On Saturday, March 16th, at 4P.M., a large crowd of students, faculty and various community members gathered on the diag to perform a candlelight vigil in wake of the tragic terrorist attack on two New Zealand Mosques that left 50 Muslim men, women and children dead and many more severely injured. An attack that was premeditated, recorded, and live-streamed by none other than a cold-blooded white supremacist.
There we all were, standing in the cold, listening to students speak on behalf of the victims and in condemnation of the rampant Islamophobia that is rippling across the world. One speaker spoke passionately about the resilience of the Muslim community, stating that we should not and will not be afraid despite the increasing attacks on our identities and threats to our existence. Ironically enough, I think we all went home that night having experienced a deep, deep fear that will not be easily dissipated.
Some things in life stick with you. Seeing two police officers running through the crowd screaming “MOVE!!!” and the consequent stampede of people running, tripping, dropping their phones and scrambling up the stairs to get inside the library is something that will always stick with me. I remember that my legs couldn’t move fast enough. I remember that my friend who accompanied me to the vigil fell down on the steps, scraping her knee, and I remember the look on her face as I struggled to pick her up and continue running. I remember looking at the familiar faces around me and feeling helpless that all I could do in that moment was run. The utter fear as we all dispersed, some gathered into Hatcher, others into Mason, people crying, people calling their families, people trying to locate their friends, all of us petrified that these moments could be our last.
I’ll never forget the sound of my roommate’s voice as she picked up the phone, her voice breaking as she screamed “WHERE ARE YOU?” through tears. She was at home, getting ready to make her way to the vigil, and I called her to tell her to stay put. News quickly circulated through friend networks and social media and made its way back home, and my phone received an outpour of calls and messages from friends and family trying to make sure I was okay. Later on, when we were home safe, my other roommate relayed her experience to me in detail — she ended up being a part of the group that fled the library and ran around to Ross, where they failed to get in due to locked doors. They then began running until they reached South Forest apartments, where a student graciously allowed them seek refuge in their apartment.
During those excruciating moments inside the library, time seemed to stand still. We all waited desperately for directions or updates. We looked around at our friends and peers, unable to really say anything other than “are you okay?” The “Arab Wolverines” group chat, as well as the “Campus Sisterhood” group chat, swarmed with updates, news of where the shooter was allegedly spotted, people asking about their friends who had lost their phones. Pure chaos is the only way I can think to describe it.
Although the threat ended up being a VERY poorly timed “balloon popping and screaming” incident, the fear that we all felt that day is a very clear indicator that something like this happening is not so far fetched. With increasing hateful, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuated by our president and government officials and longstanding within our structures and institutions, the painful reality is that Muslims and many PoC are not safe in this world. We are not safe in our mosques and we are not safe on our campuses. 50 innocent human beings died in the place where they should have felt the most safe. Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed in 2015 simply for being visibly Muslim. White supremacy is the problem, and it does not appear to be going anywhere. The New Zealand shooter himself had quoted Trump in admiration prior to his massacre, indicating that violent speech does indeed inspire violent action. While we ended up being safe this time, millions around the world are not. Student Fatima Almusawi put it very eloquently when she said “Today we ran, cried, and hid in fear of a gunman amidst a vigil for the New Zealand victims. We were safe. The victims weren’t so lucky. Let’s take this moment to imagine how they must’ve felt in that moment.”
So to those that have taken to making jokes or insensitive remarks about a situation that they had no part in, I ask of you to try and understand the sheer terror that overtakes one’s body when they think they are in the face of imminent danger. I ask you to imagine the faces of your friends covered in tears and confusion as they struggle to make sense of what is happening. I ask you to try and understand the unspeakable pain of the victims who watched their loved ones lay bloody on the floor around them as they knew they were in their final moments of life. Try and imagine the heartache of their family members who know there is a literal video circulating with the graphic images of their loved one being shot to death in a place of peace and worship. unnecessary comments.
To everyone affected by the terrifying vigil incident, whether you were barricaded in the basement of the UGLI or running across campus or home in your apartment or dorm hoping that your friends make it home safe, know that your feelings during that situation and in the aftermath are real and valid. However you choose to react and cope with the incident is okay. The fear we felt was real. The potential threat is real. The persecution that Muslims face across the world and the hateful discourse that places us in these positions, false alarm or not, is real. Ask yourself if you are complacent in this discourse. To the cars full of people that saw groups of students running for their lives and only stopped to pick up the white people, leaving the visibly distraught Muslims to fend for themselves, ask yourself how internalized your Islamophobia and lack of solidarity is.
On a more positive note, I would also like to express my appreciation of the love and solidarity that I did witness on this day. The large crowd of people on the diag for the vigil consisted of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the support from within those library walls to the walls of Facebook truly gives me hope in a world and time so bleak. Everyone who checked up on me, everyone who checked up on their friends and offered support, the CAPS counselors and police officers who were available in the League afterwards to talk to affected students, everyone who offered their apartments to students fleeing the scene, you are appreciated. Before the buildings were cleared, when we were still inside Hatcher, one of the women who spoke at the vigil stood up to urge everyone who wanted to to come together and pray. One brother led the call to prayer, and several Muslims stood up to pray, side by side, and it reminded me that the only thing stronger than fear is love. And through it all, I truly did feel the love of our U of M community that day. If your heart is heavy, you’re not alone.
Above all, I hope we continue to counter hate with love, show up for each other, and stand in solidarity amidst a world corrupted by intolerance. I hope that our love for one another always trumps our fear, and that we continue to let kindness overpower the brokenness that so many of us feel. I, a Muslim woman of color, along with the entire staff of Michigan in Color, stand with everyone affected by hate at this university, across the country, and across the world. Lastly, I urge everyone to become familiar with the names and stories of the New Zealand victims — they deserve to be honored and remembered.