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Condolences: Christchurch Mosque terror attack

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
19 March 2019

 Today we rise to mourn with the families, friends and loved ones of the 50 people in Christchurch who were so cruelly taken from this world. They were killed in an act of terrorism perpetrated against a Muslim community. I know that words cannot express the horror and grief that has been experienced, but know that we stand beside each one of you in sorrow and in anguish. We vow to honour the lives of those you have lost and support our Muslim communities near and far away. Husna Ahmed, Lilik Abdul Hamid, Junaid Ismail, Amjad Hamid, Atta Elayyan, Ali Elmadani, Khaled Alhaj Mustafa, Hamza Mustafa, Haji-Daoud Nabi, Mucad Ibrahim, Mohammed Imran Khan, Linda Armstrong, Sayyad Milne, Hussein Al-Umari, Ashraf Ali, Syed Jahandad Ali, Naeem Rashid, Talha Naeem, Tariq Omar, Mathullah Safi, Farhaj Ahsan, Kamel Darwish, Sohail Shahid, Abdelfattah Qasem, Musa Vali Suleman Patel, Ramiz Arifbhai Vora, Arifbhai Mohamedali Vora, Ansi Alibava, Ozair Kadir, Haroon Mahmood, Syed Areeb Ahmed, Maheboob Allarakha Khokhar, Abdullahi Dirie, Hussein Moustafa, Mounir Soliman, Zeehan Raza, Ghulam Hussain, Karam Bibi, Abdukadir Elmi, Osama Adnan Abu Kwik, Mojammel Hoq, Mohammed Omar Faruk, Muhammed Abdusi Samad, Muse Nur Awale, Ahmed Gamaluddin Abdel Ghani, Ashraf al-Morsi, Ashraf al-Masri and Zakaria Bhuiyan, we will never forget you.

I also want to acknowledge the emergency service workers, the service support workers and the volunteers, including those who travelled from Australia to Christchurch to provide help in the devastating aftermath of what happened on Friday. Last night, along with thousands of others, I attended the vigil on the steps of the State Library of Victoria to grieve and honour the lives lost. A spontaneous, powerful haka was performed by our friends from New Zealand. We sang in sorrow, and our multifaith leaders provided blessings and offered their wisdom of peace. I thank the Islamic Council of Victoria for their tremendous leadership, particularly over the last few days, when they too have been grieving. A few years ago the ICV launched the mosque open day initiative to increase cross-cultural understanding. This year’s open day was held on Sunday, and thousands of Victorians attended. The Islamic worship centre that I visited in Brunswick was attended throughout the day with so many people overwhelmed and wanting to express their solidarity and sorrow. At the mosque in West Melbourne we heard extraordinary messages of compassion and peace from leaders from the Muslim community. These leaders exemplify the very best of humanity—the very best of us—as they call for calm, compassion and understanding at a time that understandably evokes feelings of horror, anger and wanting to react.

Perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching things about this—and I know this from working with our Muslim community over the years—is that our Muslim community had warned us all that this was going to happen. Every time the entire Muslim faith was condemned because of the act of one, every time new anti-terror laws were introduced into our parliaments, every time our multicultural communities were labelled as gangs, every time politicians demonised refugees and asylum seekers and every time someone opportunistically confected a law-and-order crisis for political gain, it normalised racism—and our Muslim communities felt it. They felt it in their ordinary lives, when their women in particular were harassed on public transport and when they were judged, dismissed, vilified and othered. Every time right-wing extremist politicians are given platforms for hate speech, it normalises racism, and they feel it. I feel it. We know that the coming days, weeks and months remain frightening and uncertain. There are likely to be many who wonder how we go on. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are left wondering if they remain safe going to prayer, wondering who to trust. If I may, I ask your indulgence to share a personal reflection in the hope that it connects with those suffering now and those wondering how to reconnect to a place where such tragedy has occurred. In the wake of the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka our Tamil community were left reeling about how we could go on. When mobs of people who are just like you, people you share your community with, suddenly start hunting you down, burning your houses and searching for you because of the language you speak and the religion you share, the earth beneath your feet gives way. The urge to lose all hope and faith in people is overwhelming. But there was no other choice than to keep going on, so many of us had to find a new home in a new land. We came to places like Australia and New Zealand in search of safety and peace. We channelled our pain into doing everything we could to create a more peaceful world. Some of us chose politics as a way to help achieve that. When we felt welcomed by our new homelands, hope sprung again; life started anew. But when that warmth, acceptance and welcome is eroded by those preaching hatred, fear and division, you recognise it.

Our Muslim community have been recognising it. They have been warning us about this slide towards normalising racism and Islamophobia for years. I saw it too when I attended the peace rally to counter the far-right rally in St Kilda just this year. I was there when Fraser Anning turned up to spur on the fascists. The feeling on that foreshore that day was ominous; the antiracists outnumbered the racists, but when those thugs began to send groups to walk around the peaceful picnic area looking for and itching for a fight, we were all reminded that it would not take many to cause a lot of harm. I instinctively looked over my shoulder the whole afternoon. Fear had started to creep in. But being there to say and to demonstrate that their racism and fascist ideas are not acceptable in contemporary Australia was important. As a society we can no longer deny that our words and actions matter. We can no longer deny that the rhetoric of fear and division is fuelling these tragic events; they give permission and power to those who seek to act on their hatred.

Unfortunately Australia, while in many ways a successful multicultural society, has also not reckoned with its colonial history. The dispossession of our First Nations peoples continues to mar our community and its racist legacy endures. We can no longer deny we have to do more to stamp out racism in all its forms, and that begins with us here in this place, in a Parliament with a huge role and responsibility of providing leadership. This means not just stopping the use of racist language but actually no longer enacting racist laws or laws that will be wielded against communities of colour or laws that are justified by demonising people of colour or people of different faiths. Let us ensure that we do everything we possibly can to prevent one more life being lost. We owe that to all those who have lost their lives, those whose lives were so cruelly taken away. We owe it to their families and friends. We owe it to the future.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
19 March 2019
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