How do we centre Muslim voices?

Friday 15 March 2019. The heart stands still. The lives of 50 people stolen by a terrorist in the most reprehensible of ways. Not a lone wolf. Not a mentally unwell individual. A terrorist armed with weapons of war committed to a white supremacist ideology that demands its followers reach into and express the darkest versions of themselves.

How do we centre Muslim voices in the aftermath of white terrorism?

As I watch across a range social and news media platforms, many of us who identify as Māori are noting our lack of shock or surprise at the racism and the extent of white extremism in this country. Any shock we feel is the abysmal failure of the modern system of government to prevent terror from actually happening on our whenua. Shocked at the depth of institutional racism to the point of weakening our security institutions. We protested surveillance because it unfairly targeted Māori and other communities of colour. We saw the terror that the State imposed on whānau and hapori Māori with Operation 8. However, we passively assumed that our state surveillance meant the system would also have its eyes on the heinous white extremists living here.  But it didn’t and we will hold the government to account for that in the days and weeks to come.

For now, we must tautoko our Muslim brothers and sisters to voice their concerns and experiences. I know that this might raise some challenging feelings for Māori across this motu – being asked to centre non-Māori voices is confronting when we have had centuries of trying to have our own voices centred when it comes to matters of racism affecting our lives. We must acknowledge too, that some of our whānau also identify as Muslim, and we must support them to have their voices heard.

In the aftermath of white terrorism, it is important then for us to understand why it matters to centre Muslim voices, and how we can go about doing that.

Why must we centre Muslim voices?

We must centre Muslim voices to enable change in Aotearoa. To change how our systems privilege different groups over others, to change how dominant groups in society treat people who hold different beliefs, practice different cultural traditions, speak different languages, have different names, wear different clothing, or have different skin colours. We must centre Muslim voices to help change attitudes – because hate and intolerance begins in the home and the places we normalise privilege and tolerate prejudice.

How might we centre Muslim voices?

I came across an article that set out seven ways to support and centre the voices of people of colour. What I have done below, is applied some of those in the context of Māori.

What is our privilege?

We have the privilege of recognition as tangata whenua of New Zealand.

This is not privilege in the sense that we extract excessive social and economic benefits from our status as tangata whenua.

We must recognise that compared to non-Māori people of colour, the dominant white population and the system designed for them at least recognises us as being of the land and not foreign to it.

Understanding our oppression

We are not immune from racism, prejudice and discrimination in our homes. We rightly criticise the treatment of Māori by successive governments and the way society stereotypes and degrades us. However, we are complicit in much stereotyping and prejudicing of other communities of colour and marginalised groups.

An obvious example is the appalling attitude and distasteful behaviour demonstrated by the Destiny Church this week – many of its followers identifying as Māori, the Bishop himself – Māori. The Bishop taking exception to the nation observing 2 minutes of silence followed by the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) to be played across New Zealand’s airwaves in remembrance and honour of the dead and their whānau. Inciting hysteria inside its congregation that this government was threatening Christianity that the Bishop claims this country was founded on.

We must remember that Māori cosmogyny existed prior to contact and remains a fundamental element of our Māori identity. Some forms of Christianity – including the Destiny Church brand are complicit in the kinds of oppression that stoke bigoted hate fires and fuel ideologies like white supremacism leading to extremism.

For those who have come to identify as Christian, this is not a diatribe against Christianity. It’s a reminder to all of us – Christian and non-Christian Māori, that this was a faith brought to our communities from outside Te Ao Māori. It provided a spiritual connection for many Māori communities following colonisation and suppression of our language and culture. However, we cannot allow exclusionary versions of Christianity to permit us to internalise prejudicial practices and views.

On a less religious angle, we cannot allow political parties and the media to taint our views about migrants and refugees or to teach us that people who look different from us – as Māori or White, are not of this land.

Over time – almost 200 years, colonisation of Māori has supported and taught us to internalise racism, prejudice and discrimination in our communities and we must be ready to examine these now. Because if we do not un-learn those things we have internalised, we perpetuate the harm that props up the structures of white supremacy, rather than tearing them down.

Do things differently

We know that our spaces for dialogue are limited. That institutional racism and bias close the door to us at almost every step we take to challenging white supremacy in our social, political and economic domains.

We are not being asked or told to take a seat in our own whenua.

One way to visualise doing things differently is to take ourselves out of Te Ao Pākehā where communities of colour fight for the same piece of the diversity and inclusion pie, and step confidently and firmly in to Te Ao Māori.

Where the kawa that governs how we share our kōrero embeds the notion of aroha ki te tangata – respect for all peoples. Where there is a time for listening and a time for speaking. Our time to talk will return when the speakers have had their say.

Follow our kawa and trust in our tikanga. Give space with only love in our hearts.

Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa

Let us keep close together, not far apart

 

*Please note that this is just one among many indigenous views. I don’t speak on behalf of all Māori.

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