A Muslim community leader, Guled Mire, says the phrase ‘They are us’ first uttered by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings is well-intentioned but can have unintended consequences.
The phrase captured world media attention and has been used at rallies and vigils held to honour the 50 people killed in the terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques a week ago.
Guled Mire, who came to New Zealand 22-years-ago as a refuge from Somalia, has been vocal about the attack and the way Muslims here are perceived.
He told TVNZ1’s Seven Sharp he has no doubt the phrase ‘They are us’ is very well intentioned.
“But I think campaigns like that can have unintended consequences. It feeds into the ‘othering’ narrative.” Mr Mire said.
“In fact I’ve had Muslims messaging me to tell me, ‘hey, thank you for calling this out for what it is’.”
While the community and the country grieves, New Zealand’s national identity is also being tested.
“Who does the ‘they’ refer to, and who is the ‘us’? And I think that’s quite problematic because in times like this…we should be reassuring Muslims belong here, this is their home,” Mr Mire said.
He said the right phrase would be, “‘This is not us’ – because it rejects violent extremism, it rejects racism, it rejects Islamophobia and all of that.”
Altamash Askari of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Foundation said the prime minister was trying to point out that the fallen in the attack “were no different, they were just normal Kiwis, normal New Zealanders going about their daily routine”.
“That’s how we can all move forward – through love, through compassion, through understanding each other,” Mr Askari said.
Dahabo Nur Abdi was in the Linwood mosque during the attack. Even before the hate crime she felt unwanted.
The day after the attack, March 16, Dahabo Nur Abdi, who can’t speak English, told TVNZ that sometimes when she’s walking around some people tell her to to go back to her country, and one one occasion someone spat at her.