By Azad Khan
OPINION: What happened on March 15th in Christchurch was truly shocking however not entirely unexpected.
It was a ticking time bomb.
In recent years we have seen a rise in Islamophobia, white supremacy propaganda and the extreme right rhetoric coming into the mainstream.
The brutal killing of 51 innocent lives at two mosques was not an isolated and random event. It was preplanned, premeditated and a calculated attack designed to cause maximum damage and make a statement.
Leading up to March 15, to be a person of colour, having a beard, wearing a prayer hat or a hijab, having names like Muhammad or Ali or Fatima resulted in discrimination, marginalisation and in extreme cases racist and islamophobic attacks.
People have been singled out at airports, threatened on the streets and online platforms, not getting a fair chance when it came to employment and biased reporting in the media.
In the aftermath of the mosque shooting, there was a shift in the narrative and attitude. There was a massive outpouring of support, call to action by the Government to do more to support Muslims/minorities, promises by the media to be more responsible and phrases like "they are us" was used to heal and unite.
On Sunday it is the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Let's reflect on the last 12 months to see what has changed and are we feeling any more safer.
Unfortunately, Islamophobia and racism is still very prevalent in this country.
I myself became a target at the Auckland Airport two weeks ago for having a beard and carrying a prayer hat when I was asked to step aside and go through the bodyscan. There have been many other instances of islamophobia that have been reported in the past year. Being singled out in the playground and getting dog poo rubbed in the face, a former refugee's garage and car yard was vandalised several times, threats were made against him and his mosque, online hate mongering, painting of swastikas in front of a synagogue, growth of white supremacist movements in the local universities and the latest threat against Masjid Al Noor clearly shows that islamophobia, racism, xenophobia and antisemitism is very much alive in this country.
Influential people with fascist and Islamophobic views are creating a dangerous world. It is important that we call out their rhetoric and actions for what it really is.
The Government should seriously consider declaring March 15th as Anti-Islamophobia Day.
We want an annual day to be officially set aside to create awareness, engagement, education and self-reflection for the wider community. It is important that we have open and honest conversations. A call for action needs to be backed up by actions.
Until we admit that we have a problem we as a nation will fail to effectively combat these issues. For far too long the Government has failed to effectively deal with the issues of racism, fascism and Islamophobia in this country. Our pleas and concerns have fallen on deaf ears. We have been let down by the previous governments and all the agencies that were meant to protect us.
By ignoring, it has festered and manifested to the point where we have now lost 51 innocent lives leaving behind a lifetime of pain for their loved ones.
The Government owes it to the nation that they declare March 15th as an annual Anti-islamophobia Day. It is the day where hate for muslims, migrants, refugees and Islam made it the darkest day in New Zealand's history. Collectively we must pledge "NEVER AGAIN".
Until we do this, phrases like "they are us" or " we are one" will be meaningless.
Azad Khan is a spokesperson for the Foundation Against Islamophobia and Racism.