On March 15, at least 50 people were killed and another 50 were injured in a mass shooting at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Churchchrist. Sadly, instead of being met with free worship in a holy space these people were met with hatred, danger, and insurmountable violence. For me, I was shook by the terror that took place. Although I am not desensitized to these senseless moments, I am aware that these things are not uncommon and will remain present unless we address the issues of white nationalism and white supremacy for what they are—hatred.
This tragic event happened on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, when many practicing Muslims attend various worship services at their respective mosques.
“It is a racial thing. But yes, the religious aspect does connect as well. But, I believe it is racial.” says Danzel Jones, minister in training at Rehoboth Lighthouse Full Gospel Church in Haverhill. Jones has been in training for 10 years and grew up at Lighthouse, “Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish so on and so forth, every time something like this happens it’s always at a place of worship for people of color.”
Since the tragedies of 9/11, the Muslim population and others have been targeted and demonized in ways that only fuel separation and angst. The belief that the Muslim population is one of hate and destruction still exists today, even though, in reality, the faith focuses primarily on declarations of faith, the paying in alms or charity, and fasting.
For many people like myself, hearing the news about what took place in New Zealand only reminded me of the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and other times that white nationalism has plagued the religious spaces of people of color—specifically black people. In the past, there were attacks on the lives on Jewish people and anti-Semitism is still very present in America. However, the Jewish community was welcomed into society in ways that other groups of people have not. Also, many people who identify as Jewish are also white-passing. Therefore, decreasing the chance of being assaulted, insulted, or attacked for what they believe or what they look like.
The first recorded burning burning of a black church occurred in South Carolina in the early 19th century. Since then, church arson has been one of many default responses of racists who were upset with progression.
The reason black churches remain a target is because this space has always been a symbol of direct hope in the face of American racism. It serves a beacon to the African American community. Churches also were hubs for civil rights organizations. Because of this, the black church became an easy target for groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which began burning and bombing houses of worship across the South.
Hate crimes within the United States have increased each year since 2016. This increase is part due to police departments reporting more hate crime data to the FBI. The other factor is the spread of dangerous rhetoric by President Trump and other political figures. Although this normalization of hate speech is specific to America, feelings and alignments have no border walls. Referring to the white nationalists that marched in Charlottesville as “fine” people and equating immigrants with criminals has enduring effects.
Within the United States alone, there have been one to 11 or more anti-mosque incidents in all but six states in the country according to a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union. Those state are North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Alaska, Vermont, and Delaware. Massachusetts has somewhere between five and 10 anti-mosque incidents.
“It is true that thoughts and prayers are appreciated and welcome,” said Danzel. “But at the same time, what else I can I do besides pray to support these people?”
Support for the Muslim community can be specific to each individual. Some may prefer sentiments and words of support. Others may feel the need for something more prominent.
“I think some people were genuinely saddened by the situation, but I don’t think that was the proper support for the Muslim community,” said Hibo Moallim who is a practicing member of the Muslim faith. “I don’t mean to compare tragedies but with seeing city is shut down and laid up and colors just to support Paris after what happened. Filters and flags everywhere. I didn’t see this type of support for my community. But instead we saw the media make excuses for why this terrorist did what he did. “
We see this type of bias in many incidents and media has a way of making sure we do not miss them. The glorification of the white experience is both conscious and subconscious while the demise or trauma for black and brown people is secular in comparison.
Removing the narrative of the white experience being the default experience is heavy work. Society as we know it revolves around what it means to exist as a white person. However, connecting people and molding those relationships between those who believe similarly and those who do not is what is most important in this case after confronting our racial prejudices and biases.
“People are people,” said Louis De Leon who identifies as agnostic. “And when people go through trauma or hard-times we should be empathetic regardless of race or religion or anything like that.”
At the core, we are all human. Sadly, there is a strong feeling that there is hierarchal value to different lives. Our society, our justice system, and our lack of empathy have proven that to be a fact. In order to come out of this, we must truly face the ugliest parts of who we are in order to produce a world that is more open, honest, and reflective of who we truly want to be.
In the end, sending prayers and thoughts in horrific times is nice and welcomed. However, faith without work is dead. And we as a people have a lot of work to do.