In the aftermath of the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks, Guled Mire found himself a reluctant spokesperson for the New Zealand Muslim community. His experiences in the year that followed are the subject of new Loading Docs documentary short One Year On.
Even as we approach a year and a half since that day, I struggle to find words to describe how I felt. I was at work in Auckland on March 15, 2019, when I first heard the news of the Christchurch terrorist attack. My heart broke as the ever increasing number of fatalities and wounded was reported. That Friday, if you were a Muslim, the day felt like a trauma that hit you and your community.
I was with a group of friends on the night of the attack. Our eyes glued to the news coverage, we couldn’t help but feel frustrated and unsatisfied with the analysis. In less than 24 hours, I unexpectedly and reluctantly found myself becoming a voice for the Muslim community while still coming to terms with the gravity of the devastation unfolding before me. I soon found myself on one of the biggest breakfast television shows in the country, speaking out about our shameful secret of racism and the conditions that paved the way for such a horrific hate-filled massacre to occur.
I remember being scared, and feeling the need to hold back from expressing what I really felt. After years of constantly finding ourselves having to condemn and say sorry for things we did not do, we had suddenly become victims and were under the microscope of the media. Instinctively, many of us that spoke up in the immediate aftermath felt that sense of defensiveness about being seen. It felt as though we had to suppress some of our frustrations and anger in the spotlight, almost as though we had to apologise for being there.
After spending time with the Muslim community in Christchurch and seeing what people went through, I resolved to be unapologetic, despite knowing the backlash it may generate. I soon found myself becoming the target of hate and abuse in comments sections, letters to editors, blogs, opinion pieces published in mainstream papers and personal emails. On numerous occasions, I was referred to as an “outsider”, an “ungrateful refugee” who should be thankful for New Zealand giving me and my family a safe haven. I would be lying if I said it didn’t get to me. I often contemplated shutting up and moving overseas just to be unseen.
But this was so much bigger than me, and I knew I had to stay strong for my community. Through everything, the realisation that there is still so much work required to help shape a safer, more welcoming and inclusive Aotearoa has kept me going. Each and every single one of us has a role to play in this space. As New Zealanders we tend to park up difficult conversations in the “too hard” basket. And if anything, the attacks have paved the way for us to begin having those uncomfortable conversations. But it should not and cannot become the sole responsibility of people like me and my community to ensure we continue to have uncomfortable conversations.
My experience as a single voice and some of the backlash I’ve received is a testament to the fact that we need more people to speak out about racism and discrimination. We have an opportunity to have an open and honest national dialogue about our grievances, inclusion and representation. The media has a crucial role to play with the latter, but I invite you to think about your role in paving the way for these much needed discussions.
I cannot stress the importance of ensuring that we create spaces to talk about the uncomfortable issues facing our communities. This means more than just once a year around the anniversary of the attacks. We owe it to the victims and survivors of this tragedy to let what happened on March 15 become the catalyst for change we so desperately need.
Guled Mire is the co-founder of Third Culture Minds, a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes for young New Zealanders of refugee and migrant background. He has recently received a Fulbright scholarship to undertake a Master of Public Administration specialising in Human Rights and Social Justice at Cornell University.