BY NIDHA KHAN
Friday, March 15th is a day that will forever be ingrained in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders – a day marked with grief and sorrow as 50 Muslim lives were brutally taken by a white supremacist in Christchurch.
Following the massacre, the voices of Muslims, migrants, and refugees were brought to the forefront and sparked a nation-wide conversation about how deeply racism flows through our country – from systematic government oversight, to the media’s portrayal of minority groups, to women being assaulted for wearing the hijab, and more.
Shakti New Zealand, along with organisations such as the Khadija Leadership Network, are continuing the conversation with their free one-day conference, Let’s Deal With It: A Trans-Tasman Conference, this Friday at the Mount Eden War Memorial Hall in Auckland. The conference focuses on building awareness about democratic and political processes, promoting and encouraging active citizenship within the context of multicultural dialogue, and promoting the self-development of refugee and migrant communities. It brings together leaders, thinkers, and strategists from Australia and New Zealand and features a series of panel discussions and five workshops: ‘Trans-Tasman collaboration towards racial equity’, ‘Extremism and Radicalisation’, ‘The role of the media in promoting racial harmony’, ‘Migrant and refugee women’s leadership in promoting integration’, and ‘Ethnic communities and human rights’.
Tayyaba Khan, the co-founder of the Khadija Leadership Network, answered some of my questions about the conference and her experience with promoting diversity and dealing with discrimination in New Zealand.
Why did you want to be a part of this conference?
A Trans-Tasman dialogue with our neighbours on how we address racism has become an important mission in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack on 15th March 2019. As a Muslim women’s organisation with the purpose of growing and supporting Muslim women to lead, we felt quite strongly about broadening the conversation and bringing the Australians on board as part of showing leadership. The conference is also a safe space where women can have a conversation on how we deal with it.
The conference focuses on ‘active citizenship’ and the ‘self-development’ of migrant and refugees – what does that look like and why is that important?
For us at the Khadija Leadership Network ‘self-development’ is the consistent pursuit of learning and growth for self-improvement. On the one hand, I feel adding yet another thing on the plate for minority communities to work on is unfair, and won’t happen. On the other hand we as an organisation work on solutions that identify room for capacity so communities can take time out for self-development. ‘Active citizenship’ is what comes next, when you have the capacity and capability to participate and pay it forward. Many migrant and refugee communities already do this, and this conference is an opportunity to look at how we can learn about what is currently happening out in the communities, and how we could collectively work to address the issue of racism in Australia and New Zealand.
There are five different workshops at the conference, what do they involve?
We have a few workshops that participants can attend during the day. Workshops are an opportunity for you to have a more in-depth conversation on a subject and identify solutions that we could create a blueprint with towards addressing racism, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and more as two nations working together.
A lot of the subject matter is sensitive. Sometimes people who may not be from a minority group make well-intentioned comments and suggestions in an attempt to promote diversity, but may not realise the comments and suggestions made may contain racist undertones or offensive assumptions. In situations like this, how do you continue to facilitate or create honest, meaningful, and respectful conversations that does not exclude or shame people from the conversation?
Unfortunately, far too many people don’t have a conversation at all for fear of what it might feel like or do to the other. In this dilemma, I believe you short-change the other person from an opportunity of learning, growth and cross-cultural exchange. Conversations, even the most difficult ones, can happen respectfully. The key is to be courageous and have the conversation. You will find if the other person is open, the initial reaction might be uncomfortable, but they will thank you for bringing it to their awareness. We are often operating on assumptions, and don’t want to be uncomfortable ourselves. I am encouraging people to be comfortable with the uncomfortable – it’s where diversity lies.
Conferences like this tend to attract a particular group of people, do you wonder about who is not in the room and the creation of a potential echo-chamber?
Absolutely! Ever since 9/11, “preaching to the converted” has become a standard statement in post-event debriefs. Those who really need to be in the conversation will need to be uncomfortable to be a part of it, and those who have found their comfort will be in the room. Changing this has become essential or we end up talking to like-minded individuals and not making the impact where it is most needed. The conference is but one avenue, the starting point. Shakti NZ & Shakti Australia intend to design a longer-term campaign to address racism and other pivotal issues that might arise from the conference, and we very much look forward to continuing our support towards their work.
How do you want people to feel during and after the conference?
Safe, engaged, and courageous to be able to participate as they wish during the conference. After the conference, the success would lie in the enthusiasm of individuals and organisations to support this kaupapa and pitch in to engage. It would also be great to see more support after the conference for the “Lets Deal With It Campaign” by Shakti.
How would you describe your experience with promoting diversity and addressing discrimination in NZ? Do you have any memories and experiences that particularly stand out to you?
New Zealand’s landscape has changed drastically in the last decade. Where once (post 9/11) I found it much easier to penetrate the diversity conversation across groups, today this very agenda is much harder, and the institutional and structural racism is no longer subtle or invisible. There are so many memories and experiences that stand out, but one I have been reflecting a lot on as of late is persevering with advocacy on the biases experienced by minority groups through policy frameworks, such as the bias towards Muslims under the countering violent extremism policies.
NIDHA KHAN is a public health graduate and policy student who spends her time writing about human rights, youth activism, and social issues. She’s also a lover of puns, a terrible cook, and is on a mission to hug every pug in sight. You can keep up with her antics on Instagram @nidha01
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