Yesterday I met my cousin – although he was killed in cold blood a few days ago, at the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand. I ‘met’ him upon visiting his aunt’s house, where I learned much more about this ambitious 33-year-old whose life was cut so short.
While my cousin Atta Elayyan lived in Kuwait and later New Zealand, I was living in Jordan and North America, and we never crossed paths. During my visit, I heard about how kind and supportive he was to his family; how intelligent and ambitious he was as a tech entrepreneur establishing his own company, and how energetic and athletic he was as a member of New Zealand’s national futsal team.
His father, Mohammed Elayyan, who founded the Alnoor Mosque in Christchurch, was also injured in the shooting. I struggled to hold back my tears as I saw a video of Atta’s father speaking from his hospital bed about Islam being a religion of love and the need to love one another. Mohammed had spearheaded efforts to assist the local community during the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, providing food and shelter in the mosque to many.
These past couple of days, I’ve been reading news items addressing this terror attack, including reports analysing how the media disproportionately blames terror attacks globally on Muslims. This propaganda is effectively brainwashing many, and increasing hate and distrust between people. Yet these reports fall short, not only in their scope of what they cover but also what they fail to mention.
First, Muslims have been the biggest victims of such attacks globally. One such contrast I remember includes the awful January 2015 terror attacks in France, which killed 17 people. This was followed, rightly, by global outcry with dozens of world officials gathering in France and leading a massive march in Paris in protest. In July 2016, a single terrorist attack killed close to 400 people, mostly Muslims, in Baghdad’s Karrada district. For the most part, this barely made a blip on the radar of global media, with the victims dying silently. This was just one terror attack among hundreds of others against Muslims.
Second, the fact is that many terrorist groups in the world today including IS, who have killed so many Muslims as they did in the aforementioned attack, have in part been created by actions of the West. Even the name given to such groups – ‘Islamic State’ – further divides East and West, giving non-Muslims the illusion that these groups are acting under the name of Islam itself, or somehow with the implicit consent of Muslims.
Third, and perhaps most significantly of all, is the terror perpetrated by various Western governments, most notably the USA, which continue to kill millions globally and throughout history. When looking at individual terrorist attacks like those committed by white supremacists in Christchurch, we must not forget the wars and oppression waged on Muslims in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Palestine and elsewhere. These are the epitome and manifestation of terror, practiced against civilian populations. We must never be naïve enough to accept the actions of governments when they attempt to shroud the massacres, wars and terror they perpetrate and perpetuate.
And yet, despite all of this and despite the millions of Muslims who continue to be killed by mostly white men in positions of power, the vast majority of the world’s 1.6billion Muslims do not hate the West or people from other religions. This sentiment could not have manifested itself more clearly than when one of the first victims to be killed at the Alnoor mosque greeted the terrorist coming to kill him with words of love, saying “hello, brother”.
The attack has backfired on this white supremacist, and the love shown towards the Muslim community has magnified his failure. My cousin leaves behind his wife and two-year-old daughter. Hopefully, if we all work together hard enough, she can grow up in a world better than ours.
Rifat Audeh is a lifelong human rights activist and award-winning filmmaker