We provide our alumni with a platform to share their voices on critical issues that impact them. We stand by and support them as they engage each other across lines of conflict and tell their truths to the wider world.
In response to the March 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, here are some of these voices, with more being added daily:
Pious (2008 Maine Educator)
The New Zealand shooting is terrorism, committed by a Nativist white supremacist. My heart goes out to the families of the victims and all those impacted by this act of terror. Now those of us who want to co-exist with each other, let us continue working towards countering acts like this with love and compassion for all humans.
Danish (2015 Pakistani Delegation)
I couldn’t stop thinking about the attack for quite a time. But then I saw love, empathy, humanity, and peace prevailing in the small acts of the people all around the globe, especially in New Zealand.
The way New Zealanders have responded to this terrorist attack is a great example of how we can fight the hate, Islamophobia, and terrorism in this world together.
Prayers for all the victims and their families. More power to New Zealand’s prime minister for standing against this horrific incident.
Let us all of us play our humble part through our words and deeds against hate, violence, Islamophobia, brutality, terrorism, and every act against humanity.
Ruba (1994 Palestinian Delegation)
I have watched the video of the New Zealand massacre over and over again to make sense of what happened. But it seems so unreal. It could be a movie or a video game, but definitely not reality. This guy is not mentally sick. He is blinded by his ideology. People all over the world have become blinded. When will we come to our senses?!
Jasir (2011 Pakistani Delegation)
Isolating the terrorist attack in New Zealand as a one random instance is hypocrisy. The event is a result of years of systematic Islamophobia through western media and governments. Reducing Islam to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban (all products of intervention of Western powers in Islamic countries), will only increase the incidence of hate-based crimes. May the Western world have the moral courage to see through its own hypocrisies and years of discrimination against Muslims.
Doron (2008 Israeli Delegation)
My heart goes to all of the victims of the massacre in New Zealand. To all my Muslim friends: I am sorry. To the world: We can do better than this. We must.
Ahmed (2000 Egyptian Delegation)
Is there a clash of civilizations? Is there a global crisis embodied in a Judeo, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Atheist, Agnostic, Non-denominational, LGBTQ+, Straight, Brown, White, Yellow, Red, and Black maelstrom of a rift … etc?
No, there isn’t. But there is a clash between those who accept our increasingly multicultural world and those who want to forcibly and violently paint it in one color, be it creed, color, sexual orientation or whatever other facet that can be exploited for the dehumanization of others, and the subsequent self aggrandization.
You can see this clash in the genocide of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar by Buddhists, the internment of millions of Muslim Uighurs in China, the radicalism of ISIS and its targeting of civilians worldwide and its infatuation with killing other Muslims in droves, the Zionist occupation with its ethnic cleansing tactics, the rampant anti-semitism and anti-Western sentiment in Islamic and Arab countries which is fanned by the very despotic rulers that are propped by the West, the Sunni-Shiite conflicts, the specter of the Catholic-Protestant ethno-nationalist conflict in Ireland, the targeting and displacement of Muslims by Indian nationalists, the targeting and displacement of Coptic Christians in rural upper Egypt, and, of course, White supremacy in its violent form.
All these are examples of conflicts or ideological clashes that came into being due to multifactorial reasons, but what’s important is that they all culminated in ideologies where people bandwagon other groups of people based on distinguishable characteristics and then go on to vehemently and violently seek their removal from a given area. These ideologies perpetrate dehumanizing them and ultimately killing them, and can be found everywhere in today’s world, and this is the bad news.
The good news is that we are becoming a multicultural world. Nearly every major city is full of diverse groups of people coexisting and enriching their cities through their diversity: economically, culturally, and intellectually. The same goes for any major university campus. So we have two forces in play; ideologies of coexistence and ideologies of violent removal of the other.
There is a difference, however, between coexistence and assimilation. I have no qualms with a white supremacist wanting to only associate with other white people, as long as they abide by the laws of the land, and bring no harm to others.
Similarly, I have no problem with someone wanting to live in New York’s Chinatown and only associate with the Chinese community. Human beings should be free to associate with whomever they want, and to promote their way of life, as long as it doesn’t involve hate peddling, violence towards others, or breaking the laws of the land. So we are at a clash of civilizations between those who are happy with our increasingly globalized and multicultural world and those who want to violently remove one type of people from the equation.
Perhaps that’s why New Zealand was targeted. It was one of the few places left on Earth that the virus of these diabolical ideologies hadn’t touched. It would be naive to think that this will be the end of it—in fact, deaths as a result of these ideologies are happening as I write this post, and they will keep on happening. It is heart-wrenching that the violence of these ideologies has reached New Zealand’s shores, but the silver lining is that New Zealand has shown the world how best to react to the violence of these ideologies.
Thank you, New Zealand, for how you handled this tragic and heinous terrorist attack. I hope that the rest of the world is taking notes.
Ashraf (2015 Fellow)
We were humans once, a while ago, a long time ago. Before we were slaughtered by white supremacists in our places of worship, before we were bombed to win an election, before they put us in concentration camps, refugee camps, cages and shackles, we were human. Once … not anymore.
We are now subjects, not human. We are to be massacred, incited, incarcerated, convinced and convicted, raped, and led to believe that all of this is normal. Led to believe that somehow our existence depends on the suffering of others: slave, second-class citizen, militarily occupied, Muslim, Jew, Queer, Black, Native, woman … a hostage we can get our hands on when we’re fed up with being poor, unheard, or insignificant.
So we can pretend for a minute we are not human. Not fragile, sensitive, empathetic, reasonable, thoughtful, considerate, or afraid. We choose to represent the state and to kill those who criticize it. We are not humans; we are guns, tanks and assault rifles, patriots, and so goddamn loyal we will follow our leader to the smoky back room and choke in there with him, not her, never her, never us.
We can’t lead shit, we can’t think for ourselves, who are we to make a reasonable decision and decide once and for all to stop and say “wait, what?”
But you are human. You are human and you are alive unlike countless victims, thousands of dead worshipers, drowned refugees, starved children, and forgotten passengers.
You are not a white supremacist, F16 pilot, soldier, martyr, or agent of state.
You are not even a voter, a representative, CEO, president or prime minister. You are a human being and I know you will do anything to forget you are, but you are, and we need you to remember that.
You need you to remember that, because we are so tired of reminding you and running under the covers of thoughts and prayers.
To my sisters and brothers, be they Muslims in New Zealand and Hebron, Jews in Pittsburgh, Christians in Nigeria, or anyone, anywhere persecuted for their faith, we stand with you in spirit and through our work.
Micah (2004 American Delegation)
So saddened by the tragic deaths in the mosque shootings in New Zealand. In their honor, The Jerusalem Youth Chorus is sharing Adinu, a Sufi chant whose words in Arabic mean “I believe in the religion of love.” Hatred based on religion or ethnicity is becoming more and more interconnected. Our love must be as well.
Nazaqat (2004 Indian Delegation)
What compels me to write this was the manner in which New Zealand, the families of those who lost their loved ones, and Muslim communities at large responded to the mosque shootings. The choice of ‘responded to’ and not ‘reacted to’ is deliberate given the maturity, magnanimity, responsibility, and wholeness with which they are dealing with the situation.
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has set a tone from which we can all learn. To start with, she refused to use the name of the man who mercilessly shot at those in prayer, and simply referred to him as a terrorist. This was important because very often, by naming the perpetrators, we give them the (misplaced) glory they seek.
A lot of what Ardern said in her speeches resonated deeply, most of all, the line, “They are us.” While it’s always easier to put the blame entirely outside and deal with issues superficially, as most people and world leaders do, Ardern took responsibility. She used this as an opportunity to introspect and put her own house in order by vowing to change gun laws and delivering on her promise one week later. It takes immense courage, integrity, and intellectual honesty to take one’s share of responsibility at a time like this and address an issue as fundamental and intrinsically linked as this.
Exactly a week after the shootings, Ardern, together with thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims, gathered outside the same mosque for Jummah prayer, letting the world know in no uncertain terms that New Zealand was one. Several non-Muslim women chose to wear head scarves, blurring the most obvious way of distinguishing Muslim women from non-Muslim women and sending out a strong message that the world was creating an artificial difference between Muslims and non-Muslims.
One of the names to be remembered and glorified is that of Naeem Rashid, who attacked the terrorist and diverted the terrorist’s attention to himself to give other worshippers an opportunity to escape. To have shown courage the presence of mind and been so selfless in the face of death speaks volumes about the man Naeem Rashid must have been. When his widow, Ambreen Rashid was interviewed, we learned that she had not only lost her husband but also her son, Talha.
Despite the pain, grief, and tremendous loss, Ambreen had not lost her faith in Islam, God, or the power of love and said she was ready to go to the same mosque again. She mentioned how she was not going to let the terrorist take away from her all her treasured and cherished memories of her family or the love in her heart. She felt sorry for the terrorist that he had so much hatred in his heart and didn’t have the love, peace, or contentment which she had.
Saba Khan, Naeem Rashid’s niece, made a pointed but pertinent observation during the interview. She said that she was extremely proud that the Muslim community was not generalizing the entire Australian population as the villain while acknowledging that it was the act of an individual and not of all Australians. Similarly, in the past, it was individuals who identified themselves with Islam who had carried out attacks and not the entire Muslim population.
Despite being the victim and having every reason to retaliate, Muslim communities have chosen to work towards solutions that are more long lasting and peaceful. Several Canadian mosques have joined together to invite local non-Muslims to visit and see for themselves what mosques are like and have a chance to understand Islam for what it truly stands for. The only way to dispel hatred, fear and ignorance is by shining light, and that’s what this campaign attempts to do.
Being Indian and in light of the recent attacks and airstrikes in India and Pakistan, I cannot help but acknowledge New Zealand and the Muslim community even more for the phenomenal and praiseworthy manner in which each segment of its society has responded.
Hannah (1999 American Delegation)
Watching Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, over the past few days has felt like a perfect example of why we need more female political leadership. She not only had a child (and took maternity leave!) during this administration, but also approached this crisis with a level of humility, grace, and gentleness that is so lacking in so many other places today.
I was so moved by the images of her in a hijab, hugging mourners with what appeared to be such genuine sorrow. She did not try to hide her anger or her purpose (changing gun laws or not saying the terrorist’s name for instance), but she made people feel included and respected.
I spoke with a good friend who is Muslim who said she cried when she saw her in a hijab and noted that even some of the most liberal American politicians have never set foot in a mosque.
I struggled at first to convey these ideas because I didn’t want to put Prime Minister Ardern in a box and say that only women can be gentle. Obviously that’s untrue—men can be gentle and calm and women can be aggressive!
However, the leadership Ardern showed this weekend was an alternative to so many of the mostly male examples we’ve seen around the world.
In order for our future leaders—both male and female—to learn to respond to conflict with empathy, gentleness, firmness, and real emotion we need more models like her. We need to learn from her behavior and we need to name what about her behavior was more typically “feminine” and demand that it be just the norm. From all of our politicians.
Chintan (2014 Indian Educator)
I was moved by the way in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded to the terror attack. I thought it was a beautiful example of compassionate and culturally sensitive leadership. In the last few days, however, I’ve been uncomfortable with how media coverage is focused on her as a hero rather than the people who have experienced loss. I guess we’re all so disillusioned with incompetent leaders—particularly men—everywhere in the world that we want to celebrate someone we see as humane and empathetic.
Pooja (2018 Fellow)
It took me a few days than usual to come in terms with what happened in Christchurch. We live in a time when horrific incidents ignite a wildfire of hatred and bigotry turning every bleeding heart into stone. How do you keep the heart bleeding for another? How does one continue to be human?
I just couldn’t churn out mere words and whisper prayers; been there, done that, one too many times. What more can we do?
What sent chills down my spine wasn’t the horrific mass shooting but my own lack of shock upon hearing the news on March 15, 2019.
“Yet another one.” I felt nauseous. But I wasn’t shocked—I was numb.
There’s only a sliver of difference between being numb and indifferent. I’ve devoted my life to this constant fight between the two: how not to be weighed down by numbness or let myself or others be indifferent.
Working hard to remember my own humanity and imploring others to do the same is a difficult place to be. A place where one would hope for silver linings to give you the strength to pursue love while drowning in the deluge of hate.
I would never say that there are silver linings in this tragedy. There’s never any silver lining in any tragedy. However, there are rays of sunshine that emerge and fill your soul with the promise of a bright, sunny day.
Jacinda Ardern, the fearless prime minister of New Zealand, is redefining leadership. Muslim communities whose resilience and steadfast faith brought the world closer beyond borders and beliefs. Khaled Beydoun remembering the names, faces, and lives of the 50 precious people we lost. Artists who’ve helped expressing this belching pain in color. The youth whose zeal and vigor gives the rest of us hope. The powerful haka tributes. People who stood outside and guarded mosques. Those who walked arm-in-arm with their Muslim brothers and sisters.
These are my rays of sunshine.
I want you to place a hand over your heart and celebrate yourself for turning to love.
And if you’d like to do one more thing, just one more, write a letter with me!
The non-profit organization I founded has launched a campaign, #LettersforChristchurch, and will be collecting letters of love and solidarity for the rest of the month. These handwritten letters will be delivered to the two mosques where the terrorist attacks happened and also to the families of those deceased.
There are always opportunities for us to be human. Here’s one.
Want to add your voice to this campaign? Comment in the space below, or if you are a Seed, Fellow, or Seeds of Peace Educator, send your reflections to firstname.lastname@example.org.