More than 100 people of all communities gathered outside of E. James Brotman Hall Thursday evening to honor, remember and support those affected by the recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Led by Long Beach State’s Muslim Students Association, the vigil included speeches from a number of guest speakers, recitations from the Quran and a moment of silence and prayer. The message was clear — the tragedy was another blow to a community that is tired of being misrepresented worldwide.
“We must stand together in truth,” said James Sauceda, director of LBSU’s multicultural center. “We must role model each other to combat Islamophobia by gaining empathy by fortifying our own literacy of religion and to understand the gifts of Islam.”
From young children to the elderly, the faces and names of some of the victims were displayed at the memorial. Fifty white roses were laid out to honor each of the lives lost at the mosques that day.
For MSA President Hadi Sayed, the impact of the news didn’t hit him at first.
“Due to the amount of horrific news we see, you’re kind of desensitized,” Sayed said. “It didn’t click until the next day and the number [of victims] grew.”
Sayed added that the media and the general public tend to view acts of terrorism to different degrees depending on the victims.
“You remember the [November 2015] Paris Attacks, horrible attack, we heard about that for months,” Sayed said. “Everyone’s talking about it, that was being spread. When someone does that to Muslims for some reason, it’s not echoed as much.”
In the days following the attack, the flow of reports with details of the shooter and the public’s hesitancy to label him a terrorist began to frustrate those within the Muslim community.
“He was just a mad guy,” said Yazan Al-Zubi, a graduate civil engineer student and MSA member. “No one started to call him a terrorist until the New Zealand Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] came up and said that … He killed 50 people. What are you waiting for?”
At the end of the service, a thunderous applause accompanied by several raised fists into the air commended the teary-eyed guest speakers and students responsible for uniting the audience.
“There’s so many different groups, and that’s what’s beautiful,” said Sarah Desmond, a student assistant for the Muslim Student Cultural Research Center. “But it’s also beautiful that in moments of distress and in moments of happiness, that we can all come together and celebrate our differences.”
Graduate history student Matt Brown was among those who didn’t plan on attending the event, but was moved upon its conclusion. While on his usual walk home, Brown recognized Sayed and wanted to be a part of the moment.
“You become numb to a certain degree until you really start hearing the details of the victims,” Brown said. “Once you understand the magnitude and the loss, it’s heartbreaking because things like this continue to happen.”