After the Christchurch massacre, how do we deal with the trauma and outrage?

When someone makes an inappropriate joke, or when a senator makes incendiary remarks, speak up

A photo of Guardian Australia comment contributor Sara Mansour
Sara Mansour: ‘Reach out to your Muslim friends and colleagues and check in with them, donate to the families of the victims, learn about the victims.’

When I walked into work on Monday I told myself I was going to be strong. Then an Indigenous colleague pulled me aside and hugged me and I crumbled in her arms. She told me that the Indigenous community was so sorry for what has happened to our community, and we talked and cried. I, like many other Muslims, have felt the pain of the Christchurch mosque massacre so viscerally.

I was so shaken that I did not step out at all over the weekend.

Waves of different feelings – anger, numbness, shock and sadness – have been crashing into me with regularity, like clockwork. Just across the Tasman Sea, 50 dead. Murdered while they were praying. The alleged perpetrator is Australian.

I am acutely aware of how much blood is shed and how much injustice is carried out globally on a daily basis but this one is different. This hits us so close to home, because it is so close to home.

I received a link to a video on Friday afternoon at work. Not knowing what it was, I clicked on it and started watching what I thought was a realistic video game. However, it was not – I was watching the Christchurch massacre being carried out.

When I realised what it was, I immediately switched it off and sat in my own silence. I then started messaging my friends, who had also heard the news and we started to process and unpack what was happening. I received messages from non-Muslim friends, and from my Muslim friends, checking in. I checked in with my friends also.

None of us are doing OK right now.

Everyone has been dealing with the news of this tragedy in different ways. Some have attended vigils across Australia, some have visited their local mosque in a show of solidarity and respect. Some have been reading and sharing information about the victims, to honour their memory. As for me, I have been reading and writing poetry.

The formative years of my life were marred by feelings of division and exclusion. My generation grew up against the backdrop of 9/11, the Cronulla riots, the Iraq and Afghan wars, the Arab Spring, the rise of Isis, the Lindt cafe siege and the terrorism raids.

My younger sisters were born into this – they do not know a life where we were not public enemy No 1. I think of hundreds of moments, suspended in time, in which the media and politicians have constantly targeted the Muslim community, bolstered their campaigns with us, made us the subject of their clickbait articles and their front cover sensationalist headlines.

In 2017 alone, the Murdoch press published, on average, eight articles a day that referenced Muslims next to words such as “violence, extremism, terrorism or radical”. This was the climate of fear and vilification that drove me to start writing and performing poetry, and run the first Bankstown Poetry Slam.

On reflection, I realised that in times of trauma, outrage, pain and sadness, I turn to poetry. One of the first poems I thought of over the weekend, and one of my favourites by Warsan Shire, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon, gave me comfort:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

I took interest in spoken word poetry because I wanted to do something. I hated feeling helpless, and this journey of discovery led me on to a path that manifested into a poetry slam.


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