Honouring Haziq

  • Letters
  • Thursday, 21 Mar 2019

Muhammad Haziq Mohd Tarmizi was 17 years old. He had lived for the last year and a half in New Zealand with his family.

He was a Year 12 student at Burnside High School. His principal Phil Holstein said of him: "[He was] a great young man who had the respect of his mates and teachers.

"Conscientious, self-motivated and just wanted to do well. Teachers have noted that he has grown in confidence in the short time he has been here. He was ready, as one teacher said, to flourish."

Photos of Haziq suggest a sweet young man, growing into adulthood - right on the cusp of sporting a moustache, not unlike his father's.

On the 15th of March 2019, Haziq followed his family to Friday prayers at Masjid Al Noor, located in the Christchurch suburb of Riccarton.

At 1.40pm that day, a gunman entered Masjid Al Noor and started a shooting rampage. After some six minutes at Masjid Al Noor, he proceeded to Linwood Islamic Centre where he continued his shooting spree.

In total, the gunman killed 50 people. On the morning of Thursday, the 21st of March, Malaysians awoke to news that Haziq was the last of the shooting victims to be identified.

There are no words to fully describe the pain, the grief, and the loss felt by us all, much less by Haziq's family.

The Christchurch shootings were not the first mass shootings the world has seen. They are not even the first New Zealand has seen. It feels like no sane person would expect this shooting to be the last either.

We find ourselves facing the question: what can normal, decent human beings do in the face of such unrelenting, violent evil and madness?

For New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, this question was not a rhetorical one. Looking like she was fighting tears and heartbreak every step of the way, Ardern's response has been decisive, strong, and swift.

In the same morning in which Haziq was the final person to be identified as a casualty of the shooting, Ardern made a firm commitment to the hard banning of all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles.

This ban is similar to the ban instituted by Australia, the country of origin of the Christchurch gunman, following the Port Author massacre in 1996, which is seen to have been extremely successful in reducing gun-related crime.

When Ardern visited families of the victims, she did so clothed in a headscarf, as a mark of respect for Muslim norms.

The first session of the New Zealand Parliament since the massacre was opened with a recitation by Imam Nizam ul Haq Thanvi of verses 153-156 from Surat al-Baqarah from the Quran, which read:

""O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, "They are dead." Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not. And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.""

Ardern then opened her speech in parliament with the greeting 'Assamualaikum'.

Ardern has made a conscious effort to show not only New Zealanders but the rest of the world that New Zealand's commitment towards nurturing a diverse society in which all cultures are welcome has not only been undeterred in the least by the shooting, but has indeed been strengthened.

From the moment of its birth, Malaysia has wrestled with similar questions of diversity and the relations between different races and religions, as well as between majorities and minorities.

We have been blessed by being free of any mass killings since 1969, but we find ourselves increasingly in a world where it only takes so few to do so much unthinkable carnage, and a region in which terrorism is not as uncommon as it once was.

What then, can we do?

Firstly, there are undoubtedly practical steps and considerations for protecting ourselves that we must not lose sight of.

Extremely strict gun laws in Malaysia have served us well, and should continue to do so. The pros and cons of allowing radicalised Malaysians who have fought for organisations like ISIS to return home should perhaps be debated and scrutinised carefully.

Perhaps more importantly, we must work vigilantly and assiduously to ensure that the basic needs of all Malaysians are met, so as to avoid the disenfranchisement that almost invariably precedes extremism. In other words, no Malaysian must be left behind.

Secondly, Malaysia also has a role to play in stemming the tide of intolerance, hatred and division that is spreading across the globe - the same tide that brought the Christchurch gunman to the doors of those two mosques.

Malaysia has more experience than most countries concerning the coexistence of different cultures, ethnicities and religions.

We haven't always navigated these differences as well as we could, but whatever our shortcomings and failures, we still stand together today as a multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious nation.

Coexisting in peace is no longer something we can take for granted, but a goal that requires constantly renewed effort to achieve.

In this crisis however, there is also opportunity - an opportunity for Malaysia to show the rest of the world how bigotry and hatred borne of ignorance can be overcome, and replaced by unity borne of understanding and embracing diversity.

To do so will require Malaysians to step out of their comfort zones, and abandon the siege mentality nurtured by decades of racialised politics.

If the Prime Minister of New Zealand can introduce Islamic elements into the most august hall of her country for example, why should the rest of us fear elements of Islam?

A situation where minorities are only fighting for minorities, or the majority is only fighting for the majority, will lock us into an unending cycle of mistrust and conflict.

Indeed, this is a very meaningful opportunity for non-Muslims in Malaysia to demonstrate empathy that cuts across religious and ethnic lines.

The long term challenge facing us is to identify common values and principles that can form as the basis of genuine national unity - values that can cut across and unite Malaysians divided by more primordial lines such as race or religion.

If we can succeed in doing so, we can be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, insyallah - a model nation that can serve as proof that immigrants of different cultures or religion need not be feared, and can be integrated positively in a way that does not threaten anybody.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. The enduring question is how badly we want to realise this goal, and what we are willing to sacrifice to achieve it.

No matter what our background or aspirations, it is not likely that any one of us will get everything we want in the new Malaysia we keep trying to create.

Even if we don't, we can hope to get enough of the things that matter - a universal respect for fundamental human rights, dignity and freedoms; a fair opportunity to make a decent living; and a nation where we can all uphold the things most important to us, without infringing on anyone else.

In the aftermath of Christchurch, we are reminded of how difficult it is to live in times where such violence seems to be around every corner.

Perhaps the most famous movie ever filmed in New Zealand has some words of advice on this matter:

'"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."'

Haziq was given far too little time. The heartbreaking loss of this promising young Malaysian is felt throughout the nation.

Now, with the time given to us, we are left to decide how to honour Haziq, and how to build a Malaysia worthy of his memory.

It is too late to create a new Malaysia for him to come home to now. But if we find the strength within us, it is not too late to turn Malaysian into a beacon of hope for Haziq's younger brother, for the millions of other young Malaysians like him, and for the rest of the world.

NATHANIEL TAN is Director of Media and Communications at EMIR Research (www.emirresearch.com), a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation and Rigour. He mourns the passing of Dr. Goh Cheng Teik, and hopes to continue his legacy of moderation and scholarship.

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