Around midnight on Friday, March 15, the day of the massacre in Christchurch, NZ, No One is Illegal Fredericton sent out a call for solidarity. In response, more than one hundred people gathered the next evening for a vigil in front of Fredericton City Hall. As they greeted each other, many were visibly emotional, with their sorrow reflected in the signs they held: “#Hello Brother,” “Say NO to Extremists,” “Standing with Christchurch.”
No One Is Illegal Fredericton welcomed everyone, inviting the attendees to share their thoughts and feelings. Many Muslim and non-Muslim members of our community came up, one after the other, speaking of their grief, their longing for peace, and the power of love. Members of the Fredericton Islamic Association expressed their dream of a world free of hatred.
Mohammad Bakhash spoke of the complex challenges dramatized by the tragedy in New Zealand: “The terrorist attack in Christchurch is an expected outcome of the many Islamophobia campaigns and anti-immigrant policies we see around the world. It’s also a result of the international silence regarding the crimes of dictators in the Middle East. This silence in the face of hate encourages others to participate in crimes against Muslims who become refugees or immigrants.” Bakhash also spoke of the important role that the media plays in publicizing racist and divisive views.
Other speakers followed, offering messages from their hearts, including several non-Muslims, all of them very emotional, but determined to stand in solidarity for protecting Muslim members of our community. David Coon, the leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and MLA for Fredericton South, expressed an emotional call for unity: “We need to ensure that we see each other as brothers and sisters.” In closing, he said: “God bless. I love you all.”
A teenager approached, politely asking “May I?” before addressing the large gathering. This high schooler, 15-year-old Hala Bakhash, had come to our city with her family from Syria two years ago. Her message was brief and powerful:
My parents raised me and my siblings, teaching us that all people should respect each other’s religion, culture and beliefs, no matter what they look like, what skin color they have. I greet you ‘السلام عليكم’. Our message in Islam is peace, and our greeting is ‘peace be upon you.’ All people are connected as in one body. If one part gets hurt all the other parts will feel the pain, we share love. We appreciate everyone who came to share the pain with us. We are one family here in Fredericton. I saw Canadians showing love by standing up for Muslims. I want to thank them. The message I wanted to send is that love always wins over hate.
As a member of No One Is Illegal and a Muslim immigrant myself, I feel that Hala Bakhash’s message summed up what vast numbers of people around the world shared that day. After hearing news that a white supremacist terrorist had killed at least 50 people and injured almost that many, the shock and collective pain brought Muslims, non-Muslims, newcomers, Fredericton-born neighbors, children, parents, and working Frederictonians from all walks of life to stand together.
Those who gathered there recognized something powerful in sharing our grief, concern, and compassion. It was a demonstration that we are dedicated to holding each other and sending a message that is loud and clear: “love and peace wins over hate.” When others hurt we are all hurt. We need to be there for each other. Many who spoke at the vigil focused on the importance of coming together in the face of racism and right-wing extremism. Whether we spoke or just listened, we all vowed that there is no room for hate in our community.
At Fredericton City Hall this Saturday evening, we responded to a collective pain that has been accumulating with each new racist attack on Muslims, Jews, or Christians in Charleston, Quebec City, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and each equally hate-filled act of violence by Muslim extremists. We are sick of these bigots trying to tear our multi-faith, multi-ethnic communities apart. At this point in our political environment, the victims of white supremacist racism in general, and Islamophobia in particular, are just too many.
We remember the evening of January 29, 2017, when six worshipers were killed and 19 injured at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. At this point, the Christchurch massacre feels just too much to bear. We will forever remember Mucad Ibrahim, age three, the youngest victim. We will remember the man who greeted the shooter, saying “Hello brother,” seconds before he was killed.
Christchurch added to the pain we have been carrying, and this collective sorrow has brought people around the world together, sharing countless messages of solidarity, such as “You are my friend. I will keep watch while you pray.” At the gathering in Washington Square Park in New York City, a sign read “To our Muslim cousins, your Jewish cousins have your back.” Maybe things are finally changing, and these outpourings of mutual support are bringing us closer, as they did in our city. Because, as Hala explained, “All people are connected as in one body.” Every time a hater hates, all humanity hurts.
Gül Çalışkan is a member of No One is Illegal Fredericton.