Those of us in the United States on the night of Thursday, March 14 went to bed with some very tragic news which only got worse when we woke up. Two mosques in New Zealand were attacked in an apparent Islamophobic and white supremacist attack on Friday prayers in New Zealand.
By the next morning, 49 people were killed, and several days later we still haven’t verified the total number and all of their nationalities and identities.
Needless to say, this was a very busy and trying time for Muslims worldwide with many including myself performing salat al janazah al-ghaib (the funeral prayer in absentia) after Friday Prayers. In response, there has been a considerable discussion amongst Muslims about how to defend themselves against such incidents in the future.
In addition to the obvious condemnations, Muslim leaders have been contemplating how to best protect themselves and their places of worship. Naturally, there was an increased police presence at most if not all mosques in the states to prevent any copycat or coordinated attacks.
Beyond this, many Muslims have suggested that they arm and train some of their attendees to ask as security in case of such an attack. Without any doubt, there is definitely a place for self-defense from a community which is consistently under attack. At the same time, the best way to make both Muslims and society safe are to disarm those who intend them harm.
As it stands, the nearly dogmatic commitment of some members of western societies, especially the United States, to the idea that every person by default has a right to the most deadly weapons enables the most dangerous and hateful individuals. Those suggesting that individuals have to be ready to fight or kill their potential assailants in order to be safe may only end up compounding the problem by creating a society of people who are constantly on edge. Additionally, we must dispense with the false narrative that such tragedies are somehow the fault of Muslims or their religion.
Despite the overwhelming support from world leaders, some individuals disgraced themselves in their response to the idea of 50 Muslims being killed. Thankfully, the prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern was unequivocal in her opposition to the attack and even took measure to limit the sale of assault weapons in her country within days.
However, some responses revealed a far uglier side of society. In particular, one Australian, the country from which the suspect is, senator Fraser Anning released a statement suggesting that Muslim immigration was to blame and that Muslims were mostly aggressors and rarely victims. Within a day of that statement, an Australian teenager egged him on the face.
To that, I simply say Fraser Anning may have been the victim today, but he has spent the past 20 years demonizing Muslims facilitating a climate in which tragedies such as the one we saw in New Zealand are possible. If he wants such behavior to stop, he should look inwards and show a genuine capacity to change before getting any sympathy. On a serious note, Anning is probably expressing a sentiment which many in society share but have the better sense to say, and that is sufficient reason to remain vigilant.
Without any doubt, the New Zealand Massacre was a tragedy from which we all have a lot to learn. For Muslims, they must be sure not to be naive about the threat to their safety posed by members of the society.
We should still continue our outreach efforts to those sympathetic to us and win over those who are persuadable. At the same time, there are some people with a visceral hatred of us and our religion who will always exist.
While we may not convince them otherwise, we should make sure to highlight the reality of this threat and do our best to disarm them, thereby preventing attacks like these on Muslims and other people whom they hate. These are some productive steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies.