Yesterday morning I woke up to the news that 49 people had been killed in a shooting of two Mosques in New Zealand, 48 more have been hospitalised with serious injuries. This broke my heart. Naively I had always looked at my home country as a safe haven from all the unspeakable atrocities happening in the rest of the world. Even as our neighbour, Australia, faced increasing islamophobia, racism, acts of violence and treated its refugees as prisoners. As horrified as I was to hear about these acts of violence; the hatred and fear so close to our borders, I kept my resolve – New Zealand is different. Now I see I was living in a fantasy, blind to the issues faced by my fellow countrymen and women.
A week ago I started drafting a post outlining the widespread riots that have ravaged my city and many parts of France each weekend for the last three months. I spoke about the fear, the anger and the danger we face here. Each weekend buildings burn to the ground, property is destroyed and violence is widespread; the death count is now 10 in Paris. These protests will eventually peter out, but the driving force behind them will not until real change is made.
Hatred and fear have been left to run wild across the world. Global mindset has shifted to a populace that believes anything different is wrong and should be eliminated. We have become a world unable to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, because it is easier to believe the leaders telling us that “others” are to blame. Hitler, a well spoken, passionate man, rallied an entire country against a common enemy. He blamed Germany’s hardships on the actions of the Jewish people, and successfully kickstarted one of the darkest periods in human history. Every war has began when we stopped seeing the humanity in others, and let ourselves be guided by manipulative, fearful people. The truth is, however, that there is never one group, one ideology or one cause to blame. The world is rarely so black and white. I hold my own convictions and beliefs, but that does not mean anyone who holds other beliefs is my enemy, or automatically wrong. They deserve to speak and be heard just as I do.
When I was 15 I attended a Model UN event in Auckland. There I met another young woman, lets call her Inaya. Inaya was a Muslim attending an all girls school within her community just outside of the city, she wore a headscarf and followed many of the traditional rules and guidelines of her culture. I was drawn to her, and she to me, if only out of curiosity. I was an out and proud gay girl, with loud opinions and unwavering convictions. I saw Inaya as everything I didn’t want for myself, which I now understand to be the belief of a young and ignorant girl. Inaya and I spent hours navigating the wide difference between our lives and our convictions. I learned that she, classified as a woman in her culture, was not allowed to touch people of the opposite sex. I told her stories of the lesbian couple who’s child I babysat for, the time I’d kissed a boy at a party (before I’d come out!) and my life as a gay kid in a catholic school. Eventually I asked her if she wore her head scarf out of choice. Her school required her to wear it on school grounds, it was part of a mandatory uniform, but she also told me it had been a choice in the rest of her life. It was her daily sign of respect to a God she loved, and a community she adored. As we hugged goodbye at the end of the week she commented “You know, you’re the first gay person I’ve ever hugged”.
That day changed my life, and the way I viewed those different from me forever. I learned an incredibly valuable lesson, even though Inaya and I would never agree on much, and were desperately different, we could still choose to listen and understand, rather than leap directly into fear and hatred of “the other”. I like to think I showed Inaya that queer people are not to be condemned, that we are people too. Just as she showed me that strong, intelligent women often make the choice to follow their religion for all the right reasons.
We need to start listening, we need to create an open dialogue between all people. “Stay woke” is something often repeated online, and I love the idea behind it, but it needs to be more than that. Get engaged, read the news from sites with different political leanings. Get out there and speak your mind, fight for what you believe in, but listen to what others are fighting for at the same time. Take an issue in which you hold a strong conviction, and ask yourself, “Is my opinion based in fact?” “Is this my opinion, or my parents?” and lastly “How and why is my opinion criticised by those I disagree with?”. Sit with these questions, and if you’re feeling brave seek out those who hold differing opinions and ask them! You do not have the only opinions, beliefs and convictions in this world, and you are not always right. By listening to those who are different from us, we learn empathy, and we may begin to find our way through seemingly impassable differences. Our voices together can make a difference, this begins with voting.
Narrow points of view, fear caused by ignorance and the ever widening gap between “us” and “them” is the driving force behind these terrible acts of brutality. Let’s change this; educate ourselves, make informed decisions, make an effort to understand those who are different from us, just as Inaya did with me. In her culture I am seen as immoral and would be a pariah, but she took the time to see me as a human being, and that changes everything.
Illustrations by Amani Haydar and Ruby Jones