Santa Clarita community honors Christchurch terror attack victimsSebastian Cazares March 18, 2019 0 COMMENTS
Local residents gathered for a candlelight vigil on Sunday night at Valencia Heritage Park to honor the lives lost in the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand.
On March 15, a white supremacist terrorist entered the Al-Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. He murdered at least 50 people and injured dozens more.
The vigil was entirely organized by youth from the local Muslim community. The hosts — Rasha Howlader, Raagib Quarishi and Zain Kahn — hoped to unite Santa Clarita against hate and called for both the local and national community to come together.
The vigil opened with a prayer and a short speech by Howlader, who has lived in Santa Clarita for over 17 years and teaches Sunday school. As she spoke in front of the dozens of vigil attendees, she described her difficulties and fears as a young Muslim woman and an educator.
“We learn about love and how to give to those in need,” Howlader said. “There’s nowhere in my handbook that explains how to flee from an active shooter.”
Howlader also emphasized the universal aspects of the Christchurch massacre and explained Islamaphobia’s global presence.
“New Zealand may be far, but it’s right here,” Howlader said. “There are women amongst us who wear hijab and it feels like they have a target over their head. There are men amongst us with full beards that feel they have a target over their head. As a community in Santa Clarita, we need to fight Islamophobia, we need to call this terrorism.”
In addition to messages of unity and love, speakers also implored local residents to actively fight against hatred. Pastor Ryan Chaddick from Bloom Lutheran Church called upon the audience to denounce racism, transphobia, Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms, including what he said is “America’s original sin of white supremacy.”
“We don’t often get a chance to go out and see how our neighbors worship and how a lot of the practices interweave with each other,” Quraishi, who lost a distant relative in the Christchurch attack, said. “There’s more to faith than just a name and there’s nothing to be feared in a name.”
Representatives from Assemblywoman Christy Smith’s office and Congresswoman Katie Hill’s office attended the vigil, as well as municipal elected officials and local school board members.
“This was an act of terrorism,” Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth said. “I’m not surprised that it was young people that organized this amazing event. We put aside race, religion, political party, whatever it is, and when our community is hurting, we come together. Santa Clarita is a community that puts its arms around you.”
Saugus Union School Board Trustee David Barlavi also addressed the small crowd, touching on his background as an Iranian immigrant to express comradery and sympathy with those who felt further ostracized after the terrorist attack.
“America is us, we are no different, don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong here,” Barlavi said. “Half my family is Muslim, half my family is Jewish, and we love each other. That’s what I hope the world can be like.”
Sebastian Cazares is a lifelong Santa Clarita resident and student at College of the Canyons. He was heavily involved in Speech, Model UN, Rotary Club and journalism during his high school years. Sebastian is deeply interested in local politics and excited to report on the issues that impact his community.