It was like a video game. Except the bullets and the victims’ blood were real. It was set to music: an all too familiar white supremacist theme song. Not familiar to all, but particularly familiar to the Bosnian Muslims that fled Europe and sought refuge in the United States to get away from hatred and violence. Now it feels like the hatred and violence has caught up with us.
The terrorist set his murderous rampage to the same music that was played by the white nationalist Bosnian Serb/Cetnik, when they committed what is referred to as ‘ethnic cleansing’ in my home country of Bosnia. The music accompanied our former Christian neighbors, teachers and colleagues as they came into our homes and communities and hunted us down like vermin because we were Muslims. It rang in the ears of the hundreds of men who were herded into a soccer stadium and summarily executed because they were Muslims.
My family survived. That’s why we are here now. That’s how we were able to leave Bosnia, roam Europe and finally settle in the United States. Home sweet home. We started over as Americans. We work, we pay taxes, we contribute. We thought we had left this horror behind us. But it caught up with us. Gradually, it manifested in the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric used to dehumanize the ‘other’ — to make people appear more like characters in a video game. Dehumanized characters — not mothers, fathers and children. Characters you can just kill, whose children you can just take and lose like their lives don’t matter.
By invoking the president of the United States as his inspiration for his vile cowardly act, the New Zealand terrorist brought the hatred we had left behind in Bosnia into the here and now, and it’s scary. The rhetoric used by people applauding this act is nauseating.
Words like ‘ethnic cleansing’ and places like Bosnia — or New Zealand for that matter — seem far away but in today’s connected world, the hate quickly spills over in Friday worship. As we worship the same God the Christians worship and come together as a community in peace. As an American Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, I am used to getting questioning looks. Sometimes more. But I never had this lump in my stomach that I have now that the terrorists’ soundtrack runs in my head. People still listen to that? It still accompanies their cowardice? I look over my shoulder as I carry my toddler into the mosque. I catch myself checking the rear-view mirror more often than I normally would.
The outpouring of support from the non-Muslim community has been wonderful. We are pulling together as a community, and I am forever grateful for the friends and elected officials who are standing by us in this time of grief and disbelief. We will get over this. And we will find our own soundtrack as Americans.
Majda Rahmanovic is the community planning and development director for the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which also has members and an office in Connecticut.