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Community unites against hate in wake of New Zealand attacks

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Members of the community attend a vigil outside out the Al-Masjid Islamic Center and Mosque of Greenville, to pay their respects to honor those who were killed during mosque shootings in New Zealand. (Juliette Cooke/The Daily Reflector)


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 18, 2019

The afternoon sun shone through the stained glass of the Al-Masjid Islamic Center in Greenville where scores of young and old gathered Sunday to mourn the 50 men, women and children gunned down last week in New Zealand.

Samar Badwan of the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, acting as spokesperson for the mosque, greeted and blessed the crowd of about 150.  

“We give our condolences to the families of the victims of our Muslim brothers and sisters that have lost their lives and were injured in the terrorist attacks at the Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in ChristChurch, New Zealand,” Badwan said. “We mourn and we grieve with the Muslim community of Christ Church and the people of the country of New Zealand.”

While families grieve the great loss of life, Badwan said violence has impacted all communities.  

“Unfortunately, these acts of violence are not unique to Muslims. We have all been touched by the vicious, atrocious acts of this violence, and we must address that these acts of terrorism affect all of us,” Badwan said. 

She lambasted the terrorist acts as cowardice and said that instead of tearing people apart, communities are rising up against hate.  

“With all their hate and bigotry, these terrorists have united us all. Everyone has a duty, a responsibility every day to rally against all forms of hate and bigotry and to stand up for what is good, what is decent and what is true. To my Greenville community, your constant love and support and kindness will never be forgotten.”

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman also condemned the attacks and vowed that law enforcement will continue to protect the Muslim community and every faith community.  

“We stand with you, we pray with you and we love you,” Dance said.  “We will protect you just the same.”

Holtzman said, “We want to turn outrage into action. This has to be a safe place. Our churches have to be a safe place. Our community centers need to be safe places. When we come together at these types of holy places, we really need to be committed to safety here.”

Holtzman promised that the department will increase security and provide protection at the mosque as long as necessary.

“Chief Holtzman has assured me he will provide security for our mosque for as long as we need it. As long as our Muslim community does not feel safe, and we graciously thank him for these efforts,” Badwan said.

Religious leaders, including Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman of Congregation Bayt-Shalom, also spoke at the event.  

“I’m still not sure that any of us can understand how Muslims feel this weekend,” Karz-Wagman said. “It’s against this we have to fight. These are 50 Muslims who simply came to pray, who came from many different cultures, whose lives deserve our attention.

Karz-Wagman continued, “I pray we can find a way to pay more attention to the lives that were lost than to the stories of the perpetrators. Those people deserve to have their stories heard. Those human beings were not just numbers. Not just from one faith community. But they were individuals whose one life is worth the entire life an entire world.”

Others in attendance included State Rep. Kandie Smith and Pitt County NAACP President Calvin Henderson, who gave brief remarks and called for the community to come together and drive out hate with love. 

Earlier in the afternoon, the Interfaith community gathered at Peace Presbyterian Church to watch a film that addressed the horrors of the Holocaust and highlighted how France was divided by religious hatred, nationalism and racism.  

The film, called “A Divided France,” is co-produced by East Carolina University professor Eileen Angellini, a professor of French who spoke briefly about her research.  

The film explores the two sides of France during World War II. Both collaborators and resistors are seen through the eyes of seven French people: survivors of the Holocaust, historians and members of the Resistance.

Those gathered heard nearly 15 minutes of interviews that included harrowing tales of life in Nazi-occupied France. Some of the stories went into painful detail of how thousands of children were deported and killed while others told of the courage of French citizens who hid Jews out of harm’s way.  

Also included in the film were the historic apologies of the French government and the Catholic Church to those who were oppressed due to their religious beliefs. 

Seven candles were lit during the ceremony to honor the memory of 6 million Jews and 1 million others who were the victims of Nazis and their collaborators. Kol Sasson, a Jewish acapella group from the University of Maryland, performed as did the Shostakovich Piano Trio. 

Those gathered at Peace Presbyterian also recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that mourners use to show that despite a great loss they still worship God. The Kaddish cannot be recited alone — at least 10 people must say it — to show that mourners do not grieve their loss alone, but the whole community mourns. 

Times-Leader reporter Amber Revels-Stocks contributed to this article.