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Why did we ignore Islamophobia?

"This time it was not the earth that shook us, it was pure hate," writes Christchurch Muslim freelance writer Donna Miles-Mojab.

Islamophobia: you cannot tackle it if you don’t acknowledge it exists.

Let’s face it; we ignored it. We chose to look away. We chose to refuse to acknowledge that Islamophobia is a problem in New Zealand.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, I know - especially now that most of us feel so devastated by the news and feel so shocked that such an evil act can happen in a country full of love and tolerance.

But to many Muslims, especially hijabi Muslim women, the hate that gave rise to this evil act is not entirely unfamiliar.

I know of a Christchurch Muslim woman who was spat at on the face by a complete stranger as an expression of hate towards her head covering.

Others have had their scarf pulled off their head and told:

“Hey Mrs Bin Laden, my mother wants her tea towel back.”

And worse, much worse, Muslim women have been called: “Terrorist whore”, and “Jihadi bitch” and have been threatened: “We are gonna kill you.”

Horrifying, isn’t it? But you didn’t know about it, did you? Because often these things are not written about or reported on.

Three years ago, I wrote about this in an article entitled: “Is Islamophobia a problem in NZ?”

Don’t bother Googling it, it was never published.

The Press newspaper, to its credit, did publish an article in which I criticised the state of reporting on Muslims. The article was headlined: “Media’s approach hurts Muslims”. It was written in 2015 after the shooting of three Muslims in North Carolina which received minimal coverage at the time.

In that article, I argued the reporting on Muslims generally lacked balance and the media did not make a genuine effort to counter the bad with the good and so created a poor perception of Muslims and their culture.

I hope every news editor in the country will now read that article and reflect on whether or not they covered enough positive stories about Muslims or warned people enough against the dangers of Islamophobia.

There are many positive stories about Muslims that we don’t hear about.

For instance, how many of us know that the Muslim community in Canterbury is actively involved in feeding the homeless and the poor, serving food in freezing cold to people who need it?

How many of us know anything at all about the Muslim population in Canterbury?

There are close to 4000 Muslims living in Canterbury representing some 30 to 40 different ethnic groups.

The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study has tracked the attitudes of about 20,000 New Zealanders towards various ethnic communities for eight years and reported that warmth toward Muslim people tended to be the lowest.

We need to find out why that is and how we can address it.

An informal survey of 100 young Muslim women conducted by the Islamic Women Council New Zealand (IWCNZ) showed 80 percent were harassed or discriminated within the previous year.

But despite clear anecdotal evidence of Islamophobic abuse, the Ministry of Justice has almost no convictions for racial or religious abuse in New Zealand in the past 10 years.

Unless we acknowledge and take Islamophobic abuse seriously, we will not be able to stop the spread of its hateful message.

On the day of the shooting, I wept as I read the desperate messages that people were leaving on Facebook, trying to ascertain the safety of their friends and family.

It brought back the awful feelings of devastation after the Christchurch earthquakes, except this time it wasn’t the earth that shook us- it was pure hate.

Unfortunately I am not in the country at the moment but my husband and my son will be taking flowers to the mosque as a sign of respect and as affirmation that love exists and will always triumph over hate.

At this sad moment in our country’s history, I ask my fellow New Zealanders to recognise how dangerous demonising a marginalised group can become and to acknowledge that Islamophobia exists in New Zealand and needs to be stamped out.

But I also ask that we refrain from adopting a language of hate to tackle hate. It never works and it only drives us further apart.

Kia Kaha New Zealand.
 

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