A Wound that Needs Witnessing
Healing after Christchurch
In the aftermath of the slaughter of worshippers in a sacred space, it is easy to be angry. The targets of rage seem endless: at callow politicians who peddle in the most basic of human emotions and sling hateful words that morph into weapons; at white supremacy ideologies whose violences are rendered all the more malignant by their refusal to be named as such; at the immediacy with which victims became political fodder for anti-migrant zealots, where even as their lives were extinguished, they were expected to answer for their existence in New Zealand, in the West, in the world. It seems natural to feel exhausted by a political culture that sees Muslims through two lenses: as either perpetrators or victims of spectacular violence. Sometimes, we are made to occupy these two positions simultaneously, our suffering made less real by those voices, small and large, who say “they deserve it.”
These were some of the feelings I carried with me through much of Friday. That evening, I attended a peace vigil at the Rhoda Institute, a mosque atop Ottawa’s Beacon Hill. This is my community mosque, a small congregation with a simple, yet heavy mission: to sweep out darkness with light. In the days following the Christchurch terror attack, the imam of the mosque, Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa, made a special plea. He asked that in those same online spaces where hatred, fear, and violence are finding such easy purchase, more people be ambassadors of peace. And against the tide of paralyzing fear and negativity that can (understandably) overwhelm many Muslims when such attacks occur, to share messages, words, and acts of goodness.
It is true that wounds demand a witness — it is up to us to decide whether that witnessing will be driven by rage, pain, and hatred, or by love, forgiveness, and unity. I am trying to choose the latter, if not for my own sake, then to honor the beautiful principles of my faith and the faith that brought those 50 souls to the mosque on that Friday.
Two pictures are now making the rounds on social media, quickly becoming emblematic of what happened at Christchurch. One is of the shooter in court, his face blurred, his hand curled in a white supremacy gesture. The other is of a survivor of the attack, a man identified as Khaled AlJammali. Wounded and strapped to a gurney, his right index finger is raised to the sky. This gesture is one repeated daily by Muslims in prayer, as an affirmation of the Divine Unity in Oneness. In the days that follow, hard work must be done in all arenas — political, social, and spiritual, to combat the disease that is supremacist ideologies. As we embark on this work, let our anchor be what AlJammali points towards: an affirmation of oneness in the face of those that would see us divided, and a transcendence of the hatred that would seek to bring us all to ruin.
Safiyah Rochelle is a PhD candidate in Legal Studies at Carleton University, and a 2016 Visiting Scholar at the New School for Social Research, Politics Department.