Rana Zaman wrote this letter while in New York, attending a United Nations conference as a delegate for the Voice of Women for Peace.
To my horror, I learned from social media that there has been another attack at a mosque that has left 49 people dead and almost 50 injured in New Zealand.
The sheer number of people dead is inconceivable to me, but sadly, not the heinous act itself.
I can deeply empathize with the victims in New Zealand, having experienced it as a Canadian Muslim two years ago when the Quebec Mosque shooting took place in my country. We should not be surprised with increased acts of terrorism against Muslims; the signs were there, clear as day. Political figures hoping to rise to power by pandering to the alt right groups and their nationalist agenda, have been spewing anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric on social media and in hate groups.
The excessive negative media coverage of violent acts committed by extremist groups has become amplified and contributes to the stereotyping of Muslims as violent people to be feared and hated.
We have a pretty good idea of what is behind the rise of Islamophobia, so now what are we going to do about it?
There are no perfect solutions but we can start by taking a few steps in the hope of preventing future acts of violence.
- Start by acknowledging that Islamophobia exists and that we have a growing problem with racism and xenophobia.
- Social media needs to be held accountable for allowing their platforms to be used to target minority groups with hate speech.
- We need to hold hateful people accountable by revising the current laws on hate speech, since the laws as they are make it almost impossible for people to be charged and convicted.
- Anti-hate strategies need to be implemented by governments to counter the Islamophobic and xenophobic narrative coming from not only alt right groups, but also right-wing politicians.
- Media outlets like Rebel Media and Breitbart should not be left unchecked. They should be held accountable for incessantly targeting Muslims with negative rhetoric that many times is misleading and only serves to fuel alt right and white supremacist groups.
- Governments should hold all officials accountable for their support or their affiliations with these types of individuals, groups or media outlets.
Yesterday, my emotional state was a mixture of emotions and feelings ranging from horror, heartache, fear, disgust, vulnerability, helplessness and more. The one feeling that always manages to rise above them all is hope.
That hope was reinforced by the show of solidarity and support by my friends from home, and the leaders, speakers, and delegates, attending the 63rd conference of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. I felt so excited and blessed to have been attending this session as a delegate for Voice of Women for Peace, and I had been looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from others to improve the lives of women around the world.
I never imagined I’d be attending a Friday prayer held in the lounge of the UN, listening to a sermon expressing sadness at the loss of life but at the same time celebrating it. I was reminded of how short life can be and that we must always make the best of it. You see, for a Muslim, death during prayers or doing Haj (holy pilgrimage to Mecca) is considered a blessing and strengthens us to perform our prayers diligently. To die while praying is a death none of us would fear.
This new act of terrorism will not keep us from our Mosques, quite the contrary we will flock to them with greater dedication.
Faith is stronger than fear and love more powerful than hate!
Stay blessed everyone, peace and solidarity.
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