A year on from when one nut-job changed us.

A year has passed since a right-wing nut-job shot up a couple of mosques here in Christchurch, and killed fifty-one people at their Friday prayers. He shot down unarmed, unsuspecting people with a military-style automatic weapon, and live-streamed it. Before the video got taken down from the internet by the lumbering internet giants, giving it time to being copied and shared, it was probably seen by millions of people around the world. Even so, the nut-job, whose name we don’t mention here in New Zealand, was probably hoping for a lot more fame than that.

A combination of being in the right place at the right time, and outstanding courage, saw a couple of police officers ram the nut-job’s car, and drag him out of it twenty minutes after the shooting. Mr nut-job was on his way to do over yet another mosque, but got thwarted en-route, and summarily nicked. However, he had still done an obscene amount of damage, and ruined untold lives – and for that rotting in hell is too good for him. Seeing as we can’t send him to hell at the moment, although I’m sure attempts will be made, he will rot in jail for the rest of his life. At some stage, though, I’m betting there will be a book about it all. Humans love that dark shit.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, however, is a smart woman, and refused to give the nut-job the fame he would have been craving at the time, and wouldn’t let his name pass her lips. The media followed suit, and although I did hear his name mentioned initially, I don’t remember it now, and won’t look it up. He’s been ghosted. There was no more dicking around with lenient gun laws after that, either, and military-style automatic weapons that could be modified got banned almost as fast as Jacinda could ask someone to hold her baby, so she could sign off on it. That last bit didn’t really happen, I confess, as Jacinda’s fiancé looks after the baby. There’s still an element here in New Zealand who are sore about it – the big-gun ban, that is, but maybe the other, as well. Seriously, though, what civilian needs an automatic weapon that can fire fifty rounds at a time? (And what father can’t look after a baby?)

To say that this terrorist’s savagery shook New Zealand up is an understatement. We were traumatised! We’re not perfect here, we bicker and squabble, and we have racism and sexism and other ‘isms. But we’re a small nation of just five million people in the last outpost before falling off the edge of the world, and we kind of got used to these things happening elsewhere. Looks like those days are gone.

Today, there was going to be a one-year anniversary commemoration event held, but coronavirus put paid to that, and it got cancelled at the eleventh hour. I didn’t have plans to attend, but I felt for those who needed it, and were now unable to have it. I don’t know why commemorations are important, but when we’re still healing from a loss, somehow they just are.

I decided to do a wander around in the central city, anyway, to check out the mood. Everything seemed fairly normal, but then we don’t go around tearing at our clothes and hair in grief, anyway. Our predominantly British-copied culture doesn’t do that. Then wouldn’t you know it – I found myself in the vicinity of my favourite bookshop, Scorpio Books. What a happy coincidence! Seeing as I was there, I went in just have a look.

Maybe it was the day, but when I spied a book called ‘It’s Not About the Burqa’, it called to me. To give you an idea of what a biggie this is for me, I very much don’t like burqas and hijabs. I know that some women have changed the narrative around them, to fit with their personal choice to wear them, but to me they remain the symbols of oppression they began life as, and remain for many Muslim women. When I saw the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, wearing a hijab when meeting with mosque-shooting victims, their families, and their communities, I was in two minds about it. I understood that it was her way of showing respect and compassion, but there are many Muslim women who don’t wear a hijab. Mostly, though, I am at peace with her kind gesture.

I’m not being disrespectful, when I say I don’t like burqas and hijabs – which I feel obligated to explain, because, you know …… feelings – as I don’t dislike the women who wear them, I just intensely dislike the objects and what they represent to me. Flicking through this book, however, the author, Mariam Khan, sounds like she’s got a bit of fire in her belly, as do the women she writes about, and that I DO like. I expect I will find it both uncomfortable and eye-opening, and maybe dangerously mind-changing, too. Just how a good book should be, really.

 

Header drawing by Ruby Jones.

18 thoughts on “A year on from when one nut-job changed us.

      1. When I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think, and lend it to you, if you want. I’m finishing another book first, so it won’t be for a wee while. However, no worries if you can’t face it even then – I do understand that when your mind is working hard, you need lighter reading as relief.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I used to work at a community college where a large number of Muslim students, mostly Somalis, attended. I had the pleasure of tutoring them in English composition and reading, and they in turn taught me a lot about Islam as practiced in the 21st century. All of the women I worked with told me that wearing a hijab was a choice (not all Muslim women wear the body-covering burqa, which came out of conservative Saudi practices); they could go without it if they wanted to, but they said they felt more comfortable wearing the hijab when they went out in public. Somali women wear headscarves in very creative and beautiful ways, and a number of my students gave me scarves as end of the year gifts after I expressed admiration for them. I seldom wear them around my head, however—I don’t have the face for it, lol—and prefer to wrap them around my neck.

    That said, I hear what you are saying. I think the issue gets into the issue of autonomy, both personal and cultural. If the individual woman regards the hijab as a way to observe her faith, that’s her choice to make. If she’s being forced, as many women are in parts of Central Asia and the Middle East, then we need to speak up.

    The mosque shooting in Christchurch was infuriating and deeply sad. I hope the families of the victims and the survivors had some other opportunity to mark the day.

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    1. Yes, I’ve heard a number of times about it being a choice to wear the headscarf, but the reality is that they only have the luxury of that choice if they have lenient male members in their family. I.e. a Muslim woman’s father, brothers, or husband has to be progressive in their thinking about it, otherwise there’s very little room for the women to exercise choice.

      I can understand why some Muslim women feel more comfortable covering up, as indeed many women might – because it’s like armour against the male gaze, and a feeling of protection from a world that can be very hostile.

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      1. Much depends on the educational background on the family, the home culture—Somali women are very independent and strong-willed; they run their own businesses and, as Ilhan Omar, congresswoman from Minnesota has shown, they take charge of things—and the individual’s family dynamics, as is the case in many homes that aren’t Muslim. I speak as one who’s from a traditionally patriarchal culture and was forced as a girl to swallow all sorts of rubbish about what I was supposed to do, and not do. Like go to college, develop professional skills, and seek a life away from family and home. We weren’t particularly religious either, though there’s nothing in Buddhism that says women are supposed to get married, have children and be a lifelong domestic worker. That was on my parents and their “traditional” beliefs, which mostly died out in Japan after World War II. The same goes for many Muslim families and their daughters and mothers: there are abusive men who use religion or “tradition” as a reason for keeping the women in their family under foot. It’s less about the religion or the nationality than it is about patriarchy.

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      2. Yes, it’s patriarchy that oppresses women, not religion – but seeing as most religions are patriarchal in practise (I don’t know much about Buddhism), they end up oppressing women. That’s interesting what you say about Somalian women. In their home country they don’t have great lives as a general rule. Seems like they’re strong women, though, when they’re allowed to be.

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  2. Yes, I have the same thoughts about the burqa. I feel particularly sad when I see a child wearing it here because it’s hard to believe that for a child it would be their choice especially when no one else at school is wearing one. It might be different if cultures of predominantly Muslims were not so oppressive towards women but we know they are and we know that for many the burqa is not a choice at all.

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    1. Horrible to see kids wearing such oppressive and restrictive clothing. I can’t see much choice being involved there, either. Even if the narrative around hijabs and burqas gets changed into something benign to suit a personal agenda, the origins of them can’t be denied, and are still in play today for many Muslim women and girls, as you say.

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  3. Though not Muslim, I have been frequenting a local mosque (masjid) for a number of years now and always feel at home and welcome when visiting there. It has also been my goal for an even longer number of years to learn the Arabic language. I had been attending an intensive Arabic class (2 hours twice a week) when Corona put classes on hold, but I am determined to keep up studies every day. As with any other group of individuals, Muslims are distinctly different individuals who join together to pursue love and peace. I have yet to encounter a single one who even remotely resembles the stereotypes imposed upon them from without. I can’t say that about White Supremacists I have met. Translations of the Qu’ran require a great deal of subtle understanding, something that gets forced to fit an agenda that seeks to demonize the already marginalized. Celebrations at the masjid frequently include children. Hijabs are rare among the young girls in my experience. And the kids are kids. Also convinced myself that this should be the next topic on my blog 🙂

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    1. Do you mean the stereotype of an extremist Muslim? I have known two or three Muslims in my life closely enough to agree with you that they are just individuals like the rest of us, but have a common life-philosophy – a bit like we Vegans 🙂 As much as I have tried to look at the hijab and burqa from the same perspective as the women who voluntarily wear them, I find that I’m just not able to. From what I understand, they consider it a physical sign of their faith and submission to God, but why would God care about what women wear? I can understand a preference for modest clothing, for various reasons, but not because God cares about that. My feelings are that the women are endowing God with male characteristics – as do most religions, hence the pronouns He and Him – so transfer onto God the same behaviours they would enact if submitting and devoting themselves to a male human they adored. To me, it seems as though their belief in how submission and devotion look, is encultured in them by being in the male-dominated world which we live in. People are entitled to wear what they want, if they don’t cause any harm by it, however, personally I’m not able to glorify the hijab and burqa, because it’s the same clothing that’s also used for oppression. It’s just the narrative that changes, and luck about where one lives. There is also the matter of the hijab and burqa helping to make women feel safer when in public, which is a shameful statement about life in the public sphere for women. I wouldn’t ever wear one of these items if I wasn’t forced to, but I get how covering oneself up could feel safer and more comfortable.

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      1. I have witnessed far more misogyny, abuse, and patriarchal views among self-righteous whites railing against Islam. Propaganda spewed by orthodox evangelists seeks to demonize the Qur’an with impunity, to ascribe all manner of evil to a book that they have never read. They mistranslate the Arabic to self-serve and to promote Islamophobia as a virtue. I have read the Qur’an in its entirety, admittedly in English, but have also examined a number of deliberate mistranslations. The hijab is often worn as a fashion statement in many creative ways. Islamophobia rages over here and hijabs are forcefully ripped off women, run over at traffic crosswalks these are supremacist assaults. They remind me of the kind of racism against Asians that gets fueled by Trump daily. I have seen an interesting phrase to describe the phenomenon: stochastic terrorism:
        https://shortbustoparadise.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/a-natural-experiment-in-stochastic-terrorism-compliments-of-the-college-fix/

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Questioning the reasons that Muslim women choose to wear a hijab or burqa isn’t White Supremacy, Islamophobia, or intimidation. I understand that when we’re especially sensitive about a subject, though, we can all make leaps like that. It’s my belief that the Qur’an makes no mention of Muslim women having to wear a hijab or burqa. They originated purely as man-made interpretations designed to oppress. Of course, not every Muslim woman wearing a hijab or burqa now is oppressed, especially in Western countries, where women (as a generalisation) don’t need permission from the male members of their families to be allowed to make their own choices about that. Just like I question the underlying reasons why women choose to wear uncomfortable clothing because it’s sexy, I question the underlying reasons why Muslim women choose articles of clothing that originated in oppression to show an outward expression of their faith. Ultimately, people are free to wear what they want, if it causes no harm – however, would Muslim women still choose to wear hijabs and burqas to show their faith, if God’s pronouns were She and Her?

    Yes, I came across the term ‘stochastic terrorism’ a while ago. I reckon that some journos even practise it in a minor way, when they write nasty pieces about Vegans. I actually made an official complaint about one journo who did this, and used that phrase to describe his writing. My complaint got nowhere, of course, but I still enjoyed being able to accuse him of stochastic terrorism against Vegans 😊

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    1. Thanks for the much-needed clarification, Katrina. I had not provided a very good context in my previous reply and, upon rereading it, discover that it comes across too shrill and far too narrow. The three women in my immediate family are all very strong (and bold) women. Lisa majored in Women’s Studies. One of Lisa’s closest friends is Muslim, she does not wear a hijab and is also strong and bold. Unfortunately, the family moved away some years ago. My sister-in-law has many close Muslim friends, about half wear a hijab. My daughter and her daughter are also enormously independent. A disdain for the patriarchy is something we share with you. I can also wax entirely too pedantic, as this TMI reply belies. 🙂 Living in a country governed by a stochastic terrorist makes me a bit testy too, ’tis true.

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      1. In the end, I do realise that it’s not really our place to question Muslim women as to why they choose to wear a hijab or burqa. I can get a bit testy (good word), though, when they glorify them, because their history is not very glorious. However, in the end, if the hijab or burqa aren’t forced onto anyone, then it’s not my circus and not my monkeys 🙂 Of course, that won’t stop me from having an opinion – such is my burden 🙂

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      2. Testy I can be, that is certain. Grateful thanks for having fire in the belly and for so well explaining what stands behind “having an opinion.” Burdens are the price exacted for every free expression of opinion, I guess — leading me to think about that poor camel who was made to carry one straw too many. Leave the poor camel alone, woncha? 🙂

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