In wake of Christchurch shooting, Oaklanders stand against Islamophobia

on March 20, 2019

In the wake of the recent mass shootings in New Zealand, on Monday Oakland residents came together as one at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater for a candlelight vigil against Islamophobia.

Hundreds of Oaklanders and citizens from across the Bay Area came out to mourn the 50 people who lost their life on March 15 in two different attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand: The Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. San Francisco’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) held the vigil to honor those lives and to express solidarity with their brothers and sisters, and all those targeted by white nationalism. 

“It’s an important reminder for all of us to not stand alone in this sadness and grief,” said Sabiha Basrai, Co-Coordinator of Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, who attended the vigil. Basrai said that people should recommit not only to international solidarity, but also “to local solidarity against racist violence right here in Oakland.”

Other organizations such as Bay Resistance, Yemeni Alliance Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area, Showing Up for Racial Chapter-Bay Area Chapter, NorCal Sabeel and others joined in on short notice. Community leaders including Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan spoke to give awareness that Oakland will not stand for Islamophobia. “We are united. … The hateful rhetoric that has been coming from the top levels of the United States government is unacceptable,” said Kaplan. “It does not reflect what we stand for.  … We must not allow the white supremacists to divide us against each other. When my cousins are under attack, I am under attack.” 

AROC members said that the attacks on the mosque were driven by a white nationalism that also fuels attacks on black churches and Jewish synagogues, as well as assaults on migrants to the United States. 

“White supremacy is the normative aspect of western civilization,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, who teaches in the Near Eastern Studies and Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley, and spoke at the event. “It’s almost a mockery on the ideals of civilization. And I think it’s very important that we point out what is this about—who are the perpetrators and what type of ideology. Because this is nothing new. Until we begin to name what it is, then you are almost creating an erasure, while you are recognizing the pain that people are going through.”

Ahmed Mohssen, a native of Christchurch who attended the vigil, said that even as people as a collective are condemning white supremacy, they should not forget those who were lost. “It was important that I remind everyone of who they were,” said Mohssen. “People often forget that. They get caught up in numbers, logistics. They forget the actual people that we need to honor and remember.”

People at the vigil said the same white nationalism that was behind the Christchurch attacks has also been expressed by members of the Trump administration in supporting the “Muslim ban” which prevents people from Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States, the bipartisan Islamophobic attacks on Congresswoman IIhan Omar, and the forced separation of families at the border.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump stated that he does not think white nationalism is on the rise. But it is. According to the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, between 2008 and 2016, far-right plots and attacks by white supremacists outnumbered those inspired by Islamist groups such as ISIS by almost 2 to 1. Most recently, these attacks by white supremacists included the deaths of 11 people killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue; a protester being struck by a vehicle in Charlottesville, Virginia; six people being killed at a mosque in Quebec City, Canada; and nine being killed at a historic black Christian church in Charleston, South Carolina.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating across America rose to an all-time high of 1,020 in 2018, marking the fourth straight year of hate group growth, a 30 percent increase coinciding with Trump’s campaign and presidency. The number of hate groups declined for three consecutive years near the end of Obama’s administration.

“Part of what is intended by these violent attacks is to make us cower and to stay more separate,” said Kaplan at the vigil. “Part of how we resist the intention of the white supremacist attackers is by being together and shameless in our expression in our commitment to our unity.”

And while the event was somber, attendees spoke about the importance of creating change.

“We are lucky to be living in this time, because we have the resources, the voices, the people, to make a beautiful and amazing future for everyone in the world,” said Mohssen. “Immigrant to no immigrant—everyone.”

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