Opinion: I walked out of Christchurch counter-terrorism hui - Wellington hasn't been paying attention

OPINION: I was one of the people who walked out amidst chants of "Free Palestine" at the Christchurch hui on counter-terrorism last week. It is neither like me, nor what I expected to do – but it was a community outburst weeks in the making. 

Wellington has not being paying attention, again.  

While Juliet Moses has really copped most of the criticism, I was far more offended by the preceding speaker - Edwina Pio, she has an impressive portfolio and amongst a host of other prestigious roles holds the position of New Zealand's first and only professor of diversity.

Pio's speech was peppered with quotes by Muslim philosophers and poets. For someone who quoted Rumi so liberally, I could not believe how tone deaf her speech was. 

She, like many others, chose to use the term "lone" actor terrorist.

It's well and truly time to call it a day with that phrase.  

Far-right extremism is a collective identity. 

It is what the Christchurch terrorist subscribed to, as did the man who recently killed a Muslim family in Canada. The terrorist who carried out the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a white supremacist just like the 2011 Norway attacker. 

Nothing about their actions and ideology is a single, unconnected incident. 

And while the media gets all the blame for popularising the term "lone" gunman, perhaps it should start with academics changing the narrative.  

But this is not what shocked me most about Pio's speech.

She said women can also be "involved in extremist activities". 

The reasons for this, she said, could be that they've fallen in love with the wrong person, or because they are being threatened, or being raped.

That is the definition of a victim, not an extremist. 

It's hard not to take that personally. 

Muslim women are unique in that, when we choose to wear the hijab we openly profess our faith hence becoming soft targets for religiously motivated hate crimes.

Pio's audience included Muslim women who, until March 15, had spent decades begging to take the white, male, alt-right threat seriously. 

Words carry weight and will what she said give Islamophobics another reason to attack Muslim women?

She went on to say women may be recruited by extremists because security personnel are less likely to check them.

How far removed this is from the ground reality.

I can assure you many Muslim women, including those in her audience, have had harrowing experiences with security. 

I am that Muslim woman who gets pulled aside for a "random explosives check" at the airport. 

I have been asked to remove my hijab for security, I complied and it was humiliating. 

I almost missed my flight once because of checks. It is not pleasant when the airline announces they are about to offload your luggage because boarding is closed. 

I have been asked to show my bags and pockets at department stores.

Security personnel never had a reason to pick me because I have a clean police record and no extremist tendencies, but hey I shouldn't really complain - it was supposedly random.

I must acknowledge one of Pio's slides mentioned having women as the hub of the family. However, I wished she elaborated on it further. 

Women are agents of change. So let's empower them instead. 

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Pio made her next suggestion - to legislate "for specific nation-building content courses to be passed before gaining permanent residency and citizenship". 

Again, she failed to detail what these courses should look like and how they will counter terrorism. 

But here is my concern. The man who carried out our deadliest mass shooting found support with non-naturalised New Zealanders. 

What nation building course does she suggest when extremism comes from within?

I was still furiously taking notes and letting Pio's words sink in when Moses was called on stage. 

And to be fair, Moses' speech just left me with unanswered questions.

At the start of her speech, she talked about how vulnerable Jews are to the white supremacist threat and I felt connected to her. I know what hate feels like when you're a woman openly practicing your faith. 

Then, she mentioned a rally where people had been seen holding banners in support of Hezbollah. 

That's when someone shouted "Free Palestine". 

It was an ugly exchange.

On my table, a mosque shooting survivor quietly collected his stuff and stood up, behind him the mother of a victim slowly walked out head down. 

Once again, those directly connected to the mosque shootings were most gracious.

I followed them because it no longer felt like a safe space. 

A handful of reporters followed us.

The story was no longer inside the room. 

And while on the subject, I was so proud of my fraternity. The media had been given very limited access to the hui and it would have been frustrating for those reporters, but they still chose to turn up and cover the event. 

This censorship was uncalled for. 

A trusted source said none of the attendees had been police vetted, so anyone could have come along and gained open access to the hui sessions – except the media. 

When Moses was interrupted the live feed was also cut off. So it is only those in the room who know what was said in the few minutes that followed the walkout.  

In parts of the speech that I did catch, Moses said all terrorism had to be condemned equally. 

But the New Zealand government does recognise Hezbollah and the like as threats on it's list of designated terror entities. 

Shouldn't we be far more concerned authorities have just one name listed under the far right and white supremacist threat in New Zealand – and that is the mosque terrorist who is behind bars.

Moses also criticised a pro-Palestine rally last month. 

I don't go to protests, but I read the news.

It seems thousands of people marched opposing the Israeli occupation. 

And that is not being anti-Jew.

Unfortunately, what happened at the hui has eclipsed the far-right threat New Zealand Jews and Muslims face irrespective of our views on the Middle East.

We should be worried Minister Andrew Little had no solid explanation when Newshub journalist Tova O'Brien asked him why our intelligence agencies did not know about a bomb threat on the second anniversary of the mosque attacks and had to be informed about it by a community group. 

We should be seriously concerned, Little said it was a major challenge to monitor right-wing extremist content online. 

Sadly, we walked away from the hui with what divides us.

 It was definitely not the intent of the organisers or the attendees, but it did create the perfect storm. 

Mahvash Ali is a Kiwi Muslim journalist and currently works as an associate producer on The Project. 

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