with that, we started that today.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for that.

Mona, I'm going to you. You've written about so many issues, and you've covered so many stories yourself. What does this bring up for you?

ELTAHAWY: You know, I join everyone in offering my condolences to the community in New Zealand - and Quebec City, of course. This brings up and triggers so many things, Michel, because I moved to the United States in 2000 from Egypt. And the year after, of course, were the 9/11 attacks. And I lived at the time in Seattle. And the day after the attacks, a man tried to set fire to my local mosque in Seattle, and he tried to shoot two men leaving the mosque after evening prayers. Thankfully, he was unable to because he was too drunk and crashed into a tree and was soon after arrested.

So that was in 2001. And, of course, after that, we heard of so many attacks against Muslims, especially - and people who were perceived to be Muslims. For example, I believe it was a Sikh taxi driver who was the first man killed, as you know, in so-called revenge attacks against Muslims after 9/11 because his murderers thought he was a Muslim. There were also many attacks against visibly Muslim women because they're easy to spot, unfortunately, because they wear hijab. And, you know, my sister-in-law was so scared to leave the house in Seattle - she was visiting me - because she wears hijab, and she wore a hat at the time. And there were so many other attacks.

And then, in 2012, my brother's mosque - my brother and his wife, my sister-in-law - their mosque in the Midwest - I don't like to say where they live, because I don't want anyone to know. But their mosque in the Midwest was set on fire by a man who said that he heard on Fox News that Muslims were killing Americans. And he set the mosque on fire on a Sunday, just a few hours after my nieces and nephews had been in the same building for Sunday school. So that was in 2012.

MARTIN: So I'm getting the feeling - I want to go to the imam in a minute, and Mona, I want to leave some time for you just to sort of give us a thought about how you'd like to direct our thoughts going forward. But I'm getting the sense that you think, A, attacks on Muslims have not been given perhaps the attention that they deserve. And, B, I sense that you're saying also that the - there's a lot of attention to Muslims as perpetrators of violence but not enough attention to Muslims as the targets of violence. Would that be fair to say?

ELTAHAWY: Absolutely. I think that the only two options for Muslims in the United States especially is either terrorist or victim. And, you know, when I look at the political parties, for example, even the Democratic Party - I mean, we know the white supremacy and the racism that has run through the rhetoric of the GOP. But when I look at the Democratic Party, for example, and I look at the 2016 elections, the only presence for Muslims were the parents of the man, the Muslim serviceman who was killed in the war in Iraq. So basically, the only time that we see Muslims is either as members of the armed forces or law enforcement, and that's the only way for us to be accepted as so-called good Muslims.

So I think that, yes, we're not allowed to be fully human in the United States. And this disturbs me greatly because I think it feeds into that Islamophobic rhetoric - (unintelligible) that Muslims are terrorists or we're only humanized if we're victims.

MARTIN: We only - we've got so little time for such an important topic, so let me turn to the imam here. Imam, what is this bringing up for you? I'm imagining that as a faith leader, you're expected to offer comfort and guidance to people. I'm sure there were conversations about whether people should even come to Friday prayers. What are your thoughts at this time?

ABDUL-MALIK: Well, first, I join everyone in my concerns and condolences. But I'd like to place this in a slightly larger context from the victimhood to say that really, the people who are perpetrating this type of white supremacist response which feeds into various kinds of phobias - let us think as a society first. I was at Dal Hijrah - I'm not at Dal Hijrah anymore, Michel - but I was hired right after 9/11, and the idea was that, what are we going to do in the wake of this tragedy? I said, my response if you want to hire me as an imam is to reach out to our neighbors who are afraid, to have the kind of engagement to speak up, to speak out, to get as part of the fabric of that community and then around these individuals who have this kind of strange speech.

In the last year, as the election wound up, there was a kind of invitation that would come to the mosque from Jewish synagogues saying, imam, can you come and talk to us? Because we feel like something is going on that's bigger than Islamophobia. It's bigger than xenophobia. And the idea was, there's a kind of thought process that's going out that's becoming words and articulated by leaders, and then they become violent actions. How do we address that?

MARTIN: Could that be a turning point? Could this be a turning point, in your view? And I apologize. We only have 20 seconds.

ABDUL-MALIK: I am clear that every tragedy has in it an opportunity - the opportunity for the community to engage with one another, to reach out to their neighbors, not to become securitized and become victims but to become victors and going out and saying, since you're joining us in solidarity, let's look at all of the phobias and those people who are afraid - and, as our brother Christian said earlier, to reach out to those who are afraid and join their hearts with ours.

MARTIN: Clearly, we need more time for this conversation, and I do hope and expect that we will have it. That was Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. Writer Mona Eltahawy was with us from Montreal. Mohamed Labidi of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City, and Tahir Nawaz was with us, the president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand.

I thank you all so much for your thoughts, and I do hope we will speak again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.