March 2019

Trigger warning: terrorism 

This week marked three years since the Christchurch terrorist attack in Aotearoa New Zealand. Words cannot describe (and certainly won’t be able to for decades to come)  the ripple this appalling act has caused the families whose loved ones were stripped from, their wider Islamic community and also to the minority communities that span through the length and breadth of this country.

A common reaction to this event was a moment of realization of ‘wow I can’t believe this happened here’. Regrettably, this is a result of the normalization of events of this nature occurring in the Middle East or non-Western states where war and terror is the only characteristic we see associate them with. While there is a large discussion to be had about the decade’s worth of media and political influence that has led to the current stigma, what I do know is that there is an exponential amount of unlearning and internalizing to process as privileged nations in the Western world.

15 March 2019 to this day still stirs up knots in the pit of my stomach. Coming from a country torn and polarized by civil war, it was a moment of realignment for me. Just like in the movies where the camera zooms out of the main character to show how minuscule they are compared to the rest of this very coloured and entangled universe. 

As a family we made the move to this far away land that promoted greener pastures and happier times, my parents wanted to plant roots in a place where uncertainty was a second thought. Less ‘what ifs’ and more ‘how abouts’. The day of the attacks shocked the very core of our intent. For the first time since moving to Aotearoa, my father told me to be careful out there. At this moment almost all my security was ripped from us in front of our eyes and we were exposed to the realities of the society we live in. I remember crying on my way to my car and trying to pull it together before work. 

Now please don’t get me wrong, this country has given me a fantastic education and also the opportunities to pursue my passions, however, the racial bias and systemic racism that have founded these systems still need to be internalized and decolonized. 

It is appalling that it took an event like this to cause society as we knew it to stop and think. It reflected that behind our picturesque mountains and adventure parks, we have those horrific thinkers on the prowl to terrorize, in our own backyards. It revealed a very unsettling culture of ‘casual’ racist jokes. Stereotypes that diminished the worth of those who did not sit at par with the privileged became humorous talking points in most of our conversations. I have to admit, even I had to deeply internalize my own behavior toward this. 

At the time, as someone who had moved to this country 12 years ago, I had felt (and still do) acceptance by some of my closest friends and teachers. But sadly I had realized for over a decade I had been the target of a casual racist ‘joke’. While these seem harmless, this is where the seeds of hate sprout for those who have not walked the same path as you have. 

I am uncertain what my intention was for this particular blog post, I just needed to vent and share my thoughts, I guess. Although I spent a good few days where I found myself weeping in agony for those lives lost, at the same time I felt proud to be a New Zealander after seeing the outpour of support from people across the nation and from those closest to me, even my lecturers at University. (shout out to the superstar of a lecturer and friend Emily O’Hara – I will never forget your love and support). At these moments where pockets of love emerged from the dark, I knew there was hope for change.  

Published by Shawn Wimalaratne

Storyteller

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