Vigil for Christchurch, Edinburgh Central Mosque

Text of the speech I gave at the vigil for Christchurch held on the steps of Edinburgh Central Mosque, Sunday 17 March 2019

There is nowhere else to begin than with the dead and injured, their friends and families, their work colleagues, the wider community in Christchurch, the relatives and acqaintances all around the world, all now grappling with shock and grief.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become a tired cliché. But truly, I don’t believe that’s a weak phrase if you really mean it, and I don’t have any better words to cover the loss. So now let me turn to something that I think I do have words for. Because what starts with thoughts and prayers can’t end with them.

I’m usually very, very cautious about what I say immediately after a terrorist incident because the facts are usually very unclear. But this time there seems to be no doubt at all about what the killer thought he was doing, and why. It’s all there in his manifesto.

Apart from the fact that he filmed himself carrying out a mass murder, there’s nothing very unusual about the manifesto. It fits well inside the spectrum of the new fascism that’s growing up around us, especially in Europe and North America. You don’t need to watch illegal videos to understand where the fascist agenda comes from. We are all immersed in the views and power structures that created it.

We need to set aside generalisations about hate and bigotry. Christchurch was an act of very specific race terror directed at Muslims, created out of wall to wall Islamophobia. The whole spectrum of Islamophobia, from the softest to the hardest, played its part.

At the hard end were the absolutely stunning remarks by Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, who said the real cause of the attack was Muslim immigration. Also at the hard end was the hammer attack on a man outside a London mosque just hours after the Christchurch massacre.  And still at the hard end were the social media comments made while reports were still coming in, hoping that the attacker would kill more people, saying that the mosque should be levelled.

Very near the hard end was the shooting range in northern England where an image of Shamima Begum was used as a target, apparently in response to customer demand.

And then there was the Daily Mail, who chose to go with a childhood picture of the killer as, in their words, a “blond little boy”.

All this was was largely created by the politicians who launched the so-called war on terror and put their colonialism towards the Middle East on steroids. Time has passed. An infrastructure of racism and fascistic thought has grown up that reaches far beyond those politicians and far beyond the fascist opportunists and ideologues who exploit the world the politicians made.

At the soft end of the racist spectrum, we find that right across society Muslim voices go unheeded. Muslim opinion is policed or is made the target for education by people who think they know better. This happens everywhere, even in progressive organisations, even in anti-racist organisations.

So the Muslim community is politically disarmed, and Muslims are sent out to confront fascism as poster boys and girls, or as pawns in someone else’s game. This needs to stop. We all, Muslims and non-Muslims, need to get serious and equip ourselves to stop Islamophobia, racism and fascism in its tracks.

Let’s transform our thoughts and prayers, our grief, our respect for the victims into a struggle that penetrates every nook and cranny of our society. And remembering the dead, let’s make it not a gritted-teeth battle but a flowering of hope.

Photo © Abdurrahman Ezz