White Knights and ‘Muslimsplaining’

From Jacinda Ardern to Eggboy, the white saviours have taken over the Muslim story once again from the Muslims. To commemorate a week of the Christchurch terror attacks on two mosques there were aseries of moves and events designed to make Muslims feel they belong.

New Zealand radio and television sounded the call for prayer at 1.30 pm, the time of the shootings. Policewomen and TV anchors wore the scarf; the latter began their telecast with a ‘salaam alaikum’ (peace be upon you), newspapers had Arabic scrawling on their front pages withan explanation of Muslim rituals, and Prime Minister Ardern quoted the Prophet. The distinction between state and religion was lost. Also, instead of an expression of solidarity, it appeared to be catering to a homogenised people, if not a special needs people.

Entitled brown folks were, however, over the crescent moon. They were complicit in propping up such privilege with their gratefulness for a white headscarf wearer or a young man egg-splattering the head of a racist Australian senator.

fundraiser for Eggboy Will Connolly raised a whole lot of money for his legal fees and for being “a good egg”. Using him as an example of how the West responds to hate speech ignores the immensity of the vile comments by Sen Fraser Anning blaming immigrants for the terror act.

Ardern visiting the bereaved with much empathy is no doubt a potent image of a caring leader, but would a Muslim leader reach out to his people be greeted with as much enthusiasm?

These gestures have a limited shelf life, but by becoming totems they reduce the Muslim identity to a community that cannot manage without an Other’s heroism.

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“I’d love to wear one, how do I tie it?” asked an enthusiastic white woman expressing her support for the March 22 Scarves in Solidarity Day.

To lift the spirits of New Zealanders, Christchurch youth worker Jay Geldard decided on Colour Your Day: “Colour Your Day has come from asking how do 4.8 million people respond to an event like this? You get a sense that there’s this desire, and it’s like people who have been quite down don’t know how to respond. So it’s saying, let’s just put on something bright. It could be socks, it could be scarves, it could just be mufti – you’ll just see people in bright colours and you’ll know you are all together.”

The problem with sentimental gestures is that they do not go deeper than the displayed symbolism. While wearing colourful socks could have worked as casual weekend dressing, it being a Friday – the day of prayer for Muslims, the day when the attacks took place while they were on their knees in obeisance – the sense of joyousness was a bit incongruous.

However, it was not as disingenuous as wearing a scarf in solidarity.As a Muslim woman who does not wear one, I often get praised formy assumed breaking of shackles by the rightwing and the liberals in India. The hijab has been a red rag for democratic regimes as well as feminists. Curiously, both these pro-choice proponents use it to indicate oppression and refuse to grant the wearer the dignity of having made a choice to assert an identity. They also seem to forget that women are shamed in the streets for wearing this identity.

That these liberals were ready to don a scarf in solidarity amounts to a denial of the rights of a people to stand up for themselves without being caricatured, howsoever benevolent the motive might be.

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The notion behind speaking on behalf of a community is not inclusive but exclusive. It is a declaration that white is the mainstream, the standard gold. To belong, immigrants will have to look through this prism.

In an impassioned speech, Ms. Ardern said, “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name.”

This is most simplistic. He did not merely seek notoriety; he wanted to annihilate people. His manifesto clearly stated that. Terrorism by a white man cannot be explained away as an attention-seeking exercise. By making him invisible, his supremacism is being whitewashed.

Aiding in this process are the elite among the immigrants who rarely speak about such entrenched racism in their adopted homes and help in sidestepping the dangerous fact that such violent responses are not really an exception that commentators and Ms. Ardern herself makes it look like. They do the white thing by deifying a man who lost his wife in the attacks but forgave the killer because he represents ‘the spirit of Islam’. How different is it from the West creating binary stereotypes of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim?

Unless we have a Muslim, an Arab, an immigrant speak up against supremacists, and not just with eggs, and unless Muslim societies stop feeling beholden for tokens, the white killer will remain in whitened public perception merely a gunman seeking notoriety and not the terrorist that he is.

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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