Amira Elghawaby is a human-rights advocate and a board member with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
I woke up to the news from New Zealand and my hands started shaking. My stomach began to ache.
Within minutes, I was scrolling through my social-media feed. Soon I was telling my partner he’d have to call local police authorities to request additional security at a community event planned for this weekend. My hands were still shaking.
Would families attend Friday prayers today? Even if I had planned to go, I would now be too afraid. I worried for those who would attend, refusing to let such violent hatred stop them from practising their faith.
Then feelings of relief when I realized I wouldn’t have to send my son to the local private Islamic school he attends. I just don’t know how I will find the courage to send him on Monday.
I didn’t see the whole video. I inadvertently came upon a news story that included a segment of it. I couldn’t turn away even though people said not to look.
The clip showed only the first few minutes of the video of a shooter pulling out his weapons from his car while music played in the background. The camera approaches a building, clearly a mosque, and the frame freezes, although the sound of rapid-fire bullets continue over the image.
The newscaster tells the audience that while everyone in the newsroom has already watched the video numerous times, they will not be broadcasting it.
It doesn’t really matter because tens of thousands of people have already seen it, even as social-media companies were working to remove the footage. My WhatsApp feed was full of hundreds of messages talking about the brutal scenes showing a shooter killing at least 49 people at point-blank range. My friends wondered how they would prevent their children from seeing this, how they would explain the senseless slaughter.
The terrorist who live-streamed his horrific acts has succeeded in sending a message to other like-minded individuals that Muslims deserve to die. He has succeeded in striking fear into the hearts of millions of people around the world, particularly those of us living as religious minorities in societies that may have become increasingly uneasy with our presence.
It isn’t as though sectarian violence is a new phenomenon in our world; there are killings between and within faith communities at almost any moment, somewhere.
There is immense shock though when this happens in countries where there is a promise and expectation that people of all faiths and backgrounds will co-exist in harmony. It shatters a collective sense of safety. It reminds us that there are those who are willing to use violence to hurt and divide us.
Those who oppose inclusive multicultural communities are becoming more empowered in a world in which they can radicalize among like-minded co-conspirators and supporters online. They have become more vocal and more dangerous. New Zealand isn’t alone in having to confront the ugly reality of white supremacist ideology. There are at least 100 far-right groups in Canada, at last count. Hate crimes are on the rise in this country, particularly those targeting Muslim, Jewish, black, Arab or West Asian communities.
We know that the Quebec City mosque shooter was influenced by a coterie of the who’s who of the American far-right. The New Zealand gunman reportedly had the Quebec City shooter’s name etched on his weapons.
When our federal government finally tried to address Islamophobia, racism and religious discrimination in 2017, the effort was met with even more hate in the form of rallies and online threats. Some politicians even played along, suggesting that the whole exercise was simply a way to shut down freedom of expression.
Subsequent government consultations to confront racism had to be held behind closed doors to avoid the backlash.
If we are to learn anything from this latest attack on our cherished right to practise our faith freely and without fear, it is that we all have a duty to confront hatred unequivocally. We need to hold each other to a higher standard, and we must demand better from those with any power to fix what’s breaking in our societies.
No one should be this afraid.