Check yourself: The vital role we play in the Christchurch shootings aftermath

by Fatumata Bah / 06 May, 2019

A floral tribute at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. 51 people were killed, and many are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire on two Christchurch mosques on Friday, 15 March. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks, it’s more important than ever to be conscious of what information we consume and share online, Fatumata Bah writes.

As the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, I cannot help but think about the families of the Christchurch terror attack victims. The victims left behind 33 spouses, 90 sons and daughters, and more than 100 siblings. This Ramadan will be the families’ first without their loved ones, having had them brutally taken away just weeks beforehand.

Ramadan, due to start on Tuesday 7 May, depending on the sighting of the moon, is supposed to be a month of reflection, self-betterment, charity and family.

Families gather together to eat in the early hours of the morning (suhur) before sunrise and perform the Fajr prayer. We will be fasting – nil by mouth for the entire day (yes, not even water!) until the sun sets in the late afternoon or early evening, for the whole month.

Families gather again at the end of the day, when the sun has set, just after the Maghrib prayer to break their fasts (iftar), usually eating dates first and drinking milk or water, followed by many traditional cultural delicacies or family favourites.

We enjoy each other’s company, eating and praying together; just like families of lost loved ones everywhere, holidays, significant religious events or life milestones are the hardest.

I cannot also help but think, perhaps the Auckland Eid Day event at the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), to celebrate the end of the fasting month, may be cancelled. A fun day filled with bouncy castles for the kids, face painting, games, stalls selling traditional food and clothing, it represents the diversity within the Muslim community.  Other events have been cancelled, like the Pasifika Festival and Rock the Park, because of security concerns. What should be celebrations of New Zealand’s different communities, appear to be an opportunity to maximise hatred and violence for others.

Following the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka and the loss of 253 lives, it would be easy to think that there is prevalent religious conflict or disharmony around the world. There is an inclination to link the Sri Lanka bombings to the Christchurch shootings as revenge, a retaliation or response. Given the attack on the mosques in Christchurch on March 15 was merely six weeks before the Sri Lanka bombings, it is unlikely that the logistics and planning of a coordinated, simultaneous attack could have taken place within that short timeframe.

As we analyse the causes of these atrocities, I hope that we will look beyond the symptoms and move away from the simplistic narrative and acknowledge that power is at the root cause. Ideological extremism is used as a weapon to divide communities and achieve the political agenda of a select few.

As we progress through these precarious times, I continue to hope that we check ourselves. We cannot underestimate the words of the institutions who wield considerable power, the power of our words and the impact that they will have on others. We need to check the narratives that we consume and are feeding into as well. We must also acknowledge the role that the media plays and the legitimacy of “news”, as well as the spread of false information.

In response to the rise in disinformation (false information intended to mislead) and its numerous consequences, such as health scares, false accusations leading to racial and religious disharmony and hoax stories, the UK government started a “Don’t feed the beast” campaign and developed a useful checklist that everyone can use before liking, commenting or sharing news articles or content online. It was created to ensure that individuals don’t contribute to the spread of harmful content and that they don’t feed the beast, which symbolises the dangerous, divisive narratives present in society today.

The S.H.A.R.E checklist suggests certain aspects of an article or online content to consider before sharing it.

The S.H.A.R.E checklist suggests certain aspects of an article or online content to consider before sharing it.

Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern has received praise worldwide for her empathetic, yet strong response and swift action. As I sat in the Lincoln centre, in New York, attending the 10th annual Women in the World Summit, I was in awe with the number of times Jacinda was mentioned, from Oprah Winfrey during the opening night, to numerous panellists and moderators to Hilary Clinton and Anna Wintour. I also couldn’t help but think how sad it is, that we live in a society where a simple act of genuine kindness (on the political world stage) is considered a rarity and a welcome contrast to the norm.

As the Prime Minister prepares to co-chair the “Christchurch Call” summit in Paris on May 15, alongside French president Emmanuel Macron, calling upon world leaders and technology leaders to acknowledge their significant role and accountability, we must also acknowledge that while small, we also play a vital role and have a “Christchurch Call” of our own.

Ramadan Mubarak (Have a blessed Ramadan) and Kia tau te Rangimarie (Peace be upon you).

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