Dear Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten,
I am an Australian Muslim woman. I am highly educated and hold a professional job. In fact, I spend a great deal of my working life with the Australian legal system. I am a wife. I am a mother. And tonight I am frightened, anxious and so very sad.
The tragedy that has occurred in Christchurch has pierced a hole in my heart that I cannot actually close. The grief is deep – these innocent people were simply praying when massacred by a man who had a deep disdain and hatred for them, not because they said or did anything but simply because they were Muslim.
Watching the images and hearing the eyewitness accounts is beyond traumatic. We have shed tears and expressed our hurt, but most of us have something in common – as hard as it is to say this, we are not surprised or shocked.
Why? Because we have lived with this fear for a long time now. Genuine fear that our lives are at risk simply because we are Muslim.
I am someone who has received death threats, been vilified through the tabloids, subjected to petitions to remove me from my employment and regularly received hate mail because I am Muslim, so perhaps the threats hit close to home.
I also have had the opportunity to research and present about Islamophobia in Australia and know full well the experiences of many Muslims who are attacked and vilified because of their faith.
Our fear does not exist in a vacuum. It resides and is increased in a society where our leaders sit in a parliament where it is OK to call Islam a “disease”; where it is OK to refer to a “final solution” when talking about Muslim presence in society; where it is OK to wear and ridicule our religious attire as if it is nothing more than scrap material; where it is OK to say that we made a “mistake” to let Muslims come to this country in the 1970s; where it is OK to say that Muslims don’t condemn terrorism even though Muslim leaders have issued more statements condemning terrorism than they have on any other topic; where it is OK to make Muslims feel that they do not belong!
Our fear is created not because we ask for it – although many say that if you wear a hijab or write about Muslim issues, then this is all part of the territory. Well, is it?
Toughen up, they say, be resilient; this happens to all new migrants – soon it will be another group that gets picked on. Those comments don’t reflect our society, they say; Australia is not a racist country – after all you can’t be racist towards Muslims because Islam is not a race.
I don’t care what you call it – racism, Islamophobia or xenophobia – today these terms are now meaningless to me. They don’t help me talk to my teenage children about these attacks, they don’t help me to stop their pain as they try to make sense of why the country they are born in sometimes doesn’t feel like home. They also don’t help me explain how after today’s events a senator can use an Australian parliamentary letterhead to blame Muslims for the killings!
Prime Minister and Mr Shorten, it was great to see you say the right things today but it was so very painful. So many people today genuinely seemed shocked – how do you deal with a situation where the attacks were clearly anti-Islamic, so much so that not even the media outlets could mask it – this was a terrorist attack from a right-wing extremist.
I want to call out to them – why couldn’t you realise that when you failed to call out the attacks on Muslims, when you used dog-whistling rants to fuel your election prospects and when you failed to show courage in the face of shock jocks who demonise Islam, that this is where we would end up?
Let me make it clear that I am not laying the blame for the attacks at anyone’s feet other than the perpetrators but that does not mean I cannot call out the context that allows such views to flourish. A context in which we dehumanise Muslims simply because of their faith.
Isn’t it time we realised we cannot continue with divisive politics. Isn’t it time our leaders showed some moral courage and recognised that “terrorism” and “violence” is not a “Muslim” thing but something that will come from a society that lacks understanding and compassion. Extremism in all its forms needs to be called out. We need to ensure that we create a society where we all belong, one in which we see past our differences and see our common humanity.
No doubt the coming days will see the best of our society come forward and stand in solidarity with Muslims – because I have no doubt that we live in the best country on earth. Shoulder to shoulder we will stand strong and not let this tragedy define our society.
But today please understand we are grieving. Today we cannot stop crying and nothing will ease our pain. And tonight, Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten, as you place your heads on your pillow, please remember the pain we are going through; believe us when we say we are scared, and most importantly please have the moral courage to go beyond the grand statements that are about gaining votes and make a commitment to create a cohesive society where we all feel we can belong.
The writer is a former executive member of the Muslim Womens Association NSW whose identity is known to Guardian Australia