Community Columns

Terrorism in New Zealand feels personal to Modesto Muslims

By Rana Banankhah

On March 15, a white supremacist live-streamed himself parking his car in an alley near the Al Noor Mosque in New Zealand. He opened his trunk and grabbed a gun with racist and vile words scrawled across the exterior. Casually walking over to the mosque, he littered the surroundings with bullets, killing dozens of innocent bystanders. He walked back to his car, picked up another gun, and opened fire again. Later, he drove to yet another mosque and repeated the horrific actions, emotionlessly spraying bullets, as if he was playing a video game. Unfortunately, this was real life.

As a Muslim, this attack horrifies me. Seeing the names and faces, and thinking of the potential of those brutally murdered is simply petrifying. Seeing the children, as young as 3 — their lives just begun —as targets of hate crime inspires deep fear. It has become our reality that minority men, women and even children, such as myself, are subjected to brutal and hateful attacks. I fear for myself and my generation.

The Muslim community in this area has clearly been affected and shaken. The Modesto Islamic Center hosted an interfaith gathering against hatred and violence. Priests, rabbis, community leaders and people of all backgrounds gathered to unite against hate and racism.

The poor reaction or our president, Donald Trump, is outrageous. Asked whether he believed white nationalism was a rising threat, President Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Meanwhile, he enacted a travel ban on Muslims from certain countries visiting America. This attack reveals that terrorism has no color, ethnicity or race.

I take this personally. According to President Trump, everyday people from Muslim countries — not extremists or terrorists, but everyday people — are more threatening than white supremacists. We can’t allow ourselves to ignore the elevating threat that white nationalism poses, nor the anger and hatred that fuels it.

If we desire to protect ourselves, our families and our loved ones, we must prevent these attacks by taking precautions in dealing with gun laws. We need not take away guns from everyone in America, but we should make it difficult for people like the Christchurch shooter to obtain some guns such as assault rifles. According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, assault rifles are used for “laying down a high volume of fire over a wide killing zone.” If we regulate these guns, shooters will have less lethal ability.

Within a few days, New Zealand has begun passing new laws banning semiautomatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. But in America, we have trouble with bills that simply restrict the ease of purchasing a gun or enforcing more detailed background checks. In 2018 alone, mass shootings averaged about one each day. It’s simply outrageous that after all the shootings and terrorist attacks, our government still can’t agree on a solution.

Survivors, New Zealanders and more are left to cope with the aftermath. Images and thoughts of the shooting continue to resonate. But numerous ceremonies, memorials and gatherings have been held, suggesting that despite the horror, people of all ethnicities can unite in the fight against terrorism and hatred.

Rana Banankhah is a freshman at Modesto High School. She wrote this commentary for The Modesto Bee.