Dear conservatives, as a Muslim I feel your pain after Christchurch – and can help you move past the guilt and denial
I know it’s not easy to see your beliefs hijacked by terrorists. It has been happening to me my entire adult life. And even now, I struggle to know how to react
I’ve been watching conservative (small and big “c”) media closely since the terrorist attack in Christchurch. As a proud centrist this hasn’t been out of schadenfreude or even curiosity. It’s been about empathy.
You see, as a Muslim, I know how you feel. Your political opponents are blaming you and your beliefs for a terrorist attack on the other side of the world. It’s not nice.
That’s why I’m unsurprised that the official line coming from conservatives around the world is that the murderer was nothing to do with you. At one level, this is completely true: if he’d called you telling you what he was about to do, I’m certain you would have tried to talk him down – then called the police.
But at the same time, I would guess that although you don’t identify with his crime, some of his emotions may feel uncomfortably familiar to you. The cultural anxiety, the social alienation, the feeling that immigrants are somehow playing the system in a way you can’t.
And the nostalgia. Nostalgia for the bar that closed. The social club that transformed into overpriced apartments. The church that became a mosque. But none of that means you want anyone dead.
I know it’s not easy to see your beliefs being extrapolated, abused and hijacked by terrorists. It has been happening to me my entire adult life. And even now, I struggle to know how to react.
You may have gone into denial. Something wacky about crisis actors and false flags may have popped up on your newsfeed and for a brief moment, you may have been tempted by the fantasy that this is not happening. Or more acceptably, you may have gone for the “no one knows what motivated him/how did this angelic boy become a monster” line.
Past the denial, there may be some lingering guilt. But the regular US Republican should not wallow in those feelings.
And finally, you may be confused. Is the solution to move further right, to take the ground away from the extremists (even if it means immediately handing it back to them, bundled with a GOP bumper sticker)?
This is a journey many Muslims have been on. The denial is still there in some adolescent pockets of our communities: the YouTube videos about how Mossad carried out 9/11 or how Isis stands for “Israeli Secret Intelligence Service”.
But the correct response in my view is – after a lifetime of soul searching – to accept reality, feel empathy without blaming oneself, and stay true to one’s principles.
For healthy societies we need opinionated, principled, sane people on both the right and the left.
So my hope is that the far right will not survive, because the right will thrive.
No one sensible wants to blame, censor or ban you – but we do want to blame, censor and ban those who manipulate your beliefs to incite and commit violence. This is something we can’t do without your help.
We need you to listen to us when we tell you what some of President Trump’s words and actions mean for us and our loved ones. And we need you to listen to your own when, as is happening in the UK Conservative Party, figures like its former chair Sayeeda Warsi warn about Islamophobia taking over right-wing politics.
It’s in your own interests to do this: many Muslims are natural “small c” conservatives. We often come from cultures that deeply value family, hard work and ambition, over big government, welfare and idleness.
It’s not surprising that in the last pre-”war on terror” election in 2000, 78% of Muslim Americans voted for George W. Bush.
And as a final reminder, please don’t feel obliged to apologise for the Christchurch attack – I would never ask you to take responsibility for someone else’s actions. I know how it feels.