March, 19 2019
I Escaped Terror in Indonesia, It Finds Me Again in New Zealand

She left Indonesia for New Zealand to escape rising intolerance and seek peace after a bomb went off near her school. And then the mass shooting in Christchurch happened.

by Nyiayu Ayeesha
Issues // Politics and Society
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I am an Indonesian Muslim. I was born and raised in Jakarta for 18 years before coming to New Zealand. You may not think of me as a Muslim when you first see me. I do not wear a hijab, do not dress modestly all the time, and sometimes forget to pray five times a day. Still, that does not change the fact that I am a Muslim and my religion plays an important part of my identity.

On the 14th of January, 2016, Jakarta was under attack by a group of terrorists. I was a Grade 11 student in class, located at a school not far from where the event took place. It was conducted by supremacists who wanted to bring Indonesia to the road of Muslim right-wing extremism.

That morning I received a text from my mother saying “a bomb has exploded in the central business district. Stay in school” followed by a message from the intercom by my principal “The city is under lockdown.” Eight people were killed during the incident, and 20 people were injured. While five of the dead are believed to come from the terrorist group, three were innocent lives. After the attack, we were all shocked and scared, but it’s not an emotion that we kept for long.

We soon realized that we could defeat their supremacy by showing them that we are not cowards. #KamiTidakTakut  (we are not afraid) became a viral hashtag on social media. But two years later in Surabaya, East Java, another terror attack occurred in several churches by a family affiliated with the Islamic State. The attacks were motivated by bigotry against Chinese-Indonesians and Christians/Catholics.

At least 13 people were killed from the blasts, and most were innocent churchgoers. What made my heart break even more is that the family also consisted of three minors: a young boy and two young girls. They were all radicalized by their parents, and were killed thus.  These children could have been redeemed and had a better future, but instead have lost their lives from the acts of terror.

When the Surabaya attacks happened, I was already in New Zealand studying at a university. I thought to myself “God, this is tragic. Nothing like this could happen here.”

I had never been more wrong.

I came to New Zealand for its reputation of being a safe and open-minded country. The Treaty of Waiting, the founding document of the country ensures that there are equal opportunities for all its citizens. So, when I suddenly received a breaking news alert saying that there has been a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, I was shocked beyond belief. Something like this just doesn’t happen in this country. Then, I found out that the shooting was caused by white supremacists. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of the country, calls it “an act of terrorism.”

This senseless attack has taken 50 innocent lives, mostly Muslims, the largest mass-killing in New Zealand by another human being since the 1940s. If New Zealand has the same population level and density as the US, it’s roughly equivalent to 2,600 people having lost their lives. The sad truth is that the victims died solely because they practice a certain faith. Imagine being killed just because you believe in something else. Imagine being killed because of mere differences.

 Some Muslim immigrants came to New Zealand to free themselves from terror back in their home country committed by extremists, not unlike their Christchurch attacker, and I can identify with them. I wanted to free myself from the rise of intolerance and Islamist extremism that is currently plaguing my home country.

Indonesia was once praised for being moderate and tolerant. It is the largest Muslim nation in the world, but we also share our archipelago with people of other faiths. Our motto, “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (unity in diversity), and the Pancasila state philosophy acts like New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi, ensuring that there is equality among all Indonesians.

However, Indonesia is not the same as it used to be anymore. The idea of religious tolerance and equality is weakening. While countless of peaceful and moderate Muslims are trying to raise their voice for tolerance, the extremists still hold a lot of power.

After the terror attack Jakarta, I wanted to permanently leave to somewhere more peaceful, and New Zealand was an option for me. When I’m here, I met with the most peaceful Muslim community that I have ever seen. I can now practice my religion with ease, and not be associated with radical groups. I did not think that acts of terrorism, this time by a white supremacist, would find me here as well. If I’m not safe in both Indonesia and New Zealand, where else should I go? No matter where I go, I feel like someone is hiding and waiting for a chance to attack

Far-right white supremacists are just as evil as ISIS and the like. Supremacists of any kind should not be allowed in any country. We all need to stand united in solidarity as a family and take the time to understand each other. We have to recognize our similarities, and champion our differences. When we come together, we are invincible.

And so, to the friends and families of the victims, to the people of Christchurch, to the Muslim community in New Zealand and around the world who are struggling from Islamophobia and their radical brothers and sisters, I just want to say kia kaha (stay strong). We will get through this together as a community of strong-willed people who would do anything to reject the ideas championed by the supremacists.

And to the terrorists out there: kami tidak takut! If we are together united in diversity, we can easily stop you.

Illustration by Sarah Arifin

Nyiayu Ayeesha is a 20-year-old student studying biology and psychology at The University of Auckland in New Zealand. Apart from working in the marketing division at a student-lead organization, she likes to spend her time walking around Auckland CBD and listening to indie and alternative music.