It hadn’t been six hours before their deaths became a political football.
The world descended upon Christchurch, wrenching apart the massacre with analysis of the killer in his own spotlight, condemnations, and expressions of generic solidarity to present an artificial unity that defies lived experiences. Reassuring commitments to gun reform masked years of cries by Muslims to take seriously the scourge of white supremacy, to understand the true impact of Islamophobia.
But what of our grief?
There was no time to process and mourn our own tragedy before it was snatched away, recast as an opportunity: an opportunity to take photos, an opportunity for politicians and pundits, for public vigils, for acts of solidarity, for terror tourism.
How do we grieve among the superficiality?
There was no room for us to scream and yell from the depths of our souls of the pain and anguish. The dead bodies. Their stories. The lives viciously stolen. The perversion of the most Holy day of the week. Of the most sacred act that we devote ourselves so deeply to, leaving all worldly connections behind.
It hadn’t been 12 hours before we were told to keep calm and collected, to be timid in expressing our emotions and pain. Politicians at vigils and pundits on pedestals commanded us to control our grief, to limit our emotions. Quell our rage and anger, they warned, lest we come across as violent, lest one of us acts upon it and retaliates. How dare we express our emotions.
How do we grieve when white sensibilities prevail?
Now, apart from within the four walls of our homes, our grief is censored and self-contained as condolences are made on our behalf. Our mosques, the sites of communal mourning, have become platforms for discussions on the reality of “shocking” anti-Muslim sentiment. Even in this, our time of great despair, our agency is externally placed, with the best of intentions. Suddenly, we as a people became a torch, our weary souls a prop for all and sundry to play the crying, grieving, bleeding martyr on our behalf. To find themselves through us.
How do we grieve without the space?
But it cannot be bottled. What is spouting forth into a torrent of anger is pain aged like fine wine, stinging wounds that are skin and years deep. Wounds etched into our bones and pain flowing freely through our blood.
It goes beyond their defencelessness, the thought that they were safe in the house of God, preparing to meet Him as they did every Friday.
It’s more than the false sense of security, the paranoia, being hyper-aware of every flitting shadow and flick of the wrist.
It is lifetimes of disappointment, despite towing the line, being the tokenistic exception, working within the system that placates us, the system that has chewed us up and spat us out.
How do we grieve with this sense of betrayal?
It is the floor being ripped out from under you as you realise that societal tolerance has reached its proverbial end. There is no luxury of having the choice to leave this behind when there is nothing to go back to.
It is the boiling rage as pundits who would throw you to the wolves to scapegoat the latest political challenge are bending over backwards to place flowers at your place of worship, their thick cognitive dissonance suffocating the air.
It is the exhausted sigh at the disavowal of racism, yet again. It is: “this is not us.” This hatred that ‘spontaneously’ sprouted overnight, as though it had not festered and boiled for years beneath the guise of a multicultural project. As though this white entitlement was not built into the fabric of a settler-colonial enterprise.
It is the horror of people once bubbling with life, robbed of their final dignity and privacy as their final moments are broadcast for the world to see in real time, weaving in and out of timelines, continuing precisely what the killer started.
How do we grieve among a hatred that runs deep?
Before they were even buried they were dissected and moved on for the next crisis.
And we stand here, picking up the pieces, grieving.
Rymer Tchier is an Algerian-Australian community activist and works at the Legal department at the ABC. The views expressed are her own and not an endorsement of the ABC.