‘He is not one of us’ | Daily News

‘He is not one of us’

Shame, fury and sadness of a Sri Lankan

A Sri Lankan New Zealander writes that he feels numb after hearing about the New Lynn Countdown terrorist attack in Auckland on Friday

Sinkholes are curious phenomena, where we do not notice gradual changes under the surface, until suddenly, the surface layer collapses. Things, people, buildings, can unwittingly fall inwards.

When sinkholes occur in urban environments, following the complex interplay between human activity and the natural environment, these can have devastating consequences. It is almost as if the intricate grids and meeting points that make up an urban space can coalesce into one, vulnerable spot.

Whenever there is a terror attack, I instinctively hope that it was not a brown person. From talking with friends, I know it is a widespread reaction. It is a fear of the downstream consequences if that were the case.

The New Lynn Countdown terror attack was a worst-case scenario in that respect. A 32-year-old Sri Lankan man, who arrived here in 2011, radicalised by ISIS propaganda, carried out a horrendous, random knife attack against ordinary New Zealanders.

I feel numb in the immediate aftermath as a Sri Lankan in New Zealand; my breath and my heart collapsing into a hole of its own making.

I do not purport to speak for anyone but myself. I know many immigrants are desperate to tread lightly in New Zealand. Keep your head down and hope that you can do the best by your family and community. Be the model minority. No-one wants the unwanted attention that comes from someone in your community doing something so despicable and horrendous.

My initial reaction to the events is one of shame. There is the desperate desire to disavow it – this guy does not represent us at all. In many of the phone calls and texts among family, there is that constant refrain of his difference. Old cultural divisions playing out via modern technologies.

“He is not one of us.”

That desire is naturally intended to be deflective. Perhaps there is this peculiar aspect to being Sri Lankan: we know more than most others the way that single shocking acts could explode disproportionately into terrible scapegoating. That holes can become permanent fixtures. But simply, I also feel the shame that once again, being Sri Lankan has been associated with something really awful.

Growing up as a Sri Lankan in New Zealand, I was conscious that the country of my birth was only really known for war and terror (unless you were also a cricket fan).

On my first day of high school social studies, we were asked what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Asia’. Most people said banal things like ‘rice’ or ‘China’ or ‘sushi’.

One person, out of nowhere, said the ‘Tamil Tigers’. As the only Tamil person and Sri Lankan in the class, I was like, “come on man, that is not the first thing people think when they hear the word Asia,” followed by, “was that a personal dig?” followed by “how the hell do you know that?”

But it is true that Sri Lanka in the West has largely been described by successive decades of horror – war, the Boxing Day Tsunami, and terror attacks. There is also the sad fact that decades of such events would have a warping effect on any number of people.

What was not being told though were the everyday stories of Sri Lankans going about their lives, the complexity and messiness of the country’s histories, and the sheer diversity of its 22 million people.

My numbness was soon replaced by fury at him. How could someone be so warped that they would take it out on random strangers? How could he be so gullible to act on such stupid, fascist ideas?

My fury was particularly magnified given the solidarity and hard work ordinary New Zealanders (and particularly Aucklanders) have done with very strict level 4 Covid restrictions. For many in these times, a trip even to the supermarket was a daily highlight. I feel so much sympathy and sorrow for the seven victims and supermarket staff caught up in all of this.

When a sinkhole collapses, it can also start a chain reaction. I fear that this guy’s behaviour will give ammunition to other disgusting elements to lump together innocent Sri Lankans and Muslims.

There was barely-concealed glee among the Islamophobic goons in Sri Lanka and India in response to the attack. The cultural warmongers in the United Kingdom and the United States, desperate to show New Zealand up because of its successful (touch wood) Covid-19 response, have also been vocal with their ‘told-you-sos’.

There is also the sadness of what this attack means.

His actions give political cover for unduly risk-averse responses on refugee resettlement, particularly during a period when the need is so acute. That actual innocent lives will be affected by this man’s actions. And more generally, our right as Sri Lankans to define ourselves as simply ordinary, is once again superseded by the worst of us.

But I do feel some resolve, as well. That this guy cannot define us.

It is not enough simply to wait for the next sinkhole to appear. Sinkholes can be fixed through hard work and ensuring our foundations are strong. We cannot just let the cracks be simply papered over.

(Stuff NZ)

Police outside the Countdown supermarket in New Lynn, Auckland after the terror attack on September 3.

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